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YANG Module Versioning Requirements

Document Type Active Internet-Draft (netmod WG)
Author Joe Clarke
Last updated 2024-01-14
Replaces draft-verdt-netmod-yang-versioning-reqs
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Network Working Group                                     J. Clarke, Ed.
Internet-Draft                                       Cisco Systems, Inc.
Intended status: Informational                           14 January 2024
Expires: 17 July 2024

                  YANG Module Versioning Requirements


   This document describes the problems that can arise because of the
   YANG language module update rules, that require all updates to YANG
   module preserve strict backwards compatibility.  It also defines the
   requirements on any solution designed to solve the stated problems.
   This document does not consider possible solutions, nor endorse any
   particular solution.

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
   Task Force (IETF).  Note that other groups may also distribute
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   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
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   time.  It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference
   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   This Internet-Draft will expire on 17 July 2024.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2024 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
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   Please review these documents carefully, as they describe your rights
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   described in Section 4.e of the Trust Legal Provisions and are
   provided without warranty as described in the Revised BSD License.

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Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   2.  Background  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
     2.1.  Striving for model perfection . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     2.2.  Some YANG Modules Are Not Backwards-Compatible  . . . . .   3
     2.3.  Non-Backwards-Compatible Errors . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.4.  No way to easily decide whether a change is
           Backwards-Compatible  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.5.  No good way to specify which module revision to import  .   5
     2.6.  Early Warning about Removal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     2.7.  Clear Indication of Node Support  . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   3.  Terminology and Conventions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   4.  The Problem Statement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   5.  Requirements of a YANG Versioning Solution  . . . . . . . . .   9
   6.  Contributors  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   7.  Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   8.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
   9.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
   10. References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
     10.1.  Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
     10.2.  Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
   Author's Address  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12

1.  Introduction

   This requirements document initially considers some of the existing
   YANG module update rules, then describes the problems that arise due
   to those rules embracing strict backwards compatibility, and finally
   defines requirements on any solution that may be designed to solve
   these problems by providing an alternative YANG versioning strategy.

2.  Background

   The YANG data modeling language [RFC7950] specifies strict rules for
   updating YANG modules (see section 11 "Updating a Module").  Citing a
   few of the relevant rules:

   1.  "As experience is gained with a module, it may be desirable to
       revise that module.  However, changes to published modules are
       not allowed if they have any potential to cause interoperability
       problems between a client using an original specification and a
       server using an updated specification."

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   2.  "Note that definitions contained in a module are available to be
       imported by any other module and are referenced in "import"
       statements via the module name.  Thus, a module name MUST NOT be
       changed.  Furthermore, the "namespace" statement MUST NOT be
       changed, since all XML elements are qualified by the namespace."

   3.  "Otherwise, if the semantics of any previous definition are
       changed (i.e., if a non-editorial change is made to any
       definition other than those specifically allowed above), then
       this MUST be achieved by a new definition with a new identifier."

   4.  "deprecated indicates an obsolete definition, but it permits new/
       continued implementation in order to foster interoperability with
       older/existing implementations."

   The rules described above, along with other similar rules, causes
   various problems, as described in the following sections:

2.1.  Striving for model perfection

   The points made above lead to the logical conclusion that the
   standardized YANG modules have to be perfect on day one (at least the
   structure and meaning), which in turn might explain why IETF YANG
   modules take so long to standardize.  Shooting for perfection is
   obviously a noble goal, but if the perfect standard comes too late,
   it doesn't help the industry.

2.2.  Some YANG Modules Are Not Backwards-Compatible

   As we learn from our mistakes, we're going to face more and more non-
   backwards-compatible YANG modules.  An example is the YANG data model
   for L3VPN service delivery [RFC8049] , which, based on implementation
   experience, has been updated in a non-backwards-compatible way by
   [RFC8299] .

   While Standards Development Organization (SDO) YANG modules are
   obviously better for the industry, we must recognize that many YANG
   modules are actually generated YANG modules (for example, from
   internal databases), which is sometimes the case for vendor modules
   [RFC8199] . From time to time, the new YANG modules are not

   Old module parts that are no longer needed, no longer supported, or
   are not used by consumers need to be removed from modules.  It is
   often hard to decide which parts are no longer needed/used; still the
   need and practice of removing old parts exist.  While it is rare in
   standard modules it is more common in vendor YANG modules where the
   usage of modules is more controlled.

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   The problems described in Section 2.7 may also result in incompatible

   In such cases, it would be better to indicate how backwards-
   compatible a given YANG module actually is.

