WEBDAV Working Group J.A. Slein INTERNET-DRAFT Xerox Corporation <draft-slein-www-dist-author-00.txt> F. Vitali University of Bologna E.J. Whitehead, Jr. U.C. Irvine D.G. Durand Boston University February 28, 1997 Expires August 28, 1997
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Current World Wide Web (WWW or Web) standards provide simple support for applications which allow remote editing of typed data. In practice, the existing capabilities of the WWW have proven inadequate to support efficient, scalable remote editing free of overwriting conflicts. This document presents a list of features in the form of requirements
which, if implemented, would improve the efficiency of common remote editing operations, provide a locking mechanism to prevent overwrite conflicts, improve relationship management support between non-HTML data types, provide a simple attribute-value metadata facility, provide for the creation and reading of container data types, and integrate versioning into the WWW.
This document describes functionality which, if standardized in the context of the WWW, would allow tools for remote loading, editing and saving (publishing) of various media types on the WWW to interoperate with any compliant Web server. As much as possible, this functionality is described without suggesting a proposed implementation, since there
are many ways to perform the functionality within the WWW framework.
It could be implemented in extensions to HTTP, in a new protocol to be
layered on top of HTTP, in additional MIME types, or some combination of
these and other approaches. It is also possible that a single mechanism
could simultaneously satisfy several requirements.
This document is intended to reflect the consensus of the WWW Distributed
Authoring and Versioning working group (WebDAV) as to the functionality
that needs to be standardized to support distributed authoring and versioning
on the Web. However, this version still has some elements that are being
debated in the working group. The following elements are still under discussion:
Current Web standards contain functionality which enables the editing of Web content at a remote location, without direct access to the storage media via an operating system. This capability is exploited by several existing HTML distributed authoring tools, and by a growing number of mainstream applications (e.g., word processors) which allow users to
write (publish) their work to an HTTP server. To date, experience from
the HTML authoring tools has shown they are unable to meet their users'
needs using the facilities of Web standards. The consequence of this is
either postponed introduction of distributed authoring capability, or the
addition of nonstandard extensions to the HTTP protocol  or other Web
standards. These extensions, developed in isolation, are not interoperable.
Other authoring applications have wanted to access document repositories
or version control systems through Web gateways, and have been similarly
frustrated. Where this access is available at all, it is through nonstandard
extensions to HTTP or other standards that force clients to use a different
interface for each vendor's service.
This document describes requirements for a set of standard extensions
to the Web that would allow distributed Web authoring tools to provide
the functionality their users need by means of the same standard syntax
across all compliant servers. The broad categories of functionality that
need to be standardized are:
Where there is overlap, usage is intended to be consistent with that
in the HTTP 1.1 specification .
This section describes a set of general principles that the WebDAV extensions should follow. These principles cut across categories of functionality.
All WebDAV clients should be able to work with any WebDAV-compliant HTTP server. It is acceptable for some client/server combinations to provide special features that are not universally available, but the protocol should be sufficient that a basic level of functionality will be universal.
The WebDAV extensions should be designed to allow client implementations to be simple.
It should be possible to implement a WebDAV-compliant server in such a way that it can interoperate with non-WebDAV clients. Such a server would be able to understand any valid HTTP 1.1 request from an ordinary Web client without WebDAV extensions, and to provide a valid HTTP 1.1 response that does not require the client to understand the extensions.
WebDAV-compliant servers should be able to work with existing resources and URIs . Special additional information should not become a mandatory part of document formats.
Distribution and replication are at the heart of the Internet. All WebDAV extensions should be designed to allow for distribution and replication. Version trees should be able to be split across multiple servers. Collections may have members on different servers. Resources may have attributes on different servers. Any resources may be cached or replicated for mobile computing or other reasons. Consequently, the WebDAV extensions must be able to operate in a distributed, replicated environment.
The WebDAV extensions should keep to a minimum the number of interactions between the client and the server needed to perform common functions. For example, publishing a document to the Web will often mean publishing content together with related metadata. A client may often need to find out what version graph a particular resource belongs to, or to find out which resource in a version graph is the published one. The extensions should make it possible to do these things efficiently.
