The Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) works in tandem/parallel with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The charter of both organisations is granted by the Internet Society. The IRTF and IEFT are comprised of working groups who suggest, research and engineer specifications for new Internet Standards. The majority of the work conducted by the working groups of the IRTF and IEFT is related to evolving Internet protocols, and primarily the protocols found within the Internet protocol suite.
What differentiates the IRTF and IEFT: the working groups of the IRTF are primarily concerned with research: which, by it's nature, tends to involve long term projects which will evolve the Internet over a decade or longer. The working groups of the IEFT are primarily focused upon engineering issues: which, by it's nature, tends to involve short-medium term projects that need to be completed within years. RFC 4400 states that the IRTF tends to work on subjects that are not adequately mature for IETF standardisation. So to re-cap:
The IRTF is organised in a similar 'fashion' to the other Internet organisations: a 'chair' manages the research working groups, and the 'chair' will then liaise with the other Internet organisations to oversee overall Internet standards and policies. At present, 2014, the IRTF is comprised of seven research working groups:
The chronological order of the 'chairs' of the IRFT has been:
The Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) was founded in 1989 by the the Internet Activities Board (IAB) - according to RFC 4400 - when he IAB decided to restructure the task forces it oversaw into two organisations: IETF and IRTF. Early members/volunteers of the IRTF tended to be individuals who worked at academic and research communities, such as: MIT, BBN, UCL, UCLA, and SDSC. These were the academic and research communities that built ARPANET and evolved TCP/IP from it's inception. From it's foundation, the IRTF Chair has been appointed by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) - a renamed Internet Activities Board (IAB) - which means the IAB has influence and authority upon the work and agenda carried out by the IRTF.
In 1996, A. Weinrib of Intel Corporation and J. Postel of ISI, edited RFC 2014, titled "IRTF Research Group Guidelines and Procedures": which outlines the basic duties of IRTF member/chairs/volunteers, as well as describing it's philosophy and procedures. Jon Postel was RFC Editor, founding member of the IAB and Internet Society, and one of earliest chairs of the IRTF. Therefore, as individuals go, he played perhaps the most influential role in structuring and publishing how the IRTF would function. It was Postel, in RFC 2014, who stated that the IRTF was not trying to produce Internet standards and this was reiterated by S. Floyd, V. Paxson, and A. Falk, in RFC 4400.
As time passed, and RFC 4400 was published in 2006, it stated that the members/volunteers of the IRTF had transitioned from academic and research communities to high profile tech companies - who had the research funds - such as: IBM, Cisco, Verisign, Microsoft, and Qualcomm. Therefore, the subjects researched by the IRTF has probably evolved to be more commercially focused in recent years. However, the IRTF chair is still appointed by IAB, and the charter of the organisation is still provided by the Internet Society. The latest RFC document describing the role of the IRTF is RFC 5743: titled "Definition of an Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) Document Stream" (A. Falk, 2009).