Individual Submission                                       L. Dusseault
Internet-Draft                                                      OSAF
Expires: February 28, 2005                               August 30, 2004

            Partial Document Changes (PATCH Method) for HTTP

Status of this Memo

   This document is an Internet-Draft and is subject to all provisions
   of section 3 of RFC 3667.  By submitting this Internet-Draft, each
   author represents that any applicable patent or other IPR claims of
   which he or she is aware have been or will be disclosed, and any of
   which he or she become aware will be disclosed, in accordance with
   RFC 3668.

   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 are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
   and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any
   time.  It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference
   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   The list of current Internet-Drafts can be accessed at

   The list of Internet-Draft Shadow Directories can be accessed at

   This Internet-Draft will expire on February 28, 2005.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2004).


   Several applications extending HTTP require a feature to do partial
   resource modification.  Existing HTTP functionality only allows a
   complete replacement of a document.  This proposal adds a new HTTP
   method, PATCH, to modify an existing HTTP resource.

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005                [Page 1]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   2.  Patch Formats  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
   3.  Mechanisms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
     3.1   PATCH Method . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
     3.2   PATCH Response . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
       3.2.1   Success Response . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
       3.2.2   Error handling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
     3.3   Advertising Support in OPTIONS . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
   4.  Interdependencies with other Standards . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
     4.1   PATCH and Access Control (RFC3744) . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
     4.2   PATCH and Instance Manipulations (RFC3230) . . . . . . . . 11
   5.  IANA Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
   6.  Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
   7.  References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
   7.1   Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
   7.2   Non-Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
       Author's Address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
   A.  Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
   B.  Changes  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
     B.1   Changes from -00 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
     B.2   Changes from -01 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
     B.3   Changes from -02 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
     B.4   Changes from -03 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
     B.5   Changes from -04 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
       Intellectual Property and Copyright Statements . . . . . . . . 18

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005                [Page 2]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

1.  Introduction

   Three use cases initially motivated this proposal

   1.  WebDAV [4] is used by authoring applications to store and share
       files on the internet.  For example, Adobe Photoshop has a
       Workgroup feature allowing the user to browse a repository and
       save the file.  Currently, Photoshop only publishes the file to
       the repository rarely, because Photoshop files are typically
       large and upload is slow.  Worse, large uploads are more likely
       to be interrupted.  Although HTTP [2] provides byte range
       downloads, it does not provide a mechanism for partial uploads.
   2.  DeltaV [7] extends WebDAV to do versioning.  In versioning
       environments, a large number of files may be updated with very
       small changes.  For example, a programmer may change the name of
       a function used in a hundred source files.  Versioning
       applications typically send deltas or patches to the server to
       modify these files, however DetaV does not yet have this
   3.  The SIMPLE WG is devising a way to store and modify configuration
       information.  The biggest feature missing from HTTP is the
       ability to modify information in a very lightweight manner, so
       that the client that decides to change its presence state from
       "free" to "busy" doesn't have to upload a large document.  This
       can be accomplished through changes to a HTTP resource as well.

   Other working groups (like netconf) are also considering manipulating
   large files using HTTP GET and PUT.  Sometimes the files aren't that
   large but the device is small or bandwidth is limited, as when phones
   need to add a new contact to an address book file.  This feature
   would allow much more efficient changes to files.

   This specification defines a new HTTP 1.1 method for patches.  A new
   method is necessary to improve interoperability and prevent errors.
   The PUT method is already defined to overwrite a resource with a
   complete new body, and MUST NOT be reused to do partial changes.
   Otherwise, proxies and caches and even clients and servers may get
   confused as to the result of the operation.

   Note that byte ranges are already used in HTTP to do partial
   downloads (GET method).  However, they are not defined for uploads,
   and there are some missing pieces for uploads.  For example, the HTTP
   specification does not define a particularly informative error to
   send if the byte range in a PUT is invalid.  Byte ranges (or some
   other kind of range) could be made to work in this specification but
   a more flexible mechanism (one that could also encompass XML patch
   formats) was desired, as well as a method that would not confuse
   caching proxies.  Reliable and tested patch algorithms already exist,

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005                [Page 3]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

   and this specification takes advantage of that existing work.

   Other patch formats ("delta encodings") are defined for HTTP in RFC
   3229 [5].  That specification defines delta encodings for cache
   updates, not for user write operations.  It does mean that servers
   can reuse delta encoding algorithms to support both that
   specification and this proposal.

   This specification defines the new method PATCH to alter a single
   existing resource, in place, by applying a patch.  The operation is
   atomic.  Note that WebDAV MOVE and COPY requests, if supported by the
   HTTP server, can be useful to independently rename or copy a whole
   resource before applying PATCH to either the source or destination
   URL to modify the contents.

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005                [Page 4]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

2.  Patch Formats

   A set of changes for a resource is itself a document, called a patch
   document.  The patch format is uniquely identified through a MIME
   type.  Servers advertise supported patch formats by advertising these
   MIME types, and clients specify which one they're using by including
   the MIME type in the request.  MIME types were specifically chosen so
   that there would be a well-defined way for other PATCH extensions to
   define their own patch formats and how to use them.

