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Who Invented Packet-Switching? 161

Saint Aardvark writes "It's how the Internet works, and now who invented packet-switching is under dispute. A posthumous paper by British scientist Dr. Donald Davies disputes the claim by Leonard Kleinrock to have invented the technique, saying Kleinrock never took it beyond the case of a single node. Kleinrock, whose lab was the first node on Arpanet, is willing to concede that Davies invented the term "packet-switching.""
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Who Invented Packet-Switching?

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  • by BESTouff ( 531293 ) on Friday November 09, 2001 @02:05PM (#2544486)
    ... it's Microsoft, of course !
  • Dispute? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Sc00ter ( 99550 )
    "Kleinrock, whose lab was the first node on Arpanet, is willing to concede that Davies invented the term "packet-switching.""

    If Kleinrock conceded, then there's not really a dispute, is there?

    • Re:Dispute? (Score:3, Informative)

      Kleinrock conceded that Davies invented the term packet-switching, but not the concept of packet switching. William Gibson is credited with coining the term "cyberspace", yet he is not involved in this debate of who invented the internet.
      • Re:Dispute? (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Well Donald developed a packet based transmission scheme and implemented it at the NPL so they could make better use of their dedicated BT lines, he termed the invention Packet Switching, it was a practical invention not an abstract paper.
    • Re:Dispute? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by xmedar ( 55856 )
      Davies did invent packet switching, and Britain would have been well ahead of the US if the R&D had been funded, unfortuantely, Tony Benn MP, at the time the Science Minister refused to fund it, thus allowing thw US to come in and use what had been created in Britain which then went on to be Arpanet and then the Internet. So born in Britain and raised by the Americans. There is an Open University programme (TV that is) that has an interview with Davies as I recall backfrom the 70s I think where he explains packet switching and the series of events that lead to the knucklehead UK politicians cutting the funding.
  • by gmkeegan ( 160779 ) <gmkeegan&yahoo,com> on Friday November 09, 2001 @02:06PM (#2544500)
    I could have sworn that it was Al Gore. He put all of the packets into a lockbox, then switched it for another lockbox.
  • by Mignon ( 34109 ) <> on Friday November 09, 2001 @02:10PM (#2544534)
    A posthumous paper...

    I thought it was "publish or perish." Now you're telling me it's "publish and perish"?

    I'm glad I got out of academia.

  • by z84976 ( 64186 ) on Friday November 09, 2001 @02:13PM (#2544556) Homepage
    Ye Gads!!! Forget packetswiching, this person has learned to communicate from beyond the grave!!
  • This memorandum is meant to inform the readers of the website known commonly as "Slashdot" that our client currently holds the patent (number 01013494052-3490432) for the technology known as "Packet-Switching" and will require a per-use fee for the rest of your pathetic fucking lives to utilize this technology.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Dr. Donald Davies = 0 votes, Leonard Kleinrock = 0 votes, Al Gore = 4, microsoft = 1, the "I did" votes don't count. And I give 1 vote to CowboyNeal !
  • What's the point? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by truthsearch ( 249536 ) on Friday November 09, 2001 @02:16PM (#2544583) Homepage Journal
    Flamebait, but I've got karma to burn... Does this really matter? No offense to either party involved. They've both obviously contributed valuable work to society. But this is just another piece of the puzzle, and they can share credit for it. I'm sure it's listed on both of their resumes.

    If anyone could explain why this gains news-worthy attention, please post. If this dispute does in fact matter to anyone but the parties involved, I'd like to know how.
    • I think it's fair to say that almost anything which has been invented in the last 2000 years or so has been a joint effort. Some people make the first version, which shows that the concept works, but it's not practical. Some other people take that concept and make a it practical design. Some other people take the practical design and make a product out of it.
    • Does this really matter? No offense to either party involved. They've both obviously contributed valuable work to society. But this is just another piece of the puzzle, and they can share credit for it.

      Seeking individual credit and glory would be one of the motivating factors behind doing any open-source development. For important historical developments, it's only natural that individuals would want to take credit and that other people would find this individual credit news-worthy.

