New Internet Draft: draft-ietf-uri-yaurn-00.txt

Paul Hoffman (
Tue, 21 Mar 1995 08:32:49 -0700

Message-Id: <v02110117ab9370f511c3@[]>
Date: Tue, 21 Mar 1995 08:32:49 -0700
From: (Paul Hoffman)
Subject: New Internet Draft: draft-ietf-uri-yaurn-00.txt

IETF URI Working Group
Expires September 21, 1995

                       Uniform Resource Names (URNs)

Status of this memo

This document is an Internet-Draft. Internet-Drafts are working documents
of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), its areas, and its working
groups. Note that other groups may also distribute working documents as

Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months.
Internet-Drafts may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents
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This document defines a syntax for Uniform Resource Names (URNs), describes
the protocols by which they are resolved, and gives operational rules for
their assignment and use. The proposal meets all of the requirements for
URNs previously proposed in the URI working group.

1. Introduction

A URN (Uniform Resource Name) is the name of a resource within the context
of a larger Internet information architecture known as Uniform Resource
Identification. URNs are simple text strings. Using a URN resolution
service, an Internet user or program can retrieve information about the
named resource.

Resolving a URN returns information about that named resource, such as a
description of the resource, the location or locations of the resource, and
bibliographic information about the resource. URNs differ from URLs
(Uniform Resource Locators) described in RFC 1738 [URL] in that URNs allow
resources on the Internet to be specified by name instead of by location.
URNs return information about the resource, not the resource itself.

Using URNs has many advantages for describing resources, including:

- The information in a resource may move in the future. For example, as
some Internet services get too popular for their original hosts, they move
to different systems which have different URLs. Also, a service might move
from host system to host system with the person who maintains it.

- Users can easily access metainformation about a resource without
accessing the resource itself. A user might want to see the bibliographic
information about a resource without getting the resource, particularly if
it costs money to get the resource. Other useful metainformation that a
user might want to see before accessing a resource includes the name of the
maintainer of the resource, the language in which the resource is in, the
price of the resource, the requirements of the user before reading the
resource, and so on.

- A resource may exist in many locations on the Internet. By resolving a
single URN, the user can get a list of URLs from which to access the
resource and more complete bibliographic information from a URC [URC]. This
list can include valuable metainformation such as suggestions about the
best location for the user to retrieve the resource from based on cost,
speed, or other factors.

It is important to understand that URNs are neither a superset or a subset
of URLs: they are a different way of describing resources. The difference
between URNs and URLs is similar to that between the title of a book and a
locator for it on the shelf.

Many of the ideas for the system proposed in this paper are adapted from
the Intenet Draft "draft-ietf-uri-resource-names-03" [URNO]. However, our
system has significant implementation differences from its predecessor.

2. Syntax

The URN consists of four fields, each part separated by a colon (:). The
parts are:

- The text string "urn"
- The type of naming authority of the URN, called the SchemeID
- The name of the authority for the URN, called the AuthorityID
- The name of the element for the URN, called the ElementID

For instance, a typical URN might look like:


The first and SchemeID fields are case insensitive. The case sensitivity
and character set of the AuthorityID field depends on the value of the
SchemeID field.  The case sensitivity and character set of the ElementID
field depends on the value of the AuthorityID field. White space (the
characters Space, Tab, CR, and LF) is allowed but is not significant within
a URN. Freestanding URNs that include any white space must be enclosed in
"<" and ">" characters.

URNs are often displayed and transmitted in the same media as URLs. In
order to minimize problems with interoperability, encoding of characters in
URNs follow the same rules used by URLs in [URL].

2.1 SchemeIDs

The SchemeID field describes what kind of naming authority is used. This is
the authority by which the AuthorityIDs are defined. The SchemeIDs
currently defined are:

SchemeID     Description
dns          Domain Name System (RFC 952 and RFC 1123) [DNS]

Although there is only one SchemeID currently defined, it is expected that
others will be added in the future. This allows URNs to be used for such
naming schemes as ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbering system),
ISSNs (International Standard Serial Numbering system), and other naming
schemes that are not currently on the Internet. It also allows for naming
schemes that can be resolved in ways that are distributed and not

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) will maintain a registry of
SchemeID names. SchemeID names starting with the characters "x-" are
reserved for experimental purposes. It is strongly suggested that any new
SchemeIDs be first proposed as Internet Drafts in the IETF Uniform Resource
Identifier (URI) Working Group.

