Someone had to keep track of all the protocols, the identifiers, networks and addresses and ultimately the names of all the things in the networked universe. And someone had to keep track of all the information that erupted with volcanic force from the intensity of the debates and discussions and endless invention that has continued unabated for 30 years. That someone was Jonathan B. Postel, our Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, friend, engineer, confidant, leader, icon, and now, first of the giants to depart from our midst.
RFC 2468; I Remember IANA; Vinton Cerf; 17 Oct 1998.
The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) has been the central coordination, allocation, and registration organization for Internet addresses, domain names, and protocol parameters since the early days of the Internet.
The IANA is housed at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute, where it manages a diverse database of Internet Protocol parameters and values for the ICANN, from port assignments to IETF XML URIs, ensuring they are assigned correctly and uniquely.
An historical snapshot of the parameters and protocols managed by IANA as of 1994 can be found in RFC 1700. Up-to-date values can always be found at the Protocol Numbers and Assignment Services website. New and updated assignments are periodically released as RFC’s — for example see the series RFC 3474, RFC 3475, and RFC 3476. A good description of the technical work performed by IANA is captured in RFC 2860.
Jon Postel. IANA was run by Jonathan Bruce Postel for thirty years until he passed away in 1998. IANA’s birth can be traced to 1969, when Postel first started keeping lists of network protocol numbers on a scrap of notebook paper. Postel joined the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California in 1977, and later became Director of the Computer Networks Division. Helped by Joyce K. Reynolds since 1983, he expanded the IANA staff and functions to keep the Internet running smoothly through the explosive growth years of the 1990’s.
Jon’s contributions went well beyond IANA — he played a unique and pivotal role in the development and maintenance of the Internet in its first years. His contributions started early — he worked for Douglas Engelbart at SRI International where he helped develop the NLS system which became the second computer on the ARPANET, and he worked at the Network Measurement Centre for Leonard Kleinrock where he helped connect the first computer to the ARPANET.
In addition to his work at IANA, after becoming the RFC Editor in the early 1970’s, he oversaw the documentation of the Internet’s procedures and technical standards for a quarter of a century. He helped develop many of the Internet protocols, including the Domain Name System, File Transfer Protocol, Telnet, and the Internet Protocol itself. He was the custodian of the .us domain, a founding member of the IAB, and a member of the ISOC. He received many awards for his contribution to the Internet, including the Association for Computing Machinery’s SIGCOMM award in 1987, and the International Telecommunication Union‘s silver medal in 1998 for his role leading the IANA.
Resources. The following resources provide more information about Jon Postel:
- Changing the world, quietly; Dave Crocker; 18 Oct 1998
- Interview; David Bennahum; 1995
- Networker Interview; Summer 1997
- RFC 2468; I Remember IANA; Vinton Cerf; 17 Oct 1998
- Working with Jon; Danny Cohen; 2 Nov 1998.