      "I have never seen a statue of a committee." -- unknown
  • Next thing you know someone will claim Steve Jobs didn't invent the GUI and Bill Gates didn't write DOS...
    • Bill explained this quite clearly at his press conference yesterday. If Microsoft didn't invent TCP/IP, open source never would have made it.
  • by Kailden ( 129168 ) on Friday November 09, 2001 @02:23PM (#2544640) Journal
    Then again, who invented packets? Who invented bytes? who invented bits? who invented the binary system? (I heard it was sheperds who needed to count lots of sheep so the used thier fingers as representations of powers of two.) Who invented numeric series? who advance math beyond numeric purity? who invented thought? Why does everyone want to take credit for everything? Too many battles are fought over naming rights....when the history revisionists will ultimately decide...not any single inventor. I mean there are still works of music, writing, and math from the Middle Ages on up that are attributed to the wrong people...(who invented inflated biographies?)
    • Imagine all the confusion and offended people when the shepherds were just trying to show them they had 4 sheep...
  • by Florian Weimer ( 88405 ) <> on Friday November 09, 2001 @02:23PM (#2544641) Homepage
    According to Hafner's and Lyon's "Where wizards stay up late" (an interesting read), Paul Baran was the guy who invented packet switching in the ARPANET context (he called packets "message blocks"). But AT&T (the company which eventually had to provide the communication lines) wasn't very happy about this idea, so he stopped working on this issue. About the same time, Davies started his experiments (and so did Kleinrock). Kleinrock might have considered packet switching in his very early theoretical articles on data communication, but it's not that clear that he was the first one to do practical, large-scale experiments (this was Davies, IIRC), or to consider packet switching the ARPANET context (clearly Baran).
  • These kind of things will be shrouded in the mystery of time forever, i mean come on it was back in 1960 when no-one would think of the importance of the internet.

    An example is of Newton and Leibniz who both claim to have discovered differential mathematics. I seem to remember there were vicious arguments between the supporters of both about it, with Newton bribing some college to declare him the inventor. I think now both are credited with its invention (would be happy if there would be anyone to confirm this).

    The point is that the only ones who will care are their supporters. I think history will both remember them as instrumental in "packet switching".
  • As long as this does not turn into another legal dispute where some lawyers try to profiteer by holding the internet hostage, sounding like another Pinky and the Brain scheme to take over the world.

    But in truth, this is merely fighting over who gets to put what on their gravestones.

  • by CmdrTroll ( 412504 ) on Friday November 09, 2001 @02:27PM (#2544673) Homepage

    Whether the dispute be over bragging rights (as it is in this case), patent rights, or any other motivation, it is astounding to see how many talented techies are tying themselves up by squabbling over trivial matters like credit and ego.

    This kind of thing, though human nature, does little to counter the commonly-held image of the technology industry as being run by a bunch of self-absorbed, egotistical credit hogs. That's really a shame. It would be so much more productive to society if these people would concentrate more on innovating, applying their talents, and other productive activities. Not on taking credit for what happened 30 years ago. What a terrible waste. As somebody who has his name on several patents but would never waste his time fighting for them, I am ashamed.



    • are tying themselves up by squabbling over trivial matters like credit and ego.

      There are other reasons beyond ego. Your entire research fuinding might double if proper attribution is made.
    • People who put a large percentage of their lives into creating some big software project without getting paid in money frequently value adulation even more highly. There are other reasons (solving your own problem, for example), but ego is a major driver of open source.

      This isn't a complaint, but then I have no beef with people who do it for money, either. My only beef is with those who do it for ego disparaging those who do it for money as somehow less noble. Both are hoping to get paid, just in different currency.

      Not that there's anything wrong with that. ;-)
  • by owlmeat ( 197799 ) on Friday November 09, 2001 @02:28PM (#2544683)
    According to this document [],
    Paul Baran of the Rand Corporation came up with the idea and name
    of packet switching in 1962.
  • He's Dead (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by Sloppy ( 14984 )

    Whoever invented it, was probably a messenger who died thousands of years ago.

    Packet switching is something that people do in Real Life, where the idea got recycled for use on computer networks. It's not an original idea for this century, and arguing about who invented it, is totally lame.

    • Yea, Columbus was a packet switcher, he divided his message, "Here have some smallpox", into three packets, put one on each of the Nova, Pinto, and Santa Montero, and then reassembled it on the other end of the trans-Atlantic hop.

      Seriously, I doubt there was much ancient application of packet-switching -- why would anyone whack parchment or stone tablets into "packets"?

      • why would anyone whack parchment or stone tablets into "packets"?

