Re: Version identifier in URL

David J. Fiander (
Wed, 29 May 1996 09:45:49 -0400

I think, since Jim has generously offered the MKS implementation
as the "working hypothesis" for the group, that I should give a
little bit of the history and rationale behind it.

Last fall, a small group of MKS put this together, mostly as a
proof of concept.  The requirements of the time were that it had
to integrate into the server easily (using the Netscape Server
APIs), and it had to provide a basic level of version control
(VC) functionality for unmodified clients.  This latter
requirement was the more onerous--it's why we went with the
"decorated" URL syntax for everything, including things that
should be methods, as Larry pointed out in his mail of Tue, 14
May 1996 10:54:18 PDT.

I, too, am uncomfortable with Dan's "heavy-weight" proposal for
dealing with versioning, because I still feel that, for the truly
basic functionality of "get me revision 'foo' of this URL", we
need to ensure that existing, unmodified clients work.  This does
not disallow Kenji's "Content-Version" implementation, which I
expect to be supported as an alternative access method in the
future, and which will probably be critical for the more advanced
document management (DM) and VC functionality that we're probably
going to be working towards in this group.

Robert's suggestion of creating a new attribute "VERSION"
similarly requires version-aware clients before we can proceed.
The other problem is that creating new HTML/SGML attributes is
not as simple as just making up a new unique name for the
attribute; there are tools out there today that won't allow you
do do this sort of thing without modifying the HTML DTD.

We selected the ";version=..." syntax because both the HTTP 1.0
and HTTP 1.1 specification have included, since the earliest
drafts, the concept of the "URL parameter" (see section 7.2.1 of
HTTP 1.1 draft 3).  The URL parameters appear between the path
and any appended query, and are separated from the path by a ';'.
Kenji's concern about semicolons embedded in UNIX filenames is
valid but, because the URL syntax has always reserved the
semicolon, any such filename semicolons must be encoded
in the URL, using the character escape mechanism, as "%3B".

I'm not sure that I understand Chris's concerns about "version"
being a "meta identifier".  It's the name of the URL parameter
string that we're providing, nothing more.

Robert asks some good questions:

>Is the versioning model constrained to be single threaded?  (i.e. unique
>answers to the queries below)

I don't know.  I think that for some of the particulars the
answer will be yes, and for other it will be no.  In the
following, when I say "the version "URL(x)", I mean "the version
specified by URL(x)".

>Fetch the version previous to URL(x).

if "URL(x)" is a versioned URL, this boils down to

        Fetch the version previous to the version "foo"

which will clearly give the same answer all the time, since every
version of the document will only have one immediate predecessor.

If the question is, "get me the version of this file that was
active before the "current" version, then I would say that there
are always going to be race conditions.

>Fetch the version subsequent to URL(x).

This one is tricky.  Suppose there's a branch in the version
history at the version URL(x).  Then which of the two or more
different descendants of URL(x) is "the version subsequent"?

>Fetch the version of URL(x) current at time t.
Given second granularity, this should always be deterministic.

>Fetch the version of URL(x) current as of the creation time of URL(y)

Given the answer to the previous question, this boils down to

        Find t = the creation time of URL(y)
        Fetch the version of URL(x) current at time t.

>Fetch the most recent version of URL(y)

This will be indeterminate, given that updates will always be

Jim said:

>Note that this convention only specifies the version of the entity, and
>does not specify the version of each directory in the heirarchy leading to
>that entity.

We should also note that the VC/DM work may also interact with
the content negotiation and generic/specific resource language in
HTTP 1.1.  We need to ensure that we play well with that text.

- David