September 14, 2014

Living Standards: "Who Needs IANA?"

I'm reading about two tussles, which seem completely disconnected, although they are about the same thing, and I'm puzzled why there isn't a connection.

This is about the IANA protocol parameter registries.  Over in ianaplan@ietf.org people are worrying about preserving the IANA function and the relationship between IETF and IANA, because it is working well and shouldn't be disturbed (by misplaced US political maneuvering that the long-planned transition from NTIA is somehow giving something away by the administration.)

Meanwhile, over in www-international@w3.org, there's a discussion of the Encodings document, being copied from WHATWG's document of that name into W3C recommendation. See the thread (started by me), about the "false statement".

Living Standards don't need or want registries for most things the web use registries for now: Encodings, MIME types, URL schemes. A Living Standard has an exhaustive list, and if you want to add a new one or change one, you just change the standard.  Who needs IANA with its fussy separate set of rules? Who needs any registry really?

So that's the contradiction: why doesn't the web need registries while other applications do? Or is IANAPLAN deluded?

September 9, 2014

The multipart/form-data mess

OK, this is only a tiny mess, in comparison with the URL mess,  and I have more hope for this one.

Way back when (1995), I spec'ed a way of doing "file upload" in RFC1867. I got into this because some Xerox printing product in the 90s wanted it, and enough other folks in the web community seemed to want it too. I was happy to find something that a Xerox product actually wanted from Xerox research.

It seemed natural, if you were sending files, to use MIME's methods for doing so, in the hopes that the design constraints were similar and that implementors would already be familiar with email MIME implementations.  The original file upload spec was done in IETF because at the time, all of the web, including HTML, was being standardized in the IETF.   RFC 1867 was "experimental," which in IETF used to be one way of floating a proposal for new stuff without having to declare it ready.

After some experimentation we wanted to move the spec toward standardization. Part of the process of making the proposal standard was to modularize the specification, so that it wasn't just about uploading files in web pages.   Rather, all the stuff about extending forms and names of form fields and so forth went with HTML. And the container, the holder of "form data"-- independent of what kind of form you had or whether it had any files at all -- went into the definition of multipart/form-data (in RFC2388).   Now, I don't know if it was "theoretical purity" or just some sense of building things that are general purpose to allow unintended mash-ups, but RFC2388 was pretty general, and HTML 3.2 and HTML 4.0 were being developed by people who were more interested in spec-ing a markup language than a form processing application, so there was a specification gap between RFC 2388 and HTML 4.0 about when and how and what browsers were supposed to do to process a form and produce multipart/form-data.

February of last year (2013) I got a request to find someone to update RFC 2388. After many months of trying to find another volunteer (most declined because of lack of time to deal with the politics) I went ahead and started work: update the spec, investigate what browsers did, make some known changes.  See GitHub repo for multipart/form-data and the latest Internet Draft spec.

Now, I admit I got distracted trying to build a test framework for a "test the web forward" kind of automated test, and spent way too much time building what wound up to be a fairly arcane system. But I've updated the document, and recommended its "working group last call". The only problem is that I just made stuff up based on some unvalidated guesswork reported second hand ... there is no working group of people willing to do work. No browser implementor has reviewed the latest drafts that I can tell.

I'm not sure what it takes to actually get technical reviewers who will actually read the document and compare it to one or more implementations to justify the changes in the draft.

Go to it! Review the spec! Make concrete suggestions for change, comments or even better, send GitHub pull requests!



September 7, 2014

The URL mess

(updated 9/8/14)

One of the main inventions of the Web was the URL.  And I've gotten stuck trying to help fix up the standards so that they actually work.

The standards around URLs, though, have gotten themselves into an organizational political quandary to the point where it's like many other situations where a polarized power struggle keeps the right thing from happening.

Here's an update to an earlier description of the situation:

URLs were originally defined as ASCII only. Although it was quickly determined that it was desirable to allow non-ASCII characters, shoehorning utf-8 into ASCII-only systems was unacceptable; at the time, Unicode was not so widely deployed, and there were other issues. The tack was taken to leave "URI" alone and define a new protocol element, "IRI";  RFC 3987 published in 2005 (in sync with the RFC 3986 update to the URI definition).   (This is a very compressed history of what really happened.)

The IRI-to-URI transformation specified in RFC 3987  had options; it wasn't a deterministic path. The URI-to-IRI transformation was also heuristic, since there was no guarantee that %xx-encoded bytes in the URI were actually meant to be %xx percent-hex-encoded bytes of a utf8 encoding of a Unicode string.

To address issues and to fix URL for HTML5, a new working group was established in IETF in 2009 (The IRI working group). Despite years of development, the group didn't get the attention of those active in WHATWG, W3C or Unicode consortium, and the IRI group was closed in 2014, with the consolation that the documents that were being developed in the IRI working group could be updated as individual submissions or within the "applications area" working group.  In particular, one of the IRI working group items was to update the "scheme guidelines and registration process",  which is currently under development in IETF's application area.

