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WebDAV Bindings - Issue Yaron.AtomicDelete

From: Yaron Goland <yarong@Exchange.Microsoft.com>
Date: Sun, 16 Jan 2000 17:36:39 -0800
Message-ID: <7DE119D3D0E15543874F7561EECBDBED02619E1B@BEG.platinum.corp.microsoft.com>
To: w3c-dist-auth@w3.org
The second to last paragraph in section 6 reads: "Although [WebDAV] allows a
DELETE to be a non-atomic operation, the DELETE operation defined here is
atomic.  In particular, a DELETE on a hierarchy of resources is simply the
removal of a binding to the collection identified by the Request-URI, and so
is a single (and therefore atomic) operation."

Because BIND redefines how collections work the effect of this paragraph is
to directly amend the behavior of RFC 2518 in a manner that is not compliant
with how RFC 2518 is currently written. 

Things brings up the first issue. Redefining DELETE to be atomic without
using the mandatory mechanism to prevent confusion on the part of clients
and servers will destroy interoperability with RFC 2518 systems. A BIND
enhanced client issuing a DELETE against a RFC 2518 server will expect
atomic behavior and probably won't get it. This is a failure of
interoperability. There are too many deployed RFC 2518 systems for us to
simply hide our heads in the sand and say "Well gee, BIND redefines RFC 2518
so everyone should change their functionality.".

There are cases where it is worth creating incompatibilities, for example,
if you find out that their is a serious flaw in the protocol. However no one
has demonstrated that the non-atomic behavior of DELETE is a flaw. It is a
pain, that is true. It certainly makes it difficult to write clients. But as
evidenced by the number of WebDAV clients it is clear that the requirement
is one that can be met. Heck, as evidenced by the number of file system
clients written in the last 30 years, it is clear that the requirement to
handle non-atomic behavior can be met.

Changing DELETE to atomic is especially egregious given that WebDAV does not
prevent a server from implementing DELETE atomically. Rather it puts the
client in the unfortunate situation of having to deal with systems that
can't necessarily support atomic DELETE. There are, I freely admit,
circumstances in which a client MUST be able to ensure that a DELETE is
issued atomically. Clients in those cases will have to choose to not
interoperate with many WebDAV servers in order to gain atomic delete. The
proper way for them to express their requirement that a delete be atomic is
either to issue DELETE with a MAN extension or to create a new method. But
the behavior of the DELETE method is well defined by RFC 2518 and given that
there is no evidence that this behavior is broken in any way. In fact, given
that their is over whelming evidence that non-atomic DELETE works just fine
and leads to interoperable implementations.

Let me clarify that DELETE was defined to not be atomic with malice of fore
thought. The non-atomic delete language was the result of nearly three years
of negotiations and represented a deep and broad consensus built up amongst
a huge community. Might I respectfully suggest to the BIND authors that they
should not be so ready to overthrow years of careful consensus building.

Do not imagine that the lack of screaming on this issue reflects consensus.
Rather it reflects the fact that most of the WebDAV community is too busy
implementing RFC 2518 to pay much attention to BIND. The BIND functionality,
while I believe it will be important to WebDAV, is a bit ahead of the
majority of implementers so they just aren't reading or reviewing it, yet.

The key reason DELETE was not allowed to be atomic (which certainly would
have been a nice thing to be able to do) has to do with the way file systems
work. Most file systems do not support depth operations atomically. So, for
example, when you delete a directory what actually happens is that the
program does a depth first walk of the directory tree and deletes all the
individual files, walking backwards up the tree until finally deleting the
parent directory.

This brings us to our second issue, the argument has been made that a file
system could simulate an atomic DELETE by issuing a MOVE command against a
directory and ensuring that nothing exists at the destination. This would
make it appear that all the files have been deleted. The file system could
then later delete the files at its convenience. In addition this sort of
implementation would allow the type of functionality you see today in the
Windows GUI where deleted files are first placed into the waste basket
before actually being deleted.

This theory has several problems in practice.

Problem #1 - There exists a write ACL (which covers MOVE) and a delete ACL
(which covers DELETE). It is possible, therefore, to have the right to
delete a file but not the right to move it. As such if a user is running a
WebDAV server under their own authentication then the server will have to
fail the DELETE command, even if they have the right access settings for
delete, because the server can't move the file first in order to simulate
the atomic DELETE behavior. The prevents file system based servers from
implementing the "MOVE is an atomic DELETE" hack.

Problem #2 - The required mechanism could actually form a denial of service
attack. Imagine a server gives a space allocation to all of their users. A
user then shows up and knows that the server is running low on space.
Therefore the user decides to fill up their allocation with junk, delete it,
fill it up again, delete it, etc. Each time the server will have to move all
the user's junk to some temp space in order to simulate the atomic delete.
If the server can't delete the temp files fast enough then the server's disk
space will be overrun. One could attempt to counter this attack by
specifying that one can only DELETE something if one has enough space left
in one's space allocation for the MOVE. Of course this means that if one has
filled up one's allocation and wants to delete some files to get more space
the delete will fail because there is no room to do the move. Of course, if
there was room to do the move then one wouldn't have wanted to delete the
files since one would still have space. Catch-22.

Problem #3 - File system servers are now getting smart enough to add
eventing support to their file systems. The idea is that you can register to
be told when a file is deleted or moved. However the delete and move events
are different. Forcing WebDAV file system servers to simulate a DELETE as a
move would cause the wrong event to get triggered. This means that one can
never be sure if that MOVE event was received because the user intended to
MOVE a file or because it was part of a DELETE operation. This is especially
important when one has a store that is accessible through multiple means,
say WebDAV and FTP. The events are registered directly on the file system,
not in the WebDAV or FTP implementation. So there is no way for the WebDAV
implementation to say "I know I'm doing a MOVE but you really should just
trigger the delete event."

There is then the third and final issue, WebDAV begins with a "D" for a
reason. It's goal is to be distributed. Requiring atomic DELETEs would
essentially hinder all but the most expensive of systems from being able to
implement distributed namespaces across multiple physical servers. The
reason being that the atomic requirement means that these systems will have
to establish transactioning systems between themselves in order to issue
DELETEs if they share namespace.

As such I move that the atomic DELETE language be struck from the BIND spec
on the grounds that it destroys interoperability, requires behavior that
would preclude file system based systems from supporting WebDAV and
significantly increases the cost of implementing WebDAV in a distributed
Received on Sunday, 16 January 2000 20:37:31 UTC

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