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Re: Logic Bag concerns (with some proposals)

From: Koen Holtman <koen@win.tue.nl>
Date: Sun, 3 Dec 1995 01:16:48 +0100 (MET)
Message-Id: <199512030016.AAA13977@wswiop05.win.tue.nl>
To: "Roy T. Fielding" <fielding@avron.ICS.UCI.EDU>
Cc: sjk@amazon.com, mogul@pa.dec.com, dmk@allegra.att.com, http-wg%cuckoo.hpl.hp.com@hplb.hpl.hp.com
Roy T. Fielding:
[About Unless and logic bags:]
>On the other hand, it is a very new construct and I'm not going to throw
>it away until everyone gets a chance to think about how it might be used,

Some remarks on uses of this construct:

1) To make continuing interrupted GETs using the Range header
possible, just defining logic bags and Unless: in HTTP/1.1 is not
sufficient.

HTTP/1.1 should also put a restriction on the behavior of servers that
would give clients a 100% reliable way of ensuring that the entity
body bound to a resource has not changed since the previous request.

Basically, this means defining at least one header value or
characteristic derived from a number of headers that, if present in
the response, is _guaranteed_ to change if the entity body changes.
<draft-luotonen-http-url-byterange-XX.txt> defines Last-modified as
such a guaranteed-to-change header, but this may not be the best
solution.

Without such 100% guarantees defined in HTTP/1.1, continuation of
interrupted GETs cannot be implemented reliably.  The ability to test
lots of response headers with Unless (as in the logic bag example in
Section 4.2 of the 1.1 draft) may be impressive, it is not sufficient.


2) One nice use of Unless I just thought up: it allows for a 
`delay image loading for images larger than XX bytes' option in
browsers.  This could be implemented with minimal overhead by sending
  Unless: {gt {Content-length XX}} 
in inline picture requests.


3) I agree with Dave Kristol that the relational operators like 'gt'
in logic bags have big problems when used with undefined headers.
Your default does not make these problems go away.  There are three
important ways of comparing:

  numeric  (2 < 10)
  lexical  (ba < c)
  date     (Mon, 04 Dec 1995 01:23:45 GMT < Mon, 04 Dec 1995 01:23:55 GMT)

and the defined default would break on undefined headers that carry a
date.  I therefore propose to define three `greater than` operators:

  gtn   greater than, numeric
  gtl   greater than, lexical
  gtd   greater than, date.

and maybe, but not required:

  gt   greater than, with field-name dependent function (use only with
       field-names defined in HTTP/1.1).

(of course, the same for ge, lt, le).  Another question: what is the
`appropriate comparison function' server authors are supposed to use
for `Content-Version'?  Do we really want to open this can of worms?

4) Implementation and portability considerations will make the Unless
header useless for some applications, including the `Transactions or
Reliability' application described by Sankar Virdhagriswaran earlier
in this thread.  See 5) for an explanation.

>and implementors get a chance to examine how it might be implemented on
>their systems. 

5) There is a big problem here. Consider the following request:

  POST /bin/send_mail HTTP/1.1
  Unless: {gt {Content-length 123}}
  Accept: */*
  <more request headers and the encoding of a form containing a mail
  message follow>

Now, the 1.1 draft says that `the server must abort the request' if
the Content-length of the response would be bigger than 123.  The
problem is: abort when?  Before or after the send_mail CGI script
sends the mail?

Implementation and portability considerations dictate that the abort
can only happen _after_ the send_mail script has sent the mail.  Thus,
I propose that the text

  `the server must abort the request and respond
   with the 412 (unless true) status code.'

in Section 10.40 be replaced with 

   `the server must not send the response resulting from the normal
    semantics of the request, but respond with a 412 (unless true)
    status code.'

and that the following text is added at the end of the Section:

    `If a request has the significance of taking an action other than
    retrieval, the truth of the expression in the Unless field may,
    but is not required to, prevent the action from being taken.'

Without this change, we must basically put a logic bag parser and,
worse, speculative execution or `undo' code in each existing and
future CGI script that takes an action other than retrieval.  This is
not an option, especially not for CGI scripts with functionality like
`delete some files and report the cpu time used'.

My conclusions about implementability: having Unless will only be
viable if Unless processing can be done transparently to CGI scripts.
What you can implement under my proposed Unless semantics is the
following sequence of server actions:

  1. Decode request
  2. Run CGI script
  3. Prepare response headers using CGI script output
  4. Calculate value of logic bag in `unless' header
  5a. If true, send a 412 (unless true) response
  5b. If false, send a 200 (or whatever the CGI script produced), 
     response headers and entity body.

6) I observe that Unless is basically a bandwidth-saving device, not a
device for preventing actions like sending mail from happening.  We
may want to define another logic-bag based request header (for example
`No-action-if') for this latter purpose.  The difference with Unless
would be that a `No-action-if' header used on a standard CGI script
would cause the server to immediately send a `not implemented'
response.  Only special CGI scripts registered as capable of
`No-action-if' processing would be run by the server.

> I also need to prepare three presentations for the next
>two weeks of travelling, so I'd much rather talk about it at the Dallas
>IETF and Boston WWW4 than try to defend it on a mailing list (there just
>isn't enough bandwidth).

In that case, I will not expect an immediate answer to my concerns
above.  I won't be at the IETF or the WWW4, but I can wait for you to
introduce mutated versions of Unless and logic bags after the WWW4.

[...]
>   GET this HTTP/1.1
>   Unless: {gt {Cost "US$0.25"}}

Oops: as Cost is no 1.1 header, a 1.1 server would be allowed to send
you a response and charge you "US $ 640000.25" for it.  After all,
this amount is lexically smaller than "US$0.25".

> ...Roy T. Fielding

Koen.
Received on Saturday, 2 December 1995 16:36:20 EST

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