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CoAP: Non-traditional response forms

Document Type Active Internet-Draft (individual)
Authors Carsten Bormann , Christian Amsüss
Last updated 2024-03-03
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Network Working Group                                         C. Bormann
Internet-Draft                                    Universität Bremen TZI
Intended status: Informational                                 C. Amsüss
Expires: 4 September 2024                                   3 March 2024

                  CoAP: Non-traditional response forms


   In CoAP as defined by RFC 7252, responses are always unicast back to
   a client that posed a request.  The present memo describes two forms
   of responses that go beyond that model.  These descriptions are not
   intended as advocacy for adopting these approaches immediately, they
   are provided to point out potential avenues for development that
   would have to be carefully evaluated.

About This Document

   This note is to be removed before publishing as an RFC.

   Status information for this document may be found at

   Discussion of this document takes place on the Constrained RESTful
   Environments (CoRE) Working Group mailing list
   (, which is archived at  Subscribe at

   Source for this draft and an issue tracker can be found at

Status of This Memo

   This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the
   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
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   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

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   This Internet-Draft will expire on 4 September 2024.

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Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     1.1.  Terminology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
   2.  Sending non-traditional responses . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.1.  Preconditions to sending non-traditional responses  . . .   4
     2.2.  Responses without request . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
   3.  OSCORE processing for non-traditional responses . . . . . . .   5
   4.  Response with embedded request  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   5.  Response for configured request . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     5.1.  Examples for configured requests  . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
       5.1.1.  Example: Periodic request . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
       5.1.2.  Example: Event driven request . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
       5.1.3.  Example: Configured observe . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
     5.2.  Multicast responses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
     5.3.  Respond-To option . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
     5.4.  Leisure-For-Responses Option  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   6.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   7.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   8.  References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
     8.1.  Normative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
     8.2.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   Appendix A.  CoAP extensions explained by non-traditional
           responses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
     A.1.  Observation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
     A.2.  Responses to multicast requests . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
     A.3.  Triangular responses (Response-To)  . . . . . . . . . . .  13
     A.4.  Other current documents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13
   Acknowledgements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13
   Authors' Addresses  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13

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1.  Introduction

   In CoAP as defined by RFC 7252, responses are always unicast back to
   a client that posed a request.  A server may want to send a response
   to a request that it did not receive, may want to multicast a
   response, or both.

   The descriptions in this specification are not intended as advocacy
   for adopting these approaches immediately, they are provided to point
   out potential avenues for development that would have to be carefully

1.1.  Terminology

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in
   BCP 14 [RFC2119] [RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all
   capitals, as shown here.

   The term "byte" is used in its now customary sense as a synonym for

   Terms used in this draft:

   Non-traditional response:  A response that is not the single response
      generated for a request received on the same transport.

   Non-matching response:  A response that has properties (typically
      options) that make it incompatible with the original request, and
      thus in particular unsuitable as a cached response to that request
      (but possibly suitable to populate the cache for a similar
      request).  Options that make a response non-matching need to be
      proxy unsafe.

      For example, a Block2 response with a different value of block
      number × block size than indicated in the request is non-matching.

   Configured request:  A request that reaches the server in another way
      than by transmitting a usual CoAP request on the same
      communication channel a response is expected on.

   Embedded request:  A request that is provided by the server to the
      recipient of its response by embedding it into the response.

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2.  Sending non-traditional responses

   Non-traditional responses are sets of responses produced for a single
   request, or responses sent without a transmitted request.

   Where tokens are involved, all non-traditional responses use the
   request's token; in any case, they are bound to the original request
   (e.g. by using the same request_kid/request_piv pair in OSCORE
   [RFC8613]).  Where message IDs are involved, one of the non-
   traditional response (the first sent, not necessarily the first
   received as generally the network might reorder messages) can be sent
   as a piggybacked response in an ACK (thus sharing the request's
   message ID), the others are CON or NON responses.

   Some established responses (observations defined in [RFC7641], and
   responses to multicast requests in [I-D.ietf-core-groupcomm-bis])
   match this definition and already follow the guidance set out here
   for non-traditional responses; Appendix A gives details for them.

   A second response differing from the first that can be sent by a non-
   deduplicating server responding to a retransmission of a request is
   not non-traditional because there is a second request -- that is
   probably the last corner case at the line separating traditional from
   non-traditional responses.

2.1.  Preconditions to sending non-traditional responses

   A server may send multiple responses to a request if there is any
   property in the request that indicates the client's intention to
   receive them.  This is typically indicated by a request option, and
   rarely in external properties of the message (in the multicast case,
   the destination address).

