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Re: The IETF process

From: Marc Hedlund <hedlund@best.com>
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 1995 11:15:34 -0700
Message-Id: <v02120d02ac8de9637384@[]>
To: Shel Kaphan <sjk@amazon.com>
Cc: http-wg%cuckoo.hpl.hp.com@hplb.hpl.hp.com
Shel Kaphan writes [elided]:
>Roy Fielding writes:
> > ... In particular, I cannot be compelled to include
> > anything which has never been implemented anywhere, or for which no
> > documentation of how it was implemented is available.
>For good or ill, this means that there is no direct link from
>mere "customers" of HTTP to the design specification process.  If, as a
>user of the protocol, one thinks a feature is necessary or something
>needs improvement, it apparently doesn't make much sense to bring it
>up first on http-wg, in hope of it becoming part of the standard,
>without first convincing someone to build it into their system.

I am sympathetic to Shel's concerns and (since I say such foolish things
myself sometimes) strongly in favor of the principle for which he speaks:
open access to the IETF standards process.  However, I disagree with Shel's
inferences from Roy's note.  Roy began by saying (emphasis added):

>IETF working groups exist to provide rigorous peer review _and testing_
>of specifications

and then said, further down:

> [...] I may include things in each draft which are
>      not yet implemented, but will remove them as soon as I think
>      they won't be implemented before the spec is finished.

It would be foolhardy for an author to submit, or a standards body to
accept as final, a specification that has never been implemented.  The very
best, simplest ideas can go straight to hell when you sit down to convince
a computer of their elegence, and that learning process will necessarily
improve the final specification.

That does _not_ mean, to my mind, that an idea must be formulated,
specified, and tested before it is discussed on this list.  If this were
the case, we would likely see even more duplication of effort and an even
more frequent occurence of holy wars, what with authors investing long
hours in competing implementations before springing them upon us.  I would
consider it perfectly reasonable to see a note which read, "This is my
idea, I think it would improve the spec, what do you think?" If response is
favorable, a follow-up could be, "Can someone throw together a libwww-perl
(or whatever) implementation to see if it would work?"

One other quote from Roy:

>   1) People on this list (and the other Application-area WGs)
>      tend to "blab" a little too much and "make concrete proposals"
>      too infrequently.

These comments encourage wg members to get down to brass tacks more
quickly.  We've had an endless string of endless strings of messages, and I
was startled to see an actual polling of list members resulting in a clear
picture of list opinion (Host v. Orig-URI) last week.  Even if a
working-group member does not have the resources or the time to implement
an idea, writing an Internet Draft describing an idea can clarify, reduce,
and concentrate that idea.  If the list has discussed an idea and the
boundaries of the debate are clear, write up a proposal and it is much more
likely to be implemented, since the I-D will give the implementer something
to work with.

(I have been thinking all of these issues through as I try to hammer out a
proposal on content negotiation.  Trying to write a formal description of
an idea will convince you of the value of the process, or its complete
futility.  You get a solution either way.)

Marc Hedlund <hedlund@best.com>
Received on Tuesday, 26 September 1995 11:33:31 UTC

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