The purpose of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), as the name would suggest, is to engineer the technical architecture of the Internet; primarily the protocols within the Internet protocol suite (TPC/IP). The IETF publishes it's work in Request for Comments (RFC) documents. The IETF is currently a not-for-profit organisation that is a non-governmental organisation. The IETF published a "Mission Statement for the IETF" in RFC 3935 (October 2004): the document was edited by Harald Tveit Alvestrand of Cisco Systems and stated "The goal of the IETF is to make the Internet work better. The mission of the IETF is to produce high quality, relevant technical and engineering documents that influence the way people design, use, and manage the Internet in such a way as to make the Internet work better. These documents include protocol standards, best current practices, and informational documents of various kinds." A later document, RFC 4677 (September 2006), is titled the "The Tao of IETF" and gives a more indepth description of the IETF; this document replaced one edited by Gary Malkin in 1994.
The IETF evolved out of the ARPA "Network Working Group": the NWG designed the first protocols of the ARPANET computer network (forerunner to the Internet) and the IETF was created to operate in the same context for the Internet. Steve Crocker was a founding member of the NWG, Crocker created the Request for Comments (RFC) document series to publish the protocol architecture of the Network Control Program (ARPANET host to host protocol), and this document series is now published by the IETF to document the architecture design of the Internet.
The IETF was founded on the 16th of January 1986 - when it hosted it's first meeting at Linkabit in San Diego (21 people attended). By 1989, IETF meetings were being attended by over 100 volunteers, and the 14th IETF meeting was held at Stanford University (July 1989). In 1989, RFC 1118, titled "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Internet", published a list of the current IETF working groups headed by the following chairs: Louis Steinberg, Jeff Schiller, Lee LaBarre, Paul Mockapetris, Ralph Droms, Bob Braden, Guy Almes, Craig Partridge, Susan Hares, Amatzia Ben-Artzi, Karen Bowers, Jeff Case, Bob Enger, Mike Petry, Marianne Lepp, Ross Callon, CH Rokitansky, Allison Mankin, Drew Perkins, Claudio Topolcic, Dave Borman, Karen Roubicek and Karen Bowers.
In 1993, as the Internet transitioned from being a U.S. government funded project, the IETF became an independent organisation whose leadership was to be provided by the newly formed Internet Society (who provide insurance coverage amongst other services for the IETF). The IETF presently has management oversight provided by the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG), and long term planning of it's activities is provided by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB). From 2005, IETF has a number of administrative staff who are located at the Internet Society offices.
The IETF is a loosely organised group of individuals who engage in evolving the technical architecture of the Internet. The IETF has no directors or members, it is comprised of volunteers who meet three times a year at IETF meetings; these are held in North America, Europe and Asia. The first IETF meetings were small and were attended by a handful of volunteers, present day IETF meetings are attended by thousands of volunteers. IETF meetings are open to the general public and anyone can register and attend; although they have to pay a registration fee. The ethos of the IETF has been influenced by two popular quotes from Internet pioneers David Clark and Jon Postel:
IETF meetings are attended by members of Working Groups, BOF chairs, Host groups, IAB members, IESG members and Nominating Committee members. Training is provided to new attendees. The agenda of the IETF meeting is published by the IETF Secretariat; although it is fairly 'fluid' in nature. The work of the IETF is conducted by Working Groups (WGs): each working group has a chair to oversee it's activities and a charter that describes it's remit. Training for WG chairs is provided before IETF meetings. Working groups discuss their work in face to face meetings and also through a mailing list. When a working group has fulfilled the goals of it's charter it is then expected to disband.
The IETF does employ administrative staff - such as the IETF Secretariat (IETF Administrative Director) - to handle the task of organising meetings, mailing lists, collecting fees and paying invoices. Oversight of the IETF and it's structure is provided by the: Internet Society, IAOC, IASA and IAD. However when it comes to standards development: it is the IESG (Internet Engineering Steering Group) who administrates the output of IETF working groups through the appointment of IESG Area Directors (ADs). The areas covered by these IESG Area Directors (ADs) are: Applications (APP), General (GEN), Internet (INT), Operations and Management (OPS), Real-time Applications and Infrastructure (RAI), Routing (RTG), Security (SEC) and Transport (TSV). The IESG Area Directors (ADs) wield a sizable amount of power upon IETF working groups: as it is they who decide which working group drafts will make it into RFC documents. The members of the IAB (Internet Architecture Board) keep 'an eye' on the activities of the IETF working groups and provide suggestions and long term planning to the activities of the IETF. IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) manages the numbering systems of Internet protocols and therefore keeps track of any changes initiated by the IETF.
The final goal of a IETF working group is to get their work published in an RFC document: when it will become an Internet Standard.