Architecture of the World Wide Web, First Edition

Editor's Draft 10 May 2004

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Ian Jacobs, W3C
See acknowledgments.


The World Wide Web is a network-spanning information space of resources interconnected by links. This information space is the basis of, and is shared by, a number of information systems. Within each of these systems, agents (people and software) retrieve, create, display, analyze, and reason about resources.

Web architecture includes the definition of the information space in terms of identification and representation of its contents, and of the protocols that support the interaction of agents in an information system making use of the space. Web architecture is influenced by social requirements and software engineering principles. These lead to design choices and constraints on the behavior of systems that use the Web in order to achieve desired properties of the shared information space: efficiency, scalability, and the potential for indefinite growth across languages, cultures, and media. Good practice by agents in the system is also important to the success of the system. This document reflects the three bases of Web architecture: identification, interaction, and representation.

Status of this document

This section describes the status of this document at the time of its publication. Other documents may supersede this document. A list of current W3C publications and the latest revision of this technical report can be found in the W3C technical reports index at http://www.w3.org/TR/.

This is the 10 May 2004 Editor's Draft of "Architecture of the World Wide Web, First Edition." This draft takes into account a few additional TAG resolutions that were omitted from the 7 May draft; see the TAG mailing list public-webarch-comments@w3.org (archive) .

This document has been developed by W3C's Technical Architecture Group (TAG) (charter). A complete list of changes to this document since the first public Working Draft is available on the Web.

The TAG charter describes a process for issue resolution by the TAG. In accordance with those provisions, the TAG maintains a running issues list. The First Edition of "Architecture of the World Wide Web" does not address every issue that the TAG has accepted since it began work in January 2002. The TAG has selected a subset of issues that the First Edition does address to the satisfaction of the TAG; those issues are identified in the TAG's issues list. The TAG intends to address the remaining (and future) issues after publication of the First Edition as a Recommendation.

This document uses the concepts and terms regarding URIs as defined in draft-fielding-uri-rfc2396bis-03, preferring them to those defined in RFC 2396. The IETF Internet Draft draft-fieldi ng-uri-rfc2396bis-03 is expected to obsolete RFC 2396, which is the current URI standard. The TAG is tracking the evolution of draft-fielding-uri-rfc2396bis-03.

Publication as a Working Draft does not imply endorsement by the W3C Membership. This is a draft document and may be updated, replaced or obsoleted by other documents at any time. It is inappropriate to cite this document as other than "work in progress." The latest information regarding patent disclosures related to this document is available on the Web.

Table of Contents

List of Principles, Constraints, and Good Practice Notes

The following principles, constraints, and good practice notes are discussed in this document and listed here for convenience. There is also a free-standing summary.

General Architecture Principles
Data Formats

1. Introduction

World Wide Web (WWW, or simply Web) is an information space in which the items of interest, referred to as resources, are identified by global identifiers called Uniform Resource Identifiers (URI).

A travel scenario is used throughout this document to illustrate typical behavior of Web agents — people or software (on behalf of a person, entity, or process) acting on this information space. Software agents include servers, proxies, spiders, browsers, and multimedia players.


While planning a trip to Mexico, Nadia reads "Oaxaca weather information: 'http://weather.example.com/oaxaca'" in a glossy travel magazine. Nadia has enough experience with the Web to recognize that "http://weather.example.com/oaxaca" is a URI. Given the context in which the URI appears, she expects that it allows her to access weather information. When Nadia enters the URI into her browser:

  1. The browser performs an information retrieval action in accordance with its configured behavior for resources identified via the "http" URI scheme.
  2. The authority responsible for "weather.example.com" provides information in a response to the retrieval request.
  3. The browser displays the retrieved information, which includes hypertext links to other information. Nadia can follow these hypertext links to retrieve additional information.

This scenario illustrates the three architectural bases of the Web that are discussed in this document:

  1. Identification. Each resource is identified by a URI. In this travel scenario, the resource is a periodically-updated report on the weather in Oaxaca, and the URI is "http://weather.example.com/oaxaca".
  2. Interaction. Protocols define the syntax and semantics of messages exchanged by agents over a network. Web agents communicate information about the state of a resource through the exchange of representations. In the travel scenario, Nadia (by clicking on a hypertext link) tells her browser to request a representation of the resource identified by the URI in the hypertext link. The browser sends an HTTP GET request to the server at "weather.example.com". The server responds with a representation that includes XHTML data and the Internet media type "application/xhtml+xml".
  3. Formats. Representations are built from a non-exclusive set of data formats, used separately or in combination (including XHTML, CSS, PNG, XLink, RDF/XML, SVG, and SMIL animation). In this scenario, the representation data format is XHTML. While interpreting the XHTML representation data, the browser retrieves and displays weather maps identified by URIs within the XHTML.

The following illustration shows the relationship between identifier, resource, and representation.

A resource (Oaxaca Weather Info) is identified by a particular URI and is represented by pseudo-HTML content

In the remainder of this document, we highlight important architectural points regarding Web identifiers, protocols, and formats.

1.1. About this Document

This document describes the properties we desire of the Web and the design choices that have been made to achieve them.

This document promotes re-use of existing standards when suitable, and gives guidance on how to innovate in a manner consistent with the Web architecture.

The terms MUST, MUST NOT, SHOULD, SHOULD NOT, and MAY are used in the principles, constraints, and good practice notes in accordance with RFC 2119 [RFC2119]. However, this document does not include conformance provisions for these reasons:

1.1.1. Audience of this Document

This document is intended to inform discussions about issues of Web architecture. The intended audience for this document includes:

  1. Participants in W3C Activities; i.e., designers of Web technologies and specifications in W3C
  2. Other groups and individuals designing technologies to be integrated into the Web
  3. Implementers of W3C specifications
  4. Web content authors and publishers

Readers will benefit from familiarity with the Requests for Comments (RFC) series from the IETF, some of which define pieces of the architecture discussed in this document.

Note: This document does not distinguish in any formal way the terms "language" and "format." Context determines which term is used. The phrase "specification designer" encompasses language, format, and protocol designers.

1.1.2. Scope of this Document

This document presents the general architecture of the Web. Other groups inside and outside W3C also address specialized aspects of Web architecture, including accessibility, internationalization, device independence, and Web Services. The section on Architectural Specifications includes references.

This document strikes a balance between brevity and precision while including illustrative examples. TAG findings are informational documents that complement the current document by providing more detail about selected topics. This document includes some excerpts from the findings. Since the findings evolve independently, this document also includes references to approved TAG findings. For other TAG issues covered by this document but without an approved finding, references are to entries in the TAG issues list.

Many of the examples in this document involve human activity suppose the familiar Web interaction model where a person follows a link via a user agent, the user agent retrieves and presents data, the user follows another link, etc. This document does not discuss in any detail other interaction models such as voice browsing. For instance, when a graphical user agent running on a laptop computer or hand-held device encounters an error, the user agent can report errors directly to the user through visual and audio cues, and present the user with options for resolving the errors. On the other hand, when someone is browsing the Web through voice input and audio-only output, stopping the dialog to wait for user input may reduce usability since it is so easy to "lose one's place" when browsing with only audio-output. This document does not discuss how the principles, constraints, and good practices identified here apply in all interaction contexts.

1.1.3. Principles, Constraints, and Good Practice Notes

The important points of this document are categorized as follows:

An architectural principle is a fundamental rule that applies to a large number of situations and variables. Architectural principles include "separation of concerns", "generic interface", "self-descriptive syntax," "visible semantics," "network effect" (Metcalfe's Law), and Amdahl's Law: "The speed of a system is limited by its slowest component."
In the design of the Web, some design choices, like the names of the p and li elements in HTML, or the choice of the colon (:) character in URIs, are somewhat arbitrary; if paragraph had been chosen instead of p or asterisk (*) instead of colon, the large-scale result would, most likely, have been the same. Other design choices are more fundamental; these are the focus of this document. Design choices can lead to constraints, i.e., restrictions in behavior or interaction within the system. Constraints may be imposed for technical, policy, or other reasons to achieve certain properties of the system, such as accessibility and global scope, and non-functional properties, such as relative ease of evolution, re-usability of components, efficiency, and dynamic extensibility.
Good practice
Good practice — by software developers, content authors, site managers, users, and specification designers — increases the value of the Web.

This categorization is derived from Roy Fielding's work on "Representational State Transfer" [REST].

1.2. General Architecture Principles

A number of general architecture principles apply to all three bases of Web architecture.

1.2.1. Independent Specifications

Identification, interaction, and representation are independent (or, "orthogonal", or "loosely coupled") concepts:

  • one identifies a resource with a URI. One may publish and use a URI without building any representations of the resource or determining whether any representations are available.
  • a generic URI syntax allows agents to function in many cases without knowing specifics of URI schemes.
  • in many cases one may change the representation of a resource without disrupting references to the resource.

Independence of specifications facilitates a flexible design that can evolve over time. For example, one may refer to an image with a URI without worrying about the format chosen to represent the image. This independence has allowed the introduction of image formats such as PNG and SVG without disrupting references to image resources.

Independent abstractions benefit from independent specifications. Specifications should clearly indicate those features that simultaneously access information from otherwise independent abstractions. For example a specification should draw attention to a feature that requires information from both the header and the body of a message.

Although the HTTP, HTML, and URI specifications are independent for the most part, they are not completely independent. Experience demonstrates that where they are not, problems have arisen:

  • The HTML specification includes a protocol extension of sorts: it specifies how a user agent sends HTML form data to a server (as a URI query string). The design works reasonably well, although there are limitations related to internationalization (see the TAG finding "URIs, Addressability, and the use of HTTP GET and POST") and the query string design impinges on the server design. Software developers (for example, of [CGI] applications) might have an easier time finding the specification if it were published separately and then cited from the HTTP, URI, and HTML specifications.
  • The HTML specification allows content providers to instruct HTTP servers to build response headers from META element instances. This is an abstraction violation; the software developer community would benefit from being able to find all HTTP headers from the HTTP specification (including any associated extension registries and specification updates per IETF process). Perhaps as a result, this feature of the HTML specification is not widely deployed. Furthermore, this design has led to confusion in user agent development. The HTML specification states that META in conjunction with http-equiv is intended for HTTP servers, but many HTML user agents interpret http-equiv='refresh' as a client-side instruction.
  • Some content authors use the META/http-equiv approach to declare the character encoding scheme of an HTML document. By design, this is a hint that an HTTP server should emit a corresponding "Content-Type" header field. In practice, the use of the hint in servers is not widely deployed. Furthermore, many user agents use this information to override the "Content-Type" header sent by the server. This works against the principle of authoritative representation metadata.

