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Draft IETF DeltaV Versioning

From: James J. Hunt <jjh@ira.uka.de>
Date: Fri, 1 Dec 2000 02:30:14 +0100
To: ietf-dav-versioning@w3.org
CC: w3c-dist-auth@w3.org, reuterj@ira.uka.de
Message-ID: <"i41fs3.ira.0039901:001201.012827"@ira.uka.de>

Dear Colleges,

From the experience we have gathered trying to implement the DeltaV
protocol, we have some basic comments and suggestions to make before the
end of the last call period for the DeltaV protocol.  We regard these
issues to be important for the future development of DeltaV and WebDAV.
This message is cross posted to the WebDAV mailing list because the main
points pertain as much to WebDAV as to DeltaV.

Valid XML should be used in WebDAV instead of simply well formed XML

Using simply well formed XML misses half the benefit of XML: the
automatic detection of syntactic errors.  This is the best way to insure
that a protocol stays open and correct.  Any client or server can be
easily tested for at least syntactic conformance.  This does not means
that every transaction must be validated, but ensuring that it can is

On the WebDAV list, there has been some discussion about validating XML
for WebDAV, for example, see
There seemed to be some agreement that the current WebDAV specification
uses a syntax that is well-formed, but is not suitable for XML
validation, and that it would not be too hard to make WebDAV to conform
to XML validation rules.  However, some participants did not agree on
the advantages of validation.

Interoperability is one of the key requirement on Internet protocols for
supporting a heterogeneous network.  This holds true for the WWW and its
protocols including HTTP, WebDAV, and DeltaV.  As WebDAV matures several
extension protocols are emerging, among them the bindings and
redirect-reference protocols, DeltaV, the access control lists
specification, and the advanced collections protocol.  All these
extension protocols contribute to the XML syntax of WebDAV.  Moreover,
it is quite likely that vendors will introduce proprietary extensions to
the XML syntax.  For an idea of the extent to which this can occur, one
just need look at the source code of the DeltaV specification at
and notice all the tags inserted by Word that are not part of the HTML

All in all, the XML syntax of WebDAV can no longer be viewed as being
simple.  Validation can help us to identify bugs in WebDAV applications.
Actually, this has already help us to find some bugs in the WebDAV
specification itself (e.g. WebDAV issues DTD_BOOBOO, MISSING_NS_SPEC,
cp. http://www.ics.uci.edu/pub/ietf/webdav/protocol/issues.html).
Validation may also force implementors to handle XML more carefully and
thus improve reliability.

Note that we do not want to force a WebDAV implementation to validate
XML.  We only suggest letting the implementor decide if and when to use
validation.  Currently, this is not possible without modifying an
existing XML parser or writing a non-conforming XML parser.  Therefore,
we strongly suggest to fix the WebDAV specification and its extension
protocols like DeltaV to conform to the XML specification--including
XML validation.  Then an implementor may choose when to apply

Another problem is to track version information about the protocols.
The DAV header as returned from an OPTIONS request (e.g.: "DAV: 1, 2,
version-selector-checkout") does not help at all.  However, when using
a DTD, the client and the server could agree on a protocol revision
(or otherwise stop communication with an appropriate error message or
log) by using the DTD's header information.

Making WebDAV properties suitable for XML validation

WebDAV currently expresses resource properties through a variety of
tags, for example:

<D:displayname xmlns:D="DAV:">Hello, world!</D:displayname>

In this example, the name of the property is "DAV:displayname", and its
value is "Hello, world!".  This approach has some disadvantages.
First of all, if you want to list property names only, you currently
have to do something like:

<D:displayname xmlns:D="DAV:"/>

But, in an XML DTD, an element can not be defined to have empty
content and non-empty content at the same time.  Hence, the way WebDAV
currently handles properties is not suitable for validating XML.
This problem has already been discussed as anomaly in the DAV:prop
element usage (see

The simple solution here is to model the property name as an element
attribute value or as PCDATA of a generic tag for all properties:

Solution using XML attributes:
- ------------------------------

<!ELEMENT property (property-name | property-value)* >
<!ELEMENT property-name EMPTY>
<!ELEMENT property-value ANY>
<!ATTLIST property-name
          name  CDATA   #REQUIRED>
<!ATTLIST property-value
          name  CDATA   #REQUIRED>


<D:property xmlns:D="DAV:">
  <D:property-name name="displayname"/> <!--specifying property name only-->
  <D:property-value name="source">      <!--specifying property name & value-->

Alternative solution without use of XML attributes:
- ---------------------------------------------------

<!ELEMENT property (property-name, property-value?)* >
<!ELEMENT property-name (#PCDATA)>
<!ELEMENT property-value ANY>


<D:property xmlns:D="DAV:">
  <D:property-name>displayname</D:property-name> <!--property name only-->
  <D:property-name>source</D:property-name>      <!--property name & value-->

DTD for DeltaV

Having all of the above said, DeltaV should, similarly to WebDAV, of
course specify an adequate DTD for all elements introduced in DeltaV.
The DTD need not be sent with every message.  A reference to a URL at
www.webdav.org would be sufficient.

Labels in DeltaV

One of the recent changes in DeltaV was to remove labels from the core
versioning part and put them into the options part of the protocol.
We strongly suggest to undo this change.  Even if there exist two or
three revision control systems that do not use labels, labels are
essential for identifying sets of associated files in a repository of
versions.  And, actually, they are really easy to implement
(especially on top of a WebDAV implementation that requires built-in
mechanisms for property storage).

James J. Hunt
Jürgen Reuter

P.S. I will be at the IETF meeting in San Diego from the evening of the
     10th to the early morning of the 15th to discuss these issues.
     --- JJHunt

P.P.S I will send a second mail pertaining to smaller points we have
      discussed here that concern only DeltaV.
      --- Jürgen Reuter
Received on Thursday, 30 November 2000 20:30:21 UTC

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