2.2 AuthorityIDs

The AuthorityID is the name of an individual, group, or system within the
SchemeID that is allowed to create ElementIDs. The meaning of the
AuthorityID depends on the system used by the SchemeID to create names for

2.2.1 AuthorityIDs for the "dns" SchemeID

Within the "dns" SchemeID, the AuthorityID is the fully-qualified domain
name (FQDN) of the host system(s) that can create and resolve the
ElementID. The owner or maintainer of each domain name has the exclusive
right to create, and the exclusive right to resolve or cause to be
resolved, ElementIDs specific to that domain name. The case of the
characters in the AuthorityIDs is not significant.

The owner or maintainer of a FQDN automatically has the right to use of
that FQDN as an AuthorityID if it follows the rules in this section.

- Any host may resolve URNs without prior registration or authorization.

- AuthorityIDs cannot be reused if that FQDN has previously been used as an
AuthorityID, unless the new owner or maintainer of that FQDN agrees to
maintain all the previously-assigned ElementIDs.

- A conforming resolution service must made available at the IP address
returned by resolving the FQDN. If resolving the FQDN results in more than
one IP address, all the IP addresses must resolve the same set of URNs, and
each URN should be resolved equivalently at each IP address when at all

- The AuthorityID is to be treated as an opaque string. Inferring a
structure based on the domain names within the FQDN is unwise.

2.3 ElementIDs

The ElementID is the element that will be resolved. It is important to note
that this is not the "name" part of the URN: the combination of the four
fields in a URN is the only definition of the resource's name. For example,
the URN <> and the URN
<> might be names of completely
different Internet resources, similar resources, or even the same resource.
However, even though the ElementIDs are the same in the two URNs, the two
URNs are different.

The special cases for ElementIDs are:

- Elements that begin with exactly "urn+" are reserved for special
resolution, as described in section 3.5.

- The characters "#" (hex 23) and "?" (hex 3F) are reserved for future use.

2.3.1 ElementIDs for the "dns" SchemeID

Within the "dns" SchemeID, the same ElementIDs on different domain names
are explicitly unrelated. The case of the characters in ElementIDs can be
significant; however, current practice dictates that they should not be
case-sensitive. ElementIDs are opaque, meaning that attempting to infer
structure from the name is unwise.

3. Resolving URNs

A URN is resolved by communicating with a URN resolution service. All URN
resolution services are stateless, single-step systems: a single URN is
specified, and a single response is returned. The model for URN resolution
is the standard Internet connectionless client-server model.

URNs are resolved through the HTTP version 1.0 protocol [HTTP]. HTTP is
chosen as the resolution protocol because of its current wide use on the
Internet, and because it allows for resolution requests and resolution
results that are compatible with those required for URNs. Further, the
content-negotiation portion of the HTTP protocol provides a mechanism for
gracefully handling future capabilites of URN resolvers. The URN resolution
may keep up with improvements to the HTTP specification, such as future
versions, security enhancements, and so on.

3.1 Mechanics of URN Resolution

URN resolution can be described in two parts: the resolution request and
the resolution result. A resolution request describes the URN to be
resolved to the resolution server. A resolution result is the text that is
returned from the resolution server; it gives the requested information
about the resource named in the URN.

The current query-response system for resolving URNs is quite simple.
Future extensions to this system will accommodate more capable query

3.1.1 Resolution Requests

Each resolution request must give enough information to the resolution
server that it can completely and unambiguously identify which URN is being

The resolution request specifies the information desired in the response.
This might be simple list of URLs, or a more informative reply with a great
deal of additional information. HTTP's Accept: header is used to indicate
the desired format for the response, such as plain text, HTML, or some
application specific binary encoding suitable for cryptographic operations.

