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Internet Research Task Force (IRTF)                      S. Dawkins, Ed.
Request for Comments: 7418                                        Huawei
Category: Informational                                    December 2014
ISSN: 2070-1721

                  An IRTF Primer for IETF Participants


   This document provides a high-level description of things for
   Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) participants to consider when
   bringing proposals for new research groups (RGs) into the Internet
   Research Task Force (IRTF).  This document emphasizes differences in
   expectations between the two organizations.

Status of This Memo

   This document is not an Internet Standards Track specification; it is
   published for informational purposes.

   This document is a product of the Internet Research Task Force
   (IRTF).  The IRTF publishes the results of Internet-related research
   and development activities.  These results might not be suitable for
   deployment.  This RFC represents the individual opinion(s) of one or
   more members of the IRSG Research Group of the Internet Research Task
   Force (IRTF).  Documents approved for publication by the IRSG are not
   a candidate for any level of Internet Standard; see Section 2 of RFC

   Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
   and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2014 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
   (http://trustee.ietf.org/license-info) in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  Please review these documents
   carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect
   to this document.

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RFC 7418                  IRTF Primer for IETF             December 2014

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction and Scope  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   2.  The IRTF Is Not the IETF  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
     2.1.  Research and Engineering  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     2.2.  Scope . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     2.3.  Time Frames . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     2.4.  Alternatives  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.5.  Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.6.  Charters  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.7.  Deliverables  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     2.8.  Completion  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
   3.  Now That You Know What Not to Do  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
   4.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   5.  References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     5.1.  Normative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     5.2.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   Acknowledgements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   Author's Address  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7

1.  Introduction and Scope

   This document provides a high-level description of things for
   Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) participants to consider when
   bringing proposals for new research groups (RGs) into the Internet
   Research Task Force (IRTF).  This document emphasizes differences in
   expectations between the two organizations.

   IRTF RG guidelines and procedures are described in BCP 8 [RFC2014],
   and this document does not change those guidelines and procedures in
   any way.

2.  The IRTF Is Not the IETF

   A number of proposals from experienced IETF participants for new IRTF
   RGs have encountered problems because the IETF participants were
   making proposals appropriate for the IETF, but not for the IRTF.
   [RFC2014] describes the origin of IRTF RGs but doesn't provide much
   detail about the process, which is intended to be flexible and
   accommodate new types of RGs.  Lacking that detail, experienced IETF
   participants fall back on what they know, assume that chartering an
   IRTF RG will be similar to chartering an IETF working group (WG),
   follow the suggestions in [RFC6771] to gather a group of interested
   parties, and then follow the suggestions in [RFC5434] to prepare for
   a successful BOF and eventually, a chartered WG.

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RFC 7418                  IRTF Primer for IETF             December 2014

   Both of these documents are excellent references for proposals in the
   IETF, but their suggestions may result in a proposal that is almost
   the opposite of what the IRTF Chair is looking for in a proposal for
   an IRTF RG.  The mismatches fall into some consistent categories, and
   this document lists the ones that come up repeatedly.

   The target audience of this document is IETF participants bringing
   proposals to the IRTF.

   It's worth noting that the IRTF Chair has substantial autonomy on
   what RGs are chartered and how they reach that stage.  The IRTF Chair
   at the time of writing is Lars Eggert.

2.1.  Research and Engineering

      "To me, the fundamental outcome of research is understanding, and
      the fundamental outcome of engineering is a product." - Fred Baker

   In some ways, research is about a journey, and engineering is about a
   destination.  If a researcher answers a question in a way that opens
   another question, that can be success.  If an engineer keeps working
   on a product without finishing it, that is usually a failure.

   Research can be open-ended, while engineering can come to a stopping
   point when the result is "good enough" -- good enough to ship.

      "If it has to work when you're finished, it wasn't research, it
      was engineering." - attributed to Dave Clark

2.2.  Scope

   IRTF RGs have a scope large enough to interest researchers, attract
   them to the IRTF, and keep them busy doing significant work.  Their
   charters are therefore usually much broader than IETF WG charters,
   and RGs often discuss different topics underneath the charter
   umbrella at different times, based on current research interests in
   the field.

   IETF WGs are chartered with a limited scope and specific
   deliverables.  If deliverables and milestones are known, the proposal
   is likely too limited for the IRTF.

2.3.  Time Frames

   IRTF RGs bring researchers together to work on significant problems.
   That takes time.  The effort required by a RG is likely to take at
   least three to five years, significantly longer than IETF WGs
   envision when they are chartered.

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RFC 7418                  IRTF Primer for IETF             December 2014

2.4.  Alternatives

   IRTF RGs are encouraged to explore more than one alternative approach
   to the chartered problem area.  There is no expectation that the RG
   will "come to consensus" on one approach.  The RG may publish
   multiple competing proposals as research produces results.

   IETF WGs normally use the IETF consensus process (as described in
   [RFC7282]) to drive interoperable solutions into the market place.
   That often includes reducing the number of approaches to something
   manageable for an implementer, preferably one, whether that means
   starting with an approach the WG participants agree on, or
   considering alternatives with a view to picking one rather than
   spending significant effort on alternatives that won't go forward.

