[ih] A few FTP questions

John Day day at std.com
Fri Sep 6 12:03:34 PDT 2002

At 22:50 -0500 9/3/02, Jeremy Neal wrote:
>           My name is Jeremy Neal, and I am a member of THINK, which 
>is a group lead by Dr. Chris Edmondson-Yurkanan to tell the history, 
>both technical and personal, of the internet.  The following is a 
>list of questions about the development and affect of FTP during the 
>70's.  The decisions made about what FTP are well documented, but 
>the questions of why and who remain uncertain.  Personal stories or 
>anecdotes for any part of the process or in response to any question 
>below would be much appreciated.  These questions extend from a goal 
>to establish a story of FTP and the people responsible for itŠoh, 
>and I am intending to use any responses in a small paper I am 
>writing on the subject, so I would like to use some of this 
>information.  I would be happy to ask each of you personally for 
>permission to quote, but if you don't mind me letting you
>1.)  For those involved in the development of FTP through the years 
>can you recall what influenced you to work on FTP?

Hard to say, "through the years" since there really hasn't been much 
work on it since 1973.  These were the first tools we needed to make 
the Net useful.  All of the "innards" of the net, i.e. routing etc. 
were pretty tied up by specific groups with contracts to work on 
them.  For everyone else the only venue that was available was what 
we could build on top of that. That really wasn't much of a 
constraint since there was plenty to do and frankly, just getting the 
innards to work was a major accomplishment without even thinking 
about other ways to make the innards work!  ;-)

Also, unlike the Net today, the Net then was dominated by people with 
operating systems backgrounds, not data comm backgrounds.  So it was 
natural for us to try to re-create the facilities we had in OSs in 
the Net.  In fact, I always found that I learned something about the 
deeper nature of these facilities in OSs when I thought about solving 
the problem in a network.

>2.)  In the beginning of the Arpanet, what was the demand for 
>something like FTP?  Inside the group of IMP locations, what was 
>there a level of excitement/ambivalence over FTP?  How long did it 
>take for people to begin understanding the benefits of sharing 
>information, programs, or research?

Immediate.  In fact, before FTP was available.  The whole point of 
the building the ARPANet was to create a "heterogeneous resource 
sharing network".  I think the phrase is in the title of one of Larry 
Robert's earliest papers.  I don't think "excitement" is really the 
word.  To be able to use the network for anything with the existing 
OSs, we knew we needed to be able to do 3 things:  have terminal 
access, move files, and submit jobs.  Hence the 3 upper layer 
protocols that were undertaken.  The job needed to be done and the 
problem of figuring out what a canonical file system that wasn't a 
least common denominator would look like was interesting.

>3.)  How did ICCC affect the progress made on FTP?
>Was there a change in atmosphere or a since of urgency?
>Did more people contribute as a result?

I did not perceive any effect of the ICCC.  The primary factor in the 
number of people contributing was determined by number of different 
systems/sites on the Net.  The meeting needed people who knew what 
the OSs could and couldn't do easily.  More people didn't necessarily 
contribute to that.  And your ability to travel was directly 
determined by your role in that aspect of the problem.  It was not at 
all like deciding to go to an IETF meeting today.

>4.)  At the ICCC in October 1972, how important was the concept of 
>FTP to the people organizing the event and the people attending?

You will have to ask them.  I wasn't there.

>Did people immediately realize its usefulness or was everything out 
>shadowed by the concept of packet-switching?
  Odd question.  Comparing apples and oranges.  Packet switching does 
something different.  FTP was just a tool to make the demos look good!

>5.)  According to the ICCC manual many of the scenarios were 
>actually contributed from former programs used at workshops at MIT. 
>How early did scenarios appear involving FTP or software that 
>exploited FTP?

Someone else will have to answer this.

>6.)  In between the release of each RFC what was process that would 
>precede the release of the next RFC?

There weren't that many RFCs or drafts.  There was a meeting.  Issues 
were discussed and decided on.  Someone was designated to incorporate 
them in to the document.  People in close proximity might get 
together to work out some details and a new draft was circulated.

>           a.)  How were decisions made?

"consensus"  (and a lot of very loud debate).  Sometimes the decision 
was based on a good punch line.

>           b.)  What meetings do you recall?  What was the mood of 
>those meetings?

Meetings were lively.

>           c.)  How was everything organized?

Around a table.

>           d.)  Who did the talking?

Everyone.  Transmission was distinctly full duplex, broadcast.

>           e.)  What people stand out in your mind?

See the list on the front of the document.

Your questions seem to be a bit wide of the mark.  They remind me of 
the character in David Lodge's Small World who in a tongue tied 
moment says he is doing research on the effect of T. S. Eliot on 
Shakespeare and then tries to recover by saying the effect of Eliot 
on our view of Shakespeare looking back through Eliot.  ;-)

Your questions seem to generated from the point of view of how things 
work now and try to impose that model on how things worked then.  The 
times and mode of operating were very different.

As I said above, I think most of us saw applying what we knew about 
OSs to extending an OS-like environment to the Net.  (Note the list 
of things taken up *after* FTP and Telnet were in place by the USING 
group.) The most interesting problem at these meetings was that up 
that point each hardware type and its OS was a world unto itself.  It 
had its own way of doing things and terminology, and it was RIGHT. 
The meetings that created Telnet and FTP was one of the first where 
people from these different worlds were forced to sit down in a room 
and explain what their system did.  There was a lot of confusion 
because the same terms were used to describe different combinations 
of functions.  And franky, the participants were not use to people 
saying what their system did was "wrong" since clearly what their 
system did was "right".  The discussions to work out what a canonical 
file system were that we could easily build on the systems we had 
(some quite limited) was very interesting.  We often found that what 
someone thought their system needed to do wasn't really what the 
constraint was and that lead to a solution that was more of a 
synthesis of the competing approaches and actually stronger than any 
of the single approaches.

One of the greatest (unsung) accomplishments of this group was that 
when confronted with what everyone else took to be an "oil and water" 
dichotomy that couldn't be resolved.  We actually found a synthesis 
that was simpler and much more elegant and that melded the opposing 
views into degenerate cases.  We didn't resort to just smashing the 
two opposing views together the way every other standards committee I 
have seen do since (including the IETF).  This result of that work 
has been for the most part overlooked.  I hazard to think where we 
might be today if had been taken more to heart.

Take care,
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