The IETF Process: an Informal Guide


This document is an informal guide to various IETF process documents, intended mainly to assist IETF participants in navigating the labyrinth. It may be out of date when you read it, if new documents have appeared recently. Please refer to the various RFCs, IESG Statements, or discuss with Working Group chairs or Area Directors for official guidance.


  • Date: 2015-08-25
  • Document editor: Brian Carpenter
  • Discussion forum:

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

BCP 9 (RFC 2026) has been the basis for the IETF standards process for many years. However, many other process documents exist, some of which are partial updates to BCP 9. This situation is complicated, so the present document offers a structured way of looking at the official documents. It may be out of date when you read it, if new official documents have appeared recently.

It is difficult to linearise a complicated and interlocked process. This document presents a guide in one particular order, but that is not intended to imply priority or importance, and it cannot capture all interactions between components.

Formally, IETF processes are described in Best Current Practices (BCPs) published as RFCs. Many of the RFCs mentioned below are BCPs. RFC numbers have been used rather than BCP numbers, for convenient lookup. To avoid any accidental ambiguity, this guide does not attempt to paraphrase or summarize their contents; the reader should consult the original RFCs.

2. The guide

2.1. General description of workflow in the IETF

No single document formally covers this topic, although the Tao of the IETF (<>) offers most of it informally:

  • How ideas for new work enter the IETF
  • How they reach a BOF (Birds of a Feather meeting)
  • How they enter formal discussion and possibly become material for a new or existing Working Group.
  • How WGs are chartered and managed - the WG Chair's and Area Director's roles.
  • How specific proposals become drafts and flow through the development, review and approval process

2.2. Definition of standards track and related document types

The main document is
Numerous documents have amended this one, and some have been amended or replaced in their turn. All these amendments are reflected below. A very significant change was introduced in 2011, reducing the standards track to two maturity levels:
Consolidated lists of standards documents used to published as RFCs, but this is no longer the case; the information is on line at <>.
Additional requirements for routing protocols were previously defined in RFC 1264, but this is now obsolete. It should be noted that practice and interpretation have grown around the documented rules; the Tao (<>) is helpful in this respect.

  • Technical Specifications
    These are described in RFC 2026 as amended by RFC 6410, covering standards track, BCP and Experimental documents. The STD (standard) designation is documented in
    Variance procedures for down-level normative references are in
    [RFC3967] and
    A specific process for advancing MIB documents is in
    A specific process for advancing metric documents is in
    Implementation status may be documented according to
  • Informational Material
    RFC 2026 also describes Informational and Historic documents. A distinction between obsolete and deprecated documents is not currently made in the IETF.

2.3. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

2.4. Review and approval process

The formal process is currently defined by two documents that must be read together:

2.5. Bodies involved in the process

The Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) is quite separate from the the IETF:

2.6. Conduct of participants

Conduct is also discussed in the Tao (<>) and in

2.7. Publication process

2.8. Parameter registration process (IANA)

2.9. Administration


2.10. Modifying the process

RFC 2026 defines how process BCPs are discussed and approved. An experimental procedure is described in
(Also see <>).

3. Acknowledgements

Useful comments on this document were made by: Harald Alvestrand, Scott Bradner, Spencer Dawkins, Leslie Daigle, John Klensin, Paul Hoffman, and others.

This document was produced using the xml2rfc tool defined in RFC 2629 .

4. Change log

Updated with RFC 7282, 7322, 7437, 7418, 7475, 7500, other tweaks, 2015-08-25.
Updated with RFC 6982, 7120, 7127, 7154, 7221, took account of RFC 7100, 7101, other tweaks, 2014-05-07.
Updated with RFC 6771, 6859, 2013-01-22.
Updated with RFC 6576, 6701, 6702, 2012-09-04.
Updated with RFC 6635, 2012-06-12.
Updated with RFC 5657, 6220, 6410, 2011-10-11.
Updated with RFC 4775, 5704, 5706, 5741-45, and various format cleanups, 2011-02-14.
Updated with RFC 5680, 2009-10-29.
Updated with RFC 5226, 5377, 5378, 5434, 5633, 5620, 5633, draft-dawkins-nomcom-openlist, 2009-10-23.
Reformatted as an ad hoc web page at conclusion of ION experiment, cited RFC 4228, 4844-46, 5078, 2008-04-14.
DRAFT ion-procdocs 2007-06-27: cited RFC 4897, 4879, 4181, 4841, 4858.
DRAFT ion-procdocs 2007-02-14: public comments incorporated
DRAFT ion-procdocs 2007-01-29: converted to ION format
draft-carpenter-procdoc-roadmap-05: Earlier drafts of this document included references to drafts proposing changes to the standards process. These have been removed to make this document a more stable reference. It has been renamed from "roadmap" to "guide." Some editorial rearrangements have been made. 2006-08-02
draft-carpenter-procdoc-roadmap-04: minor additions, tuned Abstract and Introduction, 2006-02-20
draft-carpenter-procdoc-roadmap-03: minor additions, 2005-12-20
draft-carpenter-procdoc-roadmap-02: minor additions, 2005-10-11
draft-carpenter-procdoc-roadmap-01: minor additions, 2005-09-20
draft-carpenter-procdoc-roadmap-00: original version, 2005-08-22

