Federal Internet Law & Policy
An Educational Project

1980S: ARPANET to Internet

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"Between the 1960's and the 1980s, computing technology underwent a dramatic transformation: the computer, originally conceived as an isolated calculating device, was reborn as a means of communication." Janet Abbate, Inventing the Internet


Derived from The Internet - From Modest Beginnings, NSF

Inspired by ARPANET's success, the Coordinated Experimental Research Program of the Computer Science Section of NSF's Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate started its own network in 1981. Called CSNET (Computer Science Network), the system provided Internet services, including electronic mail and connections to ARPANET. [Kahn, Role of Govt ("This allowed new research sites to be placed on the ARPANET at NSF's expense.")] While CSNET itself was just a starting point, it served well. "Its most important contribution was to bring together the U.S. computer science community and to create the environment that fostered the Internet," explains Larry Landweber, a professor at the University of Wisconsin and a CSNET principal investigator. In addition, CSNET was responsible for the first Internet gateways between the United States and many counxtries in Europe and Asia.

From the outset, NSF limited the amount of time it would support CSNET. By 1986, the network was to be self-supporting. This was a risky decision, because in 1981 the value of network services was not widely understood. The policy, which carried forward into subsequent NSF networking efforts, required bidders to think about commercialization from the very start. When the 1986 deadline arrived, more than 165 university, industrial, and government computer research groups belonged to CSNET. Usage charges plus membership fees ranged from $2,000 for small computer science departments to $30,000 for larger industrial members. With membership came customer support. See also [Cerf Com Com Nets] [Salus p 199] [Roberts, Net Chronology] [Kesan p 103] [CSTB Realizing the Info Future 238 1994]

Lyman Chapin, Chris Owens, Interconnection and Peering among Internet Service Providers: A Historical Perspective, An Interisle White Paper (2005) ("Eventually, disgruntled computer scientists (Led by Rick Adrion, David Farber, and Larry Landweber.) who could not connect to one of the government-controlled networks established CSNET for the (academic and industrial) computer science community.")

1981: CSNET and ARPANet peer. [ISOC]


1987: CSNET merged with BITNET [CSTB Realizing the Info Future 238 1994]

1989: CSNET and BITNET merge to form CREN. "CREN's mission is to support higher education and research organizations with strategic IT knowledge services and communication tools. " [CREN History]

1991: CSNET shut down, overshaddowed by NSFNET [Kesan p 103] [CSTB Realizing the Info Future 238 1994]






BITNET (Because its There Network) established between City University of New York and Yale [CREN History]



Pranksters, Pirates, and Pen Pals, TIME Magazine (May 3, 1982) ("In his pin-neat, Northern California bedroom, a bespectacled 16-year-old who calls himself Marc communicates with several hundred unauthorized "tourists" on a computer magic carpet called ARPANET. This $3.3 million computer network maintained by the Defense Department provides a link between key contractors, but ARPANET has become a pen pal club, dating service and electronic magazine for youngsters and other computer hitchhikers gifted enough to join what is in effect a huge, electronic message service.")

"In 1974 Western Union was awarded a contract by DCA to develop a packet switching network called AUTODIN II. AUTODIN I, which has been leased to the government since the 60s, uses a message forwarding scheme. In April 1982, DCA terminated the AUTODIN II effort and implemented the Defense Data Network using ARPANET technology. " John Roberts, The Defense Data Network BBN wins contract to build and operate the DDN. [BBN Timeline]


Dr. Barry Leiner at DARPA reorganizes and renames the ICCB as the Internet Activities Board (IAB). This will become the IETF. [Great Achievements] [Kessler] [Cerf 1160] [Kahn, Role of Govt]

See NCP to TCP/IP Transition Below - Started in 1981

ARPANet splits into MILNET (military) and ARPANet (research). [ISOC] [Salus p 183] [TIME 1983] [Roberts, Net Chronology] "If problems developed on the ARPANET, the MILNET could be disconnected quickly from it by unplugging the small number of gateways that connected them. In fact, these gateways were designed to limit the interactions between the two networks to the exchange of electronic mail, a further safety feature." [Kahn, Role of Govt] [NIST 1992 p 4 ("In response to an overload of traffic on the ARPANET, the Department of Defense in 1983 split off the operation of its military traffic into a separate network called MILNET [MARS89]. The two networks collectively formed what was referred to as the 'Internet.'")]