   The IRTF, as an organization, may also charter multiple RGs with
   somewhat overlapping areas of interest, which the IETF tries very
   hard to avoid.

2.5.  Process

   All IRTF participants have the obligation to disclose IPR and
   otherwise follow the IRTF's IPR policies, which closely mirror the
   IETF's IPR policies; in all other aspects, IRTF RG operation is much
   less constrained than IETF WG operation.

   Each IRTF RG is permitted (and encouraged) to agree on a way of
   working together that best supports the specific needs of the group.
   This freedom allows IRTF RGs to bypass fundamental IETF ways of
   working, such as the need to reach at least rough consensus, which
   IRTF RGs need not do.  Therefore, the mode of operation of IRTF RGs
   can also change over time, for example, perhaps becoming more like
   IETF WG operation as the research the group has been progressing

2.6.  Charters

   The purpose of charters in the IRTF is to broadly sketch the field of
   research that a group is interested in pursuing and to serve as an
   advertisement to other researchers who may be wondering if the group
   is the right place to participate.

   IETF WG charters tend to be very narrow.  They are intended to
   constrain the work that the working group will be doing, and they may
   contain considerable text about what the working group will not be
   working on.

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RFC 7418                  IRTF Primer for IETF             December 2014

2.7.  Deliverables

   There is no expectation that IRTF RGs publish RFCs, although many do.
   Some IRTF research groups produce IRTF-stream RFCs, while others
   produce Internet-Drafts that form the basis of IETF-stream RFCs, and
   still others may deliver reports, white papers, academic journal
   articles, or even carry out relevant high-level discussions that
   aren't ever published but influence other research.  IRTF RGs are
   successful when they stimulate discussion, produce relevant outputs,
   and impact the research community.

   IETF WG deliverables tend to be specific protocol, deployment, and
   operational specifications, along with problem statements, use cases,
   requirements, and architectures that inform those specifications.
   Almost all IETF working groups are chartered to deliver Internet
   standards, which isn't an option for IRTF RGs.

2.8.  Completion

   IRTF RGs may produce the outputs they expected to produce when they
   were chartered, but it also happens that researchers consider what
   they've learned and start work on better solutions.  This can happen
   whether or not the research underway has been completed, and the
   process can continue until the RG itself decides that it is time to
   conclude or when the IRTF Chair determines that there is no more
   energy in the group to do research.

   IETF WGs will typically conclude when they meet their chartered
   milestones, allowing participants to focus on implementation and
   deployment, although the WG mailing list may remain open for a time.

3.  Now That You Know What Not to Do

   The current IRTF Chair, Lars Eggert, is fond of saying, "Just act
   like an IRTF research group for a year, and we'll see if you are

   There are many ways to "act like an IRTF research group".  [RFC4440]
   contains a number of points to consider when proposing a new RG.
   Some possibilities include:

   1.  Identify and recruit a critical mass of researchers who can
       review and build off each other's work.

   2.  Identify other venues that may overlap the proposed RG, and
       understand what value the proposed RG provides beyond what's
       already underway elsewhere.

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RFC 7418                  IRTF Primer for IETF             December 2014

   3.  Hold a workshop to survey work that might set the stage for a RG
       on questions of interest, perhaps in concert with existing
       academic events.

   4.  If the proposed RG expects to have outputs that will ultimately
       be standardized in the IETF, identify and recruit engineers who
       can review and provide feedback on intermediate results.

   But every proposed RG is different, so e-mailing the IRTF Chair to
   start the conversation is a perfectly reasonable strategy.

4.  Security Considerations

   This document provides guidance about the IRTF chartering process to
   IETF participants and has no direct Internet security implications.

5.  References

5.1.  Normative References

   [RFC2014]  Weinrib, A. and J. Postel, "IRTF Research Group Guidelines
              and Procedures", BCP 8, RFC 2014, October 1996,

5.2.  Informative References

   [RFC4440]  Floyd, S., Paxson, V., Falk, A., and IAB, "IAB Thoughts on
              the Role of the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF)", RFC
              4440, March 2006,

   [RFC5434]  Narten, T., "Considerations for Having a Successful Birds-
              of-a-Feather (BOF) Session", RFC 5434, February 2009,

   [RFC6771]  Eggert, L. and G. Camarillo, "Considerations for Having a
              Successful "Bar BOF" Side Meeting", RFC 6771, October
              2012, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc6771>.

   [RFC7282]  Resnick, P., "On Consensus and Humming in the IETF", RFC
              7282, June 2014, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc7282>.

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RFC 7418                  IRTF Primer for IETF             December 2014


   Thanks go to Lars Eggert, who became IRTF Chair in 2011 and has been
   carrying this information around in his head ever since.  Lars also
   provided helpful comments on early versions of this document.

   Thanks especially to Fred Baker for sharing thoughts about the
   motivations of research and engineering that resulted in a complete
   rewrite of Section 2.1.

   Thanks also to Scott Brim, Kevin Fall, Eliot Lear, David Meyer, and
   Stephen Farrell for providing helpful review comments, and to Denis
   Ovsienko for careful proofreading.

Author's Address

   Spencer Dawkins (editor)
   Huawei Technologies

   EMail: spencerdawkins.ietf@gmail.com

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