by Darius Kazemi, December 15 2019
The Czar of Socket Numbers
RFC-349 is titled “Proposed Standard Socket Numbers”. It's authored by Jon Postel of UCLA and dated May 30, 1972.
The technical content
This is the last of Postel's batch of four RFCs submitted on May 30. It is deceptively simple but will have long reverberations in the history of the internet. For starters, Postel suggests that a “
czar” hand out standard socket numbers for things like FTP, Telnet, etc. He suggests in an is-he-kidding-or-is-he-serious way that he take on the role of czar himself.
He offers some socket assignments. These specific numbers will not stick for long, but the nickname “Numbers Czar” or “Czar of Socket Numbers” would be affectionately applied to him for the rest of his life. By RFC-433 he is referred to by the title in a tongue-in-cheek-yet-also-official capacity.
He would eventually become, for a time, the literal sole person who constituted the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, aka the people who assign domain names to specific physical computers. This made him, in a very real sense, the Czar of All Numbers That Matter on the Internet.
RFC-8700 was published this year. It is Heather Flanagan's 50-year retrospective on the RFC series and refers to Postel's title as Czar of Socket numbers. It is also the first RFC I ever commented on in its draft form (and my suggestions were incorporated, thanks Heather!).
RFC-2468 is a heartfelt remembrance of Postel by Vint Cerf, short and sweet.
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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.