It’s rather pleasing to see that ‘link rot’ and dead connections have been part of the internet ever since the start. As shown in RFC-315 reporting on a week’s worth of server status reports in February 1972, as read by Darius Kazemi. Of course the underlying notion of the internet as distributed system is that if a node fails, the rest can continue to work. This was fundamental to ARPANET. What’s pleasing to me is the fact that such robustness was needed from the start, that over half of servers could be ‘dead’ and the network still be seen to exist. That intermittence was not just a theoretical requirement but an every day aspect in practice. Intermittence has been on my mind a lot in the past few weeks.
Today in 1971, 48 years ago RFC-287 was published revising the Mail Box Protocol so that you can send messages to a mailbox at a different institution.
The potential utility for the mechanism was confirmed
Basically we’ve been struggling to get to inbox zero ever since. Of those 48 years, I’ve been using mail 30 years almost to the day. The RFC talks about sending messages directly to a printer, as well as to a computer to store. In the early days I would print messages that were sent to me (also so you could delete them from computer storage and especially from the shared mailbox I had on a system), and kept a binder with them. When that binder was full, and I realised what it would mean going forward, I stopped printing mail. It bemuses me how regularly corporate e-mail signatures still ask me to reconsider before printing an e-mail. Over a quarter century later!
I know about this and other RFCs (Request For Comments) because Darius Kazemi has a wonderful project this year, where he reads one RFC per day in chronological order and writes about it. It is an early internet archeology project slowly unfolding in my feed reader day by day, in honour of the 50th anniversary of the very first RFC on April 7th 1969. In these RFCs the early protocols are discussed and born that formed the internet. It is fascinating how some of the names of people coming up still are remembered, and others aren’t. And it has paths that lead to nowhere. It makes clear how so much of human achievement is iterative and incremental steps in the dark with people doing what seems plausible from their current standpoint.
Darius read this particular RFC on October 5th, and I wrote this posting October 8th, setting it to publish today November 17th at its 48th anniversary, with the same timestamp as the original from 1971.
Mozilla fellow, artist and distributed web promoting coder Darius Kazemi has launched the 365 RFCs project. For each day of 2019 he will post and discuss a RFC, request for comment, of the Network Working Group. Starting with the very first RFC that was published in April 1969, 50 years ago, and continuing to RFC 365 (published in July 1972).
Darius writes “In honor of [the 50th] anniversary [of RFC1], I figured I would read one RFC each day of 2019, starting with RFC 1 and ending with RFC 365. I’ll offer brief commentary on each RFC. I’m interested in computer history and how organizations communicate so I think this should prove pretty interesting even though RFCs themselves can be legendarily dry reading (the occasional engineering humor RFC notwithstanding).”
I think it’s good to bring the early internet (or arpanet) history to attention. This because I think having a basic understanding of how the internet works is a civic requirement for the 21st century. So add Kazemi’s project to your RSS reader (here’s the feed), and follow 3 years of internet history in 2019. (found via Frank Meeuwsen and Jeremy Keith)