An open, simple, web-scale and decentralized pubsub protocol. Anybody can play.

As opposed to more developed (and more complex) pubsub specs like Jabber Publish-Subscribe [XEP-0060] this spec's base profile (the barrier-to-entry to speak it) is dead simple. The fancy bits required for high-volume publishers and subscribers are optional. The base profile is HTTP-based, as opposed to XMPP (see more on this below).

To dramatically simplify this spec in several places where we had to choose between supporting A or B, we took it upon ourselves to say "only A", rather than making it an implementation decision.

We offer this spec in hopes that it fills a need or at least advances the state of the discussion in the pubsub space. Polling is extremely wasteful and high latency. We think a decentralized pubsub layer is a fundamental, missing layer in the Internet architecture today and its existence, more than just enabling the obvious lower latency feed readers, would enable many cool applications, most of which we can't even imagine. But we're looking forward to decentralized social networking.

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 https://www.w3.org/TR/.

This document is currently a W3C TR track document. Current bugs and issues are managed in GitHub.

This document was published by the Social Web Working Group as a Working Draft. This document is intended to become a W3C Recommendation. If you wish to make comments regarding this document, please send them to public-socialweb@w3.org (subscribe, archives). All comments are welcome.

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.

This document was produced by a group operating under the 5 February 2004 W3C Patent Policy. W3C maintains a public list of any patent disclosures made in connection with the deliverables of the group; that page also includes instructions for disclosing a patent. An individual who has actual knowledge of a patent which the individual believes contains Essential Claim(s) must disclose the information in accordance with section 6 of the W3C Patent Policy.

This document is governed by the 1 September 2015 W3C Process Document.

1. Definitions

An HTTP [RFC7230] resource URL. The unit to which one can subscribe to changes.
Hub ("the hub")
The server (URL [RFC3986]) which implements both sides of this protocol. Any hub MAY implement its own policies on who can use it.
An owner of a topic. Notifies the hub when the topic feed has been updated. As in almost all pubsub systems, the publisher is unaware of the subscribers, if any. Other pubsub systems might call the publisher the "source".
An entity (person or program) that wants to be notified of changes on a topic. The subscriber must be directly network-accessible and is identified by its Subscriber Callback URL.
A unique relation to a topic by a subscriber that indicates it should receive updates for that topic. A subscription's unique key is the tuple (Topic URL, Subscriber Callback URL). Subscriptions may (at the hub's decision) have expiration times akin to DHCP leases which must be periodically renewed.
Subscriber Callback URL
The URL [RFC3986] at which a subscriber wishes to receive notifications.
An event that causes updates to multiple topics. For each event that happens (e.g. "Brad posted to the Linux Community."), multiple topics could be affected (e.g. "Brad posted." and "Linux community has new post"). Publisher events cause topics to be updated and the hub looks up all subscriptions for affected topics, sending out notifications to subscribers.
A payload describing how a topic's contents have changed, or the full updated content. Depending on the topic's content type, the difference (or "delta") may be computed by the hub and sent to all subscribers.

2. High-level protocol flow

(This section is non-normative.)

Earlier versions of this protocol were called PubSubHubbub:

3. Discovery

The discovery mechanism aims at identifying at least 2 URLs.

The protocol currently supports the following discovery mechanisms. Publishers MUST implement at least one of them:

When perfoming discovery, subscribers MUST implement all three discovery mechanisms in the following order, stopping at the first match:

  1. Issue a GET or HEAD request to retrieve the topic URL. Subscribers MUST check for HTTP Link headers first.
  2. In the absence of HTTP Link headers, and if the topic is an XML based feed or an HTML page, subscribers MUST check for embedded link elements.
  3. In the absence of both HTTP Link headers and embedded link elements, subscribers MUST look in the Host-Meta Well-Known URI [RFC6415] .well-known/host-meta for the <Link> element with rel="hub". However, please note that this mechanism is currently at risk and may be deprecated.

Note: The Host-Meta method of discovery is currently At Risk and may be deprecated.

4. Subscribing and Unsubscribing

Subscribing to a topic URL consists of four parts that may occur immediately in sequence or have a delay.

Unsubscribing works in the same way, except with a single parameter changed to indicate the desire to unsubscribe. Also, the Hub will not validate unsubscription requests with the publisher.