        Not stone, of course, but to carry long and/or secret messages by carrier pigeon. It was common for pigeons to get lost, fall prey to predators or even be captured/netted/shot before making it home with their message. Redundancy ensured the message got through and diminished the value of a single "compromised" pigeon.

  • by Aztech ( 240868 ) on Friday November 09, 2001 @02:31PM (#2544706)
    When it comes to British inventors/inventions this is all too common occurrence, there is some great innovation in the UK but traditionally they concepts aren't followed through to commercialisation.

    It happened to Sir Frank Whittle and the jet engine and consequently the first supersonic fighter, the Bell 1 which was based on the British design after the British Government withdrew funding for the project.

    There was also the debacle over public key crypto research [] at GCHQ.

    Donald Davies worked a the National Physical Laboratory [] in Middlesex, unfortunately the British Govt/Grants agency didn't see the potential of the invention at the time and no funded was given, so he went over to APRA who were throwing money at anything.

    Donald died [] June last year at in Australia, where he went to retire, he didn't get a lot of recognition outside of a few small circles, but he did get quite a few awards from the various computing institutions in the UK, I think he's still relatively unknown in the US, probably because he was too modest, which is why some many scientists can claim to have invented Packet Switching.
    • Forgot, you can find further deatils here []

      "He is not always given full credit for his contribution because Paul Baran, an American working at the Rand Corporation in California, had independently come up with the same idea. However, Baran was focusing on a way to restructure AT&T's telephone system. Davies was creating a data network, and the design of the Arpanet, the precursor of the internet, was changed completely to adopt his technique.

      Also, Davies's term for the idea, which he called "packet switching", was much catchier than Baran's "distributed adaptive message block switching".
  • by BillyGoatThree ( 324006 ) on Friday November 09, 2001 @02:33PM (#2544724)
    Unfortunately I can't find a link. And I'm not sure I've got the right guy. In any case, I distinctly recall reading about a Newton-era, London-based "natural philosopher" revamping the British mail system to be "packet switched" (obviously they didn't call it that then) because he proved that it was cheaper than the old system.

  • It is really hard to tell who invented Internet, must be lots of people. I don't like "Leonard Kleinrock, Professor" webpage to claim he is the inventor. At least show me a publication, tell us you real have the vision on packet switch before you put a single node on. At least, single node is far from Internet. Shanon left us a great paper to tell us what is the limit of communication, we are trying hard to approach it.
    We can not say the company working on Turbo coding invented/discovered Shanon therory, can we?

    Leonard Kleinrock 's work is on Queueing theory, not packet switch. He maybe a pioneer, but not worth the Inventor title. I agree on this, "The Internet is really the work of a thousand people," Mr. Baran said. "And of all the stories about what different people have done, all the pieces fit together. It's just this one little case that seems to be an aberration."

    You agree with me or not? :)

  • Davies' Actual Paper (Score:2, Informative)

    by napir ( 20855 )
    The actual text of Davies' paper is available in Google's cache here []
  • humbug (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by joss ( 1346 )
    It seems curious to me how often some Brit comes along and claims that they invented something a few years after everybody has accredited someone else with the idea.

    There are various excuses for this: sometimes it's official secrets act (computers, public key cryptography, etc), but more often it's a case of "oh, I thought of that but didn't do anything about it". Even as a Brit, my response to these claims is "yeah, whatever". If you did invent it, then you should have made the most of it at the time. As a non-Brit I would be more irritated than impressed by these claims.

    On the other hand, we're not the only nation that has a tendancy to claim we invented everything ;)
  • by The Cunctator ( 15267 ) on Friday November 09, 2001 @03:02PM (#2544883) Homepage
    This is something I've done a lot of research about, and in fact have discussed this issue with Kleinrock and Stewart Brand (who is pro-Baran & Davies), and read Davies' paper. The first thing people should know is that Katie Hafner is the author of "Where Wizards Stay Up Late []", a book she assiduously researched but which many of the participants within claim she did a bad job on. I think they might be confusing some of it with Janet Abbate's "Inventing the Internet []", which I wasn't terribly impressed by.

    This is Hafner's passage of interest:

    By the end of July, 1968, Roberts had finished drafting the RFP...It was a rich piece of technical prose, filled with an eclectic mix of ideas. Kleinrock had influsenced Roberts's earliest thoughts about the theoretical possibilities. Baran had contributed to the intellectual foundation on which the technical concept was based, and Roberts's dynamic routing scheme gave an extra nod to Baran's work; Roberts had adopted Davies' term "Packet" and incorporated his and Scantlebury's higher line speeds; Clark's subnet idea was a stroke of technical genius.