Independently, the HTML5 specs in WHATWG/W3C defined "Web Address", in an attempt to match what some of the browsers were doing. This definition (mainly a published parsing algorithm) was moved out into a separate WHATWG document called "URL".

The world has also moved on. ICANN has approved non-ascii top level domains, and IDN 2003 and 2008 didn't really address IRI Encoding. Unicode consortium is working on UTS #46.

The big issue is to make the IRI -to-URI transformation non-ambiguous and stable.  But I don't know what to do about non-domain-name non-ascii 'authority' fields.  There is some evidence that some processors are %xx-hex-encoding the UTF8 of domain names in some circumstances.

There are four umbrella organizations (IETF, W3C, WHATWG, Unicode consortium) and multiple documents, and it's unclear whether there's a trajectory to make them consistent:

IETF

Dave Thaler (mainly) has updated http://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-ietf-appsawg-uri-scheme-reg, which needs comunity review.

The IRI working group closed, but work can continue in the APPS area working group. Documents sitting needing update, abandoned now, are three drafts (iri-3987bis, iri-comparison, iri-bidi-guidelines) intended originally to obsolete RFC 3987.

Other work in IETF that is relevant but I'm not as familiar with is the IDN/IDNA work for internationalizing domain names, since the rules for canonicalization, equivalence, encoding, parsing, and displaying domain names needs to be compatible with the rules for doing those things to URLs that contain domain names.

In addition, there's quite a bit of activity around URNs and library identifiers in the URN working group, work that is ignored by other organizations.

W3C

The W3C has many existing recommendations which reference the IETF URI/IRI specs in various ways (for example, XML has its own restricted/expanded allowed syntax for URL-like-things). The HTML5 spec references something, the TAG seems to be involved, as well as the sysapps working group, I believe. I haven't tracked what's happened in the last few months.

WHATWG

The WHATWG spec is http://url.spec.whatwg.org/  (Anne, Leif). This fits in with the WHATWG principle of focusing on specifying what is important for browsers, so it leaves out many of the topics in the IETF specs. I don't think there is any reference to registration, and (when I checked last) had a fixed set of relative schemes: ftp, file, gopher (a mistake?), http, https, ws, wss, used IDNA 2003 not 2008, and was (perhaps, perhaps not) at odds with IETF specs.

Unicode consortium

Early versions of  #46 and I think others recommends translating toAscii and back using punycode  ? But it wasn't specific about which schemes.

Conclusion


From a user or developer point of view, it makes no sense for there to be a proliferation of definitions of URL, or a large variety URL syntax categories. Yes, currently there is a proliferation of slightly incompatible implementations.  This shouldn't be a competitive feature. Yet the organizations involved have little incentive to incur the overhead of cooperation, especially since there is an ongoing power struggle for legitimacy and control. The same dynamic applies to the Encoding spec, and, to a lesser degree, handling of MIME types (sniffing) and multipart/form-data.

September 6, 2014

On blogging, tweeting, facebooking, emailing

I wanted to try all the social media, just to keep an understanding of how things really work, I say.

And my curiosity satisfied, I 'get' blogging, tweeting, facebook posting, linking in, although I haven't tried pinning and instagramming. And I'm not sure what about.me is about, really, and quora sends me annoying spam which tempts me to read.

Meanwhile, I'm hardly blogging at all; I have lots of topics with something to say.  Meanwhile Carol (wife) is blogging about a trip; I supply photo-captions and Internet support.

So I'm going to follow suit, try to blog daily. Blogspot for technical, Facebook for personal, tweet to announce. LinkedIn notice when there's more to read.  I want to update my site, too; more on that later.

November 4, 2013

Forking Standards and Document Licensing

I thought I would post here a pointer to the Adobe Standards Blog on "Forking Standards and Document Licensing" that Dave McAllister and I wrote in reaction to some of the controversy around the document license issue in W3C. Amazingly, this doesn't seem to be as much of an issue in IETF.

September 10, 2013

HTTP/2.0 worries

I tried to explain HTTP/2.0 in my previous post. This post notes some nagging worries about HTTP/2.0 going forward. Maybe these are nonsense, but ... tell me why I'm wrong ....

Faster is better, but faster for whom?

It should be no surprise that using software is more pleasant when it responds more quickly.  But the effect is pronounced and the difference between "usable" and "just frustrating".  For the web, the critical time is between when the user clicks on a link and the results are legible and useful. Studies (and others) show that improving page load time has a significant effect on the use of web sites.  And a primary component of web speed is the network speed: not just the bandwidth but, for the web, the latency. Much of the world doesn't have high-speed Internet, and the web is often close to unusable.

The problem is -- faster for whom? In general, when optimizing something, one makes changes that speed up common cases, even if making uncommon cases more expensive. Unfortunately, different communities can disagree about what is "common", depending on their perspective.

Clearly, connection multiplexing helps sites that host all of their data at a single server more than it helps sites that open connection to multiple systems.

