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Robert E. Kahn -- TCP/IP Co-Designer

Robert (Bob) Kahn, TCP/IP Co-developer, Internet History

The Internet,
and the UUCP and related networks connected to it, represents an outstanding example
of a computer network with these qualities. It is an open network of networks,
not a single unitary network, but an ensemble of interconnected systems which
operate on the basis of multiple implementations of accepted, non-proprietary
protocols, standards and interfaces.

One
of its important characteristics is that new networks, host systems, and users
may readily join the network — the network is open to all. The openness (in all
senses) of the Internet reflects, I believe, the sensibilities and values of its
architects. Had the Internet somehow been developed outside the world of research
and education, it’s less likely to have had such an open architecture. Future
generations will be indebted to this community for the wisdom of building these
types of open systems.

Mitchell
Kapor
, Electronic Frontier Foundation Information, 1993.

Robert
(Bob) E. Kahn
, along withVinton Cerf, is
co-designer
of the TCP/IP Internet network protocol. Kahn
laid the open architecture foundations for the TCP/IP protocol, providing
the Internet with one of its most distinctive features and what has proven to be a key advantage.

Kahn obtained a Ph.D. degree from Princeton University in 1964, worked for a while at AT&T Bell Laboratories, and then became an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT. He later went to work at Bolt Beranek and Newman, and helped
build the Interface Message Processor.

In
1972, Kahn was hired by Lawrence Roberts
at the IPTO to work on networking technologies,
and in October he gave a demonstration of an ARPANET
network connecting 40 different computers at the International Computer Communication
Conference, making the network widely known for the first time to people from around
the world.

At the IPTO, Kahn
worked on an existing project to establish a satellite packet network, and initiated a project to establish a ground-based radio packet network. These experiences convinced him of the need for development of an open-architecture network model, where any network could communicate with any other independent of individual hardware and software configuration. Kahn
therefore set four goals for the design of what would become the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP):

  • Network
    connectivity
    . Any network could connect to another network through a gateway.
  • Distribution. There
    would be no central network administration or control.
  • Error
    recovery
    . Lost packets would be retransmitted.
  • Black
    box design
    . No internal
    changes would have to be made to a network to connect it to other networks.

In
the spring of 1973, Vinton Cerf joined Kahn
on the project. They started
by conducting research on reliable data communications across packet radio networks,
factored in lessons learned from the Networking Control
Protocol
, and then created the next generation Transmission Control
Protocol
(TCP), the standard protocol used on the Internet today.

Kahn and Cerf designed powerful error and retransmission capabilities into TCP to focus on providing extremely reliable communications. The design was subsequently layered into two protocols, TCP/IP, where TCP handles high level services like retransmission of lost packets, and IP handles packet addressing and transmission. More information can be found on the TCP/IP page.

Kahn
has continue to nurture the development of the Internet over the years through
shepherding the standards process and related activities, and is now President
of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI),
a not-for-profit organization which performs research in the public interest on
strategic development of network-based information technologies.

Among other awards and honours, Kahn shared the Charles Stark Draper Prize for 2001 with Cerf, Leonard Kleinrock, and Larry Roberts for their work on the ARPANET and Internet.

Resources. The following publications provide additional information about Robert Kahn:

  • RFC
    6
    ; Conversation With Robert Kahn; 10 April, 1969.