1.2.2. Extensibility

The information in the Web and the technologies used to represent that information change over time. Some examples of successful technologies designed to allow change while minimizing disruption include:

  • the fact that URI schemes are independently specified;
  • the use of an open set of Internet media types in mail and HTTP to specify document interpretation;
  • the separation of the generic XML grammar and the open set of XML namespaces for element and attribute names;
  • extensibility models in Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), XSLT 1.0, and SOAP;
  • user agent plug-ins.

Below we discuss the property of "extensibility," exhibited by URIs and some data and message formats, which promotes technology evolution and interoperability.

Language subset: one language is a subset (or, "profile") of a second language if any document in the first language is also a valid document in the second language and has the same interpretation in the second language.

Language extension: one language is an extension of a second language if the second is a language subset of the first (thus, the extension is a superset). Clearly, creating an language extension is better for interoperability than creating an incompatible language.

Ideally, many instances of a superset language can be safely and usefully processed as though they were in the language subset. Languages that exhibit this property are said to be "extensible." Language designers can facilitate extensibility by defining how implementations must handle unknown extensions -- for example, that they be ignored (in some way) or should be considered errors.

For example, from early on in the Web, HTML agents followed the convention of ignoring unknown elements. This choice left room for innovation (i.e., non-standard elements) and encouraged the deployment of HTML. However, interoperability problems arose as well. In this type of environment, there is an inevitable tension between interoperability in the short term and the desire for extensibility. Experience shows that designs that strike the right balance between allowing change and preserving interoperability are more likely to thrive and are less likely to disrupt the Web community. Independent specifications help reduce the risk of disruption.

For further discussion, see the section on versioning and extensibility. See also TAG issue xmlProfiles-29.

1.2.3. Error Handling

Errors occur in networked information systems. The manner in which they are dealt with depends on application context. A user agent acts on behalf of the user and therefore is expected to help the user understand the nature of errors, and possibly overcome them. User agents that correct errors without the consent of the user are not acting on the user's behalf.

Principle: Error recovery

Agent recovery from error without user consent is harmful.

Consent does not necessarily imply that the receiving agent must interrupt the user and require selection of one option or another. The user may indicate through pre-selected configuration options, modes, or selectable user interface toggles, with appropriate reporting to the user when the agent detects an error.

To promote interoperability, specification designers should set expectations about behavior in the face of known error conditions. Experience has led to the following observations about error-handling approaches.

  • Protocol designers should provide enough information about the error condition so that an agent can address the error condition. For instance, an HTTP 404 message ("resource not found") is useful because it allows user agents to present relevant information to users, enabling them to contact the representation provider in case of problems.
  • Experience with the cost of building a user agent to handle the diverse forms of ill-formed HTML content convinced the designers of the XML specification to require that agents fail upon encountering ill-formed content. Because users are unlikely to tolerate such failures, this design choice has pressured all parties into respecting XML's constraints, to the benefit of all.
  • An agent that encounters unrecognized content may handle it in a number of ways, including as an error; see also the section on extensibility and versioning.
  • Error behavior that is appropriate for a person may not be appropriate for software. People are capable of exercising judgement in ways that software applications generally cannot. An informal error response may suffice for a person but not for a processor.

See the TAG issues contentTypeOverride-24 and errorHandling-20.

1.2.4. Protocol-based Interoperability

The Web follows Internet tradition in that its important interfaces are defined in terms of protocols, by specifying the syntax, semantics, and sequence of the messages interchanged. The technology shared among Web agents lasts longer than the agents themselves.

It is common for programmers working with the Web to write code that generates and parses these messages directly. It is less common, but not unusual, for end users to have direct exposure to these messages. It is often desirable to provide users with access to format and protocol details: allowing them to "view source," whereby they may gain expertise in the workings of the underlying system.

2. Identification

Parties who wish to communicate effectively must agree (to a reasonable extent) upon a shared set of identifiers and on their meanings. The ability to use common identifiers across communities motivates global identifiers in Web architecture. Thus, Uniform Resource Identifiers ([URI], currently being revised) which are global identifiers in the context of the Web, are central to Web architecture.

Constraint: Identify with URIs

The identification mechanism for the Web is the URI.

A URI must be assigned to a resource in order for agents to be able to refer to the resource. It follows that a resource should be assigned a URI if a third party might reasonably want to link to it, make or refute assertions about it, retrieve or cache a representation of it, include all or part of it by reference into another representation, annotate it, or perform other operations on it. Formats that allow content authors to use URIs instead of local identifiers foster the "network effect": the value of these formats grows with the size of the deployed Web.

Resources exist before URIs; a resource may be identified by zero URIs. However, there are many benefits to assigning a URI to a resource, including linking, bookmarking, caching, and indexing by search engines. Software developers should expect that it will prove useful to be able to share a URI across applications, even if that utility is not initially evident.

The scope of a URI is global; the resource identified by a URI does not depend on the context in which the URI appears (see also the section about URIs in other roles). Of course, what an agent does with a URI may vary. The TAG finding "URIs, Addressability, and the use of HTTP GET and POST" discusses additional benefits and considerations of URI addressability.

Principle: URI assignment

One should assign a URI to anything that others will expect to refer to.

This principle dates back at least as far as Douglas Engelbart's seminal work on open hypertext systems; see section Every Object Addressable in [Eng90].

2.1. URI Comparisons

The most straightforward way of establishing that two parties are referring to the same resource is to compare, character-by-character, the URIs they are using. Two URIs that are identical (character for character) refer to the same resource. However, Web architecture allows people to assign more than one URI to a resource.

Constraint: URI multiplicity

Web architecture does not constrain a resource to be identified by a single URI.

Consequently, two URIs that are not identical (character for character) can still refer to the same resource (i.e., they do not necessarily refer to different resources).

To reduce the risk of a false negative comparison (i.e., an incorrect conclusion that two URIs do not refer to the same resource) or a false positive comparison (i.e., an incorrect conclusion that two URIs do refer to the same resource), certain specifications license applications to apply tests in addition to character-by-character comparison. For example, for "http" URIs, the authority component (the part after "//" and before the next "/") is defined to be case-insensitive. Thus, the "http" URI specification licenses applications to conclude that authority components in two "http" URIs are equivalent when those strings are character-by-character equivalent or differ only by case. By following the "http" URI specification, agents are licensed to conclude that "http://Weather.Example.Com/Oaxaca" and "http://weather.example.com/Oaxaca" identify the same resource.

Agents that reach conclusions based on comparisons that are not licensed by relevant specifications take responsibility for any problems that result. Agents should not assume, for example, that "http://weather.example.com/Oaxaca" and "http://weather.example.com/OAXACA" identify the same resource, since none of the specifications involved states that the path component of an "http" URI is case-insensitive.

Section 6 [URI] provides more information about comparing URIs and reducing the risk of false negatives and positives. See the section below on approaches other than string comparison that allow different parties to assert that two URIs identify the same resource.

2.1.1. URI Aliases

There are many benefits to ensuring that software can determine, by following specifications, that two URIs refer to the same resource. URI producers should be conservative about the number of different URIs they produce for the same resource, especially when software cannot determine the equivalence of those URIs. For example, the parties responsible for weather.example.com should not use both "http://weather.example.com/Oaxaca" and "http://weather.example.com/oaxaca" to refer to the same resource; software will not detect the equivalence relationship by following specifications.

Good practice: Avoiding URI aliases

A URI owner should not create arbitrarily different URIs for the same resource.

There may, of course, be good reasons for creating similar-looking URIs. For instance, one might reasonably create URIs that begin with "http://www.example.com/tempo" and "http://www.example.com/tiempo" to provide access to resources by users who speak Italian and Spanish.

Likewise, URI consumers should ensure URI consistency. For instance, when transcribing a URI, agents should not gratuitously escape characters. The term "character" refers to URI characters as defined in section 2 of [URI].

Good practice: Consistent URI usage

If a URI has been assigned to a resource, agents SHOULD refer to the resource using the same URI, character for character.

When a URI alias does become common currency, the URI owner should use protocol techniques such as server-side redirects to connect the two resources. The community benefits when the URI owner supports both the "unofficial" URI and the alias.

2.2. URI Overloading

At times, different agents intentionally or unintentionally use the same URI to identify different resources. URI overloading refers to the use, in the context of Web protocols and formats, of one URI to refer to more than one resource. Just as promoting a shared vocabulary has tangible value, overloading often imposes a cost in communication.

Suppose that one organization uses a URI on their site to refer to the movie "The Sting", and another organization uses the same URI to refer to a resource that talks about "The Sting." Inconsistent use of the URI creates confusion about what the URI identifies. In many contexts, inconsistent use may not lead to error or cause harm. However, in some contexts such as the Semantic Web, software relies on consistent use of URIs. If one wanted to talk about the creation date of the resource identified by the URI, for instance, it would not be clear whether this meant "when the movie created" or "when the resource about the movie was created."

Good practice: Avoiding URI Overloading

Avoid URI overloading.

The section below on URI ownership examines approaches for establishing the authoritative source of information about what resource a URI identifies.

2.2.1. URIs in other Roles

In Web architecture, URIs identify resources. Outside the context of Web architecture specifications, URIs can be useful for other purposes, for example, as database keys. For instance, the organizers of a conference might use "mailto:nadia@example.com" to refer to Nadia. While this usage is not licensed by Web architecture specifications, in the context of the conference, all parties may agree to that local policy and understand one another. Certain properties of URIs, such as their potential for global uniqueness, make them appealing as general-purpose identifiers. In the Web architecture, "mailto:nadia@example.com" identifies an Internet mailbox; that is what is licensed by the "mailto" URI scheme specification. The fact that the URI serves other purposes in non-Web contexts does not lead to URI overloading. URI overloading arises when a URI is used to identify two different resources within the context of Web protocols and formats.

2.3. URI Ownership

The requirement that URIs not be overloaded (explained below) demands that different agents do not assign the same URI to different resources. URI scheme specifications assure this using a variety of techniques, including:

The approach taken for the "http" URI scheme follows the pattern whereby the Internet community delegates authority, via the IANA URI scheme registry [IANASchemes] and the DNS, over a set of URIs with a common prefix to one particular owner. One consequence of this approach is the Web's heavy reliance on the central DNS registry.

