The Two—Napkin Protocol
By Paula Jabloner
It was 1989. Kirk Lougheed and Len Bosack of Cisco and Yakov Rekhter of IBM were having lunch in a meeting hall cafeteria at an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) conference.
They wrote a new routing protocol that became RFC 1105, the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), known to many as the “two—napkin protocol” — in reference to the napkins they used to capture their thoughts.
BGP is still integral to an Internet that has gone from 80 thousand hosts in 1989 to over one billion hosts today. BGP and the World Wide Web share a 25th birthday thanks to Tim Berners-Lee writing the original Web proposal in 1989.
One of the most important contributions to the official Cisco Archive are photocopies of the BGP notes written on the napkins. The napkins themselves have been lost to the landfill.
Complementing the napkins are other items in our archive collection, such as the winter 1989 edition of The Packet: Cisco Systems Customer Services Newsletter. It features a cover story on BGP. It’s a throwback to Cisco’s earliest years, highlighting our rapid expansion in concert with the Internet, our emphasis on customer needs, and how we took an active role in creating open standards and policies.
BGP is the routing protocol of the global Internet, as well as for service provider private networks. BGP has expanded upon its original purpose of carrying Internet reachability information. It can now carry routes for Multicast, IPv6, VPNs, and a variety of other data. In other words, BGP continues to play a critical role in allowing the Internet to move large amounts of data quickly and efficiently.
A few hours brainstorming in one afternoon produced a protocol that has lasted for 25 years. Quite the achievement. Whose lunches are that productive?
Editor’s Note: Paula Jabloner is our Cisco Archivist. The new established Cisco Archive is documenting our unique history and culture. Cisco is partnering with the Computer History Museum, tapping into their extensive expertise in this area.