by Darius Kazemi, October 31 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.

Data control facility

RFC-304 is titled “A Data Management System Proposal for the ARPA Network”. It's authored by Douglas B. McKay of IBM and dated February 17, 1972.

The technical content

This is a long one, and it's meant to start a conversation about what data management on the network will look like. It's explicitly not supposed to be a complete standard. It's an example of an early straw man proposal, a draft document meant to generate discussions, in part by encouraging people to argue against its flaws.

A Data Control Facility (DCF) is proposed. The concept of a DCF was referenced in McKay and Karp's RFC-146 nine months prior. A DCF is a program that lets a remote user do stuff with data without knowing anything about the file system or operating system of the computer that hosts the DCF. It's an example of an “indirect service” a la Bhushan.

FTP is also discussed, and in particular the idea that DCFs could transfer files via that protocol.


I love how the language around things like file transfer hasn't settled yet. For example, the author talks about how a file is to be “shipped” from Santa Barbara to BBN.

I notice that the text version of the RFC, which was transcribed in 1998, has the pages out of order — the last page of the text version belongs in the middle of page 3 of the text version. The PDF-with-images version I've linked above is a scan of the original and is correct. (I've submitted an errata report to the RFC Editor.)

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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.