Except when a URI is constructed from a checksum, all of the techniques seek to establish a unique relationship between a social entity and a URI. This relationship is called URI ownership. In this document, the phrase "authority responsible for domain X" indicates that the same entity owns those URIs where the authority component is domain X. This document does not address how the benefits and responsibilities of URI ownership may be delegated to other parties (e.g., to individuals managing an HTTP server).

A URI owner may provide representations of the resource identified by the URI upon request. When the HTTP protocol is used to provide representations, the HTTP origin server (defined in [RFC2616]) is the software agent acting on behalf of the URI owner. The URI owner has a privileged position in the Web architecture as the entity that assigns authoritative metadata to such representations; see the section on authoritative metadata for more information. There are also social expectations for responsible representation management by URI owners. Additional social implications of URI ownership are not discussed here. However, the success or failure of these different approaches depends on the extent to which there is consensus in the Internet community on abiding by the defining specifications.

2.4. URI Schemes

In the URI "http://weather.example.com/", the "http" that appears before the colon (":") names a URI scheme. Each URI scheme has a normative specification that explains how identifiers are assigned within that scheme. The URI syntax is thus a federated and extensible naming mechanism wherein each scheme's specification may further restrict the syntax and semantics of identifiers within that scheme.

Examples of URIs from various schemes include:

While the Web architecture allows the definition of new schemes, introducing a new scheme is costly. Many aspects of URI processing are scheme-dependent, and a significant amount of deployed software already processes URIs of well-known schemes. Introducing a new URI scheme requires the development and deployment not only of client software to handle the scheme, but also of ancillary agents such as gateways, proxies, and caches. See [RFC2718] for other considerations and costs related to URI scheme design.

Because of these costs, if a URI scheme exists that meets the needs of an application, designers should use it rather than invent one.

Good practice: New URI schemes

A specification SHOULD NOT introduce a new URI scheme when an existing scheme provides the desired properties of identifiers and their relation to resources.

Consider our travel scenario: should the agent providing information about the weather in Oaxaca register a new URI scheme "weather" for the identification of resources related to the weather? They might then publish URIs such as "weather://travel.example.com/oaxaca". When a software agent dereferences such a URI, if what really happens is that HTTP GET is invoked to retrieve a representation of the resource, then an "http" URI would have sufficed.

If the motivation behind registering a new scheme is to allow a software agent to launch a particular application when retrieving a representation, such dispatching can be accomplished at lower expense via Internet media types. When designing a new data format, the appropriate mechanism to promote its deployment on the Web is the Internet media type.

Note that even if an agent cannot process representation data in an unknown format, it can at least retrieve it. The data may contain enough information to allow a user or user agent to make some use of it. When an agent does not handle a new URI scheme, it cannot retrieve a representation.

2.4.1. URI Scheme Registration

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) maintains a registry [IANASchemes] of mappings between URI scheme names and scheme specifications. For instance, the IANA registry indicates that the "http" scheme is defined in [RFC2616]. The process for registering a new URI scheme is defined in [RFC2717].

The use of unregistered URI schemes is discouraged for a number of reasons:

  • There is no generally accepted way to locate the scheme specification.
  • Someone else may be using the scheme for other purposes.
  • One should not expect that general-purpose software will do anything useful with URIs of this scheme beyond URI comparison; the network effect is lost.

Note: Some URI scheme specifications (such as the "ftp" URI scheme specification) use the term "designate" where the current document uses "identify."

TAG issue siteData-36 is about expropriation of naming authority.

2.5. URI Opacity

It is tempting to guess the nature of a resource by inspection of a URI that identifies it. However, the Web is designed so that agents communicate resource state through representations, not identifiers. In general, one cannot determine the Internet media type of representations of a resource by inspecting a URI for that resource. For example, the ".html" at the end of "http://example.com/page.html" provides no guarantee that representations of the identified resource will be served with the Internet media type "text/html". The HTTP protocol does not constrain the Internet media type based on the path component of the URI; the URI owner is free to configure the server to return a representation using PNG or any other data format.

Resource state may evolve over time. Requiring a URI owner to publish a new URI for each change in resource state would lead to a significant number of broken links. For robustness, Web architecture promotes independence between an identifier and the identified resource.

Good practice: URI opacity

Agents making use of URIs MUST NOT attempt to infer properties of the referenced resource except as licensed by relevant specifications.

The example URI used in the travel scenario ("http://weather.example.com/oaxaca") suggests that the identified resource has something to do with the weather in Oaxaca. A site reporting the weather in Oaxaca could just as easily be identified by the URI "http://vjc.example.com/315". And the URI "http://weather.example.com/vancouver" might identify the resource "my photo album."

On the other hand, the URI "mailto:joe@example.com" indicates that the URI refers to a mailbox. The "mailto" URI scheme specification authorizes agents to infer that URIs of this form identify Internet mailboxes.

In some cases, relevant technical specifications license URI assignment authorities to publish assignment policies. For more information about URI opacity, see TAG issue metaDataInURI-31.

2.6. Fragment Identifiers


When navigating within the XHTML data that Nadia receives as a representation of the resource identified by "http://weather.example.com/oaxaca", Nadia finds that the URI "http://weather.example.com/oaxaca#tom" refers to information about tomorrow's weather in Oaxaca. This URI includes the fragment identifier "tom" (the string after the "#").

The fragment identifier component of a URI allows indirect identification of a secondary resource by reference to a primary resource and additional identifying information. The secondary resource may be some portion or subset of the primary resource, some view on representations of the primary resource, or some other resource defined or described by those representations. The interpretation of fragment identifiers is discussed in the section on media types and fragment identifier semantics.

See TAG issues abstractComponentRefs-37 and DerivedResources-43.

2.7. Future Directions for Identifiers

There remain open questions regarding identifiers on the Web. The following sections identify a few areas of future work in the Web community.

2.7.1. Internationalized Identifiers

The integration of internationalized identifiers (i.e., composed of characters beyond those allowed by [URI]) into the Web architecture is an important and open issue. See TAG issue IRIEverywhere-27 for discussion about work going on in this area.

2.7.2. Assertion that Two URIs Identify the Same Resource

Emerging Semantic Web technologies, including the "Web Ontology Language (OWL)" [OWL10], define RDF [RDF10] properties such as sameAs to assert that two URIs identify the same resource or functionalProperty to imply it.

One consequence of this direction is that URIs syntactically different can be used to identify the same resource. This means that multiple parties may create representations of the (same) resource, all available for retrieval using multiple URIs. A URI owner's rights (e.g., to provide authoritative representation metadata) extend only to the representations served for requests given that URI.

Note also that to URIs that are sameAs one another does not mean they are interchangeable. For instance, suppose that two different organizations own the URIs "http://weather.example.org/stations/oaxaca#ws17a" and "http://weather.example.com/rdfdump?region=oaxaca&station=ws17a". The URIs might both identify the same resource, a certain collection of weather-measuring equipment shared by the two organizations. Although the URIs might be declared "owl:sameAs" each other, the two URI owners might provide very different content when the URIs are dereferenced.

3. Interaction

Communication between agents over a network about resources involves URIs, messages, and data.


Nadia follows a hypertext link labeled "satellite image" expecting to retrieve a satellite photo of the Oaxaca region. The link to the satellite image is an XHTML link encoded as <a href="http://example.com/satimage/oaxaca">satellite image</a>. Nadia's browser analyzes the URI and determines that its scheme is "http". The browser configuration determines how it locates the identified information, which might be via a cache of prior retrieval actions, by contacting an intermediary (such as a proxy server), or by direct access to the server identified by a portion of the URI. In this example, the browser opens a network connection to port 80 on the server at "example.com" and sends a "GET" message as specified by the HTTP protocol, requesting a representation of the resource identified by "/satimage/oaxaca".

The server sends a response message to the browser, once again according to the HTTP protocol. The message consists of several headers and a JPEG image. The browser reads the headers, learns from the "Content-Type" field that the Internet media type of the representation is "image/jpeg", reads the sequence of octets that make up the representation data, and renders the image.

This section describes the architectural principles and constraints regarding interactions between agents, including such topics as network protocols and interaction styles, along with interactions between the Web as a system and the people that make use of it. The fact that the Web is a highly distributed system affects architectural constraints and assumptions about interactions.

See the related TAG issue httpRange-14.

3.1. Using a URI to Access a Resource

Agents may use a URI to access the referenced resource; this is called dereferencing the URI. Access may take many forms, including retrieving a representation of the state of the resource (for instance, by using HTTP GET or HEAD), adding or modifying a representation of the state of the resource (for instance, by using HTTP POST or PUT, which in some cases may change the actual state of the resource if the submitted representations are interpreted as instructions to that end), and deleting some or all representations of the state of the resource (for instance, by using HTTP DELETE, which in some cases may result in the deletion of the resource itself).

There may be more than one way to access a resource for a given URI; application context determines which access mechanism an agent uses. For instance, a browser might use HTTP GET to retrieve a representation of a resource, whereas a link checker might use HTTP HEAD on the same URI simply to establish whether a representation is available. Some URI schemes set expectations about available access mechanisms, others (such as the URN scheme [RFC 2141]) do not. Section 1.2.2 of [URI] discusses the separation of identification and interaction in more detail. For more information about relationships between multiple access mechanisms and URI addressability, see the TAG finding "URIs, Addressability, and the use of HTTP GET and POST".

Although many URI schemes are named after protocols, this does not imply that use of such a URI will necessarily result in access to the resource via the named protocol. Even when an agent uses a URI to retrieve a representation, that access might be through gateways, proxies, caches, and name resolution services that are independent of the protocol associated with the scheme name.

Dereferencing a URI generally involves a succession of steps as described in multiple independent specifications and implemented by the agent. The following example illustrates the series of specifications that are involved when a user instructs a user agent to follow a hypertext link that is part of an SVG document. In this example, the URI is "http://weather.example.com/oaxaca" and the application context calls for the user agent to retrieve and render a representation of the identified resource.

