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Re: SETTINGS frames as header blocks?

From: Alek Storm <alek.storm@gmail.com>
Date: Sun, 13 Apr 2014 21:13:14 -0700
Message-ID: <CAMNEcwuJ=Zkg29txd3S=egNdNXkDcgCwZ1xMH8ZGiiGhYbK6Fg@mail.gmail.com>
To: Amos Jeffries <squid3@treenet.co.nz>
Cc: "ietf-http-wg@w3.org" <ietf-http-wg@w3.org>
Thanks for the detailed reply! Comments below.

On Sun, Apr 13, 2014 at 7:16 PM, Amos Jeffries <squid3@treenet.co.nz> wrote:

> On 14/04/2014 11:49 a.m., Alek Storm wrote:
> > Hi all,
> >
> > I have a radical suggestion for the SETTINGS frame: rather than
> serializing
> > it as a sequence of (id, value) pairs, where id and value are 8- and
> 32-bit
> > integers, respectively, use a header block, as in HEADERS/PUSH_PROMISE/
> > CONTINUATION. This offers the following benefits:
> >
> >    -
> >
> >    Extensibility: By allowing setting names to be arbitrary strings,
> users
> >    can introduce custom settings without worrying about collisions in a
> >    255-element namespace, and without having to maintain some sort of
> registry.
> >     -
> >
> >    Expressiveness: String values allow complex settings to be encoded -
> >    this has been widely, and successfully, used in HTTP headers (e.g.
> the Link
> >    header <http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5988#section-5.5> and the
> > cache-control
> >    headers <
> http://www.w3.org/Protocols/rfc2616/rfc2616-sec14.html#sec14.9>
> >    ).
> This point is a *downside* of textual representations. The purpose of
> HTTP/2 is to rollout a fast and efficient binary protocol. The SETTINGS
> frame is a mandatory to parse+process piece of that protocol.
>  Forcing all implementations to contain a textual headers parser just
> for SETTINGS re-introduces one of the major problems of HTTP/1 -
> complexity and difficulty handling all possible textual input. Note the
> original proposals for HTTP/2 were 2:1 against having HEADERS frames in
> textual format as well.

>     -
> >
> >    Simplicity: Making SETTINGS values more expressive would allow the new
> >    ALTSVC frame to become a setting, rather than a separate frame, since
> it
> >    confers only fire-and-forget connection-level metadata. In fact, it
> could
> >    follow the format of the Alt-Svc HTTP
> > header<
> http://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-ietf-httpbis-alt-svc-01#section-3>.
> >    Other extensions to the protocol can be added the same way, just as
> >    Alt-Svc was added to HTTP/1.1 - in contrast, "extension" frame types
> are
> >    a non-starter, since implementations are required to error out when
> >    receiving an unrecognized frame type.
> If the editors choose to make ALTSVC a SETTINGS field it would be *far*
> simpler to define ALTSVC as a setting in the binary form with an opaque
> N-byte value following it. Textual SETTINGS content adds nothing but
> complexity for this use-case.

That's an excellent point. As I understand it, HPACK encodes an opaque
series of octets as a header value. Therefore, it should be possible to use
the binary format of the current ALTSVC frame as the value of the proposed
`alt-svc` SETTINGS field. Would you be amenable to that solution?

> > There is also a semantic argument to be made: just as HEADERS frames
> > express request/response-level metadata, SETTINGS frames express
> > connection-level metadata (in fact, HTTP/1.1, which lacks the latter
> > mechanism, has made use of header fields on individual requests to
> express
> > properties about the connection as a whole, e.g. Alt-Svc and the
> hop-by-hop
> > headers, like Connection and Upgrade).
> HTTP/2 being binary protocol represents them as fixed binary fields in
> appropriate places. Allowing simpler parsers with zero chance of parsing
> errors from decoding text values into binary form - as seen routinely in
> HTTP/1 traffic.


> > Adding header-table-size, enable-push, max-concurrent-streams, and
> > initial-window-size to the initial static HPACK table (or even
> maintaining
> > a separate compression context and static table) should allow us to
> achieve
> > a final SETTINGS frame size comparable to the current serialization
> format.
> Trading simplicity and speed which SETTINGS can be both created and
> concumed for extra complexity and difficulty writing implementations.
> While simultaneously increasing the state all implementations are
> required to store long-term.

I think the complexity argument is subjective, or at least different in
each implementation. For example, in hyper, it's quite trivial to reuse the
HPACK code to populate SETTINGS - I believe it would be fewer lines of code
than the custom SETTINGS format, in fact. And I don't think there's any
additional state - it's the same compression context, the size of which is
bounded by `header-table-size`.

Also, your proposal earlier noted that complex and flexible textual
> values would be a benefit. This contradicts the idea of having fixed
> values in the static HPACK table. One cannot put textual names or values
> that are unknown into the static HPACK table.

I don't know what you mean here - unless I've fundamentally misunderstood
HPACK, the static table is only an optimization for commonly-used
names/values. HPACK can certainly encode other name-value pairs; my point
was just that for the settings that have already been defined in the spec,
HPACK encoding is comparably efficient. Custom extensions will certainly
incur additional overhead. Basically, the total size of a SETTINGS frame in
the current format and an ALTSVC frame is roughly equal to the size of an
HPACK-encoded SETTINGS frame with an `alt-svc` setting in binary format.

> I've been contributing to hyper <https://github.com/lukasa/hyper>, a
> Python
> > client implementation, lately, and I'd be happy to give this proposal a
> > whirl in a branch and report back with before-and-after benchmarks.
> >
> > Apologies if the above has been proposed before - I wasn't able to find
> > anything in a search of the archives, but I may have missed something.
> >
> FYI: In one of the original proposals (network-friendly draft) we
> started with simply separating the HTTP/1 end-to-end an hop-by-hop
> headers into two frame types equivalent to SETTINGS and HEADERS. It was
> even then intended to convert to binary forms similar to what is seen in
> SETTINGS for most of the reasons I mention above and probably a lot of
> others.
> Amos

Thanks again for your response! FWIW, I completely agree with your primary
objection (that textual representations are hard to parse), so I'd like to
modify my proposal to specify that all SETTINGS values will retain their
current binary format (including `alt-svc`). Would love to get your
thoughts on the updated version.

Received on Monday, 14 April 2014 04:13:42 UTC

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