   A mechanism for eliciting multiple responses must specify the
   conditions under which a token gets freed, as the traditional arrival
   of the response is insufficient.  It may also specify for which
   requests the token can be reused immediately in follow-up requests.
   On unordered transports, or when it's a client's follow-up request
   and not a response that terminates the token, the client needs to
   wait with reuse until no reordered non-traditional responses can be
   expected anymore.

   If a non-traditional response answers the original request, no
   further action is required (this is the case of observation: ordering
   is added on top of that to ensure that only the latest response is
   used).  If the response does not answer the original request, it must
   be non-matching, either by an option introduced with the eliciting
   option or by a generic option like Response-For.

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2.2.  Responses without request

   Endpoints may agree out of band on a token (or other request-matching
   details).  One way to do that is to exchange a "phantom request",
   which is a request that client and server will agree to have sent and
   received, respectively, without it actually being sent between those

   As tokens are managed by the client, that request needs to be
   generated by the client, or in close collaboration with the client
   (for example by the client allowing a third party to use a subset of
   its token values in order to set up non-traditional responses).

3.  OSCORE processing for non-traditional responses

   OSCORE [RFC8613] is built with the general assumption that requests
   are processed into exactly one response.  The specification contains
   explicit provisions for Observe requests, and a whole protocol
   extension for multicast requests.

   OSCORE's binding between requests and responses remains unmodified:
   Each response is cryptographically bound to an OSCORE request.
   Therefore, any phantom request needs to be an OSCORE request as well,
   and the parties need to agree on the sender and sequence number of
   the phantom request.  An easy way to do that securely is to deliver
   the phantom request in a way that the server can do the full OSCORE
   request processing on it.  The server may process the OSCORE request
   into internal data structures at reception time, or may process it
   whenever a response is to be sent.  In the latter case, it may need
   to relax the requirements of Section 8.2 (Verifying the Request) of
   [RFC8613] item 3.

   To avoid reinventing the same rules as for Observe requests for any
   other non-traditional response, this document defines a set of
   processing instructions which can be referenced when specifying their
   options.  These rules generalize Sections 8.3 (Protecting the
   Response) and 8.4 (Verifying the Response) of [RFC8613]:

   *  In 8.3 step 3, "use the AEAD nonce from the request" is only an
      option once, i.e., after the sequence number expressed in that
      request was removed from the replay window.  This option is
      usually taken in the first response, necessitating the use of
      encoded Sender Sequence Numbers in later responses.  (Non-
      traditional responses such as Observe that rely on message
      ordering may require that the request's nonce is used either in
      the first response or not at all.)
      // CA: We could also just mandate the "either the first or never"
      // behavior.

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      As a convenient effect, this generalized rule also implies that
      when a server performs Appendix B.1.2 (Replay Window) of
      [RFC8613], it needs to use its own Partial IV for the nonce (which
      without this generalized rule necessitated a "MUST" statement in
      the appendix).

   It is unclear why one would delay sending the one response that has
   the least overhead, but that may be lack of imagination.  An approach
   where instances can not generally be duplicated and are used at most
   once (as in an affine type system) can make this doable in a safe
   way.  In the end it's a tradeoff between implementer flexibility and
   specification simplicity.

   *  In 8.4 between steps 5 and 6, the Sender Sequence Number of the
      response establishes an order in the received messages, which
      users of non-traditional responses may rely on.  If an option
      specified that only the first response may use the request's
      nonce, then the one response that uses it is ordered before all
      other responses to the same request.

   *  If the handling of multiple responses is not idempotent, then at
      8.4 step 5:

      -  For responses that use a Sender Sequence Number from the
         server, the client consults the replay window before
         decryption, and removes its number from the replay window after
         successful decryption.

      -  For responses that use the request's Sender Sequence Number,
         duplication is tracked for each request.

      As a simplification, applications that only process the latest
      response may track the latest sequence number for deduplication.

   *  In 8.4 step 8, the Option establishing the non-traditional
      responses may specify that error conditions processing a response
      are not fatal for the whole request.  This should be done when an
      Option allows immediate follow-up requests.  This is the case for
      the Observe option: When an observation is refreshed, a response
      encrypted with the earlier request's request_kid may still be in
      flight.  That in-flight response will fail decryption, but
      responses generated after the server has received the refresh will
      be decryptable again.

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4.  Response with embedded request

   A server can send a response to a request that it did not actually
   receive by embedding the request which the response answers in the

   The option "Response-For" contains a request packaged as in
   Section 5.3 of [RFC8613].  The response is then intended to serve as
   a response to this request.

    | No. | C | U | N | R | Name         | Format | Length | Default |
    | TBD | C | - | - | - | Response-For | opaque | 0-1023 | (none)  |

                     Table 1: The Response-For Option

   The CoAP Token becomes meaningless for this form of response;
   responses with embedded requests are therefore sent with a zero-
   length Token.  (In essence, the "Response-For" option takes the place
   of the request the Token usually stands for.)