  1. Since the URI is part of a hypertext link in an SVG document, the first relevant specification is the SVG 1.1 Recommendation [SVG11]. Section 17.1 of this specification imports the link semantics defined in XLink 1.0 [XLink10]: "The remote resource (the destination for the link) is defined by a URI specified by the XLink href attribute on the 'a' element." The SVG specification goes on to state that interpretation of an a element involves retrieving a representation of a resource, identified by the href attribute in the XLink namespace: "By activating these links (by clicking with the mouse, through keyboard input, voice commands, etc.), users may visit these resources."
  2. The XLink 1.0 [XLink10] specification, which defines the href attribute in section 5.4, states that "The value of the href attribute must be a URI reference as defined in [IETF RFC 2396], or must result in a URI reference after the escaping procedure described below is applied."
  3. The URI specification [URI] states that "Each URI begins with a scheme name that refers to a specification for assigning identifiers within that scheme." The URI scheme name in this example is "http".
  4. [IANASchemes] states that the "http" scheme is defined by the HTTP/1.1 specification (RFC 2616 [RFC2616], section 3.2.2).
  5. In this SVG context, the agent constructs an HTTP GET request (per section 9.3 of [RFC2616]) to retrieve the representation.
  6. Section 6 of [RFC2616] defines how the server constructs a corresponding response message, including the 'Content-Type' field.
  7. Section 1.4 of [RFC2616] states "HTTP communication usually takes place over TCP/IP connections." This example does not address that step in the process, or other steps such as Domain Name System (DNS) resolution.
  8. The agent interprets the returned representation according to the data format specification that corresponds to the representation's Internet Media Type (the value of the HTTP 'Content-Type') in the relevant IANA registry [MEDIATYPEREG].

3.2. Messages and Representations

The Web's protocols (including HTTP, FTP, SOAP, NNTP, and SMTP) are based on the exchange of messages. A message may include representation data as well as metadata about the resource (such as the "Alternates" and "Vary" HTTP headers), the representation, and the message itself (such as the "Transfer-encoding" HTTP header). A message may even include metadata about the message metadata (for message-integrity checks, for instance).

Two important classes of message are those that request a representation of a resource, and those that return the result of such a request. Such a response message (for example, a response to an HTTP GET) includes a representation of the resource. A representation is an octet sequence that consists logically of two parts:

  1. Representation data, data about resource state, expressed in one or more formats used separately or in combination, and
  2. Representation metadata. One important piece of metadata is the Internet media type, discussed below.

Agents use representations to modify as well as retrieve resource state. Note that even though the response to an HTTP POST request may contain the above types of data, the response to an HTTP POST request is not necessarily a representation of the resource identified in the POST request.

3.3. Internet Media Type

The Internet media type [RFC2046]) of a representation determines which data format specification(s) provide the authoritative interpretation of the representation data (including fragment identifier syntax and semantics, if any). The IANA registry [MEDIATYPEREG] maps media types to data formats.

See the TAG finding "Internet media type registration, consistency of use" for more information about media type registration.

3.3.1. Media Types and Fragment Identifier Semantics


In one of his XHTML pages, Dirk links to an image that Nadia has published on the Web. He creates a hypertext link with <a href="http://www.example.com/images/nadia#hat">Nadia's hat</a>. Nadia serves an SVG representation of the image (with Internet media type "image/svg+xml"), so the authoritative interpretation of the fragment identifier "hat" depends on the SVG specification.

Per [URI], given a URI "U#F", and a representation retrieved by dereferencing URI "U" (which is authoritative), the (secondary) resource identified by "U#F" is determined by interpreting "F" according to the specification associated with the Internet media type of the representation data. Thus, in the case of Dirk and Nadia, the authoritative interpretation of the fragment identifier is given by the SVG specification, not the XHTML specification (i.e., the context where the URI appears).

The semantics of a fragment identifier are defined by the set of representations that might result from a retrieval action on the primary resource. The fragment's format and resolution is therefore dependent on the media type [RFC2046] of a potentially retrieved representation, even though such a retrieval is only performed if the URI is dereferenced. If no such representation exists, then the semantics of the fragment are considered unknown and, effectively, unconstrained. Fragment identifier semantics are independent of the URI scheme and thus cannot be redefined by URI scheme specifications.

Interpretation of the fragment identifier during a retrieval action is performed solely by the agent; the fragment identifier is not passed to other systems during the process of retrieval. This means that some intermediaries in the Web architecture (such as proxies) have no interaction with fragment identifiers and that redirection (in HTTP [RFC2616], for example) does not account for them. Note also that since dereferencing a URI (e.g., using HTTP) does not involve sending a fragment identifier to a server or other agent, certain access methods (e.g., HTTP PUT, POST, and DELETE) cannot be used to interact with secondary resources.

As with any URI, use of a fragment identifier component does not imply that a retrieval action will take place. A URI with a fragment identifier may be used to refer to the secondary resource without any implication that the primary resource is accessible or will ever be accessed. One may compare URIs with fragment identifiers without a retrieval action. Parties that draw conclusions about the interpretation of a fragment identifier without retrieving a representation do so at their own risk; such interpretations are not authoritative.

3.3.2. Fragment Identifiers and Multiple Representations


Dirk informs Nadia that he would also like her to make her images available in formats other than SVG. For the same resource, Nadia makes available a PNG image as well. Dirk's user agent and Nadia's server negotiate so that the user agent retrieves a suitable representation. Which specification specifies the authoritative interpretation of the "hat" fragment identifier, the PNG specification or the SVG specification?

For a given resource, an agent may have the choice between representation data in more than one data format (through HTTP content negotiation, for example). Individual data formats may define their own restrictions on, or structure within, the fragment identifier syntax for specifying different types of subsets, views, or external references that are identifiable as secondary resources by that media type. If the primary resource has multiple representations, as is often the case for resources whose representation is selected based on attributes of the retrieval request ("content negotiation"), then whatever is identified by the fragment should be consistent across all of those representations: each representation should either define the fragment such that it corresponds to the same secondary resource, regardless of how it is represented, or the fragment should be left undefined by the representation (i.e., not found).

Suppose, for example, that the owner of "http://weather.example.com/oaxaca/map#zicatela" provides representations of the resource identified by http://weather.example.com/oaxaca/map using three image formats: SVG, PNG, and JPEG/JFIF. The SVG specification defines semantics for fragment identifiers while the other specifications do not. It is not considered an error that only one of the data formats specifies semantics for the fragment identifier. Because the Web is a distributed system in which formats and agents are deployed in a non-uniform manner, the architecture allows this sort of discrepancy. This design allows content authors to take advantage of new data formats while still ensuring reasonable backward-compatibility for users whose agents do not yet implement them.

Good practice: Fragment identifier consistency

The owner of a URI with a fragment identifier who uses content negotiation to serve multiple representations of the identified resource SHOULD NOT serve representations with inconsistent fragment identifier semantics.

URI overloading is one possible consequence of inconsistent fragment identifier semantics.

See related TAG issues httpRange-14 and RDFinXHTML-35.

3.4. Authoritative Representation Metadata

Successful communication between two parties using a piece of information relies on shared understanding of the meaning of the information. Arbitrary numbers of independent parties can identify and communicate about a resource. To give these parties the confidence that they are all talking about the same thing when they refer to "the resource identified by the following URI ..." the design choice for the Web is, in general, that metadata provided by a message sender is authoritative. When a message is a response to a request for a representation of a resource identified by a given URI, the representation metadata provided by the owner of that URI is authoritative for that representation data.

In our travel scenario, the owner of "http://weather.example.com/oaxaca" provides the authoritative metadata for representations retrieved for that URI. Precisely which representation(s) Nadia receives depends on a number of factors, including:

  1. Whether the authority responsible for "weather.example.com" responds to requests at all;
  2. Whether the authority responsible for "weather.example.com" makes available one or more representations for the resource identified by "http://weather.example.com/oaxaca";
  3. Whether Nadia has access privileges to such representations (see the section on linking and access control);
  4. If the authority responsible for "weather.example.com" has provided more than one representation (in different formats such as HTML, PNG, or RDF; in different languages such as English and Spanish; or transformed dynamically according to the hardware or software capabilities of the recipient), the resulting representation may depend on negotiation between the user agent and server that occurs as part of the HTTP transaction.
  5. When Nadia made the request. Since the weather in Oaxaca changes, Nadia should expect that representations will change over time.

Note that the choice and expressive power of a format can affect how precisely a representation provider communicates resource state. The use of natural language to communicate resource state may lead to ambiguity about what the associated resource is. This ambiguity can in turn lead to URI overloading.

See TAG issues contentTypeOverride-24 and rdfURIMeaning-39.

3.4.1. Inconsistencies between Metadata and Representation Data

Inconsistencies between the data format of representation data and assigned representation metadata do occur. Examples that have been observed in practice include:

  • The actual character encoding of a representation (e.g., "iso-8859-1", specified by the encoding attribute in an XML declaration) is inconsistent with the charset parameter in the representation metadata (e.g., "utf-8", specified by the 'Content-Type' field in an HTTP header).
  • The namespace of the root element of XML representation data (e.g., as specified by the "xmlns" attribute) is inconsistent with the value of the 'Content-Type' field in an HTTP header.

Agents should detect such inconsistencies but should not resolve them without the consent of the user; see the section on error handling for more information.

Principle: Authoritative metadata

Agents MUST NOT ignore authoritative metadata without the consent of the user.

Thus, for example, if the parties responsible for "weather.example.com" mistakenly label the satellite photo of Oaxaca as "image/gif" instead of "image/jpeg", and if Nadia's browser detects a problem, Nadia's browser must not ignore the problem (e.g., by simply rendering the JPEG image) without Nadia's consent. Nadia's browser can notify Nadia of the problem or notify Nadia and take corrective action. Of course, user agent developers should not ignore usability issues when handling this type of error; notification may be discreet, and handling may be tuned to meet the user's preferences. See the TAG finding "Client handling of MIME headers" for more in-depth discussion and examples.

Furthermore, representation providers can help reduce the risk of error through careful assignment of representation metadata (especially that which applies across representations). The section on media types for XML presents an example of reducing the risk of error by providing no metadata about character encoding when serving XML.

3.5. Safe Interactions

Nadia's retrieval of weather information (an example of a read-only query or lookup) qualifies as a "safe" interaction; a safe interaction is one where the agent does not incur any obligation beyond the interaction. An agent may incur an obligation through other means (such as by signing a contract). If an agent does not have an obligation before a safe interaction, it does not have that obligation afterwards.

