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RE: Docushare and WebDAV model

From: Jim Whitehead <ejw@ics.uci.edu>
Date: Thu, 6 Aug 1998 14:42:23 -0700
To: "Falkenhainer, Brian C" <BFalkenhainer@crt.xerox.com>, w3c-dist-auth@w3.org
Cc: "Garnaat, Mitchell" <MGarnaat@crt.xerox.com>
Message-ID: <005001bdc183$18e6d720$d115c380@galileo.ics.uci.edu>

On August 4, 1998, Judith Slein wrote:
> It is their view that most, if not all, document repositories,
> would prefer to use handles to identify the objects they
> control, and not paths in a URL hierarchy.  They would like to see
> the requirement that the URLs of DAV resources reflect the URL
> hierarchy (see section 4 of the spec) be removed, or at least
> weakened to "SHOULD".
> Can anyone reconstruct the original rationale for this requirement?

First, since none of these messages has explicitly named any requirements by
section, I'm going to assume the thread refers to section 4, "All DAV
compliant resources MUST support the HTTP URL namespace model specified
herein" and to specific requirements in sections 4.1 and 4.3.

The rationale for these requirements is to prevent "gaps" in the namespace
where an intermediate collection in a URL might not exist.  Specifically, we
wanted to avoid situations where collections http://www.foo.bar/a/b/c/ and
http://www.foo.bar/a/ exist, but collection http://www.foo.bar/ does not.
Driving this decision was the need to provide concrete definitions for what
Depth=infinity means.  In the example above, intuitively a DELETE of
Depth=infinity on http://www.foo.bar/a/ should also delete
http://www.foo.bar/a/b/c/, but since http://www.foo.bar/a/b/ doesn't exist,
http://www.foo.bar/a/b/c/ is not contained by http://www.foo.bar/a/. This
made our definition of Depth=infinity problematic (propagation of the DELETE
along containment relationships), since there is no containment relationship
between http://www.foo.bar/a/ and http://www.foo.bar/a/b/c/ in the absence
of http://www.foo.bar/a/b/.

Navigation is also problematic when there are gaps in the namespace, since a
PROPFIND on http://www.foo.bar/a/b/c/ will return the contents of the
collection, but PROPFIND on http://www.foo.bar/a/b/ will fail without giving
any indication that a PROPFIND on http://www.foo.bar/a/ will work, returning
the contents of the collection.

There was also a concern about the semantics of collections that were not
created using MKCOL.  In particular, working group members wanted to ensure
that collections created by some out-of-band mechanism (e.g., a "create
collection" command issued directly to the underlying repository through a
non-WebDAV interface) behaved like WebDAV collections.  This is the
rationale for the requirement in section 4.1 that "WebDAV servers MUST treat
HTTP URL namespaces as collections, regardless of whether they were created
with the MKCOL method..."

The requirement for having only a single instance of a URI in a collection
(section 4.1) was placed there to avoid needing to specify for every method
which instance of a URI you wanted to operate on, as well as avoiding the
philosophical issue of what having multiple instances of the same URI name
in a collection actually meant (having mutliple instances of the same URI in
a collection doesn't make much sense to me).

On August 6, Brian Falkenhainer wrote:

> I think that's an accurate characterization. If by "HTTP URL" you mean a
> reference beginning with "http://", then we are using http urls. The
> issue for us is that in existing products, there are (at least) two ways
> of browsing hierarchical collections and the current phrasing in the
> WebDAV draft appears to disallow all of them but one.

Could you enumerate the ways you have in mind here?

> Standard web
> servers use the hierarchical, path-oriented URL syntax which WebDAV
> appears to require. However, most document management / groupware
> systems I'm familiar with reference collections and files based on a
> unique ID, typically an integer, that is assigned to each resource.
> Using CGI or other access vehicle, these systems manage the hierarchical
> content themselves rather than basing the hierarchy on the underlying
> file system.  However, the content is still hierarchical in the
> traditional sense. It's simply that each node in the hierarchy is
> referenced by ID rather than by path. From what I see in the draft, all
> of the functionality defined by WebDAV still works with a
> reference-by-ID model. PROPFIND can still return information on all of
> the members of a collection resource, etc.  So why the couple sentences
> requiring the hierarchical URL syntax? It doesn't seem necessary -
> everything else in the draft still works as far as I can tell - and it
> has the potential to cause a lot of problems for vendors that have
> traditionally always used a reference-by-ID model.

Let me see if I can get at the heart of this matter.

On the Web, every network resource has one (or more) URIs which identify it.
When a server receives a message containing an HTTP URL, it performs a
mapping operation between the URL and one or more objects in its persistent
store.  While most Web servers are file-based, and map a URL into a file,
many servers are not file-based, and perform a mapping of the URL space into
any number of underlying persistent stores, such as databases, memory buffer
in an EPROM, etc.

From your description, it sounds like most document management systems have
decided to directly place the document identifier into the HTTP URL for that
document, thus achieving a 1:1 mapping between HTTP URLs and document ids.

There are many, many ways to map the space of document ids into the HTTP URL
space.  I would be very surprised to discover it is impossible to map
document ids into HTTP URLs while maintaining the hierarchy constraints
specified in the WebDAV specification.  In one of her previous messages,
Judy described one such mapping:


The implication of this mapping is the HTTP URL namespace of documents on
the server is flat.  However, document management systems also have
collections, and it is desirable to also map these collections into the HTTP
URL space.  Since it sounds like these collections do not all fit within
some grand hierarchy, the mapping to the HTTP URL space will have to create
a pseudo-hierarchy for them.

I propose that you map all collections under the URL:


That is, all collections in the DM repository will be rooted at:


Since your repository has no problem mapping the same document identifier to
multiple names in the HTTP URL space, you could have both this mapping and
the object-identifier mapping operating simultaneously.  That is, the same
object could be retrieved through:




Of course, from a user interface standpoint, exposing an internal identifier
like a document id in the user interface is generally a bad idea, so if you
could make a mapping that didn't use document ids at all, that would be the
best solution (but undoubtedly raises name uniqueness issues).

In conclusion, unless I see some further compelling evidence for why a large
class of document management systems cannot map their document identifiers
into the HTTP URL space while preserving the requirements in section 4, 4.1,
and 4.3, I see no reason to downgrade the strength of this requirement to a

- Jim

Afterword:  In an earlier post, Brian Falkenhainer wrote:

> For example, here is an OpenText URL:
> http://demo.opentext.com/livelink/livelink?func=doc.browse&nodeid=22278
> This opens their demo collection called "Gizmo".

Note that this approach maps all objects within the document management
system into a single resource (in the eyes of HTTP).  The semantics of the
"?" inside a URL are that everything to the left of the "?" is the URL of a
resource, and everything to the right is to be interpreted by the specific

Since the URL has actions embedded within it, it is unclear to me how it
should react to non-GET requests.  For example, what should the action be if
I perform a DELETE on

There are competing commands here -- the DELETE says to remove the resource
<http://demo.opentext.com/livelink/livelink> while the stuff to the right of
the question mark indicates that a "doc.browse" operation is to be
performed.  Weird, eh?  This is why I (and many others) think this approach
is a poor design from an HTTP theory perspective, although we can certainly
appreciate how it easily maps into a CGI script implementation.
Received on Thursday, 6 August 1998 18:25:28 UTC

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