Description of the DDN ~1983 "The backbone network of the DDN consists of packet switching nodes (PSN). The PSN is a C/30-E minicomputer made by Bolt Beranek and Newman Communications Corporation (BBNCC). The PSNs are connected together by Inter Switch Trunks (IST). Currently there are 174 PSNs and 300 ISTs in the backbone network. Each PSN will have at least two IST circuits. A majority of the ISTs run at 56,000 bits per second; some run at 9,600 bits per second. The network currently supports over 2100 hosts. " John Roberts, The Defense Data NetworK (1987)

Federal Research Internet Coordinating Committee, FRICC established. Becomes Federal Networking Council. [Cerf 1160]

"The Federal Networking Council (FNC) was chartered by the National Science and Technology Council's Committee on Computing, Information and Communications (CCIC) to act as a forum for networking collaborations among Federal agencies to meet their research, education, and operational mission goals and to bridge the gap between the advanced networking technologies being developed by research FNC agencies and the ultimate acquisition of mature version of these technologies from the commercial sector." [FNC Archive] the FNC has representatives from numerous Federal agencies - OMB, NSA, DISA, NOAA, DOE, DARPA, HHS, OSTP >, NIST >, EPA, USGS, GSA, NTIA, NASA, NSF > and Dept of Education; "advisory committee members come from the IAB, higher education, national research laboratories, computer and communications corporations, and private industry." [NIST 1992 p 8]


Domain Name System designed.

Military Standard Internet Protocol MIL-STD-1777 (DOD DISA Aug 12, 1983) This standard establishes criteria for the Internet Protocol (IP) which supports the interconnection of communication subnetworks Status: Canceled " This document specifies the Internet Protocol (IP) which supports the interconnection of communication subnetworks. The document includes an introduction to IP with a model of operation, a definition of services provided to users, and a description of the architectural and environmental requirements. The protocol services interfaces and mechanisms are specified using an abstract state machine model."


Steve Jobs introduces the Macintosh


NYSERnet established [NYSERnet History]

NSF gave DARPA $4 million to install ARPANET nodes at 40 colleges and universities; Steve Wolff remembers, however,
that “DARPA had just turned over management and operation of the ARPANET to the Defense Communications Agency, and the bureaucracy was such that it took until 1990 to get all the nodes in place. By that time the T1 NSFNET backbone service had been in use for two years, and the connections to the 56 Kbps ARPANET were redundant. As DARPA decommissioned the ARPANET during 1990, some of its nodes were actually installed and de-installed in the same week.” [NSFNET Final Report p 15]

National Research Council, Transport Protocols for Department of Defense Data Networks: Report to the Department of Defense and the National Bureau of Standards Committee on Computer-Computer Communication Protocols, Board on Telecommunications and Computer Applications Commission on Eng. and Technical Systems, National Academy Press, 1985.

White House, Science Council (WHSC) Committee on Research in Very High Performance Computing, Research in Very High Performance Computing, November 1985. 

Bjarne Stroustrup releases The C++ Programming Language.


The NSFNET Begins. See the NSFNET history on a separate page.

Statistics [Medin Slide 4]


Total Internet Hosts: 3082*
Total Networks: 515*
Total Internet Gateways: 144
MILNET Hosts: 448
ARPANET Hosts: 111
MILNET/ARPANET Gateways: 102
HOSTMASTER Mail: 898 Messages




Interop conference starts. [Salus p 183]

J Reynolds, J Postel, The Request for Comments Reference Guide, NWG RFC 1000 (Aug. 1987) "This RFC Reference Guide is intended to provide a historical account by categorizing and summarizing of the Request for Comments numbers 1 through 999 issued between the years 1969-1987"

OSTP, A Research and Development Strategy for High Performance Computing (Nov. 1987)


National Research Council, Kleinrock, Kahn, Clark, release a National Academies of Science report entitled Toward a National Research Network with Congress. This report apparently influenced Sen. Al Gore.