It may be desirable to transport WebDAV requests and responses by other mechanisms, particularly EMail, in addition to HTTP. The design of the WebDAV extensions should take alternative transports into account.
In the requirement descriptions below, the requirement will be stated, followed by its rationale.
It must be possible to create, modify, query, read and delete arbitrary
attributes on resources of any media type.
Attributes are resources that may have attributes of their own, may
be subject to content negotiation, etc.
Attributes have implications for the semantics of move, copy, and delete operations. See "5.7. Name Space Manipulation" below.
Attributes describe resources of any media type. They may include bibliographic information such as author, title, publisher, and subject, constraints on usage, PICS ratings, etc. These attributes have many uses, such as supporting searches on attribute values, enforcing copyrights, and the creation of catalog entries as placeholders for objects which are not available in electronic form, or which will be available later.
It must be possible to create, modify, query, read and delete typed
relationships between resources of any media type.
Relationships have implications for the semantics of move, copy, and delete operations. See "5.7. Name Space Manipulation" below.
One type of relationship between resources is the hypertext link, which is browsable using a hypertext style point-and-click user interface. Relationships, whether they are browsable hypertext links, or simply a means of capturing a connection between resources, have many purposes. Relationships can support pushbutton printing of a multi-resource document in a prescribed order, jumping to the access control page for a resource, and quick browsing of related information, such as a table of contents, an index, a glossary, help pages, etc. While relationship support is provided by the HTML "LINK" element, this is limited only to HTML resources . Similar support is needed for bitmap image types, and other non-HTML media types.
188.8.131.52. Independence of locks. It must be possible to lock a
resource without re-reading the resource, and without committing to editing
184.108.40.206. Multi-Resource Locking. It must be possible to take
out a lock on multiple resources in the same action, and this locking operation
must be atomic across these resources.
220.127.116.11. Partial-Resource Locking. It must be possible to take
out a lock on a subsection of a resource.
18.104.22.168. Optional Server Support for Locking. Some systems use other mechanisms besides locking to ensure consistency in environments where several users may wish to edit a resource at once. These other strategies must be permitted.
22.214.171.124. Write Locks. It must be possible to restrict modification
of a resource to a specific person.
126.96.36.199. Lock Query. It must be possible to find out whether
a given resource has any active modification restrictions, and if so, who
currently has modification permission.
188.8.131.52. Unlock. It must be possible to remove a lock. Only the owner of a lock or a principal with appropriate access rights may remove the lock.
At present, the Web provides limited support for preventing two or more
people from overwriting each other's modifications when they save to a
given URI. Furthermore, there is no way to discover whether someone else
is currently making modifications to a resource. This is known as the "lost
update problem," or the "overwrite problem." Since there
can be significant cost associated with discovering and repairing lost
modifications, preventing this problem is crucial for supporting distributed
authoring. A write lock ensures that only one person may modify a resource,
preventing overwrites. Furthermore, locking support is a key component
of many versioning schemes, a desirable capability for distributed authoring.
An author may wish to lock an entire web of resources even though he
is editing just a single resource, to keep the other resources from changing.
In this way, an author can ensure that if a local hypertext web is consistent
in his distributed authoring tool, it will then be consistent when he writes
it to the server. Because of this, it should be possible to take out a
lock without also causing transmission of the contents of a resource.
It is often necessary to guarantee that a lock or unlock operation occurs
at the same time across multiple resources, a feature which is supported
by the multiple-resource locking requirement. This is useful for preventing
a collision between two people trying to establish locks on the same set
of resources, since with multi-resource locking, one of the two people
will get a lock. If this same multiple-resource locking scenario was repeated
by using atomic lock operations iterated across the resources, the result
would be a splitting of the locks between the two people, based on resource
ordering and race conditions.
Partial resource locking provides support for collaborative editing applications, where multiple users may be editing the same resource simultaneously. Partial resource locking also allows multiple people to simultaneously work on a database type resource.
184.108.40.206. Reserve. It must be possible to notify the server that
a resource is about to be edited by a given person.
220.127.116.11. Reservation Query. It must be possible to find out whether
a given resource has any active reservations, and if so, who currently
18.104.22.168. Release Reservation. It must be possible to release the reservation. Only the owner of a reservation or a principal with appropriate access rights may release the reservation.