5. References

5.1. Normative References (Rules)

[RFC2014] Weinrib, A. and J. Postel, "IRTF Research Group Guidelines and Procedures", BCP 8, RFC 2014, DOI 10.17487/RFC2014, October 1996.
[RFC2026] Bradner, S., "The Internet Standards Process -- Revision 3", BCP 9, RFC 2026, DOI 10.17487/RFC2026, October 1996.
[RFC2028] Hovey, R. and S. Bradner, "The Organizations Involved in the IETF Standards Process", BCP 11, RFC 2028, DOI 10.17487/RFC2028, October 1996.
[RFC2360] Scott, G., "Guide for Internet Standards Writers", BCP 22, RFC 2360, DOI 10.17487/RFC2360, June 1998.
[RFC2418] Bradner, S., "IETF Working Group Guidelines and Procedures", BCP 25, RFC 2418, DOI 10.17487/RFC2418, September 1998.
[RFC2438] O'Dell, M., Alvestrand, H., Wijnen, B. and S. Bradner, "Advancement of MIB specifications on the IETF Standards Track", BCP 27, RFC 2438, DOI 10.17487/RFC2438, October 1998.
[RFC2850] Internet Architecture Board and B. Carpenter, "Charter of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB)", BCP 39, RFC 2850, DOI 10.17487/RFC2850, May 2000.
[RFC3005] Harris, S., "IETF Discussion List Charter", BCP 45, RFC 3005, DOI 10.17487/RFC3005, November 2000.
[RFC3233] Hoffman, P. and S. Bradner, "Defining the IETF", BCP 58, RFC 3233, DOI 10.17487/RFC3233, February 2002.
[RFC3552] Rescorla, E. and B. Korver, "Guidelines for Writing RFC Text on Security Considerations", BCP 72, RFC 3552, DOI 10.17487/RFC3552, July 2003.
[RFC3677] Daigle, L. and Internet Architecture Board, "IETF ISOC Board of Trustee Appointment Procedures", BCP 77, RFC 3677, DOI 10.17487/RFC3677, December 2003.
[RFC3683] Rose, M., "A Practice for Revoking Posting Rights to IETF Mailing Lists", BCP 83, RFC 3683, DOI 10.17487/RFC3683, March 2004.
[RFC3933] Klensin, J. and S. Dawkins, "A Model for IETF Process Experiments", BCP 93, RFC 3933, DOI 10.17487/RFC3933, November 2004.
[RFC3934] Wasserman, M., "Updates to RFC 2418 Regarding the Management of IETF Mailing Lists", BCP 25, RFC 3934, DOI 10.17487/RFC3934, October 2004.
[RFC3935] Alvestrand, H., "A Mission Statement for the IETF", BCP 95, RFC 3935, DOI 10.17487/RFC3935, October 2004.
[RFC3967] Bush, R. and T. Narten, "Clarifying when Standards Track Documents may Refer Normatively to Documents at a Lower Level", BCP 97, RFC 3967, DOI 10.17487/RFC3967, December 2004.
[RFC3979] Bradner, S., "Intellectual Property Rights in IETF Technology", BCP 79, RFC 3979, DOI 10.17487/RFC3979, March 2005.
[RFC4052] Daigle, L. and Internet Architecture Board, "IAB Processes for Management of IETF Liaison Relationships", BCP 102, RFC 4052, DOI 10.17487/RFC4052, April 2005.
[RFC4053] Trowbridge, S., Bradner, S. and F. Baker, "Procedures for Handling Liaison Statements to and from the IETF", BCP 103, RFC 4053, DOI 10.17487/RFC4053, April 2005.
[RFC4071] Austein, R. and B. Wijnen, "Structure of the IETF Administrative Support Activity (IASA)", BCP 101, RFC 4071, DOI 10.17487/RFC4071, April 2005.