Morris Worm ripped through the network. [Medin Slide 10 (first DDOS attack on Internet)]

Van Jacobson includes Congestion Control TCP in Berkeley UNIX. Introduction to Congestion Avoidance and ControlPDF, Van Jacobson and Michael J Karels, November

Computer networks have experienced an explosive growth over the past few years and with that growth have come severe congestion problems. For example, it is now common to see internet gateways drop 10% of the incoming packets because of local buffer overflows. Our investigation of some of these problems has shown that much of the cause lies in transport protocol implementations (not in the protocols themselves): The 'obvious' ways to implement a window-based transport protocol can result in exactly the wrong behavior in response to network congestion. We give examples of 'wrong' behavior and describe some simple algorithms that can be used to make right things happen. The algorithms are rooted in the idea of achieving network stability by forcing the transport connection to obey a 'packet conservation' principle. We show how the algorithms derive from this principle and what effect they have on traffic over congested networks.

In October of '86, the Internet had the first of what became a series of 'congestion collapses'. During this period, the data throughput from LBL to UC Berkeley (sites separated by 400 yards and two IMP hops) dropped from 32 Kbps to 40 bps. We were fascinated by this sudden factor-of-thousand drop in bandwidth and embarked on an investigation of why things had gotten so bad. In particular, we wondered if the 4.3BSD (Berkeley UNIX) TCP was misbehaving or if it could be tuned to work better under abysmal network conditions. The answer to both of these questions was "yes"...

See also Bartek Peter Wydrowski, Techniques in Internet Congestion ControlPDF February 2003 ("'The initial response to ARPANET's congestion collapse problem was to increase the capacity of the network. This helped temporarily, but the ARAPNET continued to suffer congestion collapses until a strategy to control the load of packets entering the network was developed. In 1988 Van Jackson enhanced the famous Transport control protocol (TCP) [57] so that the transmission rate was responsive to the level of network congestion. TCP was made to reduce the rate of transmission of hosts when it sensed the network load was nearing congestion collapse. Since the introduction of this enhanced TCP, congestion collapse did not reoccur.'")

ITU Melbourne World Administrative Telephone & Telegraph Conference - agreement that international data communications shall be kept outside of the legacy telecommunications regulatory settlement regime.  Data was over private lines, something like Computer II.

McAdams, Alan K., et al.; 1988. Market and Economic Impact StudyLessons from Four Networkers (Second Report), NYSERNET.

ESNET - High Performance Computing & Communications:
Toward a National Information Infrastructure
, OSTP 1994




[NIST 1992 p 5]

Federal Internet eXchange (FIX) established

UCLA holds "Act One" conference celebrating 20 years of the ARPANet

IAB consolidates its growing responsibilities into two groups: the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Research Task Force. [Kahn, Role of Govt]

IETF RFC 1118, Hitchhikers Guide to the Internet (Sept 1989)

World Wide Web developed by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN [Griffiths] [W3C]

Host to Host
1983 - ??
1996 - ??

NCP to TCP/IP (IPv4) Transition

1980 - A Fateful Decision

The ARPANet had migrated to the NCP network protocol in 1970. However, this network protocol had its limitations. It assumed end to end connectivity between the communicating hosts and did not handle interconnecting different networks well. It also did not tolerate packet loss, coming to a halt if a packet was dropped on the floor.

Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf had designed TCP/IP to overcome these limitations. TCP/IP would permit interconnectivity between different networks. TCP would take on error control - permitting packets to be dropped on the floor as necessary. TCP could handle packet loss, resending missing packets as necessary.

With DCA managing the ARPANet now, it was decided that ARPANet would be integrated into the Defense Data Network (DDN). ARPANet would have to interconnect with different networks and in order to do so, ARPANet needed to migrate to the new TCP/IP. DCA announced in 1980 that ARPANet will migrate from NCP to TCP/IP (the second of three network protocol migrations), and that it would do so on a tight and non negotiable timetable. On Jan. 1, 1983, ARPANet would turn off NCP; if you wanted your packets to make it, the hosts had to be using TCP/IP. [Cerf 1160] (just for fun, contrast this to the Network Neutrality discussion and whether it is reasonable network management for routers to filter out specific traffic). [Great Achievements] [Netvalley]

The Internet would adopt the Internet Protocol version 4, believing that this would provide an inexaustible address space. As the inexaustible became exausted, the Internet has once again migrated logical protocols, migrating to IPv6.

RFC 760, DOD Standard: Internet Protocol (Jan. 1980) ("This document specifies the DoD Standard Internet Protocol.")

Protocol / standards / technology migrations are not always met with enthusiasm, especially when what exists is working. In addition, as seen in the sidebar, the Internet culture of consensus driven process had already developed. But this was a top-down DOD directive with a flag day deadline - resulting in a clash of cultures.