Experience from configuration management systems has shown that people need to know when they are about to enter a parallel editing situation. Once notified, they either decide not to edit in parallel with the other authors, or they use out-of-band communication (face-to-face, telephone, etc.) to coordinate their editing to minimize the difficulty of merging their results. Reservations are separate from locking, since a write lock does not necessarily imply a resource will be edited, and a reservation does not carry with it any access restrictions. This capability supports versioning, since a check-out typically involves taking out a write lock, making a reservation, and getting the resource to be edited.
The source of any given resource must be retrievable.
There are many cases where the source stored on a server does not correspond
to the actual entity transmitted in response to an HTTP GET. Current known
cases are server side include directives, and Standard Generalized Markup
Language (SGML) source which is converted on the fly to HyperText Markup
Language (HTML)  output entities. There are many possible cases, such
as automatic conversion of bitmap images into several variant bitmap media
types (e.g. GIF, JPEG), and automatic conversion of an application's native
media type into HTML. As an example of this last case, a word processor
could store its native media type on a server which automatically converts
it to HTML. A GET of this resource would retrieve the HTML. Retrieving
the source would retrieve the word processor native format.
This requirement should be met by a general mechanism which can handle both the "single-step" source processing described above, where the source is converted into the transmission entity via a single conversion step, as well as "multi-step" source processing, where there are one or more intermediate processing steps and outputs. An example of multi-step source processing is the relationship between an executable binary image, its object files, and its source language files. It should be noted that the relationship between source and transmission entity could be expressed using the relationship functionality described above in "5.2. Relationships."
After editing a resource, it must be possible to write only the changes to the resource, rather than retransmitting the entire resource.
During distributed editing which occurs over wide geographic separations and/or over low bandwidth connections, it is extremely inefficient and frustrating to rewrite a large resource after minor changes, such as a one-character spelling correction. Support is needed for transmitting "insert" (e.g., add this sentence in the middle of a document) and "delete" (e.g. remove this paragraph from the middle of a document) style updates. Support for partial resource updates will make small edits more efficient, and allow distributed authoring tools to scale up for editing large documents.
It must be possible to duplicate a resource without a client loading,
then resaving the resource. After the copy operation, the content of the
destination resource must be octet for octet identical to the content of
the source resource. A modification to either resource must not cause a
modification to the other. The copy operation should leave an audit trail.
It must be possible for a client to specify whether a resource's user
attributes and relationships are to be copied with it, although the server
may decline to copy them. It may decline to copy user attributes if the
destination namespace supports different attributes from the source namespace,
for example. The server may follow whatever policy it likes for copying
Copying a collection causes all of the resources that belong to it directly
to be copied as well. For resources that belong to it by reference, the
reference is copied. It must be possible for a client to specify whether
subcollections should be copied with the collection.
If a version graph is copied, all relationships between nodes in the graph must be changed in the new copy to reflect its new location.
There are many reasons why a resource might need to be duplicated, such as changing ownership, preparing for major modifications, or making a backup. Due to network costs associated with loading and saving a resource, it is far preferable to have a server perform a resource copy than a client. If a copied resource records which resource it is a copy of, then it would be possible for a cache to avoid loading the copied resource if it already locally stores the original.
It must be possible to change the location of a resource without a client
loading, then resaving the resource under a different name. After the move
operation, the content of the resource at its new location must be octet
for octet identical to the content of the prior resource. It must no longer
be possible to access the resource at its original location. The move operation
should leave an audit trail.
It must be possible for a client to specify whether a resource's user
attributes and relationships are to be moved with it, although the server
may decline to move them. It may decline to move user attributes if the
destination namespace supports different attributes from the source namespace,
for example. The server may follow whatever policy it likes for server
Moving a collection causes all of the resources that belong to it directly
to be moved as well. For resources that belong to it by reference, the
reference is moved. It must be possible for a client to specify whether
subcollections should be moved with the collection. If not, subcollections
that belong to the collection directly should be deleted from the source
If a version graph is moved, all relationships between nodes in the graph must be changed in the destination resource to reflect its new location.
