IETF sifts through future issues for the Internet

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) met last week and discussed the year 2000 problem as it affects the Internet, the possible death of the RFC, a spam policy, security, the new domains - and HOPS, a proposed new service which could make a useful contribution to efficient use of the Internet.

Speeding access to an overburdened Internet is part of a unique new service proposed at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) meeting last week.

With the proliferation of similar Web sites, caching and mirrored sites, files already often exist in several places across the 'Net. It is just that users have no way of being directed toward the nearest site.

The proposed service, called Host Proximity Service (HOPS), however, would direct user requests to the nearest 'Net host.

Improving 'Net performance is just one of the many issues, such as security, netiquette and 2000 issues, that the IETF is dealing with as it molds the Internet for the future.

HOPS is intriguing because finding the closest host could speed up access and lighten traffic on the Internet, said Paul Francis, a researcher with NTT Software Labs in Japan.

Francis said boxes designated as HOPS servers would keep a list of IP addresses and resources, and upon a client request would calculate the distance between the client and multiple host resources, and then direct the client to the nearest host.

Francis' proposal noted that Cisco Systems Inc. has a proximity server called Distributed Director that provides a HOPS-like service to provate Cisco router-based nets. However, it is not meant to serve as a publicservice.

IETF members said the HOPS proposal left many tricky technical issues unanswered. Issues such as how to probe for resources located behind Internet service provider and corporate firewalls will need to be addressed.

Francis promised to revise his white paper, which can be found at www.ingrid.org/hops/wp.html, and revisit the topic at the next IETF meeting in Munich.

On the spam front, the IETF Responsible Use of the Network working group is putting out a document that warns that unsolicited mass mailings are unethical and "just plain rude."

Author Sally Hambridge said she hoped the antispamming paper her group is working on would educate some users and give ISPs help in crafting contracts to ban the practice. "It's a hammer [for ISPs]," she said.

But Internet users were skeptical about the impact of these efforts.

"Virtually all ISPs already prohibit spam as part of their contracts," said Mark Welch, a California probate attorney who runs an antispam Web site.

Other topics of interest at the meeting included:

-- Domain names. Members of the International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) announced that their plan to add seven more top-level domain names and 28 new registries has been approved. A formal signing ceremony is planned in Geneva later this month, and the new names are expected to go into use in the third quarter.

But IAHC member Perry Metzger said the groups lawyers will not let the members comment on a lawsuit that could hold up the plan. Image Online Design Inc., based in California, claims it owns the rights to the .web proposed domain name.

-- The 2000 problem. If the Internet breaks down at the beginning of the next millennium, do not blame the IETF. The IETF has formed a working group to prove that its Internet protocols are ready for years ending in 00s.

-- RSVP. The IETF has hammered out an overview of issues to consider when deploying the Resource Reservation Protocol to prioritize Internet traffic. The bottom line: It shows promise, but do not use it too widely or on critical networks until the bugs are worked out.

-- Requests for comment. Could the IETF tradition of calling every document an RFC be coming to an end?

Mike O'Dell of UUNet Technologies wants to make the term history. He said it is too confusing for outsiders, especially when combined with terms such as proposed standard and draft standard.

Vendors often exploit the confusion to make users think their technology is standardized, he said.

"The term RFC is too polluted to swim any more," O'Dell said.

-- Security. Steve Bellovin, a member of the Internet Architecture Board that helps oversee the IETF, said too many Internet protocols have security holes. He noted that the problem is now getting national attention in the mainstream media.

Bellovin also said the IETF needs to work harder to think about security issues as it continues to develop new technology.

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