    Then she continues with a quote from Baran that "Everything is tied to everything else" with respect to who did the most important part.

    It's weird, because from my perspective the participants seem to be arguing and use strong language like "spreading lies" to describe the alternative history, but when you look at the specifics, the dispute lies on some very fine nuances which are evidently impossible to untangle now, and may only be creations of recent times.

    The number one question, to my understanding, is whether packet switching is such a central concept that the work by Baran and Davies which details it (since they both built experimental packet-switching networks and then wrote extensively about them, providing a base of information for Roberts) is important, or whether it really should just be understood as a relatively arbitrary (and self-obvious) implementation of multiple-node store-and-forward queuing theory [], which Kleinrock is the father of, no question.

    Did Baran and Davies' work matter to the ARPANET? It pretty much has to have. Baran wrote multiple volumes of detailed information from his experimental network; those volumes were available to and used by Bob Taylor, Roberts' boss and (according to Brand, at least) in the Baran camp, and Roberts credits them heavily in his early work.

    All the early documentary evidence points only to Baran and Davies. However, the close association of Roberts and Kleinrock, the fact that Roberts helped Kleinrock do his thesis by doing programming for it (funny fact: the third guy in their little Lincoln Lab thesis group was Ivan Sutherland), and Kleinrock's lab's role as the first IMP site and ARPANET analysis center makes it absurd to believe that Kleinrock's influence wasn't major.

    Of course, framing the dispute this way ignores how crucial the work of BBN was in all of this; they were amazing in designing and building the IMP. While Roberts' RFP had insane amounts of information, the IMP Guys did equivalent amounts of new work and recreation of ideas in their proposal.
    • Most reasonable...

      Did Baran and Davies' work matter to the ARPANET? It pretty much has to have.

      I think so - I read that Davies and a colleague visited Baran and worked with him for a while. (I live near the NPL in Teddington, west London and so can point out to fellow geeks that that's where packets come from. But more importantly, it's the home of the Benny Hill show! (Teddington Studios)).
  • Invention? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Who Invented what. It's an interesting question, but in many cases it is rather moot and impossible to decypher. If 3 people enter a room, and out comes an idea then you can readily ascribe it to the 3 people who entered the room. But can you split hairs to determine who's idea it was? (maybe it wasn't an individuals, maybe it was but hadn't been completely worked out yet, etc..)

    If 3 people thousands of miles apart develop the same general idea and implement it, no matter how significantly and only communicate about it afterwards, whos the inventor?

    I implemented a line drawing algorithm when I was 14. Having never seen code to draw a line and knowing there had to be a more efficient way than using floats, etc to accomplish it. It worked. A few years later I saw a published article with the same algorithm. It predated me by atleast 15yrs. (Breshnam [sp?])

    Does that make mine less significant? To me it is cool. And tells me that Software patents are a really bad idea.

    When it comes to computers most of the programming population is on equal footing. When presented with a challenege they often come up with the same solutions. This makes tracking invention of some things quite difficult. (As for packet switching, truth is, it existed before computers. Sometimes refered to as snail-mail...)

    As for somebody's remark about someone not publishing much on the subject, so? Doesn't mean he DIDNT invent it. I've strongly influenced software projects I wasn't on. I don't get credit for it, and my boss at the time didn't even know. He seemed suprised I would take some of the credit in a later conversation. (I wasn't bragging at the time, I was explaining why I understood how that project had been implemented.). If the programmer who wrote the application claimed it was her idea I could never win an argument about it. I still know the truth.
  • While developing the underlying archetecture of the internet, Al Gore invented packet switching. Of course this was accomplished later in his career. Everyone knows he invented the telephone as well. Watson was his assistant, not bell's.

  • by frank_adrian314159 ( 469671 ) on Friday November 09, 2001 @03:27PM (#2545039) Homepage
    ... you can always check out this little page [] by Bruce Stirling.

    This article makes it clear that, although the first tests of packet switching were done in Great Britain, the idea was initially kicked around by the dudes at the RAND Institute. I also have heard speculation that Bell Labs had explored this as a possibility as early as the early '60's, but had rejected it as a way to gain reliability in their network due to cost considerations (A-D converters and computers being a bit more expensive at the time).