It should be a good thing that the protocol designers are basing optimizations by measuring the results on real web sites and real data. But the data being used risks a bias; so far little of the data used has been itself published and results reproduced. Decisions in the working group are being made based on limited data, and often are not reproducible or auditable.

Flow control at multiple layers can interfere

This isn't the first time there's been an attempt to revise HTTP/1.1; the HTTP-NG effort also tried. One of the difficulties with HTTP-NG was that there was some interaction between TCP flow control and the framing of messages at the application layer, resulting in latency spikes.  And those working with SPDY report that SPDY isn't effective without server "prioritization", which I understand to be predictively deciding which resources the client will  need first, and returning their content chunks with higher priority for being sent sooner. While some servers have added such facilities for prioritization and prediction, those mechanisms are unreported and proprietary.

Forking  

While HTTP/2.0 started with SPDY, SPDY development development continues independently of HTTP/2.0. While the intention is to roll good ideas from SPDY into HTTP/2.0, there still remains the risk that the projects will fork. Whether the possibility of forking is itself positive or negative is itself controversial, but I think the bar should be higher.

Encryption everywhere 

There is a long-running and still unresolved debate around the guidelines for using, mandating, requiring use of, or implementation of encryption, in both HTTP/1.1 and HTTP/2.0. It's clear that HTTP/2.0 changes the cost of multiple encrypted connections to the same host significantly, thus reducing the overhead of using encryption everywhere: Normally, setting up an encrypted channel is relatively slow, requiring a lot more network round trips to establish. With multiplexing, the setup cost only happens once, so encrypting everything is less of a problem.

But there are a few reasons why that might not actually be ideal. For example, there is also a large market for devices which monitor, adjust, redirect or otherwise interact with unencrypted HTTP traffic; a company might scan and block some kinds of information on its corporate net. Encryption everywhere will have a serious impact for sites that have these interception devices, for better or worse. And adding encryption in a situation where the traffic is already protected is less than ideal, adding unnecessary overhead.

In any case, encryption everywhere might be more feasible with HTTP/2.0 than HTTP/1.1 because of the lower overhead, but it doesn't promise any significant advantage for privacy per se.

Need realistic measurement data

To insure that HTTP/2.0 is good enough to completely replace HTTP 1.1, it's necessary to insure that HTTP/2.0 is better in all cases. We do not have agreement or reproducable ways of measuring performance and impact in a wide variety of realistic configurations of bandwidth and latency. Measurement is crucial, lest we introduce changes which make things worse in unanticipated situations, or wind up with protocol changes that only help the use cases important to those who attend the meetings regularly and not the unrepresented.

Why HTTP/2.0? A Perspective

When setting up for the HTTP meeting in Hamburg, I was asked, reasonably enough, what the group is doing, why it was important, and my prognosis for its success.  It was hard to explain, so I thought I'd try to write up my take "why HTTP/2.0?"  Corrections, additions welcome.

HTTP Started Simple

The HyperText Transfer Protocol when first proposed was a very simple network protocol, much simpler than FTP (File Transfer Protocol), and quite similar to Gopher. Basically, the protocol is layered on the Transport Control Protocol (TCP)  which sets up bi-directional reliable streams of data. HTTP/0.9 expected one TCP connection per user click to get a new document. When the user clicks a link, it takes the URL of the link (which contains the host, port, and path of the link) and
  1. Using DNS, client get the IP address of the server in the URL
  2. opens a TCP connection to that server's address on the port named in the URL
  3. client writes "GET" and the path of the URL onto the connection
  4. the server responds with HTML for the page
  5. the client reads the HTML and displays it
  6. the connection is closed
Simple HTTP was adequate, judging by latency and bandwidth, as the overhead of HTTP/0.9 was minimal; the only overhead is the time to look up the DNS name and set up the TCP connection. 

Growing Complexity

HTTP got lots more complicated; changes were reflected in a series of specifications, initially with HTTP/1.0, and subsequently HTTP/1.1. Evolution has been lengthy, painstaking work; a second edition of the HTTP/1.1 specification (in six parts, only now nearing completion) has been under development for 8 years. 

Adding Headers

HTTP/1.0 request and response (steps 3 and 4 above) added headers: fields and values that modified the meaning of requests and responses. Headers were added to support a wide variety of additional use cases, e.g., adding a "Content-Type" header to allow images and  other kinds of content, a "Content-Transfer-Encoding" header and others to allow optional compression, quite a number of headers for support of caching and cache maintenance, a "DNT" header to express user privacy preferences.

While each header has its uses and justification, and many are optional, headers add both size and complexity to every HTTP request. When HTTP headers get big, there is more chance of delay (e.g., the request no longer fits in a single packet), and the same header information gets repeated.

Many More Requests per Web Page

The use of HTTP changed, as web expressiveness increased. Initially NCSA Mosaic led by supporting embedded  images in web pages, doing this by using a separate URL and HTTP request for each image.  Over time, more elements also have been set up as separate cachable resources, such as style sheets, JavaScript and fonts. Presently, the average popular web home page makes over 40 HTTP requests 

HTTP is stateless

Neither client nor server need to allocate memory or remember anything from one request/response to the next. This is an important characteristic of the web that allows highly popular web sites to serve many independent clients simultaneously, because the server need not allocate and manage memory for each client.  Headers must be repeatedly sent, to maintain the stateless nature of the protocol.