Other Web interactions resemble orders more than queries. These unsafe interactions may cause a change to the state of a resource and the user may be held responsible for the consequences of these interactions. Unsafe interactions include subscribing to a newsletter, posting to a list, or modifying a database. Note: In this context, the word "unsafe" does not mean "dangerous"; the term "safe" is used in section 9.1.1 of [RFC2616] and "unsafe" is the natural opposite.


Nadia decides to book a vacation to Oaxaca at "booking.example.com." She enters data into a series of online forms and is ultimately asked for credit card information to purchase the airline tickets. She provides this information in another form. When she presses the "Purchase" button, her browser opens another network connection to the server at "booking.example.com" and sends a message composed of form data using the POST method. This is an unsafe interaction; Nadia wishes to change the state of the system by exchanging money for airline tickets.

The server reads the POST request, and after performing the booking transaction returns a message to Nadia's browser that contains a representation of the results of Nadia's request. The representation data is in XHTML so that it can be saved or printed out for Nadia's records.

Safe interactions are important because these are interactions where users can browse with confidence and where agents (including search engines and browsers that pre-cache data for the user) can follow links safely. Users (or agents acting on their behalf) do not commit themselves to anything by querying a resource or following a link.

Principle: Safe retrieval

Agents do not incur obligations by retrieving a representation.

For instance, it is incorrect to publish a link that, when followed, subscribes a user to a mailing list. Remember that search engines may follow such links.

For more information about safe and unsafe operations using HTTP GET and POST, and handling security concerns around the use of HTTP GET, see the TAG finding "URIs, Addressability, and the use of HTTP GET and POST".

3.5.1. Unsafe Interactions and Accountability


Nadia pays for her airline tickets online (through a POST interaction as described above). She receives a Web page with confirmation information and wishes to bookmark it so that she can refer to it when she calculates her expenses. Although Nadia can print out the results, or save them to a file, she would also like to bookmark them. Note that neither the data transmitted with the POST nor the data received in the response necessarily correspond to any resource identified by a URI. Although HTTP includes mechanisms to allow representation providers to assign a URI to POST results, the mechanism is not widely deployed. Thus, in practice, Nadia cannot bookmark her commitment to pay (expressed via the POST request) or the airline company's acknowledgment and commitment (expressed via the response to the POST).

It is a breakdown of the Web architecture if agents cannot use URIs to reconstruct a "paper trail" of transaction results, i.e., to refer to receipts and other evidence of accepting an obligation. Indeed, each electronic mail message includes a unique message identifier, one reason why email is so useful for managing accountability (since, for example, email can be copied to public archives). On the other hand, HTTP servers and deployed user agents do not generally keep records of POST transactions, making it difficult for all parties to reconstruct a series of transactions.

There are mechanisms in HTTP, not widely deployed, to remedy this situation. HTTP servers can assign a URI to the results of a POST transaction using the "Content-Location" header (described in section 14.14 of [RFC2616]), and allow authorized parties to retrieve a record of the transaction thereafter via this URI (the value of URI persistence is apparent in this case). User agents can provide an interface for managing transactions where the user agent has incurred an obligation on behalf of the user.

3.6. Representation Management


Since Nadia finds the Oaxaca weather site useful, she emails a review to her friend Dirk recommending that he check out 'http://weather.example.com/oaxaca'. Dirk clicks on the link in the email he receives and is frustrated by a "404 page not found". Dirk tries again the next day and receives a representation with "news" that is two-weeks old. He tries one more time the next day only to receive a representation that claims that the weather in Oaxaca is sunny, even though his friends in Oaxaca tell him by phone that it in fact it is raining (and he trusts them more than he trusts the Web site in question). Dirk and Nadia conclude that the URI owners are unpredictable. Although the URI owner has chosen the Web as a communication medium, they have lost two customers due to ineffective resource management.

The usefulness of a URI depends on good management by its owner. As is the case with many human interactions, confident interactions with a resource depend on stability and predictability. The value of a URI increases with the predictability of interactions using that URI. Avoiding unnecessary URI aliases is one aspect of proper resource management.

Good practice: Consistent representation

A URI owner SHOULD provide representations of the identified resource consistently and predictably.

This section discusses important aspects of representation management.

3.6.1. Representation availability

A URI owner may supply zero or more representations of the resource identified by that URI. That agent is also responsible for accepting or rejecting requests to modify the resource identified by that URI, for example, by configuring a server to accept or reject HTTP PUT data based on Internet media type, validity constraints, or other constraints.

Good practice: Available representation

A URI owner SHOULD provide representations of the identified resource.

For example, the owner of an XML Namespace should provide namespace representations; below we discuss useful characteristics of a namespace representation.

3.6.2. URI Persistence

There are strong social expectations that once a URI identifies a particular resource, it should continue indefinitely to refer to that resource; this is called URI persistence. URI persistence is a matter of policy and commitment on the part of authorities servicing URIs. The choice of a particular URI scheme provides no guarantee that those URIs will be persistent or that they will not be persistent.

Since representations are used to communicate resource state, persistence is directly affected by how well representations are served. Service breakdowns include:

  • Inconsistent representations served. Note the difference between a URI owner changing representations predictably in light of the nature of the resource (the changing weather of Oaxaca) and the URI owner changing representations arbitrarily.
  • Improper use of content negotiation, such as serving two images as equivalent through HTTP content negotiation, where one image represents a square and the other a circle.

HTTP [RFC2616] has been designed to help manage URIs. For example, HTTP redirection (using the 3xx response codes) permits servers to tell an agent that further action needs to be taken by the agent in order to fulfill the request (for example, the resource has been assigned a new URI). In addition, content negotiation also promotes consistency, as a site manager is not required to define new URIs when adding support for a new format specification. Protocols that do not support content negotiation (such as FTP) require a new identifier when a new data format is introduced.

For more discussion about URI persistence, see [Cool].

3.6.3. Linking and Access Control

It is reasonable to limit access to a resource (for commercial or security reasons, for example), but it is unreasonable to prohibit others from merely identifying the resource.

As an analogy: The owners of a building might have a policy that the public may only enter the building via the main front door, and only during business hours. People who work in the building and who make deliveries to it might use other doors as appropriate. Such a policy would be enforced by a combination of security personnel and mechanical devices such as locks and pass-cards. One would not enforce this policy by hiding some of the building entrances, nor by requesting legislation requiring the use of the front door and forbidding anyone to reveal the fact that there are other doors to the building.


Nadia and Dirk both subscribe to the "weather.example.com" newsletter. Nadia wishes to point out an article of particular interest to Dirk, using a URI. The authority responsible for "weather.example.com" can offer newsletter subscribers such as Nadia and Dirk the benefits of URIs (such as bookmarking and linking) and still limit access to the newsletter to authorized parties.

The Web provides several mechanisms to control access to resources; these mechanisms do not rely on hiding or suppressing URIs for those resources. For more information, see the TAG finding "'Deep Linking' in the World Wide Web".

3.7. Future Directions for Interaction

There remain open questions regarding Web interactions. The TAG expects future versions of this document to address in more detail the relationship between the architecture described herein, Web Services, the Semantic Web, peer-to-peer systems (including Freenet, MLdonkey, and NNTP [RFC977]), instant messaging systems (including [XMPP]), and voice-over-IP (including RTSP [RFC2326]).

4. Data Formats

A data format (including XHTML, CSS, PNG, XLink, RDF/XML, and SMIL animation) specifies the interpretation of representation data. The first data format used on the Web was HTML. Since then, data formats have grown in number. The Web architecture does not constrain which data formats content providers can use. This flexibility is important because there is constant evolution in applications, resulting in new data formats and refinements of existing formats. Although the Web architecture allows for the deployment of new data formats, the creation and deployment of new formats (and agents able to handle them) is expensive. Thus, before inventing a new data format, designers should carefully consider re-using one that is already available.

For a data format to be usefully interoperable between two parties, the parties must agree (to a reasonable extent) about its syntax and semantics. Shared understanding of a data format promotes interoperability but does not imply constraints on usage; for instance, a data sender cannot count on being able to constrain the behavior of a data receiver.

Below we describe some characteristics of a data format that facilitate integration into the Web architecture. This document does not address generally beneficial characteristics of a specification such as readability, simplicity, attention to programmer goals, attention to user needs, accessibility, nor internationalization. The section on architectural specifications includes references to additional format specification guidelines.

4.1. Binary and Textual Data Formats

Binary data formats are those in which portions of the data are encoded for direct use by computer processors, for example thirty-two bit little-endian two's-complement and sixty-four bit IEEE double-precision floating-point. The portions of data so represented include numeric values, pointers, and compressed data of all sorts.

A textual data format is one in which the data is specified as a sequence of characters. HTML, Internet e-mail, and all XML-based formats are textual. Increasingly, internationalized textual data formats refer to the Unicode repertoire [UNICODE] for character definitions.

In principle, all data can be represented using textual formats.

The trade-offs between binary and textual data formats are complex and application-dependent. Binary formats can be substantially more compact, particularly for complex pointer-rich data structures. Also, they can be consumed more rapidly by agents in those cases where they can be loaded into memory and used with little or no conversion.

Textual formats are usually more portable and interoperable. Textual formats also have the considerable advantage that they can be directly read and understood by human beings. This can simplify the tasks of creating and maintaining software, and allow the direct intervention of humans in the processing chain without recourse to tools more complex than the ubiquitous text editor. Finally, it simplifies the necessary human task of learning about new data formats; this is called the "view source" effect.

It is important to emphasize that intuition as to such matters as data size and processing speed is not a reliable guide in data format design; quantitative studies are essential to a correct understanding of the trade-offs. Therefore, designers of a data format specification should make a considered choice between binary and textual format design.

Note: Text (i.e., a sequence of characters from a repertoire) is distinct from serving data with a media type beginning with "text/". Although XML-based formats are textual, many XML-based formats do not consist primarily of phrases in natural language. See the section on media types for XML for issues that arise when "text/" is used in conjunction with an XML-based format.

See TAG issue binaryXML-30.

4.2. Versioning and Extensibility

Extensibility and versioning are strategies to help manage the natural evolution of information on the Web and technologies used to represent that information.

For more information about versioning strategies and agent behavior in the face of unrecognized extensions, see TAG issue XMLVersioning-41 and "Web Architecture: Extensible Languages" [EXTLANG].

4.2.1. Versioning

There is typically a (long) transition period during which multiple versions of a format, protocol, or agent are simultaneously in use.

