- John Postel earned a Bachelor of Computer Science from UCLA in 1966, a Masters in Engineering in 1968, and a doctorate degree in Computing in 1974.
- He worked at ARPANET as a postgraduate research engineer, before leaving to work at the MITRE Corporation from 1973 -1977.
- Postel was one of the creators of simple mail transfer protocol or SMTP which plays a key role in internet communication and in the transfer of significant amounts of data.
- Full Name
- Jon Postel
- August 6, 1943
- October 16, 1998
- Net Worth
- SIGCOMM Award (1997)
- Postel Award (Posthumathously, 1999)
- Internet Hall of Fame
- Place of Birth
- Altadena, California
- Fields of Expertise
- [“Computer Science”]
- UCLA, IANA, RFC
- Major portions of Internet Development, including SMTP, Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, and more
Who Was Jon Postel?
Jon Postel was a computer scientist who had a major impact on the development of the Internet. He was involved in many of the early innovations that led to the massive development of the Internet, including numerous influential boards and technologies. He is also the creator of Postel’s Law, an influential principle in technology.
Postel was born in 1943 and grew up in Southern California. He attended and graduated from Van Nuys High School before attending UCLA. In 1966, Postel earned a B.S. in Computer Science. He followed that up two years later (1968) with an M.S. in Engineering. In 1974, Postel earned his Ph. D in Computer Science.
Postel was involved in the first iteration of the Internet, then known as ARPANET. He worked there while serving as a Postgraduate Research Engineer, shortly after getting his doctorate in computer science. During this time, Postel would first begin to study internet protocols and standards, working on the original Internet Protocol that allowed data to connect between networks.
In August 1973, Postel left ARPANET and UCLA to work for the MITRE Corporation. The MITRE Corporation managed a variety of research programs for the United States government, including several scientific and military applications. He would remain here until 1977.
Information Sciences Institute
Postel would work at the Information Sciences Institute in a variety of capacities. He worked there from 1977 until his death in 1995. He held many positions and was the Director of the Computer Networks Division at the time of his death. During his time there, Postel continued his research efforts and developed many internet protocols, including how internet websites were assigned and the development of STMP.
What Was Jon Postel Known For?
“Part-time” Internet Development Activities
Postla had numerous “part-time” internet activities in addition to his full-time professional roles. While these part-time activities were not full-time jobs, they did extend Postel’s influence and overall impact on the development of the Internet. These activities included:
- Editor of RFC (Request for Comment), a vitally important internet publication that promulgated internet standards.
- Board member of the Internet Architecture Board.
- Creator of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the organization which assigned names and numbers to websites and established the process by which this occurred.
- First board member of the Internet Society.
- Establishment of STD 8. STD 8 is an internet engineering task force that Postel proposed with Dr. Joyce Reynolds. STD 8 created Telenet Protocol Specifications and Telnet Option Specifications.
Conflict with U.S. Government
Shortly before his death, Postel had a conflict with the United States government. In January of 1998, Postel was able to get eight of the original internet root nameservers – servers that answer requests and give internet instructions – to reconfigure themselves. Doing so dramatically shifted control of the Internet from the government to the IANA.
The government was not happy with this change and instructed Postel to reverse it, which he did. A week later, they published rules that increased government control over the Internet and its servers.
The move highlighted Postel’s belief that the private sector should have more control over the Internet than the government.
Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)
SMTP is the protocol by which emails are sent. The backbone of much internet communication relies exclusively on SMTP, and it is used to send extensive amounts of data.
Postel is one of the creators of SMTP. He came up with the original Mail Transfer Protocol in RFC 772 (1980), publishing it in the publication of which he was the editor. It was originally written to replace and improve upon File Transfer Protocol. A year later, Postel improved upon his original article, establishing SMTP in 1981.
SMTP would serve as the backbone of all Email communication. Though it was improved upon many times, it would not have been possible without Postel’s technical expertise and two RFCs that he wrote.
Postel’s Law is an internet theorem. It is often referred to in one of two forms:
- “Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.”
- “Be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you accept.”
Postel came up with the law in reference to the need to create programs that we’re able to accept an extensive array of information using a liberal amount of standards and programs. However, all information sent should be sent under tighter specifications, assuming that the receiving entity would not be able to manage to receive information in the same form.
The law was originally written in reference to TCP/IP, but its applications have been expanded to a variety of other programming languages and protocols.
Jon Postel: Marriage, Children, and Personal Life
Postel’s net worth was unknown at the time of his death. However, his means were always described as “modest,” and he was never believed to be a wealthy man. Unlike many in the tech world, Postel was more of a computer scientist than a businessman, so this made sense, given his field of study.
Marriage & Children
Jon Postel was never married and never had any children.
Awards and Achievements
Just a year before his death, Postel won the annual SIGCOM award, presented to an individual on the basis of their lifetime work in the field of communications. Postel won this award – which he shared with Louis Pouzin – for his work on “internet development and standardization.”
After his death, Postel had the Postel Award named after him. This award was given in 1999 and on to individuals who made contributions in the area of data communications. Postel was the first winner of this award.
Postel was also inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.
Published Works and Books
Jon Postel has not had any books or published works.
- “The overriding rule, if you want to run a domain, is to be fair.”
- “Years ago when you?d go to a working group, most of the people in the working group would be from universities. Now most of the people are from companies who are building internet products and care what the standards turn out to be.”
- “Group discussion is very valuable; group drafting is less productive.”
- “Of course, there isn’t any ‘God of the Internet.’ The Internet works because a lot of people cooperate to do things together.”
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