[RFC4181] Heard, C., "Guidelines for Authors and Reviewers of MIB Documents", BCP 111, RFC 4181, DOI 10.17487/RFC4181, September 2005.
[RFC4333] Huston, G. and B. Wijnen, "The IETF Administrative Oversight Committee (IAOC) Member Selection Guidelines and Process", BCP 113, RFC 4333, DOI 10.17487/RFC4333, December 2005.
[RFC4371] Carpenter, B. and L. Lynch, "BCP 101 Update for IPR Trust", BCP 101, RFC 4371, DOI 10.17487/RFC4371, January 2006.
[RFC4748] Bradner, S., "RFC 3978 Update to Recognize the IETF Trust", RFC 4748, DOI 10.17487/RFC4748, October 2006.
[RFC4775] Bradner, S., Carpenter, B. and T. Narten, "Procedures for Protocol Extensions and Variations", BCP 125, RFC 4775, DOI 10.17487/RFC4775, December 2006.
[RFC4841] Heard, C., "RFC 4181 Update to Recognize the IETF Trust", BCP 111, RFC 4841, DOI 10.17487/RFC4841, March 2007.
[RFC4879] Narten, T., "Clarification of the Third Party Disclosure Procedure in RFC 3979", BCP 79, RFC 4879, DOI 10.17487/RFC4879, April 2007.
[RFC4897] Klensin, J. and S. Hartman, "Handling Normative References to Standards-Track Documents", BCP 97, RFC 4897, DOI 10.17487/RFC4897, June 2007.
[RFC5226] Narten, T. and H. Alvestrand, "Guidelines for Writing an IANA Considerations Section in RFCs", BCP 26, RFC 5226, DOI 10.17487/RFC5226, May 2008.
[RFC5378] Bradner, S. and J. Contreras, "Rights Contributors Provide to the IETF Trust", BCP 78, RFC 5378, DOI 10.17487/RFC5378, November 2008.
[RFC5657] Dusseault, L. and R. Sparks, "Guidance on Interoperation and Implementation Reports for Advancement to Draft Standard", BCP 9, RFC 5657, DOI 10.17487/RFC5657, September 2009.
[RFC5742] Alvestrand, H. and R. Housley, "IESG Procedures for Handling of Independent and IRTF Stream Submissions", BCP 92, RFC 5742, DOI 10.17487/RFC5742, December 2009.
[RFC6410] Housley, R., Crocker, D. and E. Burger, "Reducing the Standards Track to Two Maturity Levels", BCP 9, RFC 6410, DOI 10.17487/RFC6410, October 2011.
[RFC6576] Geib, R., Morton, A., Fardid, R. and A. Steinmitz, "IP Performance Metrics (IPPM) Standard Advancement Testing", BCP 176, RFC 6576, DOI 10.17487/RFC6576, March 2012.
[RFC7120] Cotton, M., "Early IANA Allocation of Standards Track Code Points", BCP 100, RFC 7120, DOI 10.17487/RFC7120, January 2014.
[RFC7127] Kolkman, O., Bradner, S. and S. Turner, "Characterization of Proposed Standards", BCP 9, RFC 7127, DOI 10.17487/RFC7127, January 2014.
[RFC7154] Moonesamy, S., "IETF Guidelines for Conduct", BCP 54, RFC 7154, DOI 10.17487/RFC7154, March 2014.
[RFC7437] Kucherawy, M., "IAB, IESG, and IAOC Selection, Confirmation, and Recall Process: Operation of the Nominating and Recall Committees", BCP 10, RFC 7437, DOI 10.17487/RFC7437, January 2015.
[RFC7475] Dawkins, S., "Increasing the Number of Area Directors in an IETF Area", BCP 9, RFC 7475, DOI 10.17487/RFC7475, March 2015.

