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Versions: 00                                                            
Network Working Group                                     James Casey
INTERNET-DRAFT                                          Harlequin Inc
expires six months from                               08 January 1997

                        A FTP URL Format

Status of this Memo

   This document is an Internet-Draft.  Internet-Drafts are working
   documents of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), its
   areas, and its working groups.  Note that other groups may also
   distribute working documents as Internet-Drafts.

   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six
   months and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other
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   ``work in progress.''

   To learn the current status of any Internet-Draft, please check
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   or ftp.isi.edu (US West Coast).

   This draft expires in six months.


   This document defines the format of Uniform Resource Locators (URL)
   for the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) using the general URL syntax
   defined in RFC xxxx, "Uniform Resource Locators (URL)".

   It is a one of a suite of documents which replace RFC 1738,
   "Uniform Resource Locators", and RFC 1808, "Relative Uniform Resource

1. Introduction

   This specification defines a URL format for the FTP protocol, RFC 959
   [1] that allows internet clients to have direct access to resources
   accessible by the protocol.  It is part of the suite of documents
   which replace RFC 1738, "Uniform Resource Locators" [2] and RFC 1808,
   "Relative Uniform Resource Locators" [3].  It uses the BNF and basic
   rules as laid out in section 4.3 of [RFC-URL-SYNTAX].

2. Syntax of a FTP URL

   A FTP URL follows the common internet scheme syntax as defined in
   section 4.3 of [RFC-URL-SYNTAX]:


2.1. FTP User and Password

   A user name and password may be supplied; they are used in the ftp
   "USER" and "PASS" commands after first making the connection to the
   FTP server.  If no user name or password is supplied and one is
   requested by the FTP server, the conventions for "anonymous" FTP
   are to be used, as follows:

        The user name "anonymous" is supplied.

        The password is supplied as the Internet e-mail address
        of the end user accessing the resource.

   If the URL supplies a user name but no password, and the remote
   server requests a password, the program interpreting the FTP URL
   should request one from the user.

2.2. FTP port

   If a port is omitted, the port defaults to 21.

2.3. FTP transfer type

   A <typecode> can be one of the characters "i" or "a", representing
   binary or ascii data respectively.

   Since the entire ;type=<typecode> part of a FTP URL is optional, if
   it is omitted the client program interpreting the URL must guess the
   appropriate mode to use. In general, the data content type of a file
   can only be guessed from the name, e.g., from the suffix of the name;
   the appropriate type code to be used for transfer of the file can then
   be deduced from the data content of the file.

2.4. FTP url-path

   The url-path of a FTP URL has the following syntax:


   Where <cwd1> through <cwdN> and <name> are (possibly encoded)
   strings.  The <cwdx> and <name> parts may be empty. The whole url-path
   may be omitted, including the "/" delimiting it from the prefix
   containing user, password, host, and port.

   Within a <name> or <cwd> component, the characters "/" and ";" are
   reserved and must be encoded. The components are decoded prior to
   their use in the FTP protocol.  In particular, if the appropriate FTP
   sequence to access a particular file requires supplying a string
   containing a "/" as an argument to a CWD or RETR command, it is
   necessary to encode each "/".

2.5. Interpreting a FTP URL

   The url-path is interpreted as a series of FTP commands as follows:

      Each of the <cwd> elements in the <url-path> is supplied,
      sequentially, as the argument to a CWD (change working directory)

      If a type parameter has been supplied, perform a TYPE command
      with <typecode> as the argument.

      Access the file whose name is <name> (for example, using the
      RETR command.)

   For example, the URL <URL:ftp://myname@host.dom/%2Fetc/motd> is
   interpreted by FTP-ing to "host.dom", logging in as "myname"
   (prompting for a password if it is asked for), and then executing
   "CWD /etc" and then "RETR motd". This has a different meaning from
   <URL:ftp://myname@host.dom/etc/motd> which would "CWD etc" and then
   "RETR motd"; the initial "CWD" might be executed relative to the
   default directory for "myname". On the other hand,
   <URL:ftp://myname@host.dom//etc/motd>, would "CWD " with a null
   argument, then "CWD etc", and then "RETR motd".

   Implementors should note that doing a "RETR
   <cwd1>/.../<cwdN>/<name>" may work on some systems, but clients
   MUST NOT rely upon it.  In some situations, this may be the only
   way to access a resource.  This is the case if one or more of the
   directories <cwd1>...<cwdN-1> is access controlled, but the final
   one is not.

   FTP URLs may also be used for other operations; for example, it is
   possible to update a file on a remote file server, or infer
   information about it from the directory listings. The mechanism for
   doing so is not spelled out here.

2.6. Hierarchy

   For some file systems, the "/" used to denote the hierarchical
   structure of the URL corresponds to the delimiter used to construct a
   file name hierarchy, and thus, the filename will look similar to the
   URL path. This does NOT mean that the URL is a Unix filename.