4.1 Subscriber Sends Subscription Request

Subscription is initiated by the subscriber making an HTTPS or HTTP POST [RFC7231] request to the hub URL. This request has a Content-Type of application/x-www-form-urlencoded (described in Section 17.13.4 of [W3C.REC-html401-19991224]) and the following parameters in its body:

REQUIRED. The subscriber's callback URL where notifications should be delivered. The callback URL SHOULD be a Capability URL [capability-urls] (a unique URL per subscription).
REQUIRED. The literal string "subscribe" or "unsubscribe", depending on the goal of the request.
REQUIRED. The topic URL that the subscriber wishes to subscribe to or unsubscribe from. Note that this MUST be the "self" URL found during the discovery step, which may be different from the URL that was used to make the discovery request.
OPTIONAL. Number of seconds for which the subscriber would like to have the subscription active, given as a positive decimal integer. Hubs MAY choose to respect this value or not, depending on their own policies. This parameter MAY be present for unsubscription requests and MUST be ignored by the hub in that case.
OPTIONAL. A subscriber-provided secret string that will be used to compute an HMAC digest for authorized content distribution. If not supplied, the HMAC digest will not be present for content distribution requests. This parameter SHOULD only be specified when the request was made over HTTPS [RFC2818]. This parameter MUST be less than 200 bytes in length.

Subscribers MAY also include additional HTTP [RFC7230] request parameters, as well as HTTP [RFC7230] Headers if they are required by the hub.

Hubs MUST ignore additional request parameters they do not understand.

Hubs MUST allow subscribers to re-request subscriptions that are already activated. Each subsequent request to a hub to subscribe or unsubscribe MUST override the previous subscription state for a specific topic URL and callback URL combination, but only once the action is verified (Section 4.3). If verification fails, the subscription state MUST be left unchanged. This is required so subscribers can renew their subscriptions before the lease seconds period is over without any interruption.

4.1.1 Subscription Parameter Details

The topic and callback URLs MAY use HTTP or HTTPS [RFC7230] schemes. The topic URL MUST be the one advertised by the publisher in a Self Link Header during the discovery phase. (See Section 3 ). Hubs MAY refuse subscriptions if the topic URL does not correspond to the one advertised by the publisher. The topic URL can otherwise be free-form following the URI spec [RFC3986]. Hubs MUST always decode non-reserved characters for these URL parameters; see section 2.4 on "When to Encode or Decode" in the URI spec [RFC3986].

The callback URL SHOULD be a Capability URL [capability-urls] and SHOULD use HTTPS [RFC7230]. The Capability URL acts as authentication from the hub to the subscriber when confirming subscriptions and delivering notifications. Additionally, the callback SHOULD be unique (not re-used for multiple hubs) and changed when subscriptions are renewed.

The callback URL MAY contain arbitrary query string parameters (e.g., ?foo=bar&red=fish). Hubs MUST preserve the query string during subscription verification by appending new parameters to the end of the list using the & (ampersand) character to join. Existing parameters with names that overlap with those used by verification requests will not be overwritten. For event notification, the callback URL will be POSTed to including any query string parameters in the URL portion of the request, not as POST body parameters.

4.1.2 Subscription Response Details

The hub MUST respond to a subscription request with an HTTP [RFC7231] 202 "Accepted" response to indicate that the request was received and will now be verified (Section 4.3 ) and validated (Section 4.2 ) by the hub. The hub SHOULD perform the verification and validation of intent as soon as possible.

If a hub finds any errors in the subscription request, an appropriate HTTP [RFC7231] error response code (4xx or 5xx) MUST be returned. In the event of an error, hubs SHOULD return a description of the error in the response body as plain text, used to assist the client developer in understanding the error. This is not meant to be shown to the end user. Hubs MAY decide to reject some callback URLs or topic URLs based on their own policies (e.g., domain authorization, topic URL port numbers). However, since verification and validation of intent are asynchronous steps that logically begin after the HTTP response has been returned, the HTTP response MUST NOT depend on the process or outcome of verification or validation.

4.2 Subscription Validation

Subscriptions MAY be validated by the Hubs who may require more details to accept or refuse a subscription. The Hub MAY also check with the publisher whether the subscription should be accepted.

If (and when), the subscription is accepted, the hub MUST perform the verification of intent of the subscriber.

