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Re: rfc2617 BNF quoting issues

From: Alex Rousskov <rousskov@measurement-factory.com>
Date: Mon, 21 Apr 2003 13:43:10 -0600 (MDT)
To: Jim Luther <luther.j@apple.com>
cc: ietf-http-wg@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.BSF.4.53.0304211304360.72041@measurement-factory.com>


	I agree that a (token | quoted-string) rule is not precise
enough alone. It lacks (polished versions of) the following two rules:
	- any quoted string MUST be interpreted only after the
	  quotes are removed
	- any token MAY be quoted

These rules would make quoted things equivalent to unquoted things (as
long as the latter can be correctly parsed) and eliminate some of the
confusion. In other words, it would say "when in doubt, quote". I
suspect this is what the authors implied, but there are no explicit
rules like that, unfortunately. RFC 2616 comes close when it says that
"A string of text is parsed as a single word if it is quoted", but
that phrase is not precise enough and does lead to different

	The problem you discuss is not limited to authentication
headers. There are, for example, proxies that quote cache-control
directives confusing many HTTP agents:
	Cache-Control: "private"
versus canonical
	Cache-Control: private

	In general, if there is a more specific BNF that [re]defines a
generic parameter from RFC 2616, that more specific BNF should be
followed. Hopefully, there are no conflicts (requiring a specific part
of an OR statement is not a conflict!) other than those caused by the
lack of the above quotation rules.

	The following RFC 2616 wording may answer your second

   Many HTTP/1.1 header field values consist of words separated by LWS
   or special characters. These special characters MUST be in a quoted
   string to be used within a parameter value

A comma (',') is a special character in a digest-response context and,
hence, digest-uri-value must be quoted if it contains commas. This may
still cause interoperability problems, of course. Many implementations
we work with do not handle quoted strings well enough.

To summarize, here are two compatibility rules of thumb I try to
	- if the spec allows you not to quote something,
	  do not quote that something unless quotes are necessary for
	  correct parsing on the other end
	- accept quoted something even if quotes are not necessary;
	  remove quotes before interpreting that something



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On Mon, 21 Apr 2003, Jim Luther wrote:

> rfc2617 defines auth-param as:
>        auth-param	= token "=" ( token | quoted-string )
> and defines challenge and credentials as:
> 	challenge		= auth-scheme 1*SP 1#auth-param
> 	credentials	= auth-scheme #auth-param
> However, other parts of rfc2617 don't make a couple of things clear:
> 1 - Can quoted-strings be used where they are not required for the
> value of an auth-param and the BNF for the value of the auth-param
> doesn't mention quoting?
> An example of this is the nonce-count auth-param in the digest-response
> (section 3.2.2). Can the nc-value value be quoted (even though it
> doesn't need to be) or does the fact that it's defined as 8LHEX
> override the general auth-param BNF?
> I believe that if the general auth-param BNF is overridden by the BNF
> defining a specific auth-param attribute-value pair, then a note in
> section 1.2 saying that should be added; if not, then a note in section
> 1.2 saying it cannot be overridden and that any value can be quoted
> should be added.
> 2 - Are quoted-strings required for some auth-param values?
> An example of this is the digest-uri-value auth-param in the
> digest-response (section 3.2.2). Since the digest-uri-value can contain
> comma characters, and because the fields in the digest-response are
> comma delimited, the digest-uri-value must be a quoted-string in order
> to handle all possible digest-uri-value.
> I believe that if quoting is required for a specific auth-param value,
> then it should say so in the definition of that auth-param.
> In our client implementations of Digest Access authentication, we first
> quoted only those auth-param values which were defined as
> quoted-string, or which included <"> in the BNF, by rfc2617. Following
> the rules that way caused problems (mostly because we weren't quoting
> digest-uri-value), so we changed our implementation to quote all
> auth-param values. Last week, we found a proxy cache which doesn't work
> with the nonce-count quoted. That's why I'm bringing this up.
> Thanks,
> - Jim
Received on Monday, 21 April 2003 15:43:22 UTC

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