Congestion and Flow Control

 Flow control in TCP, like traffic metering lights, throttles a sender's output to match the receivers capability to read. Using many simultaneous connections does not work well, because the streams use the same routers and bridges which must manage the streams independently, but the TCP flow control algorithms do not, cannot, take into account the other traffic on the other connections. Also, setting up a new connection potentially involves additional latency, and opening encrypted connections is even slower since it requires more round-trips of communication of information.

Starting HTTP/2.0

While these problems were well-recognized quite a while ago, work on optimizing HTTP labeled "HTTP-NG" (next generation) foundered. But more recent work (and deployment) by Google on a protocol called SPDY shows that, at least in some circumstances, HTTP can be replaced with something which can improve page load time. SPDY is already widely deployed, but there is an advantage in making it a standard, at least to get review by those using HTTP for other applications. The IETF working group finishing the HTTP/1.1 second edition ("HTTPbis") has been rechartered to develop HTTP/2.0 which addresses performance problems. The group decided to start with (a subset of) SPDY and make changes from there.

HTTP/2.0 builds on HTTP/1.1; for the most part, it is not a reduction of the complexity of HTTP, but rather adds new features primarily for performance.

Header Compression

The obvious thing to do to reduce the size of something is to try to compress it, and HTTP headers compress well. But the goal is not just to speed transmission, it's also to reduce parse time of the headers. The header compression method is undergoing significant changes.

Connection multiplexing

One way to insure coordinated flow control and avoid causing network congestion is to "multiplex" a single connection. That is, rather than open 40 connections, only open one per destination. A site that serves all of its images and style sheets and JavaScript libraries on the same host could send the data for the page over the same connection. The only issue is how to coordinate independent requests and responses which can either be produced or consumed in chunks.

Push vs. Pull

A "push" is when the server sends a response that hadn't been asked for. HTTP semantics are strictly request followed by response, and one of the reasons why HTTP was considered OK to let out through a firewall that filtered out incoming requests.  When the server can "push" some content to clients even when the client didn't explicitly request it, it is "server push".  Push in HTTP/2.0 uses a promise "A is what you would get if you asked for B", that is, a promise of the result of a potential pull. The HTTP/2.0 semantics are developed in such a way that these "push" requests look like they are responses to requests not made yet, so it is called a "push promise".  Making use of this capability requires redesigning the web site and server to make proper use of this capability.

With this background, I can now talk about some of the ways HTTP/2.0 can go wrong. Coming up!

September 6, 2013

HTTP meeting in Hamburg

I was going to do a trip report about the HTTPbis meeting August 5-7 at the Adobe Hamburg office, but wound up writing up a longer essay about HTTP/2.0 (which I will post soon, promise.) So, to post the photo:

It was great to have so many knowledgeable implementors working on live interoperability: 30 people from around the industry and around the world came, including participants from Adobe, Akamai, Canon, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Twitter, and many others representing browsers, servers, proxies and other intermediaries.
It's good the standard development is being driven by implementation and testing. While testing across the Internet is feasible, meeting face-to-face helped with establishing coordination on the standard.
I do have some concerns about things that might go wrong, which I'll also post soon.

July 21, 2013

Linking and the Law

Ashok Malhotra and I (with help from a few friends) wrote a short blog post  "Linking and the Law" as a follow-on of the W3C TAG note Publishing and Linking on the Web (which Ashok and I helped with after its original work by Jeni Tennison and Dan Appelquist.)

Now, we wanted to make this a joint publication, but ... where to host it? Here, Ashok's personal blog, Adobe's, the W3C?

Well, rather than including the post here (copying the material) and in lieu of real transclusion, I'm linking to Ashok's blog: see "Linking and the Law".

Following this: the problems identified in Governance and Web Architecture are visible here:
  1. Regulation doesn't match technology
  2. Regulations conflict because of technology mis-match
  3. Jurisdiction is local, the Internet is global
These principles reflect the difficulties for Internet governance ahead. The debates on managing and regulating the Internet are getting more heated. The most serious difficulty for Internet regulation is the risk that the regulation won't actually make sense with the technology (as we're seeing with Do Not Track).
The second most serious problem is that standards for what is or isn't OK to do will vary widely across communities to the extent that user created content cannot be reasonably vetted for general distribution.

April 2, 2013

Safe and Secure Internet

The Orlando IETF meeting was sponsored by Comcast/NBC Universal. IETF sponsors get to give a talk on Thursday afternoon of IETF week, and the talk was a panel, "A Safe, Secure, Scalable Internet".

What I thought was interesting was the scope of what the speaker's definition of "Safe" and "Secure", and the mismatch to the technologies and methods being considered. "Safety" included "letting my kids surf the web without coming across pornography or being subject to bullying", while the methods they were talking about were things like site blocking by IP address or routing.

