HTTP2 Expression of Interest

[The views expressed in this submission are mine alone and not
(necessarily) those of Citrix, Google, Equinix or any other current,
former or future client or employer.]

My primary interest is in the consistent application of HTTP to
("cloud") service interfaces, with a view to furthering the goals of
the Open Cloud Initiative (OCI); namely widespread and ideally
consistent interoperability through the use of open standard formats
and interfaces.

In particular, I strongly support the use of the existing metadata
channel (headers) over envelope overlays (SOAP) and
alternative/ancillary representations (typically in JSON/XML) as this
should greatly simplify interfaces while ensuring consistency between
services. The current approach to cloud "standards" calls on vendors
to define their own formats and interfaces and to maintain client
libraries for the myriad languages du jour. In an application calling
on multiple services this can result in a small amount of business
logic calling on various bulky, often poorly written and/or
unmaintained libraries. The usual counter to the interoperability
problems this creates is to write "adapters" (ala ODBC) which expose a
lowest-common-denominator interface, thus hiding functionality and
creating an "impedence mismatch". Ultimately this gives rise to
performance, security, cost and other issues.

By using HTTP as intended it is possible to construct (cloud) services
that can be consumed using nothing more than the built-in, standards
compliant HTTP client. I'm not writing to discuss whether this is a
good idea, but to expose a use case that I would like to see
considered, and one that we have already applied with an amount of
success in the Open Cloud Computing Interface (OCCI).

To illustrate the original scope, versions of HTTP (RFC 2068) included
not only the Link header (recently revived by Mark Nottingham in RFC
5988) but also LINK and UNLINK verbs to manipulate it (recently
proposed for revival by James Snell). Unfortunately hypertext, and in
particular HTML (which includes linking in-band rather than
out-of-band) arguably stole HTTP's thunder, leaving the overwhelming
majority of formats that lack in-band linking (images, documents,
virtual machines, etc.) high and dry and resulting in inconsistent
linking styles (HTML vs XML vs PDF vs DOC etc.). This limited the
extent of web linking as well as the utility of HTTP for innovative
applications including APIs. Indeed HTTP could easily and simply meet
the needs of many "Semantic Web" applications, but that is beyond the
scope of this particular discussion.

To illustrate by way of example, consider the following synthetic
request/response for an image hosting site which incorporates Web
Linking (RFC 5988), Web Categories
(draft-johnston-http-category-header) and Web Attributes (yet to be

GET /1.jpg HTTP/1.0

HTTP/1.0 200 OK
Content-Length: 69730
Content-Type: image/jpeg
Link: <>; rel="license"
Link: </2.jpg>; rel="next"
Category: dog; label="Dog"; scheme=""
Attribute: name="Spot"

In order to "animate" resources, consider the use of the Link header
to start a virtual machine in the Open Cloud Computing Interface

Link: </compute/123;action=start>;

The main objection to the use of the metadata channel in this fashion
(beyond the application of common sense in determining what
constitutes data vs metadata) is implementation issues (e.g. arbitrary
limitations, i18n, handling of multiple headers, etc.) which could be
largely resolved through specification. For example, the (necessary)
use of e.g. RFC 2231 encoding for header values (but not keys) in e.g.
RFC 5988 Web Linking gives rise to unnecessary complexity that may
lead to interoperability, security and other issues which could be
resolved through the specification of Unicode for keys and/or values.
Another concern is the absence of features such as a standardised
ability to return a collection (e.g. multiple responses). I originally
suggested that HTTP 2.0 incorporate such ideas in 2009.

I'll leave the determination of what would ultimately be required for
such applications to the working group (should this use case be
considered interesting by others), and while better support for
performance, scalability and mobility are obviously required this has
already been discussed at length. I strongly support Poul-Henning
Kamp's statement that "I think it would be far better to start from
scratch, look at what HTTP/2.0 should actually do, and then design a
simple, efficient and future proof protocol to do just that, and leave
behind all the aggregations of badly thought out hacks of HTTP/1.1."
(and agree that we should incorporate the concept of a "HTTP Router")
as well as Tim Bray's statement that: "Iím inclined to err on the side
of protecting user privacy at the expense of almost all else" (and
believe that we should prevent eavesdroppers from learning anything
about an encrypted transaction; something we failed to do with DNSSEC
even given alternatives like dnscurve that ensure confidentiality as
well as integrity).

[post with inline links:]

Received on Sunday, 15 July 2012 22:00:25 UTC