Re: Do we need another protocol?


Bob Braden (braden@venera.isi.edu)
Mon, 29 Sep 86 09:32:51 PDT


        There is a growing trend in the Army to network Intel 310s running
        Xenix on a fat Ethernet under OpenNet. When asked why OpenNet instead
        of TCP/IP, the answer most often heard is because OpenNet provides
        inter-machine file and record-level access at the application level.

I never understood military politics, but I am curious how the army can
do this in the face of the DoD directive to use TCP/IP. If they are
in fact justifying it by the requirement for file access, it amazes me
that someone in DCA has not gotten excited about this.

        At one time, there was a brief discussion of the possibility of
        extending the FTP definition to allow for record-level access. It
        seemed to me then that FTP was the wrong place and that an entirely
        new protcol should be defined. Was this ever done and formally
        recognized as part of the TCP protocol suite? If not, why not?

The "why not" is easy to answer. No one eager to fund it. Protocol
development requires a number of experienced people to devote quite a
lot of time and attention. In our community, it also requires a cycle of
experiment and experience with test implementations. The existing DoD
protocol suite -- IP, TCP, Telnet, FTP, and SMTP -- was developed as
part of a coherent R&D effort programmed and largely funded by DARPA. The
importance of DARPA's leadership cannot be too strongly emphasized.

Since DARPA's mission is generally long-range research, it is no
longer interested in funding Internet R&D as an end in itself, and little
interest in "small" protocol improvements. So, a lot of good ideas for
protocols (file access is only one example) have lain in the dust for 10
years. Every 11.3 months someone brings up the need for file access on
this mailing list, for example.

Another fact has delayed work on the file access problem. There has been
general agreement for a long time that, as you say, "FTP was the wrong place
and that an entirely new protcol should be defined", but no coherent concept
of what a new protocol should look like. With no terrific ideas, and no
funding interest, it is no wonder that file access has languished for 10
years (actually 13 -- file access extensions to FTP were first proposed
by John Day in RFC520, dated June 25, 1973!)

Recently there has been a growing interest in the network file system
model, exemplified by Sun's NFS, as the right way to go for file
access. There is also an attempt, organized by DARPA and the IAB, to
revitalize Internet protocol research with a variety of funding sources.
The effective agency for this is supposed to be the IAB task forces. So
maybe the time has come to actually slay the file access dragon.

Suppose there were to be some meeting of interested persons to come up
with a draft specification of an Internet standard network file system
(note: NO capital letters!!) protocol. Would you have time and travel
funds to attend and contribute?

Bob Braden

   chairperson, End-to-End Protocols task force.



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