[ih] origins of the term "router"
jnc at mercury.lcs.mit.edu
Tue May 16 14:55:47 PDT 2006
> From: "Tim Moors" <t.moors at unsw.edu.au>
> I'm wondering if some of the sages on this mailing list might be able
> to shed some light on the origins of the term "router"
This is definitely the right place!
In particular, I get a share (exactly how large I will let others judge) of
the credit (blame?) for explicitly pushing the term "router" as a desirable
replacement for "gateway".
> in particular why it was introduced as a term distinct from "(packet)
> switch" or "gateway"?
We never called them "packet switches" much, because the latter is too broad
a term: ARPAnet IMP's are packet switches too, but at a different level of
The term "gateway" is what we originally called them, but with the rise of
application-layer "gateways" (principally email) to mediate between all the
different flavours of protocol families (remember, this was before TCP/IP
killed everything else off), we (well, I) found our use of the term "gateway"
to be confusing when trying to explain TCP/IP to outsiders. So I started
pushing to replace it with "router". I have no idea, at this distance, where
"router" came from, or who coined it, alas. Others may have done the same, not
sure at this distance.
(There's probably some old IETF or TCP-IP email archive which gives more
detail, if you can find it. I seem to recall writing email about it to such
lists on a number of occasions.)
> The earliest reference to "router" that I can find in RFCs is in RFC753
> from March 1979, which discusses message (email) routers
That was an outlier; probably not important.
> The first reference to routers in the context of the "network layer"
> appears in the April 1984 "Gateway SIG Meeting Notes" (RFC 898)
Have you looked in the Internet Meeting notes (in the IEN series, all
available online, although only some are in ASCII)? That's probably the
best place to look...
> RFC 1001 also mentions network layer routers, while RFC 1009 from June
> 1987 seems to be the first to define and discuss technical details of
> such routers:
Well, before that there wasn't really a "what functionality is in a router"
document, although they were of course being built. Everyone who was building
them was part of the IETF (or predecessor) community, and we just knew which
parts of 791, 792, etc, etc, etc needed to be included.
> Is there, perhaps, a relationship between the use of the term "router"
> and activity of that juggernaut of routers, Cisco?
Not that I recall, but the adoption of the term, and the start of Cisco, wer
*very* roughly contemporaneous - but I *think* the term switch predated Cisco
somewhat. I'd have to check the details to be sure, but the people who did
Cisco were not the people who pushed the adoption of the term.
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