If (and when), the subscription is denied, the hub MUST inform the subscriber by sending an HTTP [RFC7231] GET request to the subscriber's callback URL as given in the subscription request. This request has the following query string arguments appended (format described in Section 17.13.4 of [W3C.REC-html401-19991224]):

REQUIRED. The literal string "denied".
REQUIRED. The topic URL given in the corresponding subscription request.
OPTIONAL. The hub may include a reason for which the subscription has been denied.

Hubs may provide an additional HTTP [RFC7231] Location header (as described in section 7.1.2 of Hypertext Transfer Protocol [RFC7231]) to indicate that the subscriber may retry subscribing to a different hub.topic. This allows for limited distribution to specific groups or users in the context of social web applications.

The subscription MAY be denied by the hub at any point (even if it was previously accepted). The Subscriber SHOULD then consider that the subscription is not possible anymore.

4.3 Hub Verifies Intent of the Subscriber

In order to prevent an attacker from creating unwanted subscriptions on behalf of a subscriber (or unsubscribing desired ones), a hub must ensure that the subscriber did indeed send the subscription request.

The hub verifies a subscription request by sending an HTTP [RFC7231] GET request to the subscriber's callback URL as given in the subscription request. This request has the following query string arguments appended (format described in Section 17.13.4 of [W3C.REC-html401-19991224]):

REQUIRED. The literal string "subscribe" or "unsubscribe", which matches the original request to the hub from the subscriber.
REQUIRED. The topic URL given in the corresponding subscription request.
REQUIRED. A hub-generated, random string that MUST be echoed by the subscriber to verify the subscription.
REQUIRED/OPTIONAL. The hub-determined number of seconds that the subscription will stay active before expiring, measured from the time the verification request was made from the hub to the subscriber. Hubs MUST supply this parameter for subscription requests. This parameter MAY be present for unsubscribe requests and MUST be ignored by subscribers during unsubscription.

4.3.1 Verification Details

The subscriber MUST confirm that the hub.topic corresponds to a pending subscription or unsubscription that it wishes to carry out. If so, the subscriber MUST respond with an HTTP success (2xx) code with a response body equal to the hub.challenge parameter. If the subscriber does not agree with the action, the subscriber MUST respond with a 404 "Not Found" response.

The hub MUST consider other server response codes (3xx, 4xx, 5xx) to mean that the verification request has failed. If the subscriber returns an HTTP [RFC7231] success (2xx) but the content body does not match the hub.challenge parameter, the hub MUST also consider verification to have failed.

Hubs MAY make the hub.lease_seconds equal to the value the subscriber passed in their subscription request but MAY change the value depending on the hub's policies. To sustain a subscription, the subscriber MUST re-request the subscription on the hub before hub.lease_seconds seconds has elapsed.

Hubs MUST enfore lease expirations, and MUST NOT issue perpetual lease durations.


The spec uses GET vs POST to differentiate between the confirmation/denial of the subscription request and delivering the actual notification. While this is not considered "best practice" from a web architecture perspective, it does make implementation of the callback URL simpler. Since the POST body of the notification may be any arbitrary content type and only includes the actual content of the document, using the GET vs POST distinction to switch between handling these two modes makes implementations simpler.

5. Publishing

The publisher MUST inform the hubs it previously designated when a topic has been updated. The hub and the publisher can agree on any mechanism, as long as the hub is eventually able send the updated payload to the subscribers.

6. Content Distribution

A content distribution request is an HTTP [RFC7231] POST request from hub to the subscriber's callback URL. The HTTP body of the POST request MUST include the payload of the notification. This request MUST have a Content-Type Header corresponding to the Content-Type of the topic, and SHOULD contain the full contents of the topic URL. The hub MAY reduce the payload to a diff between two consecutive versions if its format allows it.

The request MUST include a Link Header [RFC5988] with rel=hub pointing to the Hub as well as a Link Header [RFC5988] with rel=self set to the topic that's being updated. The Hub SHOULD combine both headers into a single Link Header [RFC5988].

