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RE: idempotent

From: Paul Leach <paulle@microsoft.com>
Date: Thu, 31 Aug 95 19:44:09 PDT
Message-Id: <9509010334.AA09444@netmail2.microsoft.com>
To: http-wg%cuckoo.hpl.hp.com@hplb.hpl.hp.com
Applying the mathematical concept of idempotence to HTTP, idempotent 
means that two consecutive (as seen at the server) requests with the 
same method and the same URI will return results that are functionally 
the same, as far as the client and server are concerned (this allows 
minor, irrelevant changes like counters, etc.).

It is the fact that requests are idempotent that *allows* them to be 
cached: the cache can service the second request out of its cache 
if-and-only-if it knows that the request is idempotent.

In HTTP,  a cache knows that (i.e., is allowed to act as if) the 
request is idempotent if the response that was cached had an Expires 
header with an expiration date in the future.

Not all GETs and HEADs are idempotent. If they return an Expires header 
for some URI, then clients and caches should be allowed to assume that 
they are for that URI, until the expiration date (and correct servers 
will cause it to be true).

In addition, idempotent requests may safely be retried if they time 
out.  Some non-idempotent requests are also safe to retry, but not all.

This is consistent with the mathematical usage of the term 
"idempotent", and its use in communications protocols like RPC.  It is 
also fundamental to the principles of caching.

I propose the following addition to section 1.3:

idempotent

A request is idempotent if two consecutive identical requests (same 
method, same URI) received at a server will return responses that are 
functionally the same, as far as the client and server are concerned.

Paul
Received on Thursday, 31 August 1995 19:46:40 EDT

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