This seems like a oomplete mismatch. If bullying happens because harassers facebook post nasty pictures which they label with the victim's name, this problem cannot be addressed by IP-address blocking. "Looking in the wrong end of the telescope."

I'm not sure there's a single right answer, but we have to define the question correctly.

March 25, 2013

Standardizing JSON

Update 4/2/2013: in an email to the IETF JSON mailing list, Barry Leiba (Applications Area director in IETF) noted that discussions had started with ECMA and ECMA TC 39 to reach agreement on where JSON will be standardized, before continuing with the chartering of an IETF working group.

JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is a text representation for data interchange. It is derived from the JavaScript scripting language for representing data structures and arrays. Although derived from JavaScript, it is language-independent, with parsers available for many programming languages.

JSON is often used for serializing and transmitting structured data over a network connection. It is commonly used to transmit data between a server and web application, serving as an alternative to XML.

JSON was originally specified by Doug Crockford in RFC 4627, an "Informational" RFC.  IETF specifications known as RFCs come in lots of flavors: an "Informational" RFC isn't a standard that has gone through careful review, while a "standards track" RFC is.

An increasing number of other IETF documents want to specify a reference to JSON, and the IETF rules generally require references to other documents that are the same or higher levels of stability. For this reason and a few others, the IETF is starting a JSON working group (mailing list) to update RFC 4627.

The JavaScript language itself is standardized by a different committee (TC-39) in a different standards organization (ECMA).  For various reasons, the standard is called "ECMAScript" rather than JavaScript.  TC 39 published ECMAScript 5.1, and are working on ECMAScript 6, with a plan to be done in the same time frame as the IETF work.

The W3C  also is developing standards that use JSON and need a stable specification.

Risk of divergence

Unfortunately, there is a possibility of (minor) divergence between the two specifications without coordination, either formally (organizational liaison) or informally, e.g., by making sure there are participants who work in both committees.

There is a formal liaison between IETF and W3C. There is currently no also a formal liaison between W3C and ECMA (and a mailing list, public-script-coord@w3.org ). There is no formal liaison between TC39/ECMA and IETF.

Having multiple conflicting specifications for JSON would be bad. While some want to avoid the overhead of a formal liaison, there needs to be explicit assignment of responsibility. I'm in favor of a formal liaison as well as informal coordination. I think it makes sense for IETF to specify the "normative" definition of JSON, while ECMA TC-39's ECMAScript 6.0 and W3C specs should all point to the new IETF spec.

JSON vs. XML

JSON is often considered as an alternative to XML as a way of passing language-independent data structures as part of network protocols.

In the IETF, BCP 70 (also known as RFC 3470"Guidelines for the Use of Extensible Markup Language (XML) within IETF Protocols" gives guidelines for use of XML in network protocols. However, this published in 2003. (I was a co-author with Marshall Rose and Scott Hollenbeck.)

But of course these guidelines don't answer the question many have: When people want to pass data structures between applications in network protocols, do they use XML or JSON and when? What is the rough consensus of the community? Is it a choice? What are the alternatives and considerations? (Fashion? deployment? expressiveness? extensibility?) 

This is a critical bit of web architecture that needs attention. The community needs guidelines for understanding the competing benefits and costs of XML vs. JSON.  If there's interest, I'd like to see an update to BCP 70 which covers JSON as well as XML.

December 30, 2012

Reinventing the W3C TAG

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about my personal priorities for Web standards and the W3C TAG, as part of the ongoing TAG election.

The Mission of the W3C TAG has three aspects:

  1. to document and build consensus around principles of Web architecture and to interpret and clarify these principles when necessary;
  2. to resolve issues involving general Web architecture brought to the TAG; and
  3. to help coordinate cross-technology architecture developments inside and outside W3C.

Success has been elusive:

  1. After the publication of Architecture of the World Wide Web in 2004, attempts to update it, extend it, or even clarify it have foundered.
  2. Issues involving general Web architecture are rarely brought to the TAG, either by Working Group chairs, W3C staff, or the W3C Director, and those issues that have been raised have rarely been dealt with promptly or decisively.
  3. The TAG's efforts in coordinating cross-technology architectural developments within W3C (XHTML/HTML and RDFa/Microdata) have had mixed results. Coordinating cross-technology architecture developments outside W3C would require far more architectural liaison, primarily with IETF's Internet Architecture Board but also with ECMAScript TC39.

Building consensus around principles of Web architecture

I have long argued that the TAG practice of issuing Findings is not within the TAG charter, and does not build consensus. In the W3C, the issuing of a Recommendation is the stamp of consensus. There may be a few cases where the TAG is so far in advance of the community that achieving sufficient consensus for Recommendation is impossible, but those cases should be extremely rare.

  • Recommendation: Review TAG Findings and triage; either (a) update and bring the Finding to Recommendation, (b) obsolete and withdraw, or (c) hand off to a working group or task force.