Vint Cerf, Final Report of the Stanford University TCP Project , IEN 151 (April 1, 1980)

Vint Cerf, Comments on NCP/TCP Service Transition Strategy, NWG RFC 773 (Oct. 1980)

"At no time was the controversy [with regard to the editoral function of the RFCs] worse than it was when DoD adopted TCP/IP as its official host-to-host protocols for communications networks. In March 1982, a military directive was issued by the Under Secretary of Defense, Richard DeLauer. It simply stated that the use of TCP and IP was mandatory for DoD communications networks. Bear in mind that a military directive is not something you discuss - the time for discussion is long over when one is issued. Rather a military directive is something you DO. The ARPANET and its successor, the Defense Data Network, were military networks, so the gauntlet was down and the race was on to prove whether the new technology could do the job on a real operational network. You have no idea what chaos and controversy that little 2-page directive caused on the network. (But that's a story for another time.) However, that directive, along with RFCs 791 and 793 (IP and TCP) gave the RFCs as a group of technical documents stature and recognition throughout the world. (And yes, TCP/IP certainly did do the job!) " [Jake Feinler, RFC 2555]

1981 - The Transition Plan

March 1981: Major Joseph Haughney announces ARPANet will migrate to TCP/IP on Jan. 1, 1983

In 1981, Jon Postel released RFC 801, the TCP/TCP Transition Plan that detailed a one year phase over of network assets from NCP to TCP starting in 1981. During this time, ARPANet Hosts would operate in Dual Stack mode, operating both NCP and TCP/IP.

RFC 791, Internet Protocol: DARPA Internet Program Protocol Specification , (Sept 1981) ("This document specifies the DoD Standard Internet Protocol. This document is based on six earlier editions of the ARPA Internet Protocol Specification, and the present text draws heavily from them.")

J Postel, RFC 801, NCP/TCP Transition Plan (Nov. 1981) ("The Department of Defense has recently adopted the internet concept and the IP and TCP protocols in particular as DoD wide standards for all DoD packet networks, and will be transitioning to this architecture over the next several years. All new DoD packet networks will be using these protocols exclusively. The goal is to make a complete switch over from the NCP to IP/TCP by 1 January 1983."

October 1, 1981 ARPANET did not forward NCP traffic

1982 - One Year Transition

Jon Postel, Vint Cert, and others press forward. An awareness raising campaign was engaged in which included newsletters, emails, discussions, and sometimes more drastic measures. Vint Cerf and Jon Postel turn off the NCP "network channel numbers on the ARPANET IMP's for a full day in mid 1982, so that only sites using TCP/IP could still operate" as a way of encouraging folk to prepare for the TCP/IP transition. [Living Internet TCP/IP] This was repeated in the Fall.

Those that were persuaded that the transition would in fact occured dedicated all of their resources to it. Everything would have to be written for the new protocol. Staff would have to be trained. Equipment would have to be updated. Problems would have to be debugged. This would normally take more time then the technical staffs were given - resulting in the commitment to all-transition all-the-time.

Others were not as persuaded. Bob Kahn recounts that up to the very last day he would receive emails asking whether the transition was actually going to occur - or asking what the real date of the transition was. When the transition transpired, ......

1983 - ARPANet Becomes the Internet

On January 1, 1983, ARPANET migrated to IP. Other large networks followed suit and likewise migrated to IP. NCP was turned off. [Netvalle] [ISOC] [Salus p 183] [Waldrop 85]

From the ARPANET to the Internet A Study of the ARPANET TCP/IP Digest and of the Role of Online Communication in the Transition from the ARPANET to the Internet by Ronda Hauben ~

"With the great switchover to TCP/IP, the ARPANET became the Internet." - Peter Salus [Salus p 188]

The transition was an enormous effort and was met with significant resistance and reticence. Adjectives used to describe the transition include "traumatic" and "disruptive." [Slaton and Abbate] (one participant recalled) "the transition from NCP to TCP was done in a great rush, occupying virtually everyone's time 100^ in the year 1982 . . . In was a major painful ordeal." [Slaton and Abbate]

Not every believe the transition was actually going to occur - or were prepared. "When the cutoff date arrived, only about half the sites had actually implemented a working version of TCP/IP." [Abbate p 141]

Many people hold the opinion that without the directives from DCA, the migration to IPv4 would never have been achieved voluntarily.

Additional References

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