It is often necessary to change the name of a resource, for example due to adoption of a new naming convention, or if a typing error was made entering the name originally. Due to network costs, it is undesirable to perform this operation by loading, then resaving the resource, followed by a delete of the old resource. Similarly, a single rename operation is more efficient than a copy followed by a delete operation. Note that moving a resource is considered the same function as renaming a resource. The audit trail makes it possible for the server to redirect client requests for the resource at its old location, perhaps with a "301 Moved Permanently" status code.
HTTP already provides a DELETE method, but the semantics of DELETE must
be reconsidered once attributes, relations, collections, and versions are
When a resource is deleted, it must be possible for a client to specify
whether a its attributes are to be deleted with it. In an environment where
resources may share the same attributes, the server may decline to delete
When a resource is deleted, the relationships in which it participates
should also be deleted.
If the resource being deleted is a collection, all resources that belong
to it directly will be deleted as well. Resources that belong to it by
reference are unaffected.
If the resource being deleted is a member of a version graph, the predecessor and successor relationships in the graph must be updated, and any metadata required by the versioning server must be supplied. The versioning server may, for example, require a comment explaining the reason for the deletion.
A collection is a resource that is a container for other resources, including other collections. A resource may belong to a collection either directly or by reference. If a resource belongs to a collection directly, namespace operations like copy, move, and delete applied to the collection also apply to the resource. If a resource belongs to a collection by reference, namespace operations applied to the collection affect only the reference, not the resource itself.
22.214.171.124. List Collection. A listing of all resources in a specific
collection must be accessible.
126.96.36.199. Make Collection. It must be possible to create a new
188.8.131.52. Add to Collection. It must be possible to add a resource
to a collection directly or by reference.
184.108.40.206. Remove from Collection. It must be possible to remove
a resource from a collection. In the case of a resource that belongs to
the collection directly, this results in the resource being deleted. In
the case of a resource that is merely referenced by the collection, only
the reference is removed.
220.127.116.11. Collections have implications for the semantics of move, copy, and delete operations. See "5.7. Name Space Manipulation" above.
In  it states that, "some URL schemes (such as the ftp, http,
and file schemes) contain names that can be considered hierarchical."
Especially for HTTP servers which directly map all or part of their URL
name space into a filesystem, it is very useful to get a listing of all
resources located at a particular hierarchy level. This functionality supports
"Save As..." dialog boxes, which provide a listing of the entities
at a current hierarchy level, and allow navigation through the hierarchy.
It also supports the creation of graphical visualizations (typically as
a network) of the hypertext structure among the entities at a hierarchy
level, or set of levels. It also supports a tree visualization of the entities
and their hierarchy levels.
In addition, document management systems may want to make their documents
accessible through the Web. They typically allow the organization of documents
into collections, and so also want their users to be able to view the collection
hierarchy through the Web.
There are many instances where there is not a strong correlation between
a URL hierarchy level and the notion of a collection. One example is a
server in which the URL hierarchy level maps to a computational process
which performs some resolution on the name. In this case, the contents
of the URL hierarchy level can vary depending on the input to the computation,
and the number of resources accessible via the computation can be very
large. It does not make sense to implement a directory feature for such
a namespace. However, the utility of listing the contents of those URL
hierarchy levels which do correspond to collections, such as the large
number of HTTP servers which map their namespace to a filesystem, argue
for the inclusion of this capability, despite not being meaningful in all
cases. If listing the contents of a URL hierarchy level does not makes
sense for a particular URL, then a "405 Method Not Allowed" status
code could be issued.
The ability to create collections to hold related resources supports management of a name space by packaging its members into small, related clusters. The utility of this capability is demonstrated by the broad implementation of directories in recent operating systems. The ability to create a collection also supports the creation of "Save As..." dialog boxes with "New Level/Folder/Directory" capability, common in many applications.
18.104.22.168. Stability of versions. Most versioning systems are intended to provide an accurate record of the history of evolution of a document. This accuracy is ensured by the fact that a version eventually becomes "frozen" and immutable. Once a version is frozen, further changes will create new versions rather than modifying the original. In order for caching and persistent references to be properly maintained, a client must be able to determine that a version has been frozen. Any successful attempt to retrieve a frozen version of a resource will always retrieve exactly the same content, or return an error if that version (or the resource itself) is no longer available.
