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Re: Answer to Ian Hickson: Formal vs prose language normativity

From: Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch>
Date: Mon, 16 May 2005 01:17:20 +0000 (UTC)
To: Karl Dubost <karl@w3.org>
Cc: www-qa@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.61.0505160109520.8730@dhalsim.dreamhost.com>

On Fri, 13 May 2005, Karl Dubost wrote:
> 
> We do not necessary fully agree with your comments but we do understand 
> your concerns. We came with the conclusion that it would be bad for 
> developers if they can't move forward so we decided to keep our stance 
> on having a rule to move forward in case of conflicts.

I don't understand that.

What if the prose contradicts something else in the prose?

Why is that case different than if the prose contradicts something in the 
formal language?

In fact, the fact that developers would be blocked when the prose 
contradicts the formal language is a *good thing*. If one is arbitrarily 
picked as the one they must follow, there is a 50% chance that they will 
invest time and effort into implementing the wrong one, possibly without 
even raising it as an issue (after all, "the spec is clear"). Then when 
the error is fixed, there is a 50% chance that they will have to rewrite 
their implementation -- and a high probability, in practice, that they 
will not, leading to conflicting implementations and bad interoperability.

This is already seen in cases where specs are vague -- implementors shrug, 
decide on what they think is best, and implement that, without contacting 
the working groups. Anything that can be done to discourage this should, 
in my opinion.

As it currently stands, I would not be able to ever write a specification 
that included normative formal language and was compliant with these 
requirements, as I could not see any way to pick which should be the 
"default" when they conflict.


> BUT we will add the prose of Al Gilman to the text and we will make 
> extra warnings.
>
> If a conflict is identified in a specification, the WG ***has to 
> publish*** an errata and we will emphasize that by a link to the Process 
> Documents which has already such a request.

If the working group still disagrees with my comment, and still wants to 
encourage spec authors to state an (arbitrary) conflict resolution 
mechanism, then I would like to see it explained why conflicts between 
prose and formal-language parts of the spec require such conflict 
resolution while conflicts between two different prose parts of the 
specification do not.

Cheers,
-- 
Ian Hickson               U+1047E                )\._.,--....,'``.    fL
http://ln.hixie.ch/       U+263A                /,   _.. \   _\  ;`._ ,.
Things that are impossible just take longer.   `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'
Received on Monday, 16 May 2005 01:32:26 UTC

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