3.1.2 Resolution Results

The resolution server returns the results of the resolution request in a
single message.

If the resolution request specifies desired formats for the response, the
resolution server should attempt to return only those types of results.
However, it is acknowledged that this may be impractical or impossible for
some HTTP servers, and the client should be able to handle (or at least
ignore) resolution results that are not of a requested type.

3.2 Resolving URNs

Note that this section uses language defined in the HTTP version 1.0 draft.

Currently, the URN-resolving HTTP server must be located at TCP port 4500.
After registration with the IANA, the port number required will change to
an IANA-reserved port number.

Because of the requirements in section 5.4 of the current HTTP 1.0
specification, the resolution request under HTTP is in the form of a URL.
It is expected that this URL will later be defined within [URL]. The
anticipated format for the client-side representation of the URL is the
same as that of the URN itself. If the HTTP version 1.0 specification
changes to allow non-URI forms for requests, no URL for URNs is required.

3.3 Resolution Requests

When passed to the HTTP URN resolver, the first three fields of the URN are
stripped off, leaving only the ElementID. The Method is always "GET". Thus,
a typical request might look like:

GET current-version-of-price-list HTTP/1.0

URN HTTP clients can send URN resolution requests as HTTP Simple-Requests
or Full-Requests. It is strongly urged that clients use the Full-Request
format so that General-Headers and Request-Headers can be passed. Although
not required, a good resolution request creator should be able to include
the Accept Request-Header.

The Accept header is used to specify the format of information desired by
the user, if any. If the URN resolution client has no preference, no Accept
header should be used.

For example, a request where the user only wanted to see results in "urc-0"
format might look like:

GET alb002 HTTP/1.0
Accept: text/urc-0

It is urged that URN resolvers should also be able to interpret and act on
all standard HTTP Request-Headers.

3.4 Resolution Results

Formats for resolution results are described as Internet Media Types [IMT],
previously called MIME Content-Types. Known formats for resolution results
are described below.

The following formats for resolution results are defined:


It is anticipated that other formats of URCs that include structured
bibliographic information will be defined in the future.

Other formats can be defined by using existing, or creating new, Internet
Media Types. Formats can use any media type, although it is expected that
most will use type "text" or "application".

3.4.1 HTTP Status-Line

The HTTP Status-Line is significant in URN resolution. The meaning of the
Status-Codes for HTTP correspond to similar meanings for URN resolution,
such as "200" for "OK", "301" for "Moved permanently", and so on. When at
all possible, the URN resolver should include relevant Reason-Phrases in
the Status-Lines, particularly for Status-Codes 301 and 302 (redirection).

3.4.2 Format for text/urc-0 Resolution Results

text/urc-0 is a structured format that can be easily parsed by programs,
and can also be visually parsed by humans. Thus, resolution servers should
prefer this format when possible.

The format for urc-0 resolution results is:


Each part starts with a header that has the following form:


<charset> is the character set used in the metainformation. The value for
the field is one of "US-ASCII" or "ISO-8859-x", where "x" is a digit in the
range "1" through "9". If not specified, the default is "US-ASCII".

<language> is the language used in the metainformation. The value for the
field is a language identification tag described in [LANG]. If not
specified, the default is "x-unspecified".

The returned URL must conform to [URL]. If the URL is more than one line
long, it must begin with the characters "<URL:" and end with a ">"
character, as described in [URL].

The optional metainformation may be of any format and contain any text. The
only restriction is that no line of the metainformation may begin with the
characters "=====". Examples of urc-0 Resolution Results

A resolution result that has a single URL and no metainformation might look


A resolution result that has a URL on multiple lines might look like:


A resolution result that has a multiple URLs might look like:


A resolution result that has a multiple URLs with metainformation might
look like:

     This is the most up-to-date version of the WNLN-Bigstate phone list. It is
     maintained by Cheryl O'Donnell.
     This is the mirror of the first URL at Bigstate.