Version management systems vary greatly in the operations they require, the order of the operations, and how they are combined into atomic functions. In the most complete cases, the logical operations involved are:
With the exception of requesting a new version identifier, all of these
operations have applications outside of versioning and are either already
part of HTTP or are discussed in earlier sections of these requirements.
Typically, versioning systems combine reservation, locking, and retrieval
-- or some subset of these -- into an atomic checkout function. They combine
writing, releasing the lock, and releasing the reservation -- or some subset
of these -- into an atomic checkin function. The new version identifier
may be assigned either at checkout or at checkin.
The WebDAV extensions must find some balance between allowing versioning servers to adopt whatever policies they wish with regard to these operations and enforcing enough uniformity to keep client implementations simple.
Each version typically stands in a "derived from" relationship
to its predecessor(s). It is possible to derive several different versions
from a single version (branching), and to derive a single version from
several versions (merging). Consequently, the collection of related versions
forms a directed acyclic graph. In the following discussion, this graph
will be called a "version graph". Each node of this graph is
a "version" or "member of the version graph". The arcs
of the graph capture the "derived from" relationships.
It is also possible for a single resource to participate in multiple
The WebDAV extensions must support this versioning model, though particular
servers may restrict it in various ways.
22.214.171.124. Versioning Policies. Many writers, including Feiler
 and Haake and Hicks , have discussed the notion of versioning styles
(referred to here as versioning policies, to reflect the nature of client/server
interaction) as one way to think about the different policies that versioning
systems implement. Versioning policies include decisions on the shape of
version histories (linear or branched), the granularity of change tracking,
locking requirements made by a server, etc. The protocol should clearly
identify the policies that it dictates and the policies that are left up
to versioning system implementors or administrators.
126.96.36.199. It is possible to version resources of any media type.
188.8.131.52. Referring to a version graph. There must be a way to
refer to a version graph as a whole.
Some queries and operations apply, not to any one member of a version
graph, but to the version graph as a whole. For example, a client may request
that an entire graph be moved, or may ask for a version history. In these
cases, a way to refer to the whole version graph is required.
184.108.40.206. Referring to a specific member of a version graph. There
must be a way to refer to each member of a version graph. This means that
each member of the graph is itself a resource.
Each member of a version graph must be a resource if it is to be possible
for a hypertext link to refer to specific version of a page, or for a client
to request a specific version of a document for editing.
220.127.116.11. A client must be able to determine whether a resource
is a version graph, or whether a resource is itself a member of a version
A resource may be a simple, non-versioned resource, or it may be a version
graph, or it may be a member of a version graph. A client needs to be able
to tell which sort of resource it is accessing.
18.104.22.168. There must be a way to refer to a server-defined default
member of a version graph.
The server should return a default version of a resource for requests
that ask for the default version, as well as for requests where no specific
version information is provided. This is one of the simplest ways to guarantee
non-versioning client compatibility. This does not rule out the possibility
of a server returning an error when no sensible default exists.
It may also be desirable to be able to refer to other special members
of a version graph. For example, there may be a current version for editing
that is different from the default version. For a graph with several branches,
it may be useful to be able to request the tip version of any branch.
22.214.171.124. It must be possible, given a reference to a member of
a version graph, to find out which version graph(s) that resource belongs
This makes it possible to understand the versioning context of the resource.
It makes it possible to retrieve a version history for the graphs to which
it belongs, and to browse the version graph. It also supports some comparison
operations: It makes it possible to determine whether two references designate
members of the same version graph.
126.96.36.199. Navigation of a version graph. Given a reference to a member of a version graph, it must be possible to discover and access the following related members of the version graph.
It must be possible in some way for a versioning client to access versions
related to a resource currently being exhamined.
188.8.131.52. Version Topology. There must be a way to retrieve the
complete version topology for a version graph, including information about
all members of the version graph. The format for this information must
be standardized so that the basic information can be used by all clients.
Other specialized formats should be accomodated, for servers and clients
that require information that cannot be included in the standard topology.
