What the letters on 802.1 Ethernet standards stand for

In a recent blog post Paul Congdon from HP talks about his twelve years on the 802.1 standards body and current focus. I’m not sure that boasting of 12 years on the IEEE 802.1 committee is a worthwhile accomplishment because I tend to the view that that the IEEE is worst possible standards body for stewardship of Ethernet as meeting are privately conducted, attendees pay for membership and they can’t make up their minds about anything, probably because of the money involved and the vested interests at stake. 

For example, LLDP took years to get done, and recently completed 802.11 for wireless ethernet is a complete debacle. The new DCB standards are now 1 year behind the original promise, and getting further and further out. 

Anyway, can’t be changed. I’ll just have to bite down on that.

The Letters in 802.1 Standards

IEEE 8021. logo.jpg

The 802.1 website at http://www.ieee802.org/1/ (You really have to check out this website to believe it, straight from 1996!!) says the following:

Project naming: 802.1 projects are identified using project names such as 802.1Q, 802.1ad, and 802.1Qat. Following the “802.1″ are one, two, three or even four letters. Upper case letters identify (standalone) standards, and lower-case letters identify amendments (previously called supplements) to existing standards. There should never be two projects differing only in the case of these letters! The three- and four-letter forms have been introduced to better identify amendments. In this scheme, the first one or two letters (always uppercase) identify the standard being amended, and the last two (always lowecase) identify the project doing the amending. The notation 802.1Q-REV is used to identify a revision of an existing standard: these are more extensive changes to the existing text than can be undertaken in an amendment. Previously, revisions also had their own project names.

Not really helpful, eh.

More detail from Paul Congdon

The money quote from the party political piece on HP’s website:

“First of all, the letters themselves don’t have any specific meaning and are just incremented alphabetically as we start a new standard. After 802.1z we rolled to 802.1aa, then 802.1ab and so on. It was just pure coincidence that 802.1p was the standard for “priority.”

Now for the more confusing part: the capitalization. Historically, a capital letter denoted a “stand-alone” document and a lower-case letter denoted an update to an existing stand-alone document. For example, 802.1AB is a stand-alone standard — you should be able to simply pick up that document and start implementing. A standard such as 802.1s — multiple Spanning Trees — was a supplement to the VLAN standard 802.1Q to add multiple spanning trees.

Recently we have adopted a new notation with even more information in the name. The lower-case letters still denote an update to another stand-alone standard, but we now list that stand-alone standard in the name, as well. For example, 802.1Qaw is an update to 802.1Q to add management of data-driven and data-dependent connectivity faults.

Finally, if a stand-alone standard is being completely revised, then we put the notation REV in the name. For example, 802.1X-REV is the next generation of 802.1X that will be produced. When the standard is finally completed, we add the year to the end. So IEEE 802.1AE-2006 is the completed standard for MACSec.

And that appears to be it. Logical, coherent and easily worked out – eh?. Man, I just love working with ‘professionals’.

PS: IEEE Membership

I did sign up to the IEEE last year as a member (not the 802.1 committee, I don’t have that much money). However, when I went to renew my membership they didn’t take online payments.

I cancelled my membership.

About Greg Ferro

Greg Ferro is a Network Engineer/Architect, mostly focussed on Data Centre, Security Infrastructure, and recently Virtualization. He has over 20 years in IT, in wide range of employers working as a freelance consultant including Finance, Service Providers and Online Companies. He is CCIE#6920 and has a few ideas about the world, but not enough to really count.

He is a host on the Packet Pushers Podcast, blogger at EtherealMind.com and on Twitter @etherealmind and Google Plus

You can contact Greg via the site contact page.

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