To build consensus, the TAG's technical focus should match more closely the interest of the Web community.

  • Recommendation: Encourage and elect new TAG members with proven leadership skills as well as interest and experience in the architectural topics of most interest to W3C members.
  • Recommendation: The TAG should focus its efforts on the "Web of Applications" at the expense of shedding work on the semantic web and pushing ISSUE-57 and related topics to a working group or task force.

Updating AWWW to cover Web applications, Web security and other architectural components of the modern Web is a massive task, and those most qualified to document the architecture are also likely to be inhibited by the overhead and legacy of the TAG.

  • Recommendation: Charter a task force or working group to update AWWW.

Resolving issues involving general Web architecture brought to the TAG

To resolve an issue requires addressing it quickly, decisively, and in a way that is accepted by the parties involved. The infamous ISSUE-57 has been unresolved for over five years. The community has, for the most part, moved on.

  • Recommendation: encourage Working Group chairs and staff to bring current architectural issues to the TAG.
  • Recommendation: drop issues which have not been resolved within a year of being raised.

Coordinate cross-technology architectural developments inside and outside W3C

Within W3C, one contentious set of issues involve differing perspectives on the role of standards.

  • Recommendation: The TAG should define the W3C's perspective on the Irreconcilable Differences I've identified as disagreements on the role of standards.

For coordination with standards outside of W3C:

  • Recommendation: The TAG should meet at least annually with the IETF IAB, review their documents, and ask the IAB to review relevant TAG documents. The TAG should periodically review the status of liaison with other standards groups, most notably ECMA TC39.

On the current TAG election

An influx of new enthusiastic voices to the TAG may well help bring the TAG to more productivity than it's had in the past years, so I am reluctant to discourage those who have newly volunteered to participate, even though their prior interaction with the TAG has been minimal or (in most cases) non-existent. I agree the TAG needs reform, but the platforms offered have not specifically addressed the roadblocks to the TAG accomplishing its Mission.

In these blog posts, I've offered some insights into my personal perspectives and priorities, and recommended concrete steps the TAG could take.

If you're participating in W3C:

  • Review carefully the current output and priorities of the TAG and give feedback.
  • When voting, consider the record of leadership and thinking, as well as expertise and platform.
  • Hold elected TAG members accountable for campaign promises made, and their commitment to participate fully in the TAG.

Being on the TAG is an honor and a responsibility I take seriously. Good luck to all.

December 29, 2012

W3C and IETF coordination

This is the third of a series of posts about my personal priorities for Web standards, and the relationship to the W3C TAG.

Internet Applications = Web Applications

For better or worse, the Web is becoming the universal Internet application platform. Traditionally, the Web was considered just one of many Internet applications. But the rise of Web applications and the enhancements of the Web platform to accommodate them (HyBi, RTCWeb, SysApps) have further blurred the line between Web and non-Web.

Correspondingly, the line between IETF and W3C, always somewhat fuzzy, has further blurred, and made difficult the assignment of responsibility for developing standards, interoperability testing, performance measurement and other aspects.

Unfortunately, while there is some cooperation in a few areas, coordination over application standards between IETF and W3C is poor, even for the standards that are central to the existing web: HTTP, URL/URI/IRI, MIME, encodings.

W3C TAG and IETF coordination

One of the primary aspects of the TAG mission is to coordinate with other standards organizations at an architectural level. In practice, the few efforts the TAG has made have been only narrowly successful.

An overall framework for how the Web is becoming a universal Internet application platform is missing from AWWW. The outline of architectural topics the TAG did generate was a bit of a mish-mash, and then was not followed up.

The current TAG document Best Practices for Fragment Identifiers and Media Type Definitions, is narrow; the first public working draft was too late to affect the primary IETF document that should have referenced it, and is likely to not be read by those to whom it is directed.

There cannot be a separate "architecture of the Internet" and "architecture of the Web". The TAG should be coordinating more closely with the IETF Internet Architecture Board and applications area directorate.

Web Standards and Security

This is the second in a series of posts about my personal priorities for the W3C Technical Architecture Group.

Computer security is a complex topic, and it is easy to get lost in the detailed accounts of threats and counter-measures. It is hard to get to the general architectural principles. But fundamentally, computer security can be thought of as an arms race:  new threats are continually being invented, and counter-measures come along eventually to counter the threats. In the battle between threats and defense of Internet and Web systems, my fear is that the "bad guys" (those who threaten the value of the shared Internet and Web) are winning. My reasoning is simple:  as the Internet and the Web become more central to society, the value of attacks on Internet infrastructure and users increases, attracting organized crime and threats of cyber-warfare.

Further, most reasoning about computer security is "anti-architectural":  the exploits of security threats cut across the traditional means of architecting scalable systems—modularity, layering, information hiding. In the Web, many security threats depend on unanticipated information flows through the layer boundaries. (Consider the recently discovered "CRIME" exploit.) Traditional computer security analysis consists of analyzing the attack surface of a system to discover the security threats and provide for mitigation of those threats.

