Jon Postel – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

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Jon Postel – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

Jon Postel was a computer scientist and pioneer in the early days of the Internet. He is known for being an editor of RFC (Request for Comment), a vitally important internet publication that promulgated internet standards. His work with the RFC contributed greatly to the future development of the domain name system (DNS) and the creation of some of the internet’s most fundamental protocols. These protocols are still used today as the backbone of the internet, allowing data to be transmitted between different computers and devices around the world.

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.

Quick Facts

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”]
Major portions of Internet Development, including SMTP, Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, and more
Data science and big data technology. Scientist computing, analysing and visualizing complex data set on computer. Data mining, artificial intelligence, machine learning, business analytics.
John Postel was a computer scientist, which is different than a computer engineer or programmer. Computer scientists are the brains behind the technology — the theoretical side of computation — and lay the foundation for other areas of study.

Early Life

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. 

A young businessman uses a futuristic laptop with the latest holographic technology augmented reality with the inscription "ARPA"

ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) was one of the first versions of the Internet.

MITRE Corporation

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 of 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. 

Written word SMTP Simple Mail Transfer Protocol on blue keyboard button. Internet Protocol Concept
SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) is a way for computers on the Internet to send and receive emails.

Postel’s Law

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

Net Worth

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 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.

Notable Quotes

  • “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.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Jon Postel?

Jon Postel was a computer scientist and a major figure in the early development of the Internet. He worked on the early ARPANET, where he was instrumental in a variety of technological advances that would lead towards the development of the Internet. During this time, he held numerous vitally important positions, including RFC Editor, Director of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, and more.

When did Jon Postel die?

Jon Postel died on October 16, 1998. He was 55 years old at the time of his death.

How did Jon Postel die?

Postel died as a result of complications he experienced during what was supposed to be relatively routine heart surgery. He had the surgery to repair a leaking heart valve.

What did Jon Postel invent?

Postel didn’t invent anything. However, he was heavily involved in a variety of foundational aspects that led to the development of the Internet. This included the Request for Comment publication, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, the Internet Authority, and more.

What were Jon Postel's greatest contributions in technology?

Jon Postel was involved with a series of technological contributions that were considered vital to the expansion and creation of internet standards. He was the editor of Request for Comment, Director of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, and the first member of the Internet Society. In these positions, Postel advocated for the continued technological advancement of the Internet. He also ran into disputes with the United States government.

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