RE: On Registries

Replies about the W3C’s positive role in ensuring quality of algorithm registry entries inline at the end of this message…

From: Ryan Sleevi []
Sent: Thursday, August 07, 2014 7:44 PM
To: Mike Jones
Cc: Mark Watson;
Subject: RE: On Registries

On Aug 7, 2014 7:31 PM, "Mike Jones" <<>> wrote:
> Thanks for your insightful reply, Mark.  A few comments inline below…
> From: Mark Watson [<>]
> Sent: Thursday, August 07, 2014 6:02 PM
> To: Mike Jones
> Cc: Ryan Sleevi;<>
> Subject: Re: On Registries
> On Thursday, August 7, 2014, Mike Jones <<>> wrote:
> Simple.  In the first case, the algorithm is a data value.  In the second case, it’s encoded in an API.  Data values are easily extensible.  APIs are not.  That’s why extending the space of algorithms by registering new data values makes a world of sense.  Expending the algorithms by adding new APIs for each would be clunky, procedurally slow, and mostly unworkable.
> I think what Ryan is saying is that it should be no easier to add an algorithm than it is to add a new API (or, more strongly, that a new algorithm *is* a new API and _therefore_ should be no easier to add).
> I believe you’ve accurately identified the heart of the disagreement here, Mark.
> IF we decided that it should be easier than this to add new algorithms and especially if we decided that groups other than W3C Working Groups should be able to do so, then a registry makes sense as a mechanism to coordinate that.
> Agreed.
> Otherwise (which is where we are now), then the definitive list of algorithms is to be found in the sum total of the output of the W3C WebCrypto Working Group and nowhere else.
> If we decide that he definitive list of algorithms is only to be produced by the W3C WebCrypto Working Group, I believe that would be a significant missed opportunity.  The WebCrypto API is an exercise in packaging algorithms developed by cryptographers for use by Web developers, just like JOSE is.  Neither working group’s primary expertise is cryptography.  Cryptographers should be the ones to write the extensions specs defining new algorithms – not us.  Some of those may occur in the W3C but some may occur in the IETF and some may be individual drafts by people such as Dan Bernstein, David McGrew, and Brian LaMacchia.
> We would be doing the WebCrypto API and the Web a significant disservice if we don’t enable people other than us to define and register new algorithms for use with WebCrypto.  We should be humble enough to recognize that defining new crypto algorithms is not our expertise and let those who are experts define them for use with our spec, no matter where they choose to do the work.

I agree with the sentiment that anyone should be able to write definitions for algorithms, and am excited to see Trevor's Curve25519 draft.

I disagree with the sentiment that it should happen outside the W3C. To do so is to return to the browser wars, where both Microsoft and Mozilla, though well motivated, wrecked great harm through "embrace, extend, extinguish" and the introduction at large of new vendor-specific APIs, often without specs (or without free licensing, or with great patent encumbrance, or through active hostility towards other UAs efforts to interop)

The W3C (and the WHATWG) exist to help prevent that terrible harm from ever happening again. The way to do that is by having multiple UAs coordinate and ship features responsibly, to agree on specifications, and to avoid vendor lock-in.

Regardless of this group's cryptographic expertise, which i agree is unfortunately lacking, we are filled with UA implementors, the sole entities with the power to make - or break - the web; For developers, for other UA implementors, and most importantly, for users, for this generation of the web and those to come. For that, there can and should be no alternative - we must agree, as UAs, and the W3C exists precisely to support and guide that agreement.

Suggesting that using a responsibly managed registry would be a return to the “browser wars” or that features would be shipped without specifications is hyperbole.  I’m only advocating a specification-required registry with expert review.  The W3C would appoint the appropriate experts to ensure that the specifications registering algorithms are clear and well-written and meet any other criteria decided by the W3C.  The W3C can ensure the quality of registered algorithms without having to write all the drafts itself.  It’s unnecessary and detrimental hubris to think that we’re the only ones qualified to do so.

                                                            -- Mike

Received on Friday, 8 August 2014 02:57:17 UTC