5.2. Informative References

[RFC1311] Postel, J., "Introduction to the STD Notes", RFC 1311, DOI 10.17487/RFC1311, March 1992.
[RFC2031] Huizer, E., "IETF-ISOC relationship", RFC 2031, DOI 10.17487/RFC2031, October 1996.
[RFC2629] Rose, M., "Writing I-Ds and RFCs using XML", RFC 2629, DOI 10.17487/RFC2629, June 1999.
[RFC2860] Carpenter, B., Baker, F. and M. Roberts, "Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Technical Work of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority", RFC 2860, DOI 10.17487/RFC2860, June 2000.
[RFC3669] Brim, S., "Guidelines for Working Groups on Intellectual Property Issues", RFC 3669, DOI 10.17487/RFC3669, February 2004.
[RFC3710] Alvestrand, H., "An IESG charter", RFC 3710, DOI 10.17487/RFC3710, February 2004.
[RFC4633] Hartman, S., "Experiment in Long-Term Suspensions From Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Mailing Lists", RFC 4633, DOI 10.17487/RFC4633, August 2006.
[RFC4691] Andersson, L., "Guidelines for Acting as an IETF Liaison to Another Organization", RFC 4691, DOI 10.17487/RFC4691, October 2006.
[RFC4844] Daigle, L. and Internet Architecture Board, "The RFC Series and RFC Editor", RFC 4844, DOI 10.17487/RFC4844, July 2007.
[RFC4845] Daigle, L. and Internet Architecture Board, "Process for Publication of IAB RFCs", RFC 4845, DOI 10.17487/RFC4845, July 2007.
[RFC4846] Klensin, J. and D. Thaler, "Independent Submissions to the RFC Editor", RFC 4846, DOI 10.17487/RFC4846, July 2007.
[RFC4858] Levkowetz, H., Meyer, D., Eggert, L. and A. Mankin, "Document Shepherding from Working Group Last Call to Publication", RFC 4858, DOI 10.17487/RFC4858, May 2007.
[RFC5377] Halpern, J., "Advice to the Trustees of the IETF Trust on Rights to Be Granted in IETF Documents", RFC 5377, DOI 10.17487/RFC5377, November 2008.
[RFC5434] Narten, T., "Considerations for Having a Successful Birds-of-a-Feather (BOF) Session", RFC 5434, DOI 10.17487/RFC5434, February 2009.
[RFC5704] Bryant, S., Morrow, M. and IAB, "Uncoordinated Protocol Development Considered Harmful", RFC 5704, DOI 10.17487/RFC5704, November 2009.
[RFC5706] Harrington, D., "Guidelines for Considering Operations and Management of New Protocols and Protocol Extensions", RFC 5706, DOI 10.17487/RFC5706, November 2009.
[RFC5741] Daigle, L., Kolkman, O. and IAB, "RFC Streams, Headers, and Boilerplates", RFC 5741, DOI 10.17487/RFC5741, December 2009.
[RFC5743] Falk, A., "Definition of an Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) Document Stream", RFC 5743, DOI 10.17487/RFC5743, December 2009.
[RFC5744] Braden, R. and J. Halpern, "Procedures for Rights Handling in the RFC Independent Submission Stream", RFC 5744, DOI 10.17487/RFC5744, December 2009.
[RFC5745] Malis, A. and IAB, "Procedures for Rights Handling in the RFC IAB Stream", RFC 5745, DOI 10.17487/RFC5745, December 2009.
[RFC6220] McPherson, D., Kolkman, O., Klensin, J., Huston, G. and Internet Architecture Board, "Defining the Role and Function of IETF Protocol Parameter Registry Operators", RFC 6220, DOI 10.17487/RFC6220, April 2011.
[RFC6635] Kolkman, O., Halpern, J. and IAB, "RFC Editor Model (Version 2)", RFC 6635, DOI 10.17487/RFC6635, June 2012.
[RFC6701] Farrel, A. and P. Resnick, "Sanctions Available for Application to Violators of IETF IPR Policy", RFC 6701, DOI 10.17487/RFC6701, August 2012.
[RFC6702] Polk, T. and P. Saint-Andre, "Promoting Compliance with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Disclosure Rules", RFC 6702, DOI 10.17487/RFC6702, August 2012.
[RFC6771] Eggert, L. and G. Camarillo, "Considerations for Having a Successful "Bar BOF" Side Meeting", RFC 6771, DOI 10.17487/RFC6771, October 2012.
[RFC6982] Sheffer, Y. and A. Farrel, "Improving Awareness of Running Code: The Implementation Status Section", RFC 6982, DOI 10.17487/RFC6982, July 2013.
[RFC7221] Farrel, A. and D. Crocker, "Handling of Internet-Drafts by IETF Working Groups", RFC 7221, DOI 10.17487/RFC7221, April 2014.
[RFC7282] Resnick, P., "On Consensus and Humming in the IETF", RFC 7282, DOI 10.17487/RFC7282, June 2014.
[RFC7322] Flanagan, H. and S. Ginoza, "RFC Style Guide", RFC 7322, DOI 10.17487/RFC7322, September 2014.
[RFC7418] Dawkins, S., "An IRTF Primer for IETF Participants", RFC 7418, DOI 10.17487/RFC7418, December 2014.
[RFC7500] Housley, R. and O. Kolkman, "Principles for Operation of Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Registries", RFC 7500, DOI 10.17487/RFC7500, April 2015.