Real life examples of Internet Design Principles

This article will explain internet design principles and share examples of these principles in real life. The collaboration of this article is part of the Internet Society’s Youth Ambassadorship for this year’s IGF in Berlin. The contributors for this piece are Malick K. ALASSANE, Yawovi Agbodaze,  Zoey Barthelemy and Fatou Senghore.

The success and fast expansion of the Internet has been due to three critical design principles: openness, access, and end-to-end. Borrowing from the Internet Society (ISOC) definition and the author Stephen Krasner, a principle is understood as “beliefs of fact, causation, and rectitude”. These three principles are the cornerstone for the pervasive and ubiquitous internet uses in our daily lives today. It is very important for every stakeholder to keep in mind these principles as we continue to work on policies and best practices to govern the internet. 

The first principle is ‘openness’. Openness can have multiple meanings for different stakeholders. One common understanding of openness can refer to technical standards. Another understanding for openness is the open and transparent process on deciding how the Internet should operate. This practice translates to minimal barriers to participation and access to information. Concerning Open standards, these are developed transparently and are non-proprietary by organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB). The standards that are developed are essential to enabling devices, services and applications to work together on a wide and dispersed network of networks, thus ensuring interoperability.

The second principle is access, this is a key design feature since the birth of the Internet that has allowed for its growth and expansion. The ‘access’ principle can be understood as no single entity or small collection of individuals can control the network as described by Leslie Daigle’s 2015 article On the Nature of the Internet. Lastly, the end-to-end principle is a key feature to ensure the reliability of the network. To reference ISCO, this principle is understood as whenever possible, communications protocol operations should be defined to occur at the end-points of a communications system, or as close as possible to the resource being controlled”.

A real-life example of the internet design principle of ‘openness’ is open source software. Jitsi is a great example of an open source online video conferencing software that is driven by the community. For those who are unfamiliar, Jitsi provide the same service as Skype, webex/Cisco, or Google Hangout. However, in light of privacy or surveillance concerns, Internet users may wish to have alternative softwares that are not owned, designed, and controlled by leading American tech giants. Supporting open source software such as Jitsi is very important to upholding one of the key internet design principles of ‘openness’. Ethically, as empowered Internet users it is very important to choose open source software as the choice helps to sustainable their continued existence. As community members use and contribute to open source software, the user feedback help feed into future improvements. With more user-driven feedback the software can thus attract more users.   

Another concrete illustration of the Internet Design Principles in real-life is Quad9. Quad9 is a free, recursive, anycast DNS platform that provides end users robust security protections, high-performance, and privacy. Quad9’s solution embodies the three fundamental design principles of the Internet. The solution is OPEN. The project was launched by IBM, PCH and GCA as a non-profit organisation based on the open standards of Secure DNS. Any organisation especially eXchange Points can subscribe and contribute by deploying their own server and proposing technical improvements. The is accessible to  individuals and organisations as well with no requirement. Put as your DNS nameserver, and it’s all good. Quad9 is compliant with the end-to-end principle since the intelligence and security added to their dns infrastructure is not happening upon the network but on the edge.

A final real-life example of the Internet design principle “end-to-end” is the moving of packets from the source to destination at a low cost. This is an important practice to  ensure that all packets are treated equally, also known as: Packet Switching. This practice of transmitting data over the digital network helped to improve transmission speed and reliability and decrease communication cost. Packets can travel on any route between the sender and receiver as it facilitates the development of dynamic routing algorithms that quickly discover other alternative routes if the primary one fails. There is no dedicated resources between the sender and the receiver as the packet switched network allows multiplexing packets from different communications. Thus, the end-to-end paradigm helps to detect malicious activity and reacts quickly with responses and actions.


Reference list: 

  1. Leslie Daigle, On the Nature of the Internet, GCIG Paper No. 7 (2015), page 6.
  2. Krasner, Stephen (1983): “Introduction,” in Stephen D. Krasner (ed.) International Regimes, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press). 
  3. Open Internet Standards, 
  4. Internet Design Principles,
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