The need for smaller protocol specifications

John C Klensin john-ietf at
Tue Jun 10 11:28:18 CEST 2003

--On Tuesday, 10 June, 2003 07:15 -0700 Charlie Perkins 
<charliep at> wrote:

> If you think that my example of key distribution seemed
> like a perfectly legitimate exercise of IESG power, then
> I don't think we're likely to come to agreement, and I would
> view your opinion as leaning towards requiring specification
> for entire systems as opposed to mere protocols.
> Do you prefer system specifications or protocol specifications?
> Here would be one possible formulation for what I see as
> a major problem (perhaps _the_ major problem!):
> -- The IESG has tended to require protocol specifications that
>     specify entire systems, instead of simple component
> protocols.     This limits the applicability of the component
> protocols to     work only in the particular larger system,
> complicates the     implementation of the component protocols,
> and delays the     publication of the component protocols.


While I would often agree with the above, I think there is 
another, balancing, problem.  Perhaps there are differences by 
area or topic, but I think it would be equally accurate to say:

	-- The IESG has tended to approve simple component
	protocol specifications without an adequate
	understanding of the systems and contexts in which those
	protocols will be used.  If vendors or users adopt the
	protocols without adequate consideration of those system
	and contexts, this may create considerable risks for the
	overall operation of the Internet.  While protocol
	specifications should not be expected about every
	possible application and context, they should include
	documentation that describes which contexts have been
	thought out and evaluated and which ones, if any, are
	known to be inappropriate.

There is obviously a balance that should be found and kept here. 
Slogans like "complete systems only" and "small components only" 
are unlikely to lead us to progress, quality, or understanding. 
Note that I don't think you have been invoking such slogans 
--I've found your notes helpful and thoughtful-- but it is only 
a small step from what you have said, or my response above, to 


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