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Re: Rev02: seek clarification on conditional headers

From: Dave Kristol <dmk@research.bell-labs.com>
Date: Thu, 26 Feb 98 10:16:33 EST
Message-Id: <9802261516.AA01478@aleatory.tempo.bell-labs.com>
To: http-wg@cuckoo.hpl.hp.com, mogul@pa.dec.com
X-Mailing-List: <http-wg@cuckoo.hpl.hp.com> archive/latest/5410
[More lengthy commentary follows.]

My thanks to Jeff Mogul for his clarifications.  I won't copy the whole
discourse here, but I do have follow-up comments.

Despite the IESG's need for independent implementations, I resorted to
looking at the Apache code in the hope that that code would help me to
understand what the spec. was trying to say.  It didn't help.

The reasons I didn't follow the tangled discussions in November on this
issue were multiple.  The most obvious is that, with something this
tangled, it's hard to follow in the abstract.  Now that I'm actually
trying to implement, my interest is higher, and my attention is

Jeff's comments, taken piece by piece, make sense.  While I'm not the
sharpest person in HTTP-WG, I think I should have been able to follow
the spec. and I couldn't.  I'm concerned that my difficulty suggests it
will be far too easy for others to "get it wrong" too, which is the
antithesis of what the spec. is meant to do.  I commend Jeff's little
snippets of pseudo-code, and I wonder whether they aren't a whole lot
more helpful that the paragraphs of confusing words.  Maybe they should
be in the spec.  (And, see below.)

The overall problem I have with Jeff's explanation is that it assumes a
reasonable client.  But a good implementation has to deal with an
arbitrary combination of headers, even those that seem to make no
sense.  Of course the spec. itself should also be consistent even in
the face of "unreasonable" combinations of headers.  So I find myself
trying to deal with all combinations of I-M-S, I-U-S, I-M, and I-N-M.

Architecturally I want to have a single routine to handle all the
conditional headers.  At the very least it would have to look something
	if (header1 exists)
	    process header1
	if (header2 exists)
	    process header2

Those might be "else if", but you get the idea.  The "process" step
might end with exiting the routine.  So the next question is, which
header is header1, which is header2, etc.?

Let me try the following pseudo-code on the group.  Do you think it
reflects the spec. (as revised by Jeff's remarks about 412)?

    /* Test conditional headers. */

    suppress-IMS = 0;

    /* If-None-Match */
    if (I-N-M is present) {
	if (any entity tags match) {
	    if (IMS-date == last-modified) {
		/* MUST NOT perform method */
		if (method == GET or HEAD)
		    return 304
		    return 412
	    /* Note: fall through to test other conditionals. */
	else {
	    /* no tags match; must suppress 304 (Not Modified) */
	    suppress-IMS = 1;

    /* If-Modified-Since */
    if (   suppress-IMS == 0
	&& I-M-S is present
	&& method == GET
	&& IMS-date != last-modified)
	return 304

    /* If-Match */
    if (I-M is present && no entity tags match)
	return 412

    /* If-Unmodified-Since */
    if (I-U-S is present && IUS-date != last-modified)
	return 412

    return process method

One nit from 14.26 If-None-Match
					       Instead, if the request
    method was GET or HEAD, the server SHOULD respond with a 304 (Not
    Modified) response, including the cache-related entity-header fields
    (particularly ETag) of one of the entities that matched.

The description of If-Modified-Since says it applies to GET, but when
it's used in conjunction with If-None-Match it evidently also applies
to HEAD.  Is that what is intended?  Should something in that regard
be said in the I-M-S description?

Dave Kristol
Received on Thursday, 26 February 1998 07:47:31 UTC

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