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RE: Some problems with the WebDAV protocol

From: Jim Whitehead <ejw@ics.uci.edu>
Date: Mon, 19 Apr 1999 13:12:24 -0700
To: w3c-dist-auth@w3.org
Message-ID: <003f01be8aa0$f064f060$d115c380@ics.uci.edu>

> 1) RFC 2068 says about PUT: "If the Request-URI does not point to an
> existing resource, and that URI is capable of being defined as a new
> resource by the requesting user agent, the origin server can create
> the resource with that URI."

*snip*

> RFC 2518, on the other hand, explicitly says: "When the PUT operation
> creates a new non-collection resource all ancestors MUST already exist.
> If all ancestors do not exist, the method MUST fail with a 409 (Conflict)
> status code."
>
> So, if I have a server on which people can now create collections
> by using existing HTTP/1.1 compliant clients (namely, with PUT), and I
> will go and make it strictly WebDAV compliant, this important
> functionality will be broken. This is a problem.

The rationale for the extra constraints on PUT in WebDAV is:

* Prevention of creation of intermediate collections on user error.

Say I'm authoring a resource with URL:

http://authoring.mycorp.com/users/jim/1999_reports/q1_report/rpt.htm

And suppose that the server supports PUT, and does actually create
intermediate collections as needed (as allowed by HTTP/1.1):

Now, what happens if, when I go to save a backup of this report, I type in
the URL:

http://authoring.mycorp.com/users/jim/1999-reports/q1_report/rpt.htm

(That is, the "_" in "1999_reports" is now a "-") Now, instead of getting an
error, my server has gone ahead and made two new collections for me
(1999-reports, and "q1_report"), a behavior I did not want.


* Not *requiring* the creation of intermediate collections to support
namespace consistency

As far as HTTP/1.1 is concerned, a server is free to have what I term "free
floating URLs", URLs that, if you remove the last path segment, do not
resolve to a resource.

For example:

http://example.com/foo/fuzz/bar.html

This URL would be free floating if you removed the "bar.html" path segment
to create:

http://example.com/foo/fuzz/

AND if this URL is not mapped to a resource.

In WebDAV, we wanted to prevent free-floating resources, since they would
violate namespace consistency (that, ideally, every URL for a DAV-compliant
resource must belong to a collection).  This would have required us to add a
requirement that a PUT to a URL would have to create all intermediate
collections.  But, this seemed to us to be adding excessive side-effects to
PUT, especially since a user might not even want those extra collections to
be created (i.e., they might have just committed an error).

So, while you may not agree with this rationale, the requirement was not
added arbitrarily.

OK, so given that WebDAV has this extra requirement on PUT that HTTP/1.1
does not have, you are assering that a downlevel HTTP/1.1 authoring client
would experience interoperability problems authoring against a DAV server
(or a DAV-capable portion of a server's namespace).  It seems to me that, if
users of these downlevel clients depend on the side-effect behavior of PUT
to create intermediate collections, they might indeed have some difficulty
authoring against a DAV-capable server.

So, having agreed to your main point, we are now left to argue over the
severity of this interoperability problem.  I assert that it is minor, since
there are several existing workarounds.

Workaround #1:
Use an existing DAV client as a helper to create the intermediate
collections.

This addresses your question:
> And how do I do a MKCOL if I use Amaya, Netscape composer, AOLpress,
etc.,...?

Use the helper to do the MKCOL (or create the collections in the underlying
repository, if you have access).

Workaround #2:
Don't author in spaces where you don't already have an existing collection.

Since my personal use of HTTP/1.1 authoring tools has always been in an
existing collection, it seems to me that these workarounds would be
satisfactory.  Do you have real-world use scenarios in which these scenarios
would not work?  If so, are these common use cases, or rare use cases?

Since RFC 2518 is now a Proposed Standard, you would have to provide an
extremely compelling argument, backed up with significant documentation,
that this document is causing common and widespread interoperability
problems for it to be modified, and re-issued.  At present, it is my opinion
that you have not done so.

> Another (not related) problem with the current protocol is the requirement
> that servers must respect PROPFIND with Depth=infinity queries for
collections.
> Consider a site like ftp.cdrom.com, and suppose they would want to enable
> WebDAV-based access to their site (say, in order to enable people to
browse
> their site with the new Microsoft web folders feature). The size of the
ls-lR
> file for their site is around 75 MB (yes MegaBytes) and the size of a
proper
> response to a PROPFIND with Depth=infinity to it would probably be at
least
> 500 MB.

As a result, a conservative client should never perform a PROPFIND, depth
infinity unless it knows the namespace it is issuing the PROPFIND against,
and a server should be free to refuse to process a PROPFIND, depth infinity
if it would result in too large a response (since this could easily be used
to implement a denial of service attack). Both of these approaches are
allowed by the specification.

- Jim
Received on Monday, 19 April 1999 17:15:30 GMT

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