  • 'As with most legends, there is some element of truth at the core of this one, but some considerable confusion over the details. This particular confusion traces back to the work of Rand Corporation engineer Paul Baran, one of the three people with some claim to having independently developed the ideas of packet switching. Baran described some of the methods of packet switching in a series of eleven reports published in 1964 with the title "On Distributed Communications."'

    'The phrase "packet switching" was coined by Donald Davies, another of the three independent "inventors" of packet switching. Davies was working on designs for distributed computer communications at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in England.'

    'The ARPANET development would be closely affected by the third of the independent "inventors" of packet switching--Leonard Kleinrock. ... Before he finished his graduate research, Kleinrock learned of Paul Baran's work, and he cites Baran in his dissertation. But, well before he learned of Baran's ideas for a distributed process network, Kleinrock had analyzed the statistical behavior of such networks. Kleinrock has some claim to priority in the concepts of packet switching, in a 1961 quarterly lab report, "Information Flow in Large Communication Nets," and he published the first textbook discussion of packet switching network behaviors in 1964, Communication Nets: Stochastic Message Flow and Delay.'

    -- The Roots of Packet Switching Networks [].
  • Hugh Hefner ? Opps, my mistake, it's 'packet switching' they are talking about, I thought they were disputing 'package twitching'...
  • ... or whoever invented mail. Each PO or similar collection of boxes is a host, postal/ZIP codes usually correpond to IP addresses each box is a port, postcards are packets, envelopes are encryption, both systems have return addresses, multiple transparent transport media (some are point to point; some are token ring; ethernet has no good analogue...), etc. The Internet is just an abstracted, automated Post Office system.
  • Sigh, maybe it's time to burn a karma point or two. This may be taken to be flamebait, but hopefully the references below will redeem it.

    The story that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet has been thoroughly debunked by Phil Agre in and.the.Inte.html [] and rebutted further later []
    That meme was a creation of Declan McCullagh, a "reporter" for Wired News who is politically a dogmatic Libertarian [] so extreme that he managed to get a book chapter using him as a poster-boy for Libertarian ideologues [], and a different book chapter using him as Libertarian joke-fodder [].
    If you think this is flame-bait, the aspect of his fabricated story being a Liberatarian hit-piece on Al Gore was extensively discussed in a debunking by Salon []

    After Declan McCullagh was repeatedly taken to task for his hatchet-job, over more than year, by everyone who was there, from Dave Farber []to Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf [], Declan finally grudgingly retracted the "story" []

    But people still repeat it, because urban legends never die.

    Sig: What Happened To The Censorware Project ( []

  • I don't really care who invented, I'm just glad they did. Otherwise, we wouldn't be reading slash from work, and getting paid! Damn, I love the life of Network Engineering. Now if only I could have a years supply of Funny Bones!
  • Sun, being the DOT in Dot Com, invented everything that made the internet possible. Of course, this was back in the 80's when they hired Al Gore to head the whole project. Quite a successful venture, that.
  • Please, oh please don't let this turn out to be another BT-style hyperlink fiasco.
  • The paper by Davies is available online here [].

  • well since bill gates takes credit for creating open source software seen here at the register. []

    it is easy to surmise that good old bill invented packet switching too.

    couldn't be al gore he just stole the idea from bill
  • Just say that both of them did. Kind of like Calculus, where everyone says it was pretty much a tie between Newton and Leibnitz ( I know that isn't spelled right.)
  • As I understand it, packet switching is akin to
    a post-office system, i.e. the idea is as old as
    society. What does it matter who remade it into
    digital form?
  • Bear this in mind. History is not what happened in the past, but rather how we got where we are now.

    Even if Davies beat Baran and/or Kleinrock to packet-switching, it may be irrelevant (besides, I've read that Baran and Davies came up with working concepts simultaneously and independently; IIRC, there is even a quote from Davies in Where Wizards Stay Up Late that acknowledges this.)

    What matters is whose ideas were used to get us to where we are now. This does not reflect on the brilliance of Davies (I know you Brits tend to get a little indignant when you feel you've been downplayed) but rather on the historical relevance of what he did. A lot of great ideas end up being historically irrelevant, for better or for worse.

    People often get hung up on this concept of who did what first. What matters is how we got here, where we are now. From what I understand, little of what Davies did matters to how we got where we are, so whether he got there first is sort of a side-issue, and IMO, a bit of a waste of time to debate.


I've got a bad feeling about this.