W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > xml-dist-app@w3.org > May 2005

Re: soap:body and media types (fwd)

From: <noah_mendelsohn@us.ibm.com>
Date: Thu, 19 May 2005 09:00:38 -0400
To: Mark Baker <distobj@acm.org>
Cc: xml-dist-app@w3.org
Message-ID: <OFF35FA36E.55E51F6C-ON85257006.000B3648-85257006.004777FB@lotus.com>

Mark Baker writes:

> I think the disagreement here might be that you
> seem to be making an assumption which I'm not, and
> which isn't, AFAICT, licensed by any specification
> in the stack.  That's not to say that such an
> assumption can't be used to build successful XML
> based systems (indeed, it's already in use), only
> that I think it makes doing so more difficult.
> The assumption I'm speaking of sometimes goes by
> the name "namespace dispatching", and it involves
> using the namespace of the root element of an XML
> document to determine the specification by which
> the contents of the document are interpreted.

Not quite.  My assumption is that, particularly in the case of 
meta-formats such as XML, the media type will determine the semantics of 
the entire family of documents conforming to that media type, and the 
meaning of any particular document will be determined by its content.  In 
the case of XML, saying that it's application/xml says that interpretation 
per XML 1.0 is licensed.  Beyond that, there may or may not be 
specifications licensing specific interpretations for particular classes 
of instance documents.   While I did refer to the common case where such 
specifications key on a root element, nothing in the argument depends on 

Note that I carefully said in the above legal interpretations of the 
document, not instructions for processing.  Big difference.  The specs 
say:  you may consider this to be a purchase order.  That's separate from 
the specification for a piece of code that might say:  "when given a 
document that is legally interpreted as a purchase order, I will actually 
(a) purchase something (b) check inventory (c) store the order on disk (d) 
pretty print it."  I've never said that processing rules are inherent in 
the document. 

> The other approach is traditional media type
> dispatch.  Using it, the message need only
> indicate the (say) "application/person+xml" media
> type in order to know which specification to use
> to interpret the document.

True, and I'd encourage this insofar as it applies, but media types 
currently don't scale.  You can say this is application/soap+xml, but not 
as far as I know application/purchaseOrder+soap+xml.  They certainly don't 
scale to mixin semantics right now: 
application/nonRepudiable&cacheable&purchaseOrder+soap+xml (where in this 
example, the nonRepudiable and cacheable are not in a subtype relation. 
They can be freely mixed and matched.)

> I claimed above that there's no specification
> which prescribes namespace dispatch.

There is in at least the case of SOAP headers.  Quoting from the 
Recommendation [1]:

"A SOAP header block is said to be understood by a SOAP node if the 
software at that SOAP node has been written to fully conform to and 
implement the semantics specified for the XML expanded name of the 
outer-most element information item of that header block."

The SOAP body is different, and is parallel to the case of unwrapped 
application/xml I think [2]:

"An ultimate SOAP receiver MUST correctly process the immediate children of 
the SOAP body (see 5.3 SOAP Body). However, with the exception of SOAP 
faults (see 5.4 SOAP Fault), Part 1 of this specification (this document) 
mandates no particular structure or interpretation of these elements, and 
provides no standard means for specifying the processing to be done."

So, in the case of faults, the root QName determines the interpretation 
because the spec says it does.  For other bodies, there is no such 
assumption.  As with complete XML documents, you know it's XML, but beyond 
that the means used to decide on the significance are beyond the scope of 
the XML or SOAP specs respectively.  Other specs may provide such 
interpretations (e.g. the XHTML spec), and many of them do key on the root 

> There are several problems I see with namespace
> dispatching which are a direct result of it being
> an intrinsic rather than an extrinsic mechanism
> (aka unlayered) like media types.  Amoungst these
> problems is that it prevents that sample document
> above from being interpreted using other
> semantics, such as RDF (in fact, it is a valid
> RDF/XML document).

I don't think I ever said that there should be only one legal way to 
process any given document.  I do think it is reasonable to write 
specifications for particular processors (SOAP processors, browsers, etc.) 
that say:  "this processor will for its purposes key on the QName of the 
(root) element to determine the processing to be done."  Absolutely it 
should be possible for a different application to determine its mode of 
processing on all manner of other available information including that 
contained within the document (PIs?), outside the document (the media 
type, the encoding, the length of the file, the date received), etc.

Just as the root QName is not the right answer in all cases, neither is 
the media type.  I do think that the interpretation of a document should 
seldom if even be in conflict with that suggested by the media type or by 
the specifications for its content (e.g. the XHTML spec).  Thus, to 
process an image/jpeg as an XML file is surely an error.  To decide that a 
given application/xml file is in particular a purchase order based on the 
root element seems to me not an error, especially if someone has written a 
specification saying that this is the proper interpretation of that QName. 

By all means where possible one should invent and use a more specialized 
media type such as application/po+xml, but there are rather severe limits 
to what can be captured in media types.  Furthermore, the facts that 
QNames contain URIs and media types do not, and that QNames can be created 
in a distributed manner, almost ensures that there will be cases where 
QNames offer needed power that media types do not.

> Plus, there's performance problems, as the media
> type is readily available in plain text form,
> early in the message, while the namespace, being
> in the body of the message, might be compressed,
> encrypted, or otherwise transformed, delaying the
> time at which the processing application can be
> activated.

I think this is a red herring.  If you want to pull a fine grained 
document type out into something like an HTTP header you can.  You then 
have the same problems you do with the coarse grain media type:  I.e. you 
are establishing a consistency dependency between the typing information 
in the headers and that implied by the format of the document.  As with 
all such things, you suffer from the tendencies that, for example, the 
document will be signed separately from the HTTP headers.  I think this is 
mostly an optimization.  Consistency can be ensured by having trusted code 
ensure that when the document is ultimately parsed, it is checked against 
the typing in the headers.  That issue is the same for coarse and fine 
grained types.  You can lie about the media type and cause false 
dispatching or routing;  your check on that is to ensure that trusted code 
ultimately validates the data against the media type.  You can lie about a 
fine grained type in an HTTP header;  your check is to ensure that trusted 
code ultimately makes sure the QName of (probably the root) matches that 

I'm traveling without net access at the moment, but I'll check out your 
two references when I get a chance.  Thanks!


[1] http://www.w3.org/TR/soap12-part1/#muprocessing
[2] http://www.w3.org/TR/soap12-part1/#structinterpbodies

Noah Mendelsohn 
IBM Corporation
One Rogers Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
Received on Thursday, 19 May 2005 13:01:06 UTC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.1 : Tuesday, 6 January 2015 22:01:27 UTC