Good practice: Version information

A format specification SHOULD provide for version information in language instances.

4.2.2. Versioning and XML Namespace Policy


Nadia and Dirk are designing an XML data format to encode data about the film industry. They provide for extensibility by using XML namespaces and creating a schema that allows the inclusion, in certain places, of elements from any namespace. When they revise their format, Nadia proposes a new optional "lang" attribute on the "film" element. Dirk feels that such a change requires them to assign a new namespace name, which might require changes to deployed software. Nadia explains to Dirk that their choice of extensibility strategy in conjunction with their namespace policy allows certain changes that do not affect conformance of existing content and software, and thus no change to the namespace identifier is required. They choose this policy to help them meet their goals of reducing the cost of change.

Dirk and Nadia have chosen a particular namespace change policy that allows them to avoid changing the namespace name whenever they make changes that do not affect conformance of deployed content and software. They might have chosen a different policy, for example that any new element or attribute has to belong to a namespace other than the original one. Whatever the chosen policy, it should set clear expectations for users of the format.

Good practice: Namespace policy

A format specification SHOULD include information about change policies for XML namespaces.

As an example of a change policy designed to reflect the variable stability of a namespace, consider the W3C namespace policy for documents on the W3C Recommendation track. The policy sets expectations that the Working Group responsible for the namespace may modify it in any way until a certain point in the process ("Candidate Recommendation") at which point W3C constrains the set of possible changes to the namespace in order to promote stable implementations.

Note that since namespace names are URIs, the owner of a namespace URI has the authority to decide the namespace change policy.

4.2.3. Extensibility

Designers can facilitate the transition process by making careful choices about extensibility during the design of a language or protocol specification.

Good practice: Extensibility mechanisms

A specification SHOULD provide mechanisms that allow any party to create extensions that do not interfere with conformance to the original specification.

Application needs determine the most appropriate extension strategy for a specification. For example, applications designed to operate in closed environments may allow specification designers to define a versioning strategy that would be impractical at the scale of the Web. As part of defining an extensibility mechanism, specification designers should set expectations about agent behavior in the face of unrecognized extensions.

Good practice: Unknown extensions

A specification SHOULD specify agent behavior in the face of unrecognized extensions.

Two strategies have emerged as being particularly useful:

  1. "Must ignore": The agent ignores any content it does not recognize.
  2. "Must understand": The agent treats unrecognized markup as an error condition.

A powerful design approach is for the language to allow either form of extension, but to distinguish explicitly between them in the syntax.

Additional strategies include prompting the user for more input, automatically retrieving data from available links, and falling back to default behavior. More complex strategies are also possible, including mixing strategies. For instance, a language can include mechanisms for overriding standard behavior. Thus, a data format can specify "must ignore" semantics but also allow people to create extensions that override that semantics in light of application needs (for instance, with "must understand" semantics for a particular extension).

Extensibility is not free. Providing hooks for extensibility is one of many requirements to be factored into the costs of language design. Experience suggests that the long term benefits of extensibility generally outweigh the costs.

4.2.4. Composition of Data Formats

Many modern data format include mechanisms for composition. For example:

  • It is possible to embed text comments in some image formats, such as JPEG/JFIF. Although these comments are embedded in the containing data, they have little or no effect on the display of the image.
  • There are container formats such as SOAP which fully expect to be composed from multiple namespaces but which provide an overall semantic relationship of message envelope and payload.
  • RDF allows well-defined mixing of vocabularies, and allows text and XML to be used as a data type values within a statement having clearly defined semantics.

These relationships can be mixed and nested arbitrarily. In principle, a SOAP message can contain an SVG image that contains an RDF comment which refers to a vocabulary of terms for describing the image.

Note however, that for general XML there is no semantic model that defines the interactions within XML documents with elements and/or attributes from a variety of namespaces. Each application must define how namespaces interact and what effect the namespace of an element has on the element's ancestors, siblings, and descendants.

See TAG issues mixedUIXMLNamespace-33, xmlFunctions-34, and RDFinXHTML-35.

4.3. Separation of Content, Presentation, and Interaction

The Web is a heterogeneous environment where a wide variety of agents provide access to content to users with a wide variety of capabilities. It is good practice for authors to create content that can reach the widest possible audience, including users with graphical desktop computers, hand-held devices and mobile phones, users with disabilities who may require speech synthesizers, and devices not yet imagined. Furthermore, authors cannot predict in some cases how an agent will display or process their content. Experience shows that the separation of content, presentation, and interaction promotes the reuse and device-independence of content; his follows from the principle of independent specifications. For more information about principles of device-independence, see [DIPRINCIPLES].

Good practice: Separation of content, presentation, interaction

A specification SHOULD allow authors to separate content from both presentation and interaction concerns.

Note that when content, presentation, and interaction are separated by design, agents need to recombine them. There is a recombination spectrum, with "client does all" at one end and "server does all" at the other. There are advantages to each: recombination on the server allows the server to send out generally smaller amounts of data that can be tailored to specific devices (such as mobile phones). However, such data will not be readily reusable by other clients and may not allow client-side agents to perform useful tasks unanticipated by the author. When a client does the work of recombination, content is likely to be more reusable by a broader audience and more robust. However, such data may be of greater size and may require more computation by the client.

Of course, it may not always be desirable to reach the widest possible audience. Designers should consider appropriate technologies for limiting the audience. For instance digital signature technology, access control, and other technologies are appropriate for controlling access to content.

Some data formats are designed to describe presentation (including SVG and XSL Formatting Objects). Data formats such as these demonstrate that one can only separate content from presentation (or interaction) so far; at some point it becomes necessary to talk about presentation. Per the principle of independent specifications, these data formats should only address presentation issues.

See the TAG issues formattingProperties-19 and contentPresentation-26.

4.4. Hypertext

A defining characteristic of the Web is that it allows embedded references to other resources via URIs. The simplicity of creating links using absolute URIs (<a href="http://www.example.com/foo">) and relative URI references (<a href="foo"> and <a href="foo#anchor">) is partly (perhaps largely) responsible for the birth of the hypertext Web as we know it today.

When one resource (representation) refers to another resource with a URI, this constitutes a link between the two resources. Additional metadata may also form part of the link (see [XLink10], for example).

Good practice: Link mechanisms

A specification SHOULD provide mechanisms for identifying links to other resources and to portions of representation data (via fragment identifiers).

Good practice: Web linking

A specification SHOULD provide mechanisms that allow Web-wide linking, not just internal document linking.

Good practice: Generic URIs

A specification SHOULD allow content authors to use URIs without constraining them to a limited set of URI schemes.

What agents do with a hypertext link is not constrained by Web architecture and may depend on application context. Users of hypertext links expect to be able to navigate links among representations. Data formats that do not allow content authors to create hypertext links lead to the creation of "terminal nodes" on the Web.

Good practice: Hypertext links

A data format SHOULD incorporate hypertext links if hypertext is the expected user interface paradigm.

4.4.1. URI References

Links are commonly expressed using URI references (defined in section 4.2 of [URI]), which may be combined with a base URI to yield a usable URI. Section 5.1 of [URI] explains different mechanisms for establishing a base URI for a resource and establishes a precedence among the various mechanisms. For instance, the base URI may be a URI for the resource, or specified in a representation (see the base elements provided by HTML and XML, and the HTTP 'Content-Location' header). See also the section on links in XML.

Agents resolve a URI reference before using the resulting URI to interact with another agent. URI references help in content management by allowing content authors to design a representation locally, i.e., without concern for which global identifier may later be used to refer to the associated resource.

4.5. XML-Based Data Formats

Many data formats are XML-based, that is to say they conform to the syntax rules defined in the XML specification [XML10]. This section discusses issues that are specific to such formats. Anyone seeking guidance in this area is urged to consult the "Guidelines For the Use of XML in IETF Protocols" [IETFXML], which contains a thorough discussion of the considerations that govern whether or not XML ought to be used, as well as specific guidelines on how it ought to be used. While it is directed at Internet applications with specific reference to protocols, the discussion is generally applicable to Web scenarios as well.

The discussion here should be seen as ancillary to the content of [IETFXML]. Refer also to "XML Accessibility Guidelines" [XAG] for help designing XML formats that lower barriers to Web accessibility for people with disabilities.

4.5.1. When to Use an XML-Based Format

XML defines textual data formats that are naturally suited to describing data objects which are hierarchical and processed in a chosen sequence. It is widely, but not universally, applicable for data formats; an audio or video format, for example, is unlikely to be well suited to expression in XML. Design constraints that would suggest the use of XML include:

  1. Requirement for a hierarchical structure.
  2. The data's usefulness should outlive the tools currently used to process it (though obviously XML can be used for short-term needs as well).
  3. Ability to support internationalization in a self-describing way that makes confusion over coding options unlikely.
  4. Early detection of encoding errors with no requirement to "work around" such errors.
  5. A high proportion of human-readable textual content.
  6. Potential composition of the data format with other XML-encoded formats.

4.5.2. Links in XML

Sophisticated linking mechanisms have been invented for XML formats. XPointer allows links to address content that does not have an explicit, named anchor. XLink is an appropriate specification for representing links in hypertext XML applications. XLink allows links to have multiple ends and to be expressed either inline or in "link bases" stored external to any or all of the resources identified by the links it contains.

Designers of XML-based formats should consider using XLink and, for defining fragment identifier syntax, using the XPointer framework and XPointer element() Schemes.

See TAG issue xlinkScope-23.

4.5.3. XML Namespaces


The authority responsible for "weather.example.com" realizes that it can provide more interesting representations by creating instances that consist of elements defined in different XML-based formats, such as XHTML, SVG, and MathML.

How can one ensure that there are no naming conflicts when elements from different XML-based data formats are mixed? For example, suppose that one designer defines the para element in an XML format to identify paragraphs, and another designer defines the para element in a second format to identify parachutes. "Namespaces in XML" [XMLNS] provides a mechanism for establishing globally unique names.

Specification designers who declare namespaces thus provide a global context for instances of the data format. Establishing this global context allows those instances (and portions thereof) to be re-used and combined in novel ways not yet imagined. Failure to provide a namespace makes such re-use more difficult, perhaps impractical in some cases.

Good practice: Namespace adoption

A specification that establishes an XML vocabulary SHOULD place all element names and global attribute names in a namespace.