   As modules are sometimes updated in an incompatible way the current
   assumption that once a YANG module is defined all further revisions
   can be freely used as they are compatible is not valid.

2.3.  Non-Backwards-Compatible Errors

   Sometimes small errors force us to make non-backwards-compatible
   updates.  As an example imagine that we have a string with a complex
   pattern (e.g., an IP address).  Let's assume the initial pattern
   incorrectly allows IP addresses to start with 355.  In the next
   version this is corrected to disallow addresses starting with 355.
   Formally this is a non-backwards-compatible change as the value space
   of the string is decreased.  In reality an IP address and the
   implementation behind it was never capable of handling an address
   starting with 355.  So practically this is a backwards-compatible
   change, just like a correction of the description statement.  Current
   YANG rules are ambiguous as to whether non-backwards-compatible bug
   fixes are allowed without also requiring a module name change.

2.4.  No way to easily decide whether a change is Backwards-Compatible

   A management system, SDN controller, or any other user of a module
   should be capable of easily determining the compatibility between two
   module versions.  Higher level logic for a network function,
   something that cannot be implemented in a purely model driven way, is
   always dependent on a specific version of the module.  If the client
   finds that the module has been updated on the network node, it has to
   decide if it tries to handle it as it handled the previous version of
   the model or if it just stops, to avoid problems.  To make this
   decision the client needs to know if the module was updated in a
   backwards-compatible way or not.

   This is not possible to decide today because of the following:

   *  It is sometimes necessary to change the semantic behavior of a
      data node, action or rpc while the YANG definition does not change
      (with the possible exception of the description statement).  In
      such a case it is impossible to determine whether the change is
      backwards-compatible just by looking at the YANG statements.  It's
      only the human model designer who can decide.

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   *  Problems with the deprecated and obsolete status statement,
      Section 2.7

   *  YANG module authors might decide to violate YANG 1.1 update rules
      for some of the reasons above.

   Finding status changes or violations of update rules need a line-by-
   line comparison of the old and new modules is a tedious task.

2.5.  No good way to specify which module revision to import

   If a module (MOD-A) is imported by another one (MOD-B) the importer
   may specify which revision must be imported.  Even if MOD-A is
   updated in a backwards-compatible way not all revisions will be
   suitable, e.g., a new MOD-B might need the newest MOD-A.  However,
   both specifying or omitting the revision date for import leads to

   If the import by revision-date is specified

   *  If corrections are made to MOD-A these would not have any effect
      as the import’s revision date would still point to the un-
      corrected earlier YANG module revision.

   *  If MOD-A is updated in a backwards-compatible way because another
      importer (MOD-C) needs some functionality, the new MOD-A could be
      used by MOD-B, but specifying the exact import revision-date
      prevents this.  This will force the implementers to import two
      different revisions of MOD-A, forcing them to maintain old MOD-A
      revisions unnecessarily.

   *  If multiple modules import different revisions of MOD-A the human
      user will need to understand the subtle differences between the
      different revisions.  Small differences would easily lead to
      operator mistakes as the operator will rarely check the

   *  Tooling/SW is often not prepared to handle multiple revisions of
      the same YANG module.

   If the import revision-date is not specified

   *  any revision of MOD-A may be used including unsuitable ones.
      Older revisions may be lacking functionality MOD-B needs.  Newer
      MOD-A revisions may obsolete definitions used by MOD-B in which
      case these must not be used by MOD-B anymore.

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   *  As it is not specified which revisions of MOD-A are suitable for
      MOD-B.  The problem has to be solved on a case by case basis
      studying all the details of MOD-A and MOD-B which is considerable

2.6.  Early Warning about Removal

   If a schema part is considered old/bad we need to be able to give
   advance warning that it will be removed.  As this is an advance
   warning the part must still be present and usable in the current
   revision; however, it will be removed in one of the next revisions.
   The deprecated statement cannot be reliably used for this purpose
   both because deprecated nodes may not be implemented and also there
   is no mandate that text be provided explaining the deprecation.

   We need the advance warning to allow users of the module time to
   plan/execute migration away from the deprecated functionality.
   Deprecation should be accompanied by information whether the
   functionality will just disappear or that there is an alternative,
   possibly more advanced solution that should be used.

   Vendors use such warnings often, but the NMDA related redesign of
   IETF modules is also an example where it would be useful for IETF.
   As another example, see the usage of deprecated in the Java
   programming language.

2.7.  Clear Indication of Node Support

   The current definition of deprecated and obsolete in [RFC7950] (as
   quoted below) is problematic and should be corrected.

   *  "deprecated" indicates an obsolete definition, but it permits new/
      continued implementation in order to foster interoperability with
      older/existing implementations.

