Network Working Group H. Flanagan
Internet-Draft RFC Editor
Intended status: Informational September 11, 2014
Expires: March 15, 2015

Requirements for Plain-Text RFCs


This draft documents the change in requirements and layout for the plain-text RFC publication format.

Editorial Note (To be removed by the RFC Editor)

Discussion of this draft takes place on the rfc-interest mailing list (, which has its home page at

Status of This Memo

This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

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This Internet-Draft will expire on March 15, 2015.

Copyright Notice

Copyright (c) 2014 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the document authors. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

In 2013, after a great deal of community discussion, the decision was made to shift from the plain-text, ASCII-only canonical format to XML [XML-ANNOUNCE]. The high-level requirements for the format of RFCs were defined in "RFC Series Format Requirements and Future Development [RFC6949]." Several different publication formats will be rendered from that canonical XML, including HTML, PDF, TXT, and EPUB.

The Unicode Consortium defines 'plain text' as "Computer-encoded text that consists only of a sequence of code points from a given standard, with no other formatting or structural information. Plain text interchange is commonly used between computer systems that do not share higher-level protocols." [unicode-glossary]

A plain-text output for RFCs will continue to be required for the foreseeable future. The details of what that means for RFCs in terms of which character encoding may be used, what the page layout will look like, how to handle figures and artwork, and how pagination will be handled, are documented in this draft.

The following assumptions drive the changes in the plain-text output for RFCs:

Where practical, the original guidance for the structure of a plain-text RFC has been kept, such as with line lengths, lines per page, etc. [INS2AUTH]

Note that this document provides guidance for plain-text RFCs; Internet-Drafts are out of scope.

2. Character Encoding

Plain text RFCs will use the UTF-8 [RFC3629] character encoding. That said, the use of non-ASCII characters will be only allowed in a limited and controlled fashion. The details regarding the guidance for how to include non-ASCII characters is under development and documented in "The Use of Non-ASCII Characters in RFCs" [I-D.flanagan-nonascii]. Please view the PDF version of that draft.

The plain-text file will include a byte order mark (BOM) to provide text reader software with in-band information about the character encoding scheme used.

3. Figures and Artwork

Authors may continue to include figures drawn with ASCII characters. If the canonical format includes figures or artwork other than ASCII-art, then the plain-text output must include a pointer to the relevant figure in the HTML version of the RFC to allow readers to see the relevant artwork.

Authors who wish to include ASCII-art for the plain-text file and SVG art for the other outputs may do so, but they should be aware of the potential for confusion to individuals reading the RFC with two unique diagrams describing the same content.

4. General Page Format Layout

Arguments both in favor of and against pagination have been offered by members of the community and summarized in RFC 6949. After further discussion, two plain-text outputs will be created during the publication process - one with basic pagination that includes a form feed instruction every 58 lines at most, including blank lines, depending on the text and artwork layout, and a second with no pagination at all. This will allow for both easier cut and paste from the plain-text file, uninterupted diff output, disambiguation between page breaks that may also be paragraph breaks, and a better printing experience for those working with the plain-text output .

4.1. Headers and Footers

The front matter on the front page (such as the RFC number and category), and the back matter on the last page (the author's full names and contact information) will continue with the structure described in RFC 5741 [RFC5741], "RFC Streams, Headers, and Boilerplates". Given the removal of the pagination requirement, running headers and footers will no longer exist.

4.2. Table of Contents

Given the removal of the pagination requirement, the Table of Contents will list section and subsection numbers and titles, but will not include page numbers.

4.3. Line Width

Each line must be limited to 72 characters followed by the character sequence that denotes an end-of-line (EOL). This limit includes any left-side indentation.

Note: A plain-text RFC is expected to be stored on a disk file using the EOL sequence of that system. For example, MS DOS-based systems use the two-character sequence: CR LF (Carriage Return followed by Line Feed), Unix systems use the single character LF for EOL, and EBCDIC systems use the single character NL (New Line).

Whenever an RFC is transmitted across the Internet, Internet protocol convention requires that each line of text be followed by the two-character EOL sequence CR LF (Carriage Return followed by Line Feed). A user level protocol (e.g., FTP, Telnet, HTTP, SMTP, ...) must make the appropriate EOL transformation at each line end. Note that binary transmission of plain-text RFC files can cause the sender's EOL convention to "leak" into the receiver, causing confusion.

4.4. Line Spacing

Use single-spaced text within a paragraph, and one blank line between paragraphs.

4.5. Hyphenation

Hyphenated words, including hyphenated word sequences (e.g., "Internet-Draft"), should not be split across successive lines.

5. Acknowledgements

This draft owes a great deal of thanks to the efforts of the RFC Format Design Team: Nevil Brownlee, Tony Hansen, Joe Hildebrand, Paul Hoffman, Ted Lemon, Julian Reschke, Adam Roach, Alice Russo, Robert Sparks, and David Thaler.

6. IANA Considerations

This memo includes no requests to IANA.

7. Security Considerations


8. References

8.1. Normative References

[I-D.flanagan-nonascii] Flanagan, H., "The Use of Non-ASCII Characters in RFCs", Internet-Draft draft-flanagan-nonascii-01, April 2014.
[RFC3629] Yergeau, F., "UTF-8, a transformation format of ISO 10646", STD 63, RFC 3629, November 2003.
[RFC5741] Daigle, L., Kolkman, O. and IAB, "RFC Streams, Headers, and Boilerplates", RFC 5741, December 2009.
[RFC6949] Flanagan, H. and N. Brownlee, "RFC Series Format Requirements and Future Development", RFC 6949, May 2013.

8.2. Informative References

[INS2AUTH] RFC Editor, "Instructions to Request for Comments (RFC) Authors", August 2004.
[XML-ANNOUNCE] Flanagan, H., ""Subject: Direction of the RFC Format Development effort", message to the mailing list", May 2013.
[unicode-glossary] The Unicode Consortium, "Glossary of Unicode Terms", 2014.

Author's Address

Heather Flanagan RFC Editor EMail: