Network Working Group
Request For Comments: 1302
FYI: 12
February 1992

D. Sitzler, Merit
P. Smith, Merit
A. Marine, SRI

Building a Network Information Services Infrastructure

Status of This Memo

This memo provides information for the Internet community. It does not specify an Internet standard. Distribution of this memo is unlimited.


This FYI RFC document is intended for existing Internet Network Information Center (NIC) personnel, people interested in establishing a new NIC, Internet Network Operations Centers (NOCs), and funding agencies interested in contributing to user support facilities. The document strives to:


This document reflects the work of the Network Information Services Infrastructure (NISI) working group in the User Services area of the IETF. Because the working group participants represent a cross- section of existing Internet NICs, the opinions expressed herein are representative of groups currently providing information services within the Internet community.

Table of Contents

1. PURPOSE........................................................ 2
2. DEVELOPMENT GUIDELINES......................................... 3
3. DEFINITION OF A NIC AND A NOC.................................. 3
4. HISTORY........................................................ 3
5. ESSENTIAL NIC FUNCTIONS........................................ 5

6. EXAMPLES OF PRESENT NIC SERVICES............................... 8
8. DATABASE ACCURACY ISSUES....................................... 11
9. SECURITY CONSIDERATIONS........................................ 12
10. AUTHORS' ADDRESSES............................................ 13


The purpose of this document is to define the role of NICs in the Internet and establish guidelines for new and existing NICs regarding the user services they provide. This document is also a move toward standardizing NIC services, which will aid in the development of an overall information infrastructure that will allow NICs to easily and routinely cooperate in assisting users.

NICs for networks that are part of the Internet may be called upon to serve users of the greater Internet as well as those of their own networks. This responsibility brings with it the added challenge of coordinating services with other NICs to better serve the general Internet community. Toward that end, this document also proposes some easily implemented changes to facilitate the exchange of information and services between NICs.


The NISI working group observed several guidelines when developing this FYI RFC.

  1. While recognizing that the new infrastructure should be built on existing services, programs, and technology, the working group did not want to limit its thinking to the present, preferring to consider new approaches and to think toward the future. The goal is to move in the direction of an information services infrastructure for the National Research and Education Network (NREN).

  2. The working group recognizes that a user support system must accommodate a diverse user population, from novice to network sophisticate.

  3. The working group recognizes that not all NICs are interested in providing service at the Internet level nor in providing service directly to end users. Some NICs have special areas of interest and serve a more limited community. Many campus NICs, for example, restrict the scope of their efforts to campus computing activities. Therefore, an Internet NIC must have policies, procedures, and delivery mechanisms in place to serve not only end-users, but to aid other information providers and user support agencies.


A Network Information Center is an organization whose goal is to provide informational, administrative, and procedural support, primarily to users of its network and, secondarily, to users of the greater Internet and to other service agencies.

A Network Operations Center (NOC) is an organization whose goal is to oversee and maintain the daily operations of a network. Although sometimes one organization may fulfill the duties of both a NIC and a NOC, this document assumes NIC functions to be separate from NOC functions and addresses NIC functions only. Obviously, however, a NIC must work closely with its NOC to ensure users get the best service possible.


When the original Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was formed, SRI was assigned the essential administrative task of registering every host on the network and maintaining the Official Host Table. This host table was needed to interconnect the hosts into a network. SRI also became the repository for the RFCs, most of which were only available in paper copies because a file transfer protocol had yet to be specified. Because of its role as a central information repository in these ways, SRI became the natural place for users to call with questions, and the first NIC was born.

In 1984, the original network split into two networks: the ARPANET and the MILNET. The ARPANET was laid to rest in 1990, and the original NIC became the Defense Data Network NIC (DDN-NIC). This NIC was sometimes referred to as the "SRI-NIC" or sometimes simply as "the NIC". Today this NIC is maintained by Government Systems, Inc., and provides information services to the MILNET portion of the DDN, as well as performing several administrative duties that serve the entire Internet community. SRI continues to provide general Internet information services and maintains an FTP repository.

The days of having just one or two networks are long gone. Today, the Internet is an international collection of thousands of networks interconnected with the TCP/IP protocols. Users of any one of these networks can use the network services provided by TCP/IP to reach any of the other networks.

There are other major wide area networks, such as BITNET and DECnet networks, that are not based on the TCP/IP protocols and are thus not considered part of the Internet itself. However, users can communicate between these networks and the Internet via electronic mail, so Internet NICs often answer questions regarding these networks.

