Re: ISSN for RFC Series under Consideration

John C Klensin <> Thu, 22 May 2008 08:44 UTC

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Date: Thu, 22 May 2008 04:21:27 -0400
From: John C Klensin <>
To: Brian E Carpenter <>, Eric Rescorla <>
Subject: Re: ISSN for RFC Series under Consideration
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Cc: Working Group Chairs <>, IAB <>, IETF Discussion <>, Melinda Shore <>, IAOC <>, Julian Reschke <>, RFC Editor <>
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--On Thursday, 22 May, 2008 13:06 +1200 Brian E Carpenter
<> wrote:

>> I agree with Melinda here. I can't remember ever seeing
>> anything like an ISBN or an ISSN used as a citation in an
>> academic paper.
> Correct, but I have seen a wide variety of ways to cite RFCs
> and tying them all back to an ISSN number would be a step
> forward IMHO. In any case: at worst, harmless.

I think that is the point, along with the comments about
ordering and cataloging.   There is also the small matter of
this identifier  being guaranteed to be unique.  Fortunately,
there is no such guarantee for "RFC nnnn".

I think we should be a lot more flexible about doing something
that has been (I gather) requested by some other groups, that
will make it easier to persuade some libraries, etc., to keep
things on file, that will guarantee some small marginal
uniqueness... and that doesn't cost us anything other than one
registration and having the RFC Editor attach one more partial
line of boilerplate at the time of RFC publication (an ISSN
should not, indeed must not, appear on I-Ds -- they are not part
of the RFC Series).

This is not a matter of eating our own dogfood (or not).  We
have been unsuccessful in persuading much of the rest of the
world --especially the library/archival community to eat and
enjoy our dogfood.   IMO, it is time we grow up sufficiently to
try to accommodate their perceived needs, especially if it
doesn't require any fundamental changes to what we are doing and
the costs to us are minimal.

Two additional observations:

(1) While we think of RFCs as online documents, their
antecedents, and all of the early ones, were paper publications.
Our standard formats are laid out for paper and not, e.g., with
more or less dynamic style sheets. For better or worse, the
library/archival community tends to equate "paper" with "stable
in format and content" and "online" with "extremely volatile and
potentially ever-changing.   That set of relationships may be
broken, but it is what it is and not under our control.  I think
it will evolve to a distinction between "in page format and
fixed" and "live documents" (the first of which would fit RFCs
perfectly), but it won't be this month or even this year.  I
suggest that the community would be better served, and the ISSN
made more useful, if we treated RFCs as "authoritative paper,
copies available online" rather than "online documents".   If
that requires the RFC Editor or IASA to print out all of the
RFCs published in a given month, throw them into an envelope,
and put the envelope into the smail, I imagine we can afford

(2) Ed's comments about ISBNs are substantially correct.  We
could go that route, but the marginal cost tradeoffs are much
worse.  In particular:
	(i) Not only do they cost money, but they impose a
	considerable record-keeping requirement on us.
	(ii) While they would help identify things, they would
	not make a useful contribution to finding them, since
	RFCs are not distributed through normal "book" sources.  

They would have one small advantage: while an ISSN would apply
to the entire RFC series, if we used ISBNs we could, in
principle, assign numbers to standards-track documents only.
On the other hand, that (like other things that have been
suggested in the past) is just too subtle to do us any good in
the area of distinguishing between "standard" and "RFC" --
anyone who has enough clues to make the distinction on this
basis will have enough clues to read the header and boilerplate.


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