Overview of RFC Document Series

Memos in the Requests for Comments (RFC) document series contain technical and organizational notes about the Internet. They cover many aspects of computer networking, including protocols, procedures, programs, and concepts, as well as meeting notes, opinions, and sometimes humor.

RFCs are numbered (roughly) consecutively, and these numbers provide a single unique label space for all RFCs. RFCs are published online through a number of repositories, and there is an online index of RFCs. The RFC series has been assigned ISSN 2070-1721.

All RFCs, Internet-Drafts, and associated editorial discussion are covered by the IETF Note Well policy.

Document Streams

The RFC series is the publication vehicle for technical specifications and policy documents produced by the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) , the IAB (Internet Architecture Board), or the IRTF (Internet Research Task Force).

More specifically, RFCs can belong to any of the following document streams.

  • The IETF.

    These may be working group documents, or they may be individual submissions from the IESG (Internet Engineering Steering Group). They may be in the Standards Track, Informational, or Experimental category. As a result, the RFC publication process plays an important role in the Internet standards process.

  • The IAB
  • The IRTF
  • Independent submissions to the RFC Editor. These RFCs that are outside the official IETF/IAB/IRTF process but are relevant to the Internet community.
An RFC submitted through any of these streams must first be published as an Internet-Draft.

RFC Categories

Each RFC has a "category" or "status" designation. The possible categories (see RFC 2026 "The Internet Standards Process -- Revision 3") are:


    These are Standards Track documents, official specifications of the Internet protocol suite defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and its steering group the IESG.


    These are official guidelines and recommendations, but not standards, from the IETF.


    These non-standards documents may originate in the IETF or may be independent submissions.


    These are former standards that have been actively deprecated.

RFC Sub-Series

In addition to the master RFC index, there are secondary indexes for useful subsets or "sub-series" of the RFCs. The three sub-series are:

Early History of RFC Series -- IENs

The RFC series has a long history. It began in 1969 as a set of working notes about ARPAnet research and development. Online data access (e.g., FTP) was defined in early RFCs, and the RFC series itself became by first online publication series.

In 1977, ARPA began funding the "internet" research project to realize the protocol concepts laid out by Cerf and Kahn in 1974. Since RFCs were considered the creature of the ARPAnet research program, the internet project decided to create its own RFC-like series of technical notes, the Internet Experiment Notes or IENs. Jon Postel became the editor for the new IEN series as well as the long-standing RFC series.

The index to the IEN series is available as either a hyper-linked list or in its original ASCII text form. Either list shows the 204 IENs that were published between March 1977 and September 1982. After that, RFCs became the single document series for all ARPAnet- and Internet-related documents. The experience of maintaining two parallel documents series led Postel in later years to vigorously oppose any attempt to create a new series in addition to RFCs.

The RFC Editor also maintains a collection of other early Internet documents.

Some early RFCs are not online. See the update on the RFC Online project.


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This page was last updated on 23 January 2013.