by Darius Kazemi, October 12 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.

Think creatively

RFC-285 is titled “Network Graphics”. It's authored by first-time RFC author Donald Huff of Case Western Reserve University. It's dated December 15, 1971. (This will be Huff's only RFC authorship.)

The technical content

Huff (who I believe was in the third year of his bachelor's program at the time of writing this RFC) is making an appeal to ARPANET users to think more creatively about their use of the ARPANET! In particular he points out that on the network, you could have one very powerful computer dedicated to graphics processing, with another very powerful computer dedicated to I/O and computation, and thus “graphics on the NET need not be anything like what we know it as now”.

He points to attention handling (aka interactivity) as a huge potential area of trouble in development of network graphics (these troubles are evident in RFC-178). Keeping data state in sync on both sides of a network connection presents problems.

He agrees that a simple drawing-based protocol is not enough for network graphics, and that organizational data like the scene graphs proposed in RFC-192 will be necessary for a complete network graphics protocol.

He comments on several papers that have been presented to the Network Graphics community thus far.

Lastly he proposes a general model for a network graphics system. It involves each of the user and server keeping track of graphics state locally, and thus they only need to synchronize at certain points (though in the case of interaction this may need to happen several times a second).


I almost spit out my drink when Huff opens the RFC with “Not much has been written about graphics on the ARPANET”, but I suppose his point is that there are only about 20 papers and yet there are 8000 documents available on the Network Information Center thus far.

He's also pushing for something like what we'd in 2019 call cloud graphics computing, where an entire computer acts as a kind of GPU over the network!

The model he proposes at the end of the paper seems pretty reasonable to me.

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About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.