   *  "obsolete" means that the definition is obsolete and SHOULD NOT be
      implemented and/or can be removed from implementations.

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   YANG is considered an interface contract between the server and the
   client.  The current definitions of deprecated and obsolete mean that
   a schema node that is either deprecated or obsolete may or may not be
   implemented.  The client has no way to find out which is the case
   except for by trying to write or read data at the leaf in question.
   This probing would need to be done for each separate data-node, which
   is not a trivial thing to do.  This "may or may not" is unacceptable
   in a contract.  In effect, this works as if there would be an if-
   feature statement on each deprecated schema node where the server
   does not advertise whether the feature is supported or not.  Why is
   it not advertised?

3.  Terminology and Conventions

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119] .

   In addition, this document uses the following terminology:

   *  YANG module revision: An instance of a YANG module, with no
      implied ordering or backwards compatibility between different
      revisions of the same module."

   *  YANG module version: A YANG module revision, but also with an
      implied partial ordering relationship between other versions of
      the same module.  Each module version must be uniquely

   *  Non-backwards-compatible (NBC): In the context of this document,
      the term 'non-backwards-compatible' refers to a change or set of
      changes between two YANG module revisions that do not adhere to
      the list of allowable changes specified in Section 11 "Updating a
      Module" of [RFC7950] , with the following additional

      -  Any addition of, or change to, a "status" statement that allows
         a server to remove support for a schema node is considered a
         non-backwards-compatible change

4.  The Problem Statement

   Considering the issues described in the background, the problem
   definition can be summarized as follows.

   Development of data models for a large collection of communication
   protocols and system components is difficult and typically only
   manageable with an iterative development process.  Agile development

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   approaches advocate evolutionary development, early delivery, and
   continual improvement.  They are designed to support rapid and
   flexible response to change.  Agile development has been found to be
   very successful in a world where the objects being modeled undergo
   constant changes.

   The current module versioning scheme relies on the fundamental idea
   that a definition, once published, never changes its semantics.  As a
   consequence, if a new definition is needed with different non-
   backwards-compatible semantics, then a new definition must be created
   to replace the old definition.  The advantage of this versioning
   scheme is that a definition identified by a module name and a path
   has fixed semantics that never change.  (The details are a bit more
   nuanced but we simplify things here a bit in order to get the
   problems worked out clearly.)

   There are two main disadvantages of the current YANG versioning

   *  Any non-backwards-compatible change of a definition requires
      either a new module name or a new path.  This has been found
      costly to support in implementations, in particular on the client

   *  Since non-backwards-compatible changes require either a new module
      name or a new path, such changes will impact other modules that
      import definitions.  In fact, with the current module versioning
      scheme other modules have to opt-in in order to use the new
      version.  This essentially leads to a ripple effect where a non-
      backwards-compatible change of a core module causes updates on a
      potentially large number of dependent modules.

   Other problems experienced with the current YANG versioning scheme
   are the following:

   *  YANG has a mechanism to mark definitions deprecated but it leaves
      it open whether implementations are expected to implement
      deprecated definitions and there is no way (other than trial and
      error) for a client to find out whether deprecated definitions are
      supported by a given implementation.

   *  YANG does not have a robust mechanism to document which data
      definitions have changed and to provide guidance how
      implementations should deal with the change.  While it is possible
      to have this described in general description statements, having
      these details embedded in general description statements does not
      make this information accessible to tools.

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   *  YANG data models often do not exist in isolation and they interact
      with other software systems or data models that often do allow
      (controlled) non-backwards-compatible changes.  In some cases,
      YANG models are mechanically derived from other data models that
      do allow (controlled) non-backwards-compatible changes.  In such
      situations, a robust mapping to YANG requires to have version
      numbers exposed as part of the module name or a path definition,
      which has been found to be expensive on the client side (see

   Given the need to support agile development processes and the
   disadvantages and problems of the current YANG versioning scheme
   described above, it is necessary to develop requirements and
   solutions for a future YANG versioning scheme that better supports
   agile development processes, whilst retaining the ability for servers
   to handle clients using older versions of YANG modules.

5.  Requirements of a YANG Versioning Solution

   The following is a list of requirements that a solution to the
   problems mentioned above MUST or SHOULD have.  The list is grouped by
   similar requirements but is not presented in a set priority order.

   1.  Requirements related to making non-backwards-compatible updates
       to modules:

       1.1  A mechanism is REQUIRED to update a module in a non-
            backwards-compatible way without forcing all modules with
            import dependencies on the updated module from being updated
            at the same time (e.g. to change its import to use a new
            module name).