NICs exist for many of the networks that make up today's Internet. For example, in addition to the MILNET, in the United States there are the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET), the Energy Science Network (ESnet), and the NASA Science Internet (NSI). All of these networks provide NICs.

BITNET is a non-TCP/IP network that is accessible to the Internet via electronic mail. Its administrative organization, the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking (CREN), supports NIC services for BITNET users.

Many networks in countries other than the United States also provide NIC services. For example, such services exist for NORDUnet, which connects national networks in the Nordic countries, and JANet, the Joint Academic Network in the United Kingdom. The BITNET counterparts in Europe and Canada are the European Academic and Research Network (EARN) and NetNorth, respectively.


Network Information Centers exist to provide services that make using the network easier and more attractive to users.

To help meet this goal, four essential NIC functions have been identified as those that every Internet NIC should perform. These are the basic functions that define the minimum level of Internet information service. Each Internet NIC should:

The level of each service and the exact mechanisms for providing these services depend on the needs of the particular network user community. Funding, staffing, and implementation issues related to these functions are left up to individual NIC organizations.

Presently, only the first two functions, providing information resources and directly supporting end-users, are routinely performed by Internet NICs. The variety of ways in which these services are provided is described more fully in the section on, "Examples of Present NIC Services".

The last two functions, collecting information about other NICs and supporting the NIC infrastructure, are new roles that have evolved as the Internet community and the number of NICs have grown.

Each of these four essential functions is discussed in some depth in this section.

5.1 Provide Information Resources

Information resources refers to both online and hard-copy resources, such as online files, marketing information, and newsletters. NICs help users gain access to relevant information in several ways.

Internet resources.

In all of the cases above, users need a way to verify the authenticity and currentness of the information. Accordingly, each NIC should provide the following information for everything it makes available to its users and the Internet community: 1) a time stamp, 2) a revision number, and 3) the name of the NIC that produced the document. The NIC should also maintain contact information regarding the source of a file, but does not necessarily have to include such a contact in the online file.

5.2 Support End-Users

A NIC serves as the principle source of network information for its end users. NICs field a variety of user inquiries, such as requests for how to get connected to the Internet, how to locate and access a particular application on the network, how to determine an e-mail address, and how to solve operational problems. Each NIC must take a best effort approach to responding to these inquiries and take responsibility for a user inquiry until it is resolved in some way. Resolution may be answering the question, referring the user to the appropriate information source, or coordinating with a NOC to resolve a user connectivity problem.

To facilitate this role of information provider, the following delivery mechanisms are used:

5.3 Collect and Maintain NIC Referral Information

With the recent dramatic increase in the number of networks, users, and applications accessible via the Internet, it is impossible for any one NIC to maintain comprehensive, up-to-date information of all the services and information available. Because such information is distributed among many NICs, it is essential for each NIC to be aware of other NICs and their areas of expertise. Such shared information among NICs ensures that Internet users will be referred promptly to the correct information resource.

In an effort to gather data about NICs and their resources, information will be solicited from each NIC and placed in a database called "nic-profiles". This database will be available to all NICs. Such shared information among NICs ensures that Internet users will be referred promptly to the correct information resource. For information regarding joining or using the nic-profiles database, send a message to

5.4 Support the NIC Infrastructure

It is essential that each NIC take an active part in supporting the NIC/Internet infrastructure. Two means of providing such support are suggested here.


There are a variety of ways through which existing NICs fulfill the basic requirements previously indicated under "Essential NIC Functions".

Today's Internet NICs provide network users with a wide array of value-added services. The types and levels of services vary for any particular NIC depending on a number of issues such as funding, audience served, available resources, and mission of the network organization.

An overview of some of the services offered today by Internet NICs is listed below. This overview provides examples of the essential services recommended earlier, and also gives a flavor of the many avenues through which value-added user services are provided. This section provides examples, not recommendations.

6.1 Direct User Support

The main objective of a Network Information Center is to provide support for network users. Most NICs provide both telephone and electronic mail hotlines for convenient user access. Existing NICs also often serve as intermediaries between users and the technical experts who provide specific information. Because NICs interact directly with end-users, they can frequently evaluate their services, and modify them to accommodate changing user needs.

6.1.1 Referrals. Today's NICs are aware of other Internet resources and keep such referral information as up-to-date as possible.

6.1.2 User-to-User Communication. NICs can facilitate interactions between network users. Often this is done through conferencing or electronic mail. For example, a NIC can set up a computer conference dealing with a specific discipline or perhaps a specific topic so that users can share ideas and information with each other. Some NICs establish special interest groups and hold in-person meetings to promote the exchange of information between their users.

