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Who creates the standards and protocols for the internet?

Isn't the internet one of the most disruptive inventions of human history? We present to you the organizations that make online communication possible.

Standards and protocols for the internet InterNetX blog

What is the internet, if not a set of resources and conventions between interconnecting networks? Not surprisingly, a computer, a router, and a browser are not enough to establish an internet connection. To build a network and establish communication, you need protocols and standards. Even domains are made up of strict and precise protocols that ensure their functionality. But above all, the internet is not a fixed project. Since its first conception, it has grown enormously in terms of global extension, complexity and capacity. Behind the creation and growth of the internet, there are academic and technical organizations devoted to outlining standards and protocols. We want to know them better.

Who needs protocols and standards?

The internet consists of the interconnection of heterogeneous and independent networks. Well-defined frameworks are required to make all these networks work together.

To enable the connection between computers worldwide, internet agents must follow predefined and fully specified protocols and standards. Of course, different internet regulations cover several functions: from defining functionality to internet security, such as the DNSSEC to protect DNS data. Protocols need to be standardized to ensure interoperability between independently developed devices and software connected to the internet.

Learn more about DNSSEC, the protocol to protect your domains!

The most known protocol is probably the Internet Protocol (IP) which defines how to send and receive data. It guarantees a unique IP address to every single device on the network to quickly identify its origin. Even if it is not usually called a protocol, the Domain Name System (DNS) itself is indeed a set of protocols and standards. DNS defines how to turn long numeric IP addresses into user-friendly URLs with domains in a technical and precise manner.

These are the organizations that help define internet protocols and standards

Since the rise of the global internet, technical experts, academics, and policy-makers have come together under the roof of organizations that can ensure the interoperability of the internet. They give the network a significant definition, making communications within and between computer systems possible in an orderly and error-free manner.

Let's discover the organizations dedicated to defining internet protocols and standards that allow us today to enjoy an autonomous, interconnected, and fully functional internet.

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

Many of the internet standards we know, like HTML, XHTML, CSS, XML, and many more, have been proposed, discussed, defined, and formalized by the W3C. The World Wide Web Consortium was founded in October 1994 at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in collaboration with CERN by the "father" of the web, Tim Berners Lee. W3C's mission is to take the web to its full potential, creating protocols and standards that support technologies with specifications, guidelines, applications, and support programs. W3C has approximately 439 members (July 2021), including Amazon, Google, telephone companies such as Deutsche Telekom, international web services companies such as American Express, government entities, organizations like the Mozilla Foundation and research institutes.

The main objectives of WC3 are:

  • Universal Access: the web must make its resources available to anyone, regardless   of hardware, software, network infrastructure, language, culture, location, or physical/mental ability. With this regard, W3C has developed different projects, including WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative), giving rules for creating accessible websites.
  • Semantic Web: With the definition of the languages RDF, XML, XML Schema, and XML signatures, the Consortium has laid the foundations to allow computers and humans to interpret and exchange data.
  • Interoperability: This is of particular importance since it gives the users the possibility to choose the software manufacturer and, through its applications, guarantee to use the network without limitations.

Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T)

The International Telecommunication Union – Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (ITU-T) is the division of the ITU responsible for standards in the telecommunications and information communications (ICTs) technology sectors with are located in Geneva, Switzerland. The foundation of the ITU goes back to Napoleon III when the French government invited international guests to Paris to facilitate and regulate international telegraph services. This organization oversees technical standards in its specialized field to ensure they are rolled out efficiently and on time. The ITU-T standards are published as Recommendations, but they become de facto mandatory when adopted by national law. Since ITU is a specialized United Nations agency, their standards have a more international weight than other technical specifications.

The ITU-T Recommendations are named for example X.500, where X is the letter for the series, and 500 is an identifying number. Most Recommendations are available in PDF, and you can consult them free of charge. ITU-T is the body that developed the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) X.509 at the base of TLS/SSL and code signing certificates.

Find out how X.509 standardizes digital certificates in our article about code signing certificates.

Internet Architecture Board (IAB)

The Internet Architecture Board (IAB) is an organization established both as a commission of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and as an advisory body of the Internet Society (ISOC). The IAB is responsible in particular for the:

  • technical consultation of the ISOC, since it oversees the development of the TCP/IP Protocol Suite
  • management of the IETF activities and the internet standards process
  • support of researchers in the internet community
  • editorial RFCs management
  • administration of the IETF protocol parameter registers.

Initially, the United States Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) established the organization with the name Internet Configuration Control Board (ICCB) in 1979. This body was reorganized as the Internet Activities Board in 1983 with working groups dedicated to different technical aspects of the internet. In January 1992, under ISOC, the organization was renamed Internet Architecture Board as part of the internet's transition from a US-government entity to an international, public entity. Nowadays, among others, the IAB is working with ICANN to develop the DNS Root System.

Internet Society (ISOC)

The Internet Society is an American nonprofit advocacy organization created in 1992 to support the development process for internet standards. As they state, their mission is "to promote the open development, evolution, and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world." ISOC leaders collaborate with other groups such as IAB and IETF in creating internet policy planning. ISOC offers regular meetings, workshops, and conferences to raise awareness on different internet-related topics.

Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) operates as an activity of the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG). It comprises different working groups dedicated to a specific engineering and standards-making problem with a short lifespan. IETF receives decisions from the working group, identifies operational issues of the internet, proposes solutions, and develops and reviews specifications. The IETF has the technical competence to collect input from any source and turn them into network engineering principles.

Internet Research Task Force (IRTF)

The Internet Research Task Force is a self-organized group. It focuses on long-term research issues to evolve internet protocols, applications, architecture, and technology. Unlike other organizations, individual contributors run the IRTF rather than representatives. The IRTF organizes the ACM/IRTF Applied Networking Research Workshop and the Applied Networking Research Prize to promote the collaboration between the academic research world and the internet standards community.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE - commonly pronounced I-triple-E) is dedicated to engineering and electrical engineering. The institute was born in 1963 from the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and the Institute of Radio Engineers. With more than 423,000 members around the globe, it is the largest association of technical professionals worldwide. Today IEEE produces over 30% of the world's literature in electrical and electronics engineering, including computer science and related fields. Since 1997, it has published the peer-reviewed journal IEEE Internet Computing covering all emerging and maturing internet technologies.

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers was founded in California in 1988 to ensure the operational stability of the internet, with particular regard to DNS. It is a technical coordinating and regulatory body. ICANN coordinates and maintains several databases related to the namespaces and numerical spaces of the internet. It introduced the new gTLDs and included the internet protocol address spaces for IPv4 and IPv6, assigning address blocks to regional internet registries.

Read our interview with Chris Mondini, Managing Director and VP of Stakeholder Engagement in Europe at ICANN.

Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA)

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) coordinates the DNS, IP addressing, and other internet protocol resources. All domain names and IP addresses are allocated from IANA. Founded in the early '70s and led by John Postel, one of the fathers of the DNS, today it operates as a subsidiary organization of ICANN.