184.108.40.206. A client must be able to request that the server generate
a version identifier for a new member of a version graph. Such an identifier
will not be used by any other client in the meantime. The server may refuse
220.127.116.11. A client must be able to propose a version identifier
to be used for a new member of a version graph. The server may refuse to
use the client's suggested version identifier.
18.104.22.168. A version identifier must be unique across a version
22.214.171.124. A client must be able to supply version-specific metadata
to be associated with a new member of a version graph. (See Section 5.1
"Attributes" above.) At a minimum, it must be possible to associate
comments with the new member, explaining what changes were made.
126.96.36.199. A client must be able to query the server for information
about a version tree, including which versions are locked, which are reserved
for editing, and by whom (Session Tracking).
188.8.131.52. It must be possible for a client to get from the server
a list of the differences between two or more resources of the same media
184.108.40.206. A client must be able to request that the server merge
two or more resources, and return the result of the merge to the client
or store the result as a resource. Server support for this functionality
220.127.116.11. Versioning has implications for the semantics of move, copy, and delete operations. See "5.7. Name Space Manipulation" above. In addition, if the WebDAV extensions allow versioning servers to PUT or POST new members into a version graph, the semantics of those methods must be extended to encompass the new functionality.
Versioning in the context of the world-wide web offers a variety of
It provides infrastructure for efficient and controlled management of
large evolving web sites. Modern configuration management systems are built
on some form of repository that can track the revision history of individual
resources, and provide the higher-level tools to manage those saved versions.
Basic versioning capabilities are required to support such systems.
It allows parallel development and update of single resources. Since
versioning systems register change by creating new objects, they enable
simultaneous write access by allowing the creation of variant versions.
Many also provide merge support to ease the reverse operation.
It provides a framework for coordinating changes to resources. While
specifics vary, most systems provide some method of controlling or tracking
access to enable collaborative resource development.
It allows browsing through past and alternative versions of a resource.
Frequently the modification and authorship history of a resource is critical
information in itself.
It provides stable names that can support externally stored links for
annotation and link-server support. Both annotation and link servers frequently
need to store stable references to portions of resources that are not under
their direct control. By providing stable states of resources, version
control systems allow not only stable pointers into those resources, but
also well-defined methods to determine the relationships of those states
of a resource.
It allows explicit semantic representation of single resources with multiple states. A versioning system directly represents the fact that a resource has an explicit history, and a persistent identity across the various states it has had during the course of that history.
The WebDAV extensions should make use of existing authentication and security protocols. The WebDAV specification must state how the WebDAV extensions interoperate with existing authentication and security schemes.
Our understanding of these issues has emerged as the result of much
thoughtful discussion, email, and assistance by many people, who deserve
recognition for their effort.
 T. Berners-Lee, D. Connolly, "HyperText Markup Language Specification - 2.0", RFC 1866, MIT/LCS, November 1995.
 T. Berners-Lee, L. Masinter, M. McCahill. "Uniform Resource Locators (URL)", RFC 1738, CERN, Xerox PARC, University of Minnesota, December 1994.
 P. Feiler, "Configuration Management Models in Commercial Environments", Software Engineering Institute Technical Report CMU/SEI-91-TR-7, <http://www.sei.cmu.edu/products/publications/91.reports/91.tr.007.html>
 R. Fielding, J. Gettys, J. C. Mogul, H. Frystyk, and T. Berners-Lee, "Hypertext Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1", RFC 2068, U.C. Irvine, DEC, MIT/LCS, January 1997.
 A. Haake, D. Hicks, "VerSE: Towards Hypertext Versioning Styles", Proc. Hypertext'96, The Seventh ACM Conference on Hypertext, 1996, pages 224-234.
Judith Slein Xerox Corporation 800 Phillips Road 128-29E Webster, NY 14580 EMail: firstname.lastname@example.org Fabio Vitali Department of Computer Science University of Bologna ITALY EMail: email@example.com E. James Whitehead, Jr. Department of Information and Computer Science University of California Irvine, CA 92697-3425 Fax: 714-824-4056 EMail: firstname.lastname@example.org David G. Durand Department of Computer Science Boston University Boston, MA EMail: email@example.com
Expires August 28, 1997