New Features Mean New Threats

Much of the standards community is focused on inventing and standardizing new features. Because security threats are often based on unanticipated consequences of minor details of the use of new features, security analysis cannot easily be completed early in the development process. As new features are added to the Web platform, more ways to attack the web are created. Although the focus of the computer security community is not on standards, we cannot continue to add new features to the Web platform without sufficient regard to security, or to treat security as an implementation issue.

Governance and Security

In many ways, every area of governance is also an area where violation of the governance objectives has increasing value to an attacker. Even without the addition of new features, deployment of existing features in new social and economic applications grows the attack surface. While traditional security analysis was primarily focused on access control, the growth of social networking and novel features increases the ways in which the Web can be misused.

The W3C TAG and Security

The original architecture of the Web did not account for security, and the W3C TAG has so far had insufficient expertise and energy to focus on security. While individual security issues may be best addressed in working groups or outside the W3C, the architecture of the Web also needs a security architecture, which gives a better model for trust, authentication, certificates, confidentiality, and other security properties.

Governance and Web Standards

I promised I would write more about my personal priorities for W3C and the W3C TAG in a series of posts. This is the first. Please note that, as usual, these are my personal opinions. Comments, discussion, disagreements welcome.

A large and growing percentage of the world depends on the Internet as a critical shared resource for commerce, communication, and community. The primary value of the Internet is that it is common: there is one Internet, one Web, and everyone on the planet can communicate with everyone else. But whenever there is a shared resource, opportunities for conflict arise—different individuals, groups, companies, nations, want different things and act in ways that threaten this primary value. There are endless tussles in cyberspace, including conflicts over economics, social policy, technology, and intellectual property. While some of the conflicts are related to "whose technology wins," many are related to social policy, e.g., whether Internet use can be anonymous, private, promote or allow or censor prohibited speech, protect or allow use of copyrighted material.

Shared resources in conflict, unregulated, are ultimately unsustainable. The choices for sustainability are between voluntary community action and enforced government action; if community action fails, governments may step in; but government action is often slow to move and adapt to changes.

As the recent kerfuffle over ITU vs. "multi-stakeholder" governance of the Internet shows, increased Internet regulation is looming. If the Internet community does not govern itself or provide modes of governance, varying national regulations will be imposed, which will threaten the economic and social value of a common Internet. Resolving conflict between the stakeholders will require direct attention and dedicated resources.

Governance and W3C

Standards and community organizations are a logical venue for addressing most of Internet governance conflicts. This is primarily because "code is law":  the technical functioning of the Internet determines how governance can work, and separating governance from technology is usually impossible. Further, the community that gathers at IETF and W3C (whether members or not), are the most affected.

I think W3C needs increased effort and collaboration with ISOC and others to bring "governance" and "Web architecture for governance" to the forefront.

Governance and the W3C TAG

The recent TAG first public working draft, "Publishing and Linking on the Web" is an initial foray of the W3C TAG in this space. While some may argue that this work exceeds the charter of the TAG, I think it's valuable work that currently has no other venue, and should continue in the TAG.

December 13, 2012

I Invented the W3C TAG :)

As a few of you know, W3C TAG elections are upon us. While this is usually a pretty boring event, this year it's been livened by electioneering.  I don't have a long platform document prepared ("stand on my record"), but I'll write some things about where I think web standards need to go.... But first a bit of history:

I invented the W3C TAG. At least more than Al Gore invented the Internet. I was Xerox' AC representative when I started on the W3C Advisory Board, and it was in 2000 that I and Steve Zilles edited the initial TAG charter.  I think a lot of the details (size, scope, term limits, election method) were fairly arbitrarily arrived at, based on the judgment of a group speculating about the long-term needs of the community. I prioritize a focus on architecture, not design; stability as well as progress; responsibility to the community; a role in dispute resolution. The TAG has no power: it's a leadership responsibility; there is no authority.

And the main concern then, as now, is finding qualified volunteers who can actually put in the work needed to get "leadership" done.

In a few future blog posts I'll outline what I think some of the problems for the Web, W3C, and the TAG might be. I'll write more on

1. Governance. Architectural impact of legislative, regulatory requirements.
2. Security. In the arms race, the bad guys are winning.
3. Coordination with other standards activities (mainly IETF Applications area), fuzziness of the boundary of the "web".

Questions? Please ask (here, twitter, www-tag@w3.org)

Update 12/16/2012 ... I didn't invent the TAG alone 

Doing a little more research:

It's easy to find earlier writings  and talks about Web Architecture. At the May 2000 W3C advisory committee meeting,  I was part of the discussion of whether Architecture needed a special kind of group or could be completed by an ordinary working group. I think the main concern was long-term maintenance.
By the 6/9/2000 Advisory Board meeting, the notion of a "Architecture Board" was part of the discussion. An initial charter was sent out by Jean-Francois Abramatic to the Advisory Board  8/11/2000 6:02 AM PST.