The successful response from the subscriber's callback URL MUST be an HTTP [RFC7231] success (2xx) code. The hub MUST consider all other subscriber response codes as failures; that means subscribers MUST NOT use HTTP redirects for moving subscriptions. Subscribers SHOULD respond to notifications as quickly as possible; their success response code SHOULD only indicate receipt of the message, not acknowledgment that it was successfully processed by the subscriber. The response body from the subscriber MUST be ignored by the hub. Hubs SHOULD retry notifications up to self-imposed limits on the number of times and the overall time period to retry. When the failing delivery exceeds the hub's limits, the hub terminates the subscription.

6.1 Authenticated Content Distribution

If the subscriber supplied a value for hub.secret in their subscription request, the hub MUST generate an HMAC signature of the payload and include that signature in the request headers of the content distribution request. The X-Hub-Signature header's value MUST be in the form method=signature where method is one of the recognized algorithm names and signature is the, hexadecimal representation of the signature. The signature MUST be computed using the HMAC algorithm [RFC6151] with the request body as the data and the hub.secret as the key.

6.1.1 Recognized algorithm names

The following algorithms are currently added as recognized algorithm names, as specified by [FIPS PUB 180-4]:

The SHA-1 algorithm as specified in Section 6.1 of [FIPS PUB 180-4]
The SHA-256 algorithm as specified in Section 6.2
The SHA-384 algorithm as specified in Section 6.5
The SHA-512 algorithm as specified in Section 6.4

In the future, any algorithm added to [FIPS PUB 180-4] SHOULD be supported by hubs and subscribers.

6.1.2 Signature validation

When subscribers receive a content distribution request with theX-Hub-Signature header specified, they SHOULD recompute the signature with the shared secret using the same method (provided in the X-Hub-Signature header) as the hub. If the signature does not match, subscribers MUST still return a 2xx success response to acknowledge receipt, but locally ignore the message as invalid. Using this technique along with HTTPS [RFC2818] for subscription requests enables simple subscribers to receive authenticated notifications from hubs without the need for subscribers to run an HTTPS [RFC2818] server.

Please note however that this signature only ensures that the payload was not forged. Since the notification also includes headers, these should not be considered as safe by the subscriber, unless of course the subscriber uses HTTPS [RFC2818] callbacks.

A. Change Log

This section is non-normative.

A.1 Changes from 20 October FPWD to this version

B. References

B.1 Normative references

E. Rescorla. IETF. HTTP Over TLS. May 2000. Informational. URL: https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc2818
T. Berners-Lee; R. Fielding; L. Masinter. IETF. Uniform Resource Identifier (URI): Generic Syntax. January 2005. Internet Standard. URL: https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc3986
M. Nottingham. IETF. Web Linking. October 2010. Proposed Standard. URL: https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5988
S. Turner; L. Chen. IETF. Updated Security Considerations for the MD5 Message-Digest and the HMAC-MD5 Algorithms. March 2011. Informational. URL: https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6151
E. Hammer-Lahav, Ed.; B. Cook. IETF. Web Host Metadata. October 2011. Proposed Standard. URL: https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6415
R. Fielding, Ed.; J. Reschke, Ed.. IETF. Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP/1.1): Message Syntax and Routing. June 2014. Proposed Standard. URL: https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc7230
R. Fielding, Ed.; J. Reschke, Ed.. IETF. Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP/1.1): Semantics and Content. June 2014. Proposed Standard. URL: https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc7231
Dave Raggett; Arnaud Le Hors; Ian Jacobs. W3C. HTML 4.01 Specification. W3C Recommendation. URL: https://www.w3.org/TR/1999/REC-html401-19991224/
Peter Millard; Peter Saint-Andre; Ralph Meijer. XMPP Standards Foundation. Publish-Subscribe. Draft. URL: http://www.xmpp.org/extensions/xep-0060.html
Jeni Tennison. W3C. Good Practices for Capability URLs. 18 February 2014. W3C Working Draft. URL: https://www.w3.org/TR/capability-urls/

B.2 Informative references

B. Fitzpatrick; B. Slatkin; M. Atkins. PubSubHubbub Core 0.3 -- Working Draft. URL: https://pubsubhubbub.github.io/PubSubHubbub/pubsubhubbub-core-0.3.html
B. Fitzpatrick; B. Slatkin; M. Atkins; J. Genestoux. PubSubHubbub Core 0.4 -- Working Draft. URL: https://pubsubhubbub.github.io/PubSubHubbub/pubsubhubbub-core-0.4.html