Attributes are always scoped by the element on which they appear. An attribute that is "global," that is, one that might meaningfully appear on elements of any type, including elements in other namespaces, should be explicitly placed in a namespace. Local attributes, ones associated with only a particular element type, need not be included in a namespace since their meaning will always be clear from the context provided by that element.

The xsi:type attribute, provided by W3C XML Schema for use in XML instance documents, is an example of a global attribute. It can be used by authors of any vocabulary to make an assertion in instance data about the type of the element on which it appears. The type attribute occurs in the W3C XML Schema namespace "http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema" and must always be fully qualified. The frame attribute on an HTML table is an example of a local attribute. There is no value in placing that attribute in a namespace since the attribute is unlikely to be useful on an element other than an HTML table.

Applications that rely on DTD processing must impose additional constraints on the use of namespaces. DTDs perform validation based on the lexical form of the element and attribute names in the document. This makes prefixes syntactically significant in ways that are not anticipated by [XMLNS].

4.5.4. Namespace Representation


Nadia receives representation data from "weather.example.com" in an unfamiliar data format. She knows enough about XML to recognize which XML namespace the elements belong to. Since the namespace is identified by the URI "http://weather.example.com/2003/format", she asks her browser to retrieve a representation of the namespace via that URI; this is called a .

Nadia gets back some useful data that allows her to learn more about the data format. Nadia's browser may also be able to perform some operations automatically (i.e., unattended by a human overseer) given data that has been optimized for software agents. For example, her browser might, on Nadia's behalf, download additional agents to process and render the format.

There are many reasons to provide information about a namespace. A person might want to:

  • understand its purpose,
  • learn how to use the markup vocabulary in the namespace,
  • find out who controls it,
  • request authority to access schemas or collateral material about it, or
  • report a bug or situation that could be considered an error in some collateral material.

A processor might want to:

  • retrieve a schema, for validation,
  • retrieve a style sheet, for presentation, or
  • retrieve ontologies, for making inferences.

In general, there is no established best practice for creating a namespace representation. Application expectations will influence what data format or formats are used to create a namespace representation. Application expectations will also influence whether relevant information appears in the namespace representation itself or is referenced from it.

Good practice: Namespace representations

The owner of an XML namespace name SHOULD make available material intended for people to read and material optimized for software agents in order to meet the needs of those who will use the namespace vocabulary. When a namespace representation is provided by the namespace URI owner, that material is authoritative.

For example, the following are examples of formats used to create namespace representations: [OWL10], [RDDL], [XMLSCHEMA], and [XHTML11]. Each of these formats meets different requirements described above for satisfying the needs of an agent that wants more information about the namespace. Note, however, issues related to fragment identifiers and multiple representations if content negotiation is used with namespace representations.

See TAG issues namespaceDocument-8 and abstractComponentRefs-37.

4.5.5. QNames in XML

Section 3 of "Namespaces in XML" [XMLNS] provides a syntactic construct known as a QName for the compact expression of qualified names in XML documents. A qualified name is a pair consisting of a URI, which names a namespace, and a local name placed within that namespace. "Namespaces in XML" provides for the use of QNames as names for XML elements and attributes.

Other specifications, starting with [XSLT10], have employed the idea of using QNames in contexts other than element and attribute names, for example in attribute values and in element content. However, general XML processors cannot reliably recognize QNames as such when they are used in attribute values and in element content; for example, the syntax of QNames overlaps with that of URIs. Experience has also revealed other limitations to QNames, such as losing namespace bindings after XML canonicalization.

Good practice: QNames Indistinguishable from URIs

A specification in which QNames represent URI/local-name pairs SHOULD NOT allow both Qnames and URIs in attribute values or element content, where they would be indistinguishable.

For more information, see the TAG finding "Using QNames as Identifiers in Content".

Because QNames are compact, some specification designers have adopted the same syntax as a means of identifying resources. Though convenient as a shorthand notation, this usage has a cost. There is no single, accepted way to convert a QName into a URI or vice versa. Although QNames are convenient, they do not replace the URI as the identification mechanism of the Web. The use of QNames to identify Web resources without providing a mapping to URIs is inconsistent with Web architecture.

Good practice: QName Mapping

A specification in which QNames serve as resource identifiers MUST provide a mapping to URIs.

For examples of QName-to-URI mappings, see [RDF10]. See also TAG issues rdfmsQnameUriMapping-6, qnameAsId-18, and abstractComponentRefs-37.

4.5.6. XML ID Semantics

Consider the following fragment of XML: <section name="foo">. Does the section element have what the XML Recommendation refers to as the ID foo? One cannot answer this question by examining the element and its attributes alone. In XML, the quality of "being an ID" is associated with the type of an attribute, not its name. Finding the IDs in a document requires additional processing.

  1. Processing the document with a processor that recognizes DTD attribute list declarations (in the external or internal subset) might reveal a declaration that identifies the name attribute as an ID. Note: This processing is not necessarily part of validation. A non-validating, DTD-aware processor can perform ID assignment.
  2. Processing the document with a W3C XML schema might reveal an element declaration that identifies the name attribute as an xs:ID.
  3. In practice, processing the document with another schema language, such as RELAX NG [RELAXNG], might reveal the attributes declared to be of ID in the XML Schema sense. Many modern specifications begin processing XML at the Infoset [INFOSET] level and do not specify normatively how an Infoset is constructed. For those specifications, any process that establishes the ID type in the Infoset (and Post Schema Validation Infoset (PSVI) defined in [XMLSCHEMA]) may usefully identify the attributes of type ID.
  4. In practice, applications may have independent means of specifying ID-ness as provided for and specified in the XPointer specification.

To further complicate matters, DTDs establish the ID type in the Infoset whereas W3C XML Schema produces a PSVI but does not modify the original Infoset. This leaves open the possibility that a processor might only look in the Infoset and consequently would fail to recognize schema-assigned IDs.

The TAG expects to continue to work with other groups to help resolve open questions about establishing "ID-ness" in XML formats. See TAG issue xmlIDSemantics-32.

4.5.7. Media Types for XML

RFC 3023 defines the Internet media types "application/xml" and "text/xml", and describes a convention whereby XML-based data formats use Internet media types with a "+xml" suffix, for example "image/svg+xml".

These Internet media types create two problems: First, for data identified as "text/*", Web intermediaries are allowed to "transcode", i.e., convert one character encoding to another. Transcoding may make the self-description false or may cause the document to be not well-formed.

Good practice: XML and "text/*"

In general, a representation provider SHOULD NOT assign Internet media types beginning with "text/" to XML representations.

Second, representations whose Internet media types begin with "text/" are required, unless the charset parameter is specified, to be considered to be encoded in US-ASCII. Since the syntax of XML is designed to make documents self-describing, it is good practice to omit the charset parameter, and since XML is very often not encoded in US-ASCII, the use of "text/" Internet media types effectively precludes this good practice.

Good practice: XML and character encodings

In general, a representation provider SHOULD NOT specify the character encoding for XML data in protocol headers since the data is self-describing.

4.5.8. Fragment Identifiers in XML

The section on media types and fragment identifier semantics discusses the interpretation of fragment identifiers. Designers of an XML-based data format specification should define the semantics of fragment identifiers in that format. The XPointer Framework [XPTRFR] provides an interoperable starting point.

When the media type assigned to representation data is "application/xml", there are no semantics defined for fragment identifiers, and authors should not make use of fragment identifiers in such data. The same is true if the assigned media type has the suffix "+xml" (defined in "XML Media Types" [RFC3023]), and the data format specification does not specify fragment identifier semantics. In short, just knowing that content is XML does not provide information about fragment identifier semantics.

Many people assume that the fragment identifier #abc, when referring to XML data, identifies the element in the document with the ID "abc". However, there is no normative support for this assumption.

See TAG issue fragmentInXML-28.

5. Term Index

Dereference a URI
Access the resource identified by the URI.
Fragment identifier
The part of a URI that allows identification of a secondary resource.
Language extension
One language is an extension of a second language if the second is a language subset of the first.
Language subset
One language is a subset of a second language if any document in the first language is also a valid document in the second language and has the same interpretation in the second language.
A relationship between two resources when one resource (representation) refers to the other resource by means of a URI.
A unit of communication between agents.
Namespace representation
If a namespace declaration binds a prefix to a URI, and that URI can be dereferenced to get a representation, then that is a namespace representation
An octet sequence that consists of representation data and representation metadata, especially a media type.
Representation data
Data expressing resource state, part of a representation of the resource.
Representation metadata
The metadata part of a representation.
An item of interest in the information space known as the World Wide Web.
Safe interaction
Interaction with a resource where an agent does not incur any obligation beyond the interaction.
Secondary resource
A resource related to another resource by the following relationship: Given a URI "U#F", and a representation retrieved by dereferencing URI "U", the secondary resource identified by "U#F" is determined by interpreting "F" according to the specification associated with the Internet media type of the representation data.
Acronym for Uniform Resource Identifier.
URI overloading
The use of the same URI to refer to more than one resource in the context of Web protocols and formats.
URI ownership
The relationship between assigning agent and URI that is defined by a URI scheme.
URI persistence
The social expectation that once a URI identifies a particular resource, it should continue indefinitely to refer to that resource.
URI reference
An operational shorthand for a URI.
Uniform Resource Identifier (URI)
A global identifier in the context of the World Wide Web.
Unsafe interaction
Interaction with a resource that is not safe interaction.
User agent
One type of Web agent; a piece of software acting on behalf of a person.
View source effect
The result of direct exposure to the underlying protocols which allows users to gain expertise in the workings of a system.
Acronym for World Wide Web.
Shortened form of World Wide Web.
Web agent
A person or a piece of software acting on the information space on behalf of a person, entity, or process.
World Wide Web
An information space in which items of interest are identified by Uniform Resource Identifiers.
XML-based format
One that conforms to the syntax rules defined in the XML specification.