6.1.3 Application Support. NICs often provide user support for specific host applications in addition to providing information and support about the network to which the host is attached.

6.1.4 Technical Support. Technical experts are available at NIC locations or elsewhere to trouble shoot user problems. The range and variety of technical expertise varies with the organization.

6.1.5 Emergency Services. Most NICs provide immediate notification to users of impending events that may affect their network usage. This is often done through electronic mail bulletins which state the particular event, its impact, and its duration.

6.2 User Training Services

NICs sponsor seminars, classes, and training workshops intended to assist users in understanding the network environment. These training events range from general "what is the Internet" to workshops on specific topics such as how to use a super-computer application.

6.3 Marketing and Public Relations Services

6.3.1 Newsletters. Some Internet NICs publish newsletters which are used to inform subscribers about network developments and tools, and as marketing documents to try to get more organizations to attach to the network.

6.3.2 Other Publications. Many NICs also produce a variety of general purpose brochures and "how-to" documents which are distributed to potential network users.

6.3.3 PR Activities. NICs may be involved in a variety of public relations activities from writing and distributing press releases about new network developments to holding press conferences to announce significant technological events.

6.4 Information Repository Services

An important activity of NICs is producing and/or collecting information of interest to their users. Most NICs provide hardware to store such information online and distribute the information to their users both electronically and in hard-copy form.

6.5 Administrative Services

Many NICs perform registration services, such as registering user information in a white pages database, keeping a record of hosts on their networks, or keeping a record of contacts for hosts, networks, or domains.


Information is delivered to network users via a wide variety of mechanisms. The most common methods are electronic mail and file transfer protocol (FTP); however, information is also relayed via the telephone, FAX machines, U.S. mail, and in-person seminars, as well as via electronic bulletin boards and remote database access. NICs are always looking for ways of making information broadly accessible so that the maximum number of network users can use it effectively.

The following table lists the various information delivery methods used in the Internet today, and notes the kind of information distributed using each method.



Delivery Mechanism Type of Information Available ------------------------------------------------------------------

FTP Network maps, functional specs, draft RFCs, newsletters, protocols, any information in a file: ASCII, binary, etc. electronic mail General information, newsletters, announcements, security alerts, network status information bulletin board General information, announcements, source code hard copy Newsletters, user guides, resource guides, press releases, promotional information presentations/seminars Network applications, technology trends, technical overviews, general information about Internet environment, TCP/IP overviews Telnet Remote systems, applications person-to-person Answers to specific questions, contact information, referrals electronic conference Other users, discipline-specific information information services General information, promotional information, local interest information directory services Phone book information (white pages, and eventually yellow pages) library services Bibliographies, full text, references phone Specific requests, contacts, referrals, connecting assistance U.S. mail Newsletters, user guides FAX Variety of printed material Finger, whois User data ______________________________________________________________________


As has been mentioned elsewhere in this paper, NICs often are the sites of databases of various types of information, which are maintained for various reasons. It is recommended that NICs emphasize the importance of keeping such data as accurate as possible. In addition, it is important to allow people some control over personal information about them that may reside in a NIC database, especially if the information will be available publicly.

It is recommended that, as part of the process of collecting information for a database, a NIC should disclose the following information to those supplying data:

A NIC should actively seek updates to its data at least once a year. The date publicly available data was last updated should be part of the public information available about that data. In general, users should know when personal information about them is available in a public database, and have the opportunity to change it or revoke it.


Because NICs interact directly with network users, they will have to deal with network and host security issues at times. NICs should be aware of those agencies and groups on the Internet that have the responsibility of handling security incidents so that users can be properly referred when necessary, and so the NICs themselves have resources to call on should a major incident occur. NICs should be aware of security issues and security information resources, such as network mailing lists and the Site Security Handbook (FYI 8, RFC 1244), and advocate the importance of security considerations to their users. NICs should have explicit procedures in place to follow in the event of a security incident. Such procedures will probably include the means of interacting with both response centers and NOCs, as well as with users.


Dana D. Sitzler
Merit Network, Inc
1075 Beal Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2112
Phone: (313) 936-2648

Patricia G. Smith
Merit Network, Inc
1075 Beal Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2112
Phone: (313) 936-3000

April N. Marine
SRI International
Network Information Systems Center
333 Ravenswood Avenue, EJ294
Menlo Park, CA 94025-3493
Phone: (415) 859-5318