   The congestion control considerations for confirmable and non-
   confirmable messages apply unchanged.

5.  Response for configured request

   A request may reach the server using a different means than that used
   for the response.  For instance, the request may be configured in the
   server.  Without limiting generality, we speak about _configured

   The client MUST be cognizant of that configuration as the request
   uses a token from the token name space it controls.

5.1.  Examples for configured requests

5.1.1.  Example: Periodic request

   A server may be configured to act on a configured request every day
   at 12:00.

5.1.2.  Example: Event driven request

   A server may be configured to act on a configured request each time
   it reboots.

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5.1.3.  Example: Configured observe

   A server may be configured with a GET request from a client that
   includes an Observe option with value 0.  This means that the server
   will send updates to the state of the resource addressed by the GET
   request to the configured address of the client.

   The considerations of Section 4.5 of [RFC7641] apply.  How losing
   interest reflects back into to configuration and whether there is
   some form of error notification to the source of the configuration is
   out of scope of the present specification.

5.2.  Multicast responses

   A server MAY send a response to a multicast address.  (This needs to
   be a response to a configured request as a normal request cannot be
   sent _from_ a multicast address.)

   Note that, as the originator of a multicast response is a unicast
   address, the relaxation of matching rules described in Section 8.2 of
   [RFC7252] does not apply.

   The token space in CoAP is owned by the client, which is identified
   by a transport endpoint (address/port).  Here, the address is a
   multicast address, so the token name space is shared by all nodes
   joined to that multicast address.  The assumption for multicast
   responses is that, for each multicast group, there is some form of
   management for the token space (and the port number) that everyone
   can participate that needs to join that multicast group; the specific
   form of management is out of the scope of this specification.  Note
   that this means that multicast responses MUST NOT be sent to
   unmanaged multicast addresses such as All CoAP Nodes (Section 12.8 of

   Multicast responses are always non-confirmable.  The congestion
   control considerations for non-confirmable multicast messages apply

5.3.  Respond-To option

   What has been called "configured request" here may also be triggered
   by a usual CoAP request that carries the Respond-To option.  (The
   term "configured request" is still appropriate as the server ought to
   be configured to accept this option; see Section 7.)

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   If a single client wants to request a server to send the response to
   a specific multicast address, it can include the "Respond-To" option.
   This contains an opaque string with the port number as a 16-bit
   number (in network byte order), followed by the IP address (4-byte
   IPv4 or 16-byte IPv6).

     | No. | C | U | N | R | Name       | Format | Length | Default |
     | TBD | C | U | - | - | Respond-To | opaque |   6-18 | (none)  |

                      Table 2: The Respond-To Option

5.4.  Leisure-For-Responses Option

   This new option indicates a number expressed as a uint.  It allows
   the server to send that number of non-traditional response messages
   in addition to the requested response.  They are to be sent without
   undue delay after the original response.

    | No. |C|U|N|R| Name                  | Format | Length | Default |
    | TBD | |U|-| | Leisure-For-Responses | uint   |    1-4 | 0       |

                 Table 3: The Leisure-For-Responses Option

   The option is elective, but unsafe for proxies (as the option would
   otherwise cause multiple responses to a proxy that expects only one
   and that needs to be a matching response).  A proxy that chooses not
   to implement it may forward the request with the Leisure-For-
   Responses option removed.

   On its own, the option does not indicate which kind of additional
   responses the client would expect (though further elective proxy-safe
   no-cache-key options can be added on top of that to give better
   guidance), and the server may choose not to send any at all.

   Intermediaries may add or remove the option, and use incoming
   responses to populate their cache.  They may serve additional
   responses from their cache, but in most cases the sensible course of
   action is to forward the additional responses the origin server

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   Use cases for Leisure-For-Responses include sending further blocks in
   a Block2 transfer (which are obviously non-matching and thus don't
   need a Response-For), or serving follow-up documents (a response
   containing a single link can be followed by a representation of the
   linked resource, which needs a Request-For header that indicates the

6.  IANA Considerations

   This draft adds the following option numbers to the CoAP Option
   Numbers registry of [RFC7252]:

              | Number | Name                  | Reference |
              | TBD    | Response-For          | RFCthis   |
              | TBD    | Respond-To            | RFCthis   |
              | TBD    | Leisure-For-Responses | RFCthis   |

                       Table 4: CoAP Option Numbers

7.  Security Considerations


   (Clearly, multicast responses pose a potential for amplification, in
   particular if unverified sources can cause them via Respond-To.
   Discuss how to mitigate.)

