Jonathan Bruce Postel (August 6, 1943 – October 16, 1998) made many significant contributions to the development of the Internet, particularly in the area of standards. He is principally known for being the Editor of the Request for Comment (RFC) document series, and for serving as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority until his death. The Internet Society's Postel Award is named in his honor, as is the Postel Center at Information Sciences Institute.
Postel attended UCLA
, where he earned both his B.S. (1966) and M.S. (1968) in engineering
, and a Ph.D.
in computer science
While at UCLA, he was involved in early work on the ARPANET; he later moved to the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California, where he spent the rest of his career.
Postel was the RFC Editor from 1969 until his death, and wrote and edited many important RFCs, including RFCs 791-793, which define the basic protocols of the Internet protocol suite, and RFC 2223, Instructions to RFC Authors. He wrote or co-authored more than 200 RFCs.
Postel served on the Internet Architecture Board and its predecessors for many years. He was the Director of the names and number assignment clearinghouse, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), from its inception. He was the first member of the Internet Society, and was on the Board of Trustees of the Internet Society. He was the original and long-time .us Top-Level Domain administrator. He also managed the Los Nettos Network.
All of the above were part-time activities he assumed in conjunction with his primary position as Director of the Computer Networks Division ("Division 7") of the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California.
The US takeover of the DNS Root Authority
On January 28, 1998, Postel, on his own authority, emailed eight of the twelve operators of Internet's regional root nameservers
and instructed them to change the root zone server from Network Solutions
(NSI)'s A.ROOT-SERVERS.NET. (22.214.171.124) to DNSROOT.IANA.ORG (126.96.36.199). The operators complied with Postel's instructions, thus splitting control of Internet naming between IANA and the four remaining U.S. Government roots at NASA
, the .mil
and NSI. He soon received a telephone call from a furious Ira Magaziner
, President Clinton's senior science advisor, who instructed him to undo this change - which he did. Within a week, the US NTIA
issued its " Green Paper
" asserting the US government's definitive authority over the Internet DNS root zone.
Postel died of complications following heart valve
replacement surgery in Los Angeles, on October 16, 1998, 9 months after the DNS Root Authority incident
The significance of Jon Postel's contributions to building the Internet, both technical and personal, were such that a memorial recollection of his life forms part of the core technical literature sequence of the Internet in the form of RFC 2468 "I Remember IANA", written by Vinton Cerf
. (This is no trivial thing given that between 1969 and February 2002, only 3,240 RFCs were published.)
Perhaps his most famous legacy is from RFC 793, which includes a Robustness Principle
which is often quoted as "Postel's Law
": "be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others" (often reworded as "be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you receive").