by Darius Kazemi, Jan 4 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here.

Planning the project

RFC-4 debuts a new author, Elmer B. Shapiro. This is the only RFC he'll ever write, and I couldn't find much info about him beyond a stub page at Stanford Research Institute's Artificial Intelligence center saying he worked on Shakey the Robot. He had a couple publications in 1966 and 1967 about using AI agents for spying. Seems like an oddball choice for RFC writing.

But in many ways this is an oddball RFC.

First of all it's backdated to March 24th, 1969, a month before the previous three RFCs. And it is simply a bunch of notes in outline form with no narrative structure or context.

The technical content

This is a dump of notes, an outline consisting for 14 top-level items each broken down into a handful of sub-items. I've extracted the top-level items to give you a quick overview of what the document covers:

1  (n10) network checkout

2  Installation of communcation gear 8/1/69

3  Design and construct host-Imp interface 9/1/69

4  Imp installation 9/15/69

5  Debug host-Imp interface 10/1/69

6  Test messages between UCLA-SRI 10/15/69

7  Test messages between UCSB-SRI 11/15/69

8  Test messges between UTAH-SRI 12/15/69

9  Run simple TTY systems

10  Run simple typewriter systems

11  Run arbitrary terminals without local feedback
12  Run arbitrary terminals

13  Move files

14  Develop debugging techniques

Clearly this is a project plan. The idea was to have the first IMPs (Interface Message Processors, basically routers) in place by September 1969, and send the first messages between UCLA and SRI by October 15. History shows that they were basically on schedule, with the first ARPANET message eventually sent at 22:30 Pacific on October 29. By December 5th, UCLA, SRI, UCSB, and UTAH (University of Utah School of Computing) were all connected, ahead of this early schedule! By March 1970 the first east coast node would be added at BBN (where the IMP itself was developed).

For the test messages between the first two ARPANET nodes, UCLA and SRI (section 6) there is this diagram that I find really funny:

  6a  Network configuration

           SRI  |
           UCLA |

There it is. The internet, visualized. For at least a few weeks in 1969.


One interesting thing is that this plan was in place in March, which means RFCs 1 and 2 in April were written four months before any of the gear was actually installed. They hadn't even designed how host machines would physically connect to their IMPs at this point!

Further reading

This internet history timeline by Robert Hobbes Zakon is detailed yet also concise and cobbled together from a whole bunch of sources. I found his chart of ARPANET growth especially interesting.

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About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm a Mozilla Fellow and I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with both ActivityPub and the Dat Project.