6. References

Common Gateway Interface/1.1 Specification. Available at http://hoohoo.ncsa.uiuc.edu/cgi/interface.html.
Cool URIs don't change T. Berners-Lee, W3C, 1998 Available at http://www.w3.org/Provider/Style/URI. Note that the title is somewhat misleading. It is not the URIs that change, it is what they identify.
Knowledge-Domain Interoperability and an Open Hyperdocument System, D. C. Engelbart, June 1990.
The Free Network Project.
IANA's online registry of URI Schemes is available at http://www.iana.org/assignments/uri-schemes.
IETF Guidelines For The Use of XML in IETF Protocols, S. Hollenbeck, M. Rose, L. Masinter, eds., 2 November 2002. This IETF Internet Draft is available at http://www.imc.org/ietf-xml-use/xml-guidelines-07.txt. If this document is no longer available, refer to the ietf-xml-use mailing list.
XML Information Set (Second Edition) , J. Cowan, R. Tobin, Editors, W3C Recommendation, 4 February 2004, http://www.w3.org/TR/2004/REC-xml-infoset-20040204 . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/xml-infoset .
IETF Internationalized Resource Identifiers (IRIs), M. D&uumlaut;rst, M. Suignard, Nov 2002. This IETF Internet Draft is available at http://www.w3.org/International/iri-edit/draft-duerst-iri.html. If this document is no longer available, refer to the home page for Editing 'Internationalized Resource Identifiers (IRIs)'.
IANA's online registry of Internet Media Types is available at http://www.iana.org/assignments/media-types/index.html.
The MLDonkey Project
OWL Web Ontology Language Reference , G. Schreiber, M. Dean, Editors, W3C Recommendation, 10 February 2004, http://www.w3.org/TR/2004/REC-owl-ref-20040210/ . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/owl-ref/ .
The Platform for Privacy Preferences 1.0 (P3P1.0) Specification , M. Marchiori, Editor, W3C Recommendation, 16 April 2002, http://www.w3.org/TR/2002/REC-P3P-20020416/ . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/P3P/ .
Resource Directory Description Language (RDDL), J. Borden, T. Bray, eds., 1 June 2003. This document is available at http://www.tbray.org/tag/rddl/rddl3.html.
Resource Description Framework (RDF) Model and Syntax Specification , O. Lassila, R. R. Swick, Editors, W3C Recommendation, 22 February 1999, http://www.w3.org/TR/1999/REC-rdf-syntax-19990222 . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-rdf-syntax .
The RELAX NG schema language project.
Representational State Transfer (REST), Chapter 5 of "Architectural Styles and the Design of Network-based Software Architectures", Doctoral Thesis of R. T. Fielding, 2000. Designers of protocol specifications in particular should invest time in understanding the REST model and the relevance of its principles to a given design. These principles include statelessness, clear assignment of roles to parties, uniform address space, and a limited, uniform set of verbs. Available at http://www.ics.uci.edu/~fielding/pubs/dissertation/rest_arch_style.htm.
IETF RFC 2045: Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) Part One: Format of Internet Message Bodies, N. Freed, N. Borenstein, November 1996. Available at http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2045.txt.
IETF RFC 2046: Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) Part Two: Media Types, N. Freed, N. Borenstein, November 1996. Available at http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2046.txt.
IETF RFC 2119: Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels, S. Bradner, March 1997. Available at http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2119.txt.
IETF RFC 2141: URN Syntax, R. Moats, May 1997. Available at http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2141.txt.
IETF RFC 2326: Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP), H. Schulzrinne, A. Rao, R. Lanphier, April 1998. Available at: http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2326.txt.
IETF RFC 2616: Hypertext Transfer Protocol &mdash; HTTP/1.1, J. Gettys, J. Mogul, H. Frystyk, L. Masinter, P. Leach, T. Berners-Lee, June 1999. Available at http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2616.txt.
IETF Registration Procedures for URL Scheme Names, R. Petke, I. King, November 1999. Available at http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2717.txt.
IETF RFC 2718: Guidelines for new URL Schemes, L. Masinter, H. Alvestrand, D. Zigmond, R. Petke, November 1999. Available at: http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2718.txt.
IETF RFC 2818: HTTP Over TLS, E. Rescorla, May 2000. Available at: http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2818.txt.
IETF RFC 3023: XML Media Types, M. Murata, S. St. Laurent, D. Kohn, January 2001. Available at: http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc3023.txt
IETF RFC 3236: The 'application/xhtml+xml' Media Type, M. Baker, P. Stark, January 2002. Available at: http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc3236.txt
IETF RFC 977: Network News Transfer Protocol, B. Kantor, P. Lapsley, February 1986. Available at http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc977.txt.
SOAP Version 1.2 Part 1: Messaging Framework , M. Hadley, N. Mendelsohn, J. Moreau, H. Frystyk Nielsen, M. Gudgin, Editors, W3C Recommendation, 24 June 2003, http://www.w3.org/TR/2003/REC-soap12-part1-20030624/ . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/soap12-part1/ .
Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) 1.1 Specification , J. Ferraiolo, 藤沢, D. Jackson, Editors, W3C Recommendation, 14 January 2003, http://www.w3.org/TR/2003/REC-SVG11-20030114/ . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/SVG11/ .
See the Unicode Consortium home page for information about the latest version of Unicode and character repertoires.
Uniform Resource Identifiers (URI): Generic Syntax (T. Berners-Lee, R. Fielding, L. Masinter, Eds.) is currently being revised. Citations labeled [URI] refer to draft-fielding-uri-rfc2396bis-03.
IAB Technical Comment on the Unique DNS Root, B. Carpenter, 27 September 1999. Available at http://www.icann.org/correspondence/iab-tech-comment-27sept99.htm.
XHTML™ 1.1 - Module-based XHTML , M. Altheim, S. McCarron, Editors, W3C Recommendation, 31 May 2001, http://www.w3.org/TR/2001/REC-xhtml11-20010531 . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml11/ .
XML Linking Language (XLink) Version 1.0 , S. J. DeRose, E. Maler, D. Orchard, Editors, W3C Recommendation, 27 June 2001, http://www.w3.org/TR/2001/REC-xlink-20010627/ . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/xlink/ .
Extensible Markup Language (XML) 1.0 (Third Edition) , F. Yergeau, T. Bray, J. Paoli, C. M. Sperberg-McQueen, E. Maler, Editors, W3C Recommendation, 4 February 2004, http://www.w3.org/TR/2004/REC-xml-20040204 . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-xml .
Namespaces in XML , T. Bray, D. Hollander, A. Layman, Editors, W3C Recommendation, 14 January 1999, http://www.w3.org/TR/1999/REC-xml-names-19990114 . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-xml-names .
XML Schema Part 1: Structures , H. S. Thompson, D. Beech, M. Maloney, N. Mendelsohn, Editors, W3C Recommendation, 2 May 2001, http://www.w3.org/TR/2001/REC-xmlschema-1-20010502/ . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/xmlschema-1/ .
The Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) IETF Working Group is developing "an open, XML-based protocol for near real-time extensible messaging and presence. It is the core protocol of the Jabber Instant Messaging and Presence technology..."
XPointer Framework , P. Grosso, E. Maler, J. Marsh, N. Walsh, Editors, W3C Recommendation, 25 March 2003, http://www.w3.org/TR/2003/REC-xptr-framework-20030325/ . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/xptr-framework/ .
XSL Transformations (XSLT) Version 1.0 , J. Clark, Editor, W3C Recommendation, 16 November 1999, http://www.w3.org/TR/1999/REC-xslt-19991116 . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/xslt .

6.1. Architectural Specifications

Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 , J. Treviranus, C. McCathieNevile, I. Jacobs, J. Richards, Editors, W3C Recommendation, 3 February 2000, http://www.w3.org/TR/2000/REC-ATAG10-20000203 . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/ATAG10 .
Character Model for the World Wide Web 1.0: Fundamentals , T. Texin, M. J. Dürst, F. Yergeau, R. Ishida, M. Wolf, Editors, W3C Working Draft (work in progress), 25 February 2004, http://www.w3.org/TR/2004/WD-charmod-20040225/ . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/charmod/ .
Device Independence Principles , R. Gimson, Editor, W3C Working Group Note, 1 September 2003, http://www.w3.org/TR/2003/NOTE-di-princ-20030901/ . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/di-princ/ .
Web Architecture: Extensible Languages, T. Berners-Lee, D. Connolly, 10 February 1998. This W3C Note is available at http://www.w3.org/TR/1998/NOTE-webarch-extlang-19980210.
Principled Design of the Modern Web Architecture, R.T. Fielding and R.N. Taylor, UC Irvine. In Proceedings of the 2000 International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE 2000), Limerick, Ireland, June 2000, pp. 407-416. This document is available at http://www.ics.uci.edu/~fielding/pubs/webarch_icse2000.pdf.
QA Framework: Specification Guidelines , D. Hazaël-Massieux, L. Henderson, L. Rosenthal, Editors, W3C Candidate Recommendation (work in progress), 10 November 2003, http://www.w3.org/TR/2003/CR-qaframe-spec-20031110/ . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/qaframe-spec/ .
IETF RFC 1958: Architectural Principles of the Internet, B. Carpenter, June 1996. Available at http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc1958.txt.
User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 , I. Jacobs, J. Gunderson, E. Hansen, Editors, W3C Recommendation, 17 December 2002, http://www.w3.org/TR/2002/REC-UAAG10-20021217/ . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/UAAG10/ .
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 , B. Caldwell, W. Chisholm, G. Vanderheiden, J. White, Editors, W3C Working Draft (work in progress), 11 March 2004, http://www.w3.org/TR/2004/WD-WCAG20-20040311/ . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/ .
Web Services Architecture , D. Orchard, D. Booth, H. Haas, F. McCabe, E. Newcomer, M. Champion, C. Ferris, Editors, W3C Working Group Note, 11 February 2004, http://www.w3.org/TR/2004/NOTE-ws-arch-20040211/ . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/ws-arch/ .
XML Accessibility Guidelines , D. Dardailler, S. B. Palmer, C. McCathieNevile, Editors, W3C Working Draft (work in progress), 3 October 2002, http://www.w3.org/TR/2002/WD-xag-20021003 . Latest version available at http://www.w3.org/TR/xag .

7. Acknowledgments

This document was authored by the W3C Technical Architecture Group which included the following participants: Tim Berners-Lee (co-Chair, W3C), Tim Bray (Antarctica Systems), Dan Connolly (W3C), Paul Cotton (Microsoft Corporation), Roy Fielding (Day Software), Mario Jeckle (Daimler Chrysler), Chris Lilley (W3C), David Orchard (BEA Systems), Norman Walsh (Sun), and Stuart Williams (co-Chair, Hewlett-Packard).

The TAG appreciates the many contributions on the TAG's public mailing list, www-tag@w3.org (archive), which have helped to improve this document.