       1.2  Non-backwards-compatible updates of a module MUST not impact
            clients that only access data nodes of the module that have
            either not been updated or have been updated in backwards-
            compatible ways.

       1.3  A refined form of YANG's 'import' statement MUST be provided
            that is more restrictive than "import any revision" and less
            restrictive than "import a specific revision".  Once non-
            backwards-compatible changes to modules are allowed, the
            refined import statement is used to express the correct
            dependency between modules.

       1.4  The solution MUST be able to express when non-backwards-
            compatible changes have occurred between two revisions of a
            given YANG module.

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   2.  Requirements related to identifying changes between different
       module revisions:

       2.1  Readers of modules, and tools that use modules, MUST be able
            to determine whether changes between two revisions of a
            module constitute a backwards-compatible or non-backwards-
            compatible version change.  In addition, it MAY be helpful
            to identify whether changes represent bug fixes, new
            functionality, or both.

       2.2  A mechanism SHOULD be defined to determine whether data
            nodes between two arbitrary YANG module revisions have (i)
            not changed, (ii) changed in a backwards-compatible way,
            (iii) changed in a non-backwards-compatible way.

   3.  Requirements related to supporting existing clients in a
       backwards-compatible way:

       3.1  The solution MUST provide a mechanism to allow servers to
            support existing clients in a backwards-compatible way.

       3.2  The solution MUST provide a mechanism to support clients
            that expect an older version of a given module when the
            current version has had non-backwards-compatible changes.

       3.3  Clients are expected to be able to handle unexpected
            instance data resulting from backwards-compatible changes.

   4.  Requirements related to managing and documenting the life cycle
       of data nodes:

       4.1  A mechanism is REQUIRED to allow a client to determine
            whether deprecated nodes are implemented by the server.

       4.2  If a data node is deprecated or obsolete then it MUST be
            possible to document in the YANG module what alternatives
            exist, the reason for the status change, or any other status
            related information.

       4.3  A mechanism is REQUIRED to indicate that certain definitions
            in a YANG module will become status obsolete in future
            revisions but definitions marked as such MUST still be
            implemented by compliant servers.

   5.  Requirements related to documentation and education:

       5.1  The solution MUST provide guidance to model authors and
            clients on how to use the new YANG versioning scheme.

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       5.2  The solution is REQUIRED to describe how to transition from
            the existing YANG 1.0/1.1 versioning scheme to the new

       5.3  The solution MUST describe how the versioning scheme affects
            the interpretation of instance data and references to
            instance data, for which the schema definition has been
            updated in a non-backwards-compatible way.

6.  Contributors

   This document grew out of the YANG module versioning design team that
   started after IETF 101.  The following people are members of that
   design team and have contributed to defining the problem and
   specifying the requirements:

   *  Balazs Lengyel

   *  Benoit Claise

   *  Ebben Aries

   *  Jason Sterne

   *  Joe Clarke

   *  Juergen Schoenwaelder

   *  Mahesh Jethanandani

   *  Michael (Wangzitao)

   *  Qin Wu

   *  Reshad Rahman

   *  Rob Wilton

7.  Acknowledgments

   The design team would like to thank Christian Hopps and Vladimir
   Vassilev for their feedback and perspectives in shaping and fine
   tuning the versioning requirements.

   One of the inspirations for solving the YANG module versioning comes
   from OpenConfig.  The authors would like to thank Anees Shaikh and
   Rob Shakir for their helpful input.

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8.  Security Considerations

   The document does not define any new protocol or data model.  There
   is no security impact.

9.  IANA Considerations


10.  References

10.1.  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,

   [RFC7950]  Bjorklund, M., Ed., "The YANG 1.1 Data Modeling Language",
              RFC 7950, DOI 10.17487/RFC7950, August 2016,

10.2.  Informative References

   [RFC8049]  Litkowski, S., Tomotaki, L., and K. Ogaki, "YANG Data
              Model for L3VPN Service Delivery", RFC 8049,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC8049, February 2017,

   [RFC8199]  Bogdanovic, D., Claise, B., and C. Moberg, "YANG Module
              Classification", RFC 8199, DOI 10.17487/RFC8199, July
              2017, <>.

   [RFC8299]  Wu, Q., Ed., Litkowski, S., Tomotaki, L., and K. Ogaki,
              "YANG Data Model for L3VPN Service Delivery", RFC 8299,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC8299, January 2018,

Author's Address

   Joe Clarke (editor)
   Cisco Systems, Inc.
   7200-12 Kit Creek Rd
   Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
   United States of America
   Phone: +1-919-392-2867

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