3.4.3 Format for text/html Resolution Results

text/html can be used when the resolution result is meant to only be read
by users with HTML clients. The structure is text formatted with HTML tags,
as described in [HTML].

text/html allows the URLs to be displayed as active links, but it is
anticipated that HTML clients in the future will parse text/urc-0 and
automatically display it as HTML with active links.

3.4.4 Format for text/plain Resolution Results

text/plain can be used when the resolution result is meant to only be read
by humans. There is no structure implied in the format. Because it is not
easily parsed by client programs, it should only be used when it is
impossible to use other formats.

Both text/plain and text/html are intended to provide URN resolution
capabilities to current software. This backward compatibility should ease
the transition to a URN-based web.

3.5 Reserved Requests

As mentioned before, ElementIDs beginning with "urn+" are reserved. The
following requests, and their responses, are defined. The responses to the
reserved requests may be in any of the known formats (currently text/plain,
text/html, and text/urc-0).

3.5.1 urn+m: Meta-information About the Resolver (required)

Returns meta-information about the resolver, such as who to contact with
questions, the software it is running, and so on. There is no structure to
the metainformation, but it is considered authoritative for each resolving
host; it is likely that this will be a mailto URL of an administrative
contact for the host system. This ElementID must be served by all
conforming resolvers. For example:

The URNs on this server mostly point to movies created by FlixCo.
Other URNs are pointers to affiliated libraries of classic films. We are
currently resolving URNs with CERN httpd 3.4a.

3.5.2 urn+a: List of All ElementIDs (optional)

Returns a pointer to a list of all ElementIDs that can be resolved by this
resolver. This ElementID is optional, but may be of great value to
resolution clients. The response includes a URL, where the URL points to
the list. That list consists of lines, each line an ElementID followed by

The response may also be augmented with metainformation on the number of
elements and so on. For example, a text/urc-0 response might be:

This file is a list of all URNs resolvable at The
file is about 50K, and is sorted with the most-recently added
URNs at the end.

3.5.3 urn+c: List of Child Naming Authorities (required)

Returns a list of the naming authorities authorized by this one. Each name
in the list is followed by <CRLF>. This local hierarchy information will
make it possible, in principle, to make complete traversals of the web of
URN resolvers for some SchemeIDs.

3.5.4 urn+p: Name of Parent Naming Authority (required)

Returns the name of the naming authority that authorized the naming
authority on this resolver. If a naming authority has more than one parent,
a list of names is returned. This is a local hierarchy operation that makes
it possible, in principle, to perform complete traversals of the web of URN
resolvers for some SchemeIDs.

4. URN Resolution Clients, Proxies, and Gateways

URN clients can interpret the resolution result and present the user with a
better interface than just the text that is returned. For example, an
intelligent Gopher-based URN client going through a Gopher-to-HTTP gateway
can select the URLs with the "gopher:" scheme and create a Gopher menu of
them. Similarly, an intelligent HTML-based URN client can reformat a
resolution result that has a format of text/urc-0 as HTML text with the
URLs as links that can be selected.

In order to make URN resolution available to as many Internet users as
possible, it is assumed that resolution may take place through HTTP proxies
and gateways. Proxies and gateways allow Internet users who do not have URN
or HTTP clients to resolve URNs. Current HTTP proxies and gateways should
work well for this purpose, but they should be enhanced and more widely
available. Some sites will choose to have local proxies and gateways, while
other sites will allow people from outside their site to use their proxies
and gateways freely.

URN resolution client, proxies, and gateways should intelligently follow
redirection as described in this specification. For example, if a URN
resolver returns a Status-Line with Status-Codes 301 or 302, and that line
contains a URN, the client, proxy, or gateway should attempt to resolve the
original URN by substituting the new URN.

5. Caching

URN resolution clients, proxies, and gateways may choose to cache
resolution results in order to speed resolution and to reduce Internet
traffic. Caching should only be performed using the If-Modified-Since
mechanism in HTTP so that URNs whose response content changes rapidly are
not accidentally cached.

6. Meeting Requirements for URNs

This proposal meets all the requirements stated in working draft for URN
requirements. The basic requirements from that document are:

6A. Function capabilities

Global scope: Each SchemeID will define a set of AuthorityIDs that are
global in scope.