2.7. Optimization

   Clients accessing resources via FTP may employ additional heuristics
   to optimize the interaction. For some FTP servers, for example, it
   may be reasonable to keep the control connection open while accessing
   multiple URLs from the same server. However, there is no common
   hierarchical model to the FTP protocol, so if a directory change
   command has been given, it is impossible in general to deduce what
   sequence should be given to navigate to another directory for a
   second retrieval, if the paths are different.  There are two
   possible algorithms; firstly send a "REIN" command, followed by
   "USER", "PASS", etc. as required. If this is not supported one can
   disconnect and re-establish the control connection.

2.8. Relative FTP URLs

   Since the FTP URL syntax matches the generic-URL syntax, it supports
   all forms of relative URLs defined in [RFC-URL-SYNTAX].

2.9. Effect of username on URL path

   FTP Server implementations may specify the default directory for
   different users to be at different points in the server file-system.
   This means that the same file could have different <url-path>
   components in their URLs for different user names. e.g. Suppose a
   file on disk has absolute path


   and that the URL to access this as user jamesc (with default
   directory '/home/jamesc') is


   Then for a user paulh, who has default FTP directory '/', the URL
   for the same file would be


3. Issues

3.1. Inconsistency of current implementations of applying the <url-path>

   Current implementations, when supplied with ftp://host/foo/bar.html
   will perform the following operations

      CWD /foo
      RETR bar.html

   instead of what RFC 1738 [2] (and currently this draft) specified
   should be performed

      CWD foo
      RETR bar.html

   If the default ftp directory was different from the root directory of
   the file system, this would point to a different resource. Many URLs now
   depend upon this feature, and this draft, it it wants to reflect
   current practice, must change to encompass this.

   Unfortunately, if we assume an implicit "CWD /", as most browsers
   currently do, then there is no way currently to specify a resource
   relative to the default ftp directory for a given user.  One
   solution to this problem would be to define the meaning of a URL of the


   This would instruct the obtain the resource "foo/bar.html" relative
   to the default directory of the anonymous user. It also gives an
   intuitive meaning to


   i.e. the default directory of the current user.

4. Security Considerations

   The same security considerations apply as those in [RFC-GEN-SYNTAX],

      "The use of URLs containing passwords that should be secret is
       clearly unwise."

5. Acknowledgements

   This document was derived from RFC 1738 [2] and RFC 1808 [3]; the
   acknowledgements from those specifications still applies.

   Also, thanks to Roy Fielding, Larry Masinter, Murali Krishnan, Alun
   Jones and Frederick Roeber for comments on early versions of this

6. References

   [1] Postel, J. and J. Reynolds, "File Transfer Protocol (FTP)",
       STD 9, RFC 959, USC/Information Sciences Institute,
       October 1985.

   [2] Berners-Lee, T., Masinter, L., and M. McCahill, Editors, "Uniform
       Resource Locators (URL)", RFC 1738, CERN, Xerox Corporation,
       University of Minnesota, December 1994.

   [3] Fielding, R., "Relative Uniform Resource Locators", RFC 1808,
       UC Irvine, June 1995.

   [RFC-URL-SYNTAX] Berners-Lee, T., Fielding, R., Masinter L.,
       "Uniform Resource Locators (URL)", Work in Progress
       <draft-uri-url-syntax-00>, MIT/LCS, U.C. Irvine, Xerox
       Corporation, October 1996.

Note to RFC Editor -- This reference should change when status of
   generic syntax draft changes.


A. Changes from RFC 1738

   Section 3.2 of RFC 1738, and parts of section 2.3 of RFC 1808, were
   used as the basis for this draft.

   Section 2.3 on transfer types now does not have type='d' parameters,
   due to lack of consistent implementation.

   Added use of FTP "REIN" command to restart a connection in Section

   Added section 2.5 which gives a standard algorithm for retrieving a
   FTP URL (based upon the one in Section 3.2.2 of RFC 1738 [2], and
   alternative means to retrieve it which are used by current
   implementations, but not supported by all FTP servers.

   Section 2.8 has been created to address the use of relative URLs in
   the FTP scheme.

   Section 2.9 has been added, noting that url paths are relative to
   the default ftp directory of the user, and this can lead to different
   url-paths to access the same resource on the server.

   Added Section 3.1 to discuss the issue of leading-slashes in FTP Urls
   and their interpretation by most user-agents.

   [RFC-URL-SYNTAX] rationalizes the two BNFs provided in the RFC 1738
   and RFC 1808, which means the set of allowable characters in any
   <cwdx> or <name> section is slightly different from that allowed by
   RFC 1738. This is documented fully in appendix E 'Summary of
   non-editorial changes' of [RFC-URL-SYNTAX].

Authors Address

   James Casey
   Harlequin Inc
   301 Ravenswood Avenue
   Suite 100
   Menlo Park, CA 94025

   Phone: +1 (415) 833 0400
   EMail: jamesc@harlequin.com