   A Respond-To option can be used to incite a server to send data to a
   third party.  This ought not be done blindly, i.e., only with
   considered application assent.

   The CoAP request/response mechanism allows the client to ascertain a
   level of authentication (not resistant though to on-path attackers
   unless the communication is protected) and freshness of the response:
   The Token echoed in the response shows that the responder had
   knowledge of the (fresh) request (Section 5.3.1 of [RFC7252]).
   Responses with embedded requests can not be authenticated or checked
   for freshness this way.  Their content therefore is less trustworthy
   than normal responses unless authenticated in another way (e.g., via

8.  References

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8.1.  Normative References

   [RFC2119]  Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
              Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997,

   [RFC7252]  Shelby, Z., Hartke, K., and C. Bormann, "The Constrained
              Application Protocol (CoAP)", RFC 7252,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC7252, June 2014,

   [RFC8174]  Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC
              2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174,
              May 2017, <>.

   [RFC8613]  Selander, G., Mattsson, J., Palombini, F., and L. Seitz,
              "Object Security for Constrained RESTful Environments
              (OSCORE)", RFC 8613, DOI 10.17487/RFC8613, July 2019,

8.2.  Informative References

              Dijk, E., Wang, C., and M. Tiloca, "Group Communication
              for the Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP)", Work in
              Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-core-groupcomm-bis-
              10, 23 October 2023,

              Tiloca, M., Höglund, R., Amsüss, C., and F. Palombini,
              "Observe Notifications as CoAP Multicast Responses", Work
              in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-core-observe-
              multicast-notifications-07, 23 October 2023,

              Tiloca, M. and E. Dijk, "Proxy Operations for CoAP Group
              Communication", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-
              tiloca-core-groupcomm-proxy-09, 31 August 2023,

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   [RFC7641]  Hartke, K., "Observing Resources in the Constrained
              Application Protocol (CoAP)", RFC 7641,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC7641, September 2015,

Appendix A.  CoAP extensions explained by non-traditional responses

A.1.  Observation

   This section describes the Observe option [RFC7641] in the terms of
   this document, [ so nothing in here should contradict that document

   When Observe:0 is present in a request, this sets up non-traditional
   responses until either of the following conditions is met:

   *  A follow-up request on the same token carries an Observe:1 option.

      (This is primarily in here because; Observe:1 and No-Response:any
      could be combined; otherwise, the other conditions suffice).

   *  Any response does not carry an Observe option.

   *  Any response has a non-successful status.

   Follow-up requests are limited to extending the request ETag set.
   Responses are obviously non-matching by their Observe option; each
   hop discards the Observe option for the purpose of caching and
   refreshes its cache with the most recent one as per the Observe

A.2.  Responses to multicast requests

   As with observe, this just phrases the existing mechanism in the
   context of this generalization.

   When the destination address of a CoAP request is a multicast
   address, that token is valid for any member of that group (which, for
   the purpose of the client, is any server at all) on any port.

   (Except for that the implications of having received a multicast
   request still need to be followed, it might be seen as a template for
   creating a phantom request to any endpoint, if that suits the
   reader's mental model.)

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   Responses can only be sent for up to the deployment's Leisure time
   (see Section 8.2 of [RFC7252]) plus the application's timeout (in
   proxy situations, this needs to be communicated explicitly in the
   Multicast-Signaling option of [I-D.tiloca-core-groupcomm-proxy]).

A.3.  Triangular responses (Response-To)

   The Response-To option can be viewed as a shorthand notation for
   "Consider this a No-Response:any request, but take a copy of it, make
   it into a CoAP-over-UDP request with that particular address as a
   source and any address of yours as a response, and treat that as a
   phantom request".

   [ It may make sense to add an explicit return token, and include a
   No-Response option; that might allow it to be used even across
   proxies. ]

A.4.  Other current documents

   [I-D.ietf-core-observe-multicast-notifications] is a straightforward
   application of the phantom requests (the concept was developed
   there); Leisure-For-Responses could help it around the topic of
   joining a multicast group securely through a proxy.

   [I-D.tiloca-core-groupcomm-proxy] seems to fit well with the concepts
   here as well, and might be simplified by it both in terminology and
   by replacing Response-Forwarding with Response-For(Proxy-Scheme, Uri-



Authors' Addresses

   Carsten Bormann
   Universität Bremen TZI
   Postfach 330440
   D-28359 Bremen
   Phone: +49-421-218-63921

   Christian Amsüss

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