by Darius Kazemi, March 18 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.

A three-day meeting

RFC-77 is called “Network Meeting Report”, dated November 20th, 1970. It's authored by Jon Postel of UCLA.

The technical content

This RFC is a report of what was discussed and agreed upon at the three-day-long Network Meeting that was proposed in RFC-75.

There are a lot of topics discussed in this meeting, and I'm not going to summarize all of them, but ones that stand out to me are as follows.

The Host-Host protocol needs reworking in several areas: error control, overload conditions, allocation of resources, status information, and system crash problems.

So basically: the Host-Host protocol needs work in all the areas that most software needs more work. Errors and edge cases.

They need TELNET to be specified fully, and there is an “immediate need” for this. Recall that TELNET is a program that allows one computer to act as a terminal to a totally different kind of computer. It was proposed in RFC-15 by Steve Carr of UTAH but has yet to be actually specified in a way that would allow for implementation. TELNET is also referred to as a “third level program”, which backs up my assumption in my RFC-66 post that the third-level is understood to be some kind of application layer.

The need for documentation, particularly online documentation, is voiced. Lots of universities are starting to ask, “What does the ARPA Network have to offer?” Interestingly, online documentation is brought up as the kind of thing that could be stored on the trillion-bit store, which we haven't heard about before. As far as I can tell this never was implemented, but the proposal was for ARPANET to have kind of a shared network hard drive accessible for everyone to use. I'm assuming this wasn't implemented because this document was written in 1971, I see references to it coming soon in 1972, and also references to it coming soon in the Fiscal Year 1975 Authorization for Military Procurement, Research, and Development.

More noise made about a graphics protocol, like DEL or NIL, though neither is mentioned by name here. A deadline of January 1st 1971 is given for people to submit papers in the form of RFCs for discussion in the new year. However there was a lot of contention (“strong feelings were expressed” is code for anger, I believe) around graphics protocols too. A large contingent present at the meeting felt that they should learn to crawl before learning to walk, perfecting text/console transfer before moving on to graphics. Others feel that graphics shouldn't even be addressed at the protocol level but rather at the application level.

There is a lot of discussion about the pace of change on the main Host-Host protocol. Most people at the meeting seem to agree that major (breaking) changes should come in batches, perhaps every six months with three months of notice so people can prepare for these breaks. The idea that protocols could be backwards-compatible is brought up as well.

There is a massive discussion revolving around the fact that different computer systems process input on a line-by-line versus character-by-character basis, and that what we might call input buffering today happens in different ways. I like this note on this part of the conversation:

“It was discovered that many people don't really know where their own systems fit in this chart and are very vague about what it means to interact with a system in a different than their own.”

There is a heartily supported proposal that future Fall/Spring Joint Computer Conferences have an ARPANET hotel with its own block of rooms and a networking lounge. That seems like fun!

They want to have meetings of about 15-30 people at a rate of about one every three months, but it's also pointed out that these meetings are good for identifying problems but bad for settling on solutions. Crocker suggests that subcommittees form to solve problems that are identified at meetings that then report back.

Peggy Karp of MITRE is annointed as the new (first official?) RFC series editor. For now the editor's job is not to assign numbers to RFCs (that's the NIC's job) but rather to categorize RFCs as “hot issues”, “current”, “out of date”, or “superseded”.

Numerous other issues are brought up and in the end:

It was felt that these were hard problems that needed more thought. Thus the meeting was adjourned with the request that people circulate any ideas or proposals as NWG/RFC's.


Interestingly, this document proposes that TELNET needs a “call for help” feature, that gets a live operator on the other end of your connection to help you if you need it. Reminds me of features that seem “new” like Glitch's “live help” feature.

The discussion about managing breaking changes versus backwards compatibility in the protocol continues until 2019 in one form or another.

Further reading

Peggy Karp is one of the (rare) women who has popped up in these RFCs so far. She has been tasked with an administrative duty, which is a management antipattern that continues to this day.

For more reading on women in the ARPANET project, chapter eight of Claire L. Evans' Broad Band goes into detail.

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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.