Architecture of the Internet

Fans of network regulation wax teary-eyed over the perfection of Internet architecture as they understand it, but the inventors themselves are much less sentimental. Here’s RFC1958, Architectural Principles of the Internet, an argument for constant change:

In searching for Internet architectural principles, we must remember that technical change is continuous in the information technology industry. The Internet reflects this. Over the 25 years since the ARPANET started, various measures of the size of the Internet have increased by factors between 1000 (backbone speed) and 1000000 (number of hosts). In this environment, some architectural principles inevitably change. Principles that seemed inviolable a few years ago are deprecated today. Principles that seem sacred today will be deprecated tomorrow. The principle of constant change is perhaps the only principle of the Internet that should survive indefinitely.

The purpose of this document is not, therefore, to lay down dogma about how Internet protocols should be designed, or even about how they should fit together. Rather, it is to convey various guidelines that have been found useful in the past, and that may be useful to those designing new protocols or evaluating such designs.

A good analogy for the development of the Internet is that of constantly renewing the individual streets and buildings of a city, rather than razing the city and rebuilding it. The architectural principles therefore aim to provide a framework for creating cooperation and standards, as a small “spanning set” of rules that generates a large, varied and evolving space of technology.

Some current technical triggers for change include the limits to the scaling of IPv4, the fact that gigabit/second networks and multimedia present fundamentally new challenges, and the need for quality of service and security guarantees in the commercial Internet.

As Lord Kelvin stated in 1895, “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” We would be foolish to imagine that the principles listed below are more than a snapshot of our current understanding.

Damn that must make Alyssa Milano’s head hurt.