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The Official Documents of the Web

Introduction and Overview

There are four main bodies (plus a few others) currently defining standards relevant to the Internet and to Internet applications. In brief, the main organizations and their roles are:
1. Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
This body has defined most of the standards for Intenet protocols and data formats, and continues this work to this day. For example, the IETF has defined the HTTP prototcol and Version 2 of the HTML language.
2. Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA)
This body defines special names and numbers for use on the Internet. For example, the IANA defines character set names, default port numbers, and MIME type names.
3. the International Standards Organization (ISO)
This group sets many international standards, such as the definintions of character sets, names for language groups, and so on.
4. World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
An industrial consortium that works to establish industry-based standards for Web technologies. The W3C is responsible for the HTML 3.2 "standard", and for the cascading stylesheets language.
5. Other Organizations
There are several other organizations working to establish Internet and Web standards, while others, such as Netscape or Microsoft, are trying to develop proprietary standards which can then be "leveraged" into formal Internet standards.

1. Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)

Important References

http://www.ietf.cnri.reston.va.us/home.html (IETF Secretariat)
http://www.isi.edu/rfc-editor/ (RFC Editorial Home Page)
http://ds.internic.net/internet-drafts/1id-index.txt (Internet Drafts Index)
http://ds.internic.net/internet-drafts/1id-abstracts.txt (Internet Drafts Abstracts)
http://ds.internic.net/internet-drafts/1id-guidelines.txt (Internet Drafts Instructions)
http://ds.internic.net/rfc/rfc-index.txt (RFC Index)
http://ds.internic.net/rfc/fyi-index.txt (FYI Index)
http://ds.internic.net/rfc/rfc-instructions.txt (RFC Guidelines)

Internet technologies, including those of the World Wide Web, are largely defined by an organization known as the Internet Engineering Task Force. Within this organization, formal collaborative bodies called Working Groups define standards and specifications for different data formats and communications protocols. There are many dozens of these groups, covering everything from the HTML language to HTTP to new versions of the TCP/IP Internet protocols.

1.1 Specified Standards -- Internet Request For Comments (RFCs)

A Formal document prepared and published by these groups is know as an RFC, for Requests For Comments. Those documents that define specific standards are known as STD RFCs, or Standards RFCs. For example, RFC 1866 is the formal specification for HTML Version 2. These documents define the technologies used on the Internet. RFCs are stored, as plain text documents, at a number of Internet anonymous FTP archive sites. For example, one archive of RFC documents is found at the machine ds.internic.net. In this case, RFC documents are found at the URL (the second URL points directly to the HTML 2.0 RFC):

Thie IETF also publishes RFCs that do not define standards, but instead define generic information about the Internet, or that define experimental protocols that are not finalized "official" standards -- such experimental RFCs often evolve before becoming STD RFCs. For example, RFC 1150 is a FYI document entitled F.Y.I. on F.Y.I. Introduction to the F.Y.I. Notes, while RFC 1867 is the "experimental" standard that specifies a proposed protocol for HTML FORM-based file uploads.

1.2 Working Documents -- Internet Drafts (ID)s

Prior to defining an RFC, a working group works through various drafts of the proposed document, with each member of the group providing input, commentary, suggestions and criticism. These documents are known as Internet drafts. Drafts are very much works in progress, and than can change substantially from version to version. For this reason, all drafts are assigned expiry dates set at six months after the draft is submitted. After this date (or upon being replaced by a new draft), the draft is deleted from the IETF archive sites.

Internet draft are stored in the same places as RFCs, but in a differnet directory. For example, here are some current drafts: at:

Note how the draft name indicates the authors of the draft (if not developed as part of an IETF working group) or the IETF group the version number, and some brief description of the subject of the draft.

1.3 Official FTP/HTTP Archive Sites For RFCs/IDs

There are several machines around the world housing these documents -- You should select the closest machine, to reduce network bandwidth. The sites are:

1.4 Indexes of RFCs and Internet Drafts

In general, every site maintaining an archive of RFC and Internet Drafts also keeps an index of these documents. Often there are two files: an index file, usually with a name such as index.txt that has a short index, and a longer abstracts file, usually with a name such as abstracts.txt. There may also be a directory with the name guidelines, which contains guidelines for those wishing to submit RFCs or prepare Internet Drafts.

2. Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA)

Important References

http://www.isi.edu/div7/iana/overview.html (IANA Overview)
ftp://ftp.isi.edu/in-notes/iana/assignments/ (Assigned Names)

To quote from the IANA home page:
The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is the central coordinator for the assignment of unique parameter values for Internet protocols.

The IANA is chartered by the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Federal Network Council (FNC) to act as the clearinghouse to assign and coordinate the use of numerous Internet protocol parameters.

The assigned names cover a variety of topics, ranging from DNS (domain name system) naming parameters to the assignment of default port numbers for Internet services. For Web applications, some of the most important assignment categories are MIME media type identifiers, character set names, URI scheme identifiers, and URL scheme identifiers. Additional information on other naming schemes managed by the IANA is found at the URLs referenced at the beginning of this section.


Many names in current use (such as MIME types for special data types used by browser plugins, or character set names) are not defined by the IANA standards. Thus, there are often multiple names for the same type of object.

3. International Standards Organization (ISO)

Important References

http://www.iso.ch/ ( ISO Home Page)

The International Standards Organization, or ISO, certifies standards for international use. The ISO has specified many standards, including character sets (ISO Latin-1, for example), the X.400 mail protocols and X.500 directory protocols (largely unimplemented) and the SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) specifications. And, of course, ISO 9000 certification is also an ISO spec.

as far as the Web is concerned, the most important ISO specifications are the language code (ISO 639) and country code (ISO 3166) specifications, although the SGML specifications are also relevant.

4. World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

http://www.w3.org (W3C Home page)
http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/TR/ (Draft Standards)

The World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, has taken on the role of "standards body" for several of the core Web technologies. In particular, the W3C put forward the current "standard" version of HTML, known as HTML3.2, and has been actively pursuing a consensus on extensions to HTML. Thus the W3C has proposed various enhancements, such as the OBJECT element, cascading stylesheets, and the PICS Web-page classification technology.

These standards are not standards according to the IETF definitions. However, they do represent a consensus of major industrial players, and are thus likely to become standards in the near future.

Other Specifications Bodies

A) Joint Technical Committee (JTC1)

http://www.iso.ch/meme/JTC1.html (JTC Home page)

This is a joint committee, shared by the ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and led by ANSI (American National Standards Institute), which develops international standards in information technology. This organization is involved in efforts to integrate the Internet and Web standards into the ISO/IEC/ANSI standards process.

B) International Committee for Accessible Document Design (ICADD)

In support of easy interchange of documents with non text-based browsers (for example, Braille or text-to-speech based tools), the International Committee for Accessible Document Design (ICADD) has produced several DTD components for alternative access to documents. ICADD applications are designed to support usable access to structured information by print-impaired individuals through Braille, large print and voice synthesis. For more information on SDA ( SGML Document Access (SDA) fixed attributes ) & ICADD, see:

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© Ian S. Graham , 1994-1996
Last Update: 17 December 1996