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Re: De Re If-Modified-Since

From: Brian Behlendorf <brian@organic.com>
Date: Wed, 16 Aug 1995 23:23:44 -0700 (PDT)
To: Lou Montulli <montulli@mozilla.com>
Cc: Simon Spero <ses@tipper.oit.unc.edu>, http-wg%cuckoo.hpl.hp.com@hplb.hpl.hp.com
Message-Id: <Pine.SOL.3.91.950816222536.604K-100000@eat.organic.com>
On Wed, 16 Aug 1995, Lou Montulli wrote:
> In article <Pine.SOL.3.91.950816205717.5252C-100000@chivalry> Simon Spero
> <ses@tipper.oit.unc.edu> wrote:
> > 
> > 
> >         2) The problem as described above is caused by problems at the
> >         server side;  the cure can also be localised to the server-side
> >         without protocol modifications- for example, the server can keep
> >         a record of the incorrect dates that have been changed, and always
> >         retransmit the document if it recieves a request containing one of
> >         the bad dates.
> > 
> This solution is too costly to implement in existing servers,

BS - the server can easily go "oh, that IMS date is past my current time. I 
will presume it's erroneous and send the full copy".  It doesn't have to
remember the dates that were sent out, or the files those dates were attached

Here's the algorithm of IMS requests:

Variables: IMS = If-Modified-Since date
	   LM = Server's last-modified
	   CURRTIME = The current time on the *server*

1) if IMS < LM send document
2) if IMS > CURRTIME send document
   that leaves LM < IMS < CURRTIME for the 304 response.  

The problem situation:

RealTime	ServerTime	Action

12:00		12:10		C: GET /file
				S: 200 Ok
				   Last-modified: 12:08
12:02		12:12 -> 12:02	(clock fixed)
12:06		12:06		(/file modified)
12:10		12:10		C: GET /file
				   IMS: 12:08
				S: 304 Not Modified

so, here the file was modified but reported not modified. By the spec, 
the server can't go "hey, 12:08 is past the LM date of /file".  So, 
when would this happen?  Is this common enough to be a problem?  

Let's rewrite this algebraically:

RealTime	ServerTime	Action
A		A+Lag		C: GET /file
				S: 200 Ok
				   Last-modified: LM   (LM < A+Lag)
A+B		A+Lag+B	-> A+B	(clock fixed)
A+B+C		A+B+C		(/file modified)
A+B+C+D		A+B+C+D		C: GET /file
				   IMS: LM		

if ( LM < A+B+C+D && LM > A+B+C) then a 304 is issued, and LM < A+Lag

so we get 

B+C < LM-A < B+C+D    with LM-A < Lag

So B+C needs to be less than Lag for this race condition to occur.

In other words, the time between the first, incorrect access and the 
most recent file modification needs to be less than the Lag for this to 

Let's say Lag is 30 years.  The only situation where this race condition 
would occur is if a file is in a cache for 30 years without reload in the 
cache and without modification on the server, and then after that 30-year 
span a 304 request was made.  This seems vanishingly unlikely.

Let's say Lag is 5 minutes.  The "window" of error is only 5 minutes 
large - the file would have to be changed on the server within 5 minutes 
of the erroneous access for an incorrect 304 to be issued.

FInally, let's say Lag is 3 days.  If the very next 304 request isn't 
made for more than 3 days, and the file was modified within 3 days of the 
last time it was modified and not after that, then it's a problem.  To 
me, this is perfectly acceptible - most caches out there don't keep 
documents around without doing 304 requests often enough for this to be a 
concern of mine.  What do the statisticians in the audience think?  And 
was my 11th-hour algebra on the mark?  :)

> Your "solution" also fails when the file has been modified but
> has the same date.

Can we just agree (feel like rodney king here) that this is a broken case 
and not worth wasting time on?  Modified files can also have the same 
size, even the same checksum if we try hard enough.  


brian@organic.com  brian@hyperreal.com  http://www.[hyperreal,organic].com/
Received on Wednesday, 16 August 1995 23:23:27 UTC

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