by J.D. Falk
This week, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) published a number of what they call "RFCs," which originally meant "Requests for Comment" -- the standards documents which specify the technical underpinnings of the internet. Two of these, numbered 5321 and 5322, replace earlier documents defining the very core of internet email.
On the surface, each of these seem surprisingly simple; one aims "...to transfer mail reliably and efficiently," while the other defines itself as "...a definition of what message content format is to be passed between systems." Yet without general industry-wide acceptance of (and compliance with) these standards, internet email simply would not exist.
This week also marks ten years since the death of Jon Postel, who arguably had more influence over the creation of the internet than any other single person. One of Jon's most enduring recommendations is to "be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you receive," which Vint Cerf (who had only slightly less influence over the early internet), described as "...a reminder that in a multi-stakeholder world, accommodation and understanding can go a long way towards reaching consensus or, failing that, at least toleration of choices that might not be at the top of everyone's list."
This philosophy is the root of all email, from the earliest standards discussions to the latest theories of authentication, reputation, and deliverability.