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Re: HTTP guidelines (was: Re: Language information)

From: Alan J. Flavell <flavell@a5.ph.gla.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 15 Dec 1998 21:34:18 +0000 (GMT)
To: Chris Kreussling <CHRIS.KREUSSLING@ny.frb.org>
cc: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.OSF.4.05.9812152110310.16967-100000@a5.ph.gla.ac.uk>
On Tue, 15 Dec 1998, Chris Kreussling wrote:

> While it may not be true of the majority of readers of this list,
> I believe most authors have no control over their server settings.
> They don't have their own domain name; they're hosted as a user
> web under their web presence provider. They have neither the
> authority, skills, nor inclination to modify server settings.

May I speak to this point?

While that's true, in as much as content providers who are in that
situation wouldn't be able to influence the global settings of the
server, there may very well be, in practice, ways for them to
influence what the server does with their own documents.  I'm speaking
specifically of the properties of the .htaccess file in Apache (the
most popular server, as I understand it) or the equivalent on other
servers.

One contributor had already expressed the view that HTTP protocol
offers some vital functionality, that can't be achieved by other
means.  I support that view.

There are various possible reactions to that.  One would be "oh,
that's too arcane for page authors, and server providers won't help
them with it, so let's try to do without that functionality entirely".
Another would be "HTTP is a vital part of the operation of the WWW,
let's try to educate page authors to know what they're entitled to
expect, and raise the general level of awareness".  At some threshold,
providers would then get accustomed to page authors making reasonable
demands, and the providers pointing them to the appropriate place in
the documentation.

I think you can see which kind of approach I tend to favour.  I recall
some occasions in the past where I've told a page author, via a usenet
article, "try putting this in your .htaccess", and later getting a
reply along the lines of "hey, that worked, and even my provider was
surprised how easy it was once one knew what to do".

Even if the author has neither the inclination nor the aptitude for
doing this, it's the case that pages are increasingly published by
authoring/publishing software.  Already such publishing software is
installing proprietary stuff at the server to perform this or that
function. Can that software not also be programmed to apply best
practices regarding configuration of the web server for appropriate
HTTP responses?  So I really think it would be a defeatist attitude to
write off the idea of exploiting HTTP at this relatively early stage
in the process, albeit one would need to respect that fact that some
content providers might have difficulties in that area.


As a postscript, it's intriguing to hear that more and more authors
are getting the facility to provide their own CGI scripts - something
that frankly would have me tearing my hair out when I see the sort of
security exposures that inexperienced authors create, not just for
themselves but indirectly for the whole server; and yet it seems they
aren't allowed to tackle the simplest of tasks for enhancing their
HTTP responses for simple pages.  This is back-to-front from where I'm
sitting.

Hope that was useful; all the best
Received on Tuesday, 15 December 1998 16:34:23 GMT

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