Global uniqueness: The combination of SchemeID, AuthorityID, and ElementID
will always be unique.

Persistence: It is easy for publishers to have their URNs last forever by
allowing them to hand over the resolution to one or more hosts in the
future. Even if the resolution of a particular URN no longer makes any
sense, it is easy to fully resolve the URN to something that is readable by
the user, and to do this forever.

Scalability: For the "dns" scheme, if a site gets too busy, mirror sites
can be specified using standard DNS procedures.

Legacy support: Current naming systems can be easily incorporated by giving
them their own SchemeIDs. Experimental SchemeIDs can be created with the
"X-" scheme.

Extensibility: All parts of the specification are designed to be
extensible. Additional resolution requests and resolution results can be
defined, and so on.

Independence: All SchemeIDs will be able to specify their own names,
restricted only by the encoding rules of [URL].

Resolution: The resolver uses a simple HTTP exchange, supported by dozens
of browsers and servers today. Further, there are already email-to-HTTP
gateways, allowing Internet users with only email access to resolve URNs

6B. URN encoding

Single encoding: URNs have an encoding that is independent of the
resolution protocol. If additional resolution protocols are added, the
encoding of the URNs does not change; instead, the resolution clients,
proxies, and gateways change the request to fit the protocols.

Simple comparison: All URNs are unique and therefore easily compared (after
appropriate decoding and case translation).

Human transcribability: URNs can be transcribed as easily as URLs.

Transport friendliness: Like URLs, all characters that should affect
Internet transport are encoded.

Machine consumption: URNs and their results are easily parsed.

Text recognition: URNs will stand out in free text due to the internal
colons and the "urn" prefix.

6C. Implications

Uniqueness: Name assignment is delegated to naming authorities, who may
then assign names.

Scalability: The DNS naming authorities are scalable without any
notification to, or approval from, a central authority. Additional
SchemeIDs may or may not be scalable, depending on the wishes of the
central authorities of the scheme. However, given the ease of becoming the
owner or maintainer of a FQDN, almost anyone should be able to become a URN
publisher with less difficulty than they have setting up most other
Internet services.

Mapping to URLs: URLs can be returned in any in any of the resolution
results format types.

Transcriptability: The character set for URNs is simple and small, the same
as URLs.

7. Security Implications

Attempting to resolve a URN can cause unencoded messages to be sent between
two systems on the Internet, and thus can introduce many security concerns.
Resolution requests and responses can be logged at the originating site,
the recipient site, and intermediary sites along the delivery path.
Resolution requests and responses can also be read at any of those sites.

All the security implications of HTTP are probably the same for URNs.
Security features that are added to HTTP will probably increase the
security of resolving URNs.

8. References

[DNS] RFC 952, "DOD Internet Host Table Specification" and RFC 1123,
"Requirements for Internet Hosts -- Application and Support".

[HTML] Internet-Draft, "HyperText Markup Language Specification - 2.0". The
name of the draft at the time of this writing is

[HTTP] Internet-Draft, "Hypertext Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.0". The name
of the draft at the time of this writing is

[IMT] RFC 1590 "Media Type Registration Procedure".

[LANG] Internet-Draft, "Tags for the identification of languages". The name
of the draft at the time of this writing is

[URC] Internet-Draft, "URC Scenarios and Requirements". The name of the
draft at the time of this writing is "draft-ietf-uri-urc-req-00.txt".

[URL] RFC 1738, "Uniform Resource Locators (URL)".

[URNO] Internet-Draft, "Uniform Resource Names (URN)" by Mitra, Chris
Weider, and Mike Mealling. The name of the draft at the time of this
writing is "draft-ietf-uri-resource-names-03".

9. Author Contact Information

Paul E. Hoffman
Proper Publishing
127 Segre Place
Santa Cruz, CA, USA  95060
voice:  (408) 426-6222

Ron Daniel Jr.
MS B287
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos, NM, USA 87545
voice:  (505) 665-0139
fax:  (505) 665-4939