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Jonathan B. Postel

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Biography

Jonathan B. Postel was a computer scientist who managed the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), playing a crucial part in the creation and administration of the Internet.

Postel was a self-described “mediocre student” at a Los Angeles community college in the 1960s who became fascinated with the exploding field of computer science. He transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles, where he earned an undergraduate degree in engineering in 1966 and a doctorate in computer science in 1974.

At the University of California, Postel was part of a small group that created ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet. In 1969, he helped install the network’s first communications switch. Over the next thirty years, Postel had a central role in designing the management structure of ARPANET as editor of the Request for Comments series, or RFCs. He also helped organize the Los Nettos network, a regional internet for the greater Los Angeles area.

Postel hated bureaucracy, and he wanted the Internet to evolve without a central planner. He developed the RFCs as a set of informal technical notes governing the Internet’s operation. As these ideas emerged, Postel subjected them to rigorous testing until they made sense from an engineering and aesthetic perspective. The RFCs became the network’s technical codes, and five hundred of them had been issued by his death in 1998.

Postel also expanded the role of the IANA as the central body for coordinating, allocating, and registering names, addresses, and protocol parameters on the Internet.

He was a member of the Association of Computing Machinery and the Internet Society, serving on its Board of Trustees. He won the International Telecommunication Union’s silver medal in 1998 for his pivotal role in the Internet’s success.