Steve Zilles sent a second proposed charter (forwarded to the AB 8/14/2000 08:35PST) with cover note:
The attached draft charter is modelled on the structure of the Hypertext CG charter. This was done for completeness. Much of the content is based on notes that I took during the discussion with Larry Masinter refered to above, but the words are all mine. The Background section is my creation.  The mission is based on our joint notes. The Scope is mostly my creation, but, I belive consistent with    our discussion. The Participants section has most of what we discussed.  I tried to capture the intent of what Jean-Francios wrote, but I did not borrow any of the words because I was using a different outline. My apologies if I failed in that respect.
While I contributed to the definition of the TAG and many of the ideas in the TAG charter, others get "invention" credit as well.

An Architecture Working Group... 

Reading the discussions about the TAG made me wonder if it's time to reconsider an "architecture working group" whose sole responsibility is to develop AWWW2.  There's a lot of enthusiasm for an AWWW2,  can we capture the energy without politicizing it? Given the poor history of the TAG in maintaining AWWW, perhaps it should be moved out to a more focused group (with TAG participation encouraged).


May 20, 2012

Are homepages on the way out?

Is the idea of a home page on the way out?  I've had a "home page" since at least 1996. But I'm wondering if it is declining. What with things like Facebook and LinkedIn and so on, there are too many places to look for "identity".  But it's really just a social convention, that people and organizations might have a "home page" which is them, which you might sign an email with. 
 
When I sign my email I use http://larry.masinter.net alone. Why include  a larger signature block when I can sum it all up in one URL? But I'm doing it less and less. People can find me, just do search.
 
But I wonder -- is the notion of a "home page" underlying the semantic web's use of a URL to stand for some thing, person or group in the real world?

For example, you might say that there was a link, for a URL U and a thing X between:
 
*  how good the page at the U serves a "home page" for X
* how appropriate U is as a URI for the concept X in RDF
 
 (I talked about this on Google+, but blog is better)

December 14, 2011

HTTP Status Cat: 418 - I'm a teapot

418 - I'm a teapot by GirlieMac
418 - I'm a teapot, a photo by GirlieMac on Flickr.
In the W3C TAG, I'm working on bringing together a set of threads around the evolution of the web, the use of registries and extension points, and MIME in web standards.

A delightful collection of HTTP Status Cats includes the above cat-in-teapot came from HTCPCP "The HyperText Coffee Pot Control Protocol" [RFC 2324].

The IETF regularly each April 1st also publishes humorous specifications (as "Informational" documents), perhaps to make the point that "Not all RFCs are standards", but to also provide humorous fodder for technical debates.
The target of HTCPC was the wave of proposals we were seeing for extensions to HTTP in the HTTP working group (which I had chaired) to support what seemed to me to be cockeyed, inappropriate applications.

I set out in RFC2324 to misuse as many of the HTTP extensibility points as a could.

But one of the issues facing registries of codes, values, identifiers is what to do with submissions that are not "serious". Should 418 be in the IANA registry of HTTP status codes? Should the many (not actually valid) URI schemes in it (coffee: in 12 languages) be listed as registered URI schemes?

August 15, 2011

Expert System Scalability and the Semantic Web

In the late 80s, we saw the fall of AI and Expert Systems as a "hot" technology -- the "AI winter".  The methodology, in brief: build a representation system (a way of talking about facts about the world) and an inference engine (a way of making logical inferences bet of a set of facts).  Get experts to tell you facts about the world. Grind the inference engine, and get new facts. Voila!

I always felt that the problem with the methodology was the failure of model theory to scale: the more people and time involved in developing the "facts" about the world, the more likely it is that the terminology in the representation system would fuzz -- that different people involved in entering and maintaining the "knowledge base" would disagree about what the terms in the representation system stood for.

The "semantic web" chose to use URIs as the terminology for grounding abstract assertions and creating a model where those assertions were presumed to be about the real world.

This exacerbates the scalability problem. URIs are intrinsically ambiguous and were not designed to be precise denotation terms. The semantic web terminology of "definition" and "assignment" of URIs reflects a point of view I fundamentally disagree with.  URIs don't "denote". People may use them to denote, but it is a communication act; the fact that I say by "http://larry.masinter.net" I mean *me* does not imbue that URI with any intrinsic semantics.

I've been trying to get at these issues around ambiguity with the "duri" and "tdb" URI schemes, for example, but I think the fundamental perspective still simmers.

August 7, 2011

Internet Privacy: TELLING a friend may mean telling THE ENEMY

In the Quebec maritime museum by Lar4ry
In the Quebec maritime museum, a photo by Lar4ry on Flickr.

After the recent IETF in Quebec, I found htis poster in a maritime museum.

The problem with most of the Internet privacy initiatives is that they don't seem to start with a threat analysis: who are your friends (those with web sites you want to visit) and who are your enemies (those who would use your personal information for purposes you don't want), and how do you tell things to friends without those things getting into the hands of your enemies. It's counter-intuitive to have to treat your friends as if they're a channel to your enemies, but ... information leaks.

Via Flickr:
TELLING a friend may mean telling THE ENEMY