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I have "issues" with ASN.1

From: Ray denenberg <rden@loc.gov>
Date: Mon, 19 Nov 2001 11:40:57 -0500
Message-ID: <3BF93619.56068BDC@loc.gov>
To: zig <www-zig@w3.org>
CC: Susan Devine <SusanDevine@cox.rr.com>, Pat Harris <pharris@niso.org>
As I mentioned in the earlier posting, the draft-ballot doesn't include
any ASN.1. I propose to consolodate all of the ASN.1 into a single
appendix which will forever remain imune from the desktop publishing

Please understand that this is not intended as a criticism of the NISO
publishing process (they're doing a fine job) but rather at ASN.1. In
fact the subject line of this message was originally "Why I hate ASN.1"
but after undergoing some counseling I've been persuaded to soften that,
to "I have issues with ASN.1".   And this is strictly from a
standards-maintenance perspective; it does not reflect any opinion of
the value of ASN.1 as an abstract syntax (or BER as an encoding), or its
merits versus, for example, XML.

The process of preparing Z39.50 for publication as a standard involves
conversion from one word processing system to another, including desktop
publishing systems (and several iterations of conversion from one to
another). The process generally works well.  However, ASN.1 just doesn't
withstand these conversions. The primary (but not the only) problem is
that word processing systems treat hyphens in a variety of ways. They
don't understand their significance to ASN.1 (their use in comments) and
consequently, the comments, which are a significant and normative part
of the ASN.1, are scattered all over the files, in ways that make the
result unparsable.

I know, we talked about this at the ZIG meeting and people mentioned
that there are new ASN.1 editors available, but these would be of no use
in this conversion process, as far as I can see.

Thinking about the time I've spent over the last ten years prettying-up
ASN.1 files that have been damaged in conversion makes me shudder (I
wanted to say "makes me sick", but again, counseling has helped here).
In the most recent conversion that I've gotten back from conversion
folks, the ASN.1 is so broken that it would take a solid month to fix.
Well, I'm willing to spend the time it takes to fix this, but I want it
to be the absolute last time in my life that I go through this process.
That's why I'm taking this unusual step.


Ray Denenberg
Library of Congress
Received on Monday, 19 November 2001 11:43:29 UTC

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