   This specification only defines usage of the platform-portable gdiff
   [3] format identified as 'application/gdiff'.  Servers SHOULD support
   gdiff for all authorable resources, that is all resources that
   support PUT.  Some requirements apply only to specific patch formats,
   and in this specification those requirements are spelled out only for

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005                [Page 5]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

3.  Mechanisms

3.1  PATCH Method

   The PATCH method requests that the request body (a patch document) be
   applied to the resource identified by the Request-URI.  The server
   MUST NOT create a new resource with the contents of the request body,
   although it MAY (depending on the patch document format) apply the
   request body to an empty entity to result in the content for the new
   resource.  The target resource's content type MUST be one to which
   the patch format applies.  The server MUST apply the entire patch
   atomically and never provide (e.g.  in response to a GET during this
   operation) a partially-patched body.  If the entire patch file cannot
   be successfully applied then the server MUST fail the entire request,
   applying none of the changes.  See error handling section for details
   on status codes and possible error conditions.

   PATCH request bodies MUST NOT be cached.  A cache MAY mark the
   resource identified in the Request-URI as stale if it sees a
   successful response to the PATCH request.

   The PATCH request MUST have a body.  It MUST include the Content-Type
   header with a MIME [1] type value identifying the patch format used
   in the request body.  The request body MUST be in some format which
   has the semantics of defining a change to an existing document.

   If the gdiff format is used:

   o  The client MUST verify that it is applying the patch document to a
      known entity.  There are two reliable ways to do this.  The first
      way is to find out the resource ETag at the time the body is
      downloaded, and use that Etag in the If-Match header on the PATCH
      request to make sure the resource is still unchanged.  The second
      way to use WebDAV LOCK/UNLOCK to reserve the file (first LOCK,
      then GET, then PATCH, then UNLOCK).  Gdiff collisions from
      multiple users are more dangerous than PUT collisions, because a
      gdiff that is not operating from a known base point may corrupt
      the resource.  Therefore, if neither strong ETags nor LOCKS are
      available from the server, the client MUST use If-Unmodified-Since
      as a less-reliable safeguard.
   o  If the Request-URI does not identify an existing resource, the
      server SHOULD (subject of course to access control and other
      restrictions) create a resource with an empty body and apply the
      gdiff changes to that empty entity.  A client SHOULD verify that
      the URL is unmapped, as expected, with use of the "If-None-Match:
      *" header.

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005                [Page 6]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

   Simple PATCH example

       PATCH /file.txt HTTP/1.1
       Content-type: application/gdiff
       If-Match: "e0023aa4e"
       Content-Length: 100


                                Figure 1

   This example illustrates use of the gdiff algorithm on an existing
   text file.

3.2  PATCH Response

3.2.1  Success Response

   A successful response with the 204 No Content status code implies
   that no new resource was created.  A successful response with the 201
   Created status code informs the client that a new resource was

   The server SHOULD provide a MD5 hash of the resource entity after the
   patch was applied.  This allows the client to verify the success of
   the operation.

   As with PUT, the PATCH method MUST change the resource's ETag if the
   resulting entity is not identical to the original.  If the server
   supports strong ETags, the server MUST return a strong ETag for use
   in future client operations.  The server MUST return the
   Last-Modified header if it does not support strong ETags.

   Successful PATCH response to existing text file

       HTTP/1.1 204 No Content
       Content-MD5: Q2hlY2sgSW50ZWdyaXR5IQ==
       ETag: "e0023aa4e"

3.2.2  Error handling

   This proposal uses the same mechanism as DeltaV (defined in section
   1.6 of RFC3253) to add machine-parsable info to provide more detail

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005                [Page 7]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

   than HTTP status codes can.  Existing HTTP status codes are not
   infinitely extensible but XML elements and namespaces are more so,
   and it's simple to treat the HTTP error code as a rough category and
   put detailed error codes in the body.  Clients that do not use the
   extra information ignore the bodies of error responses.  These error
   codes are not meant to be displayed directly to end-users, so there
   is no language code or other display information.  Clients MUST
   ignore any unrecognized elements within the XML response body because
   extensions allow implementors to add custom debug information to the

   The PATCH method can return the following errors.  All these errors
   are represented as XML elements in an XML document, where the
   specific error element appears inside a root element called "error"
   in the "DAV:" namespace.  The new elements defined in this
   specification are all in the "urn:ietf:params:xml:ns:patch"

   delta-format-unsupported: Used with 403 Forbidden status code.
      Returned by the server when it doesn't support the patch format
      chosen by the client.

   delta-format-forbidden-on-resource: Used with 403 Forbidden when the
      patch format chosen by the client is supported by the server but
      not allowed on this kind of resource.

   delta-format-badly-formatted: Used with 400 Bad Request when the
      server finds that the patch document provided by the client was
      badly formatted or non-compliant.  The definition of badly
      formatted or non-compliant depends on the patch format chosen, but
      generally if the server finds it can't handle the current patch
      even though it supports the format used, this error ought to be

   patch-empty-resource: Used with 409 Conflict when the resource
      addressed in the Request-URI exists but is empty, and the patch
      format cannot be applied to an empty document.  Note that some
      patch formats may be applied to an empty document, in which case
      this error wouldn't be used.

   patch-result-invalid: Used with 409 Conflict when the resource could
      be patched but the result of the patch would be a resource which
      is invalid.  This could mean, for example, that a XML resource
      would become an invalid XML file if the patch specified that a
      close element text line should be deleted.

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005                [Page 8]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

   "404 Not Found" can be used (with no body/error element) when the URL
   in by the Request-URI does not map to a resource and the server
   cannot apply the patch document to a new empty resource (thus this
   error wouldn't be used with gdiff patch documents).

   Other status codes defined in RFC2616 may also be used under the
   appropriate circumstances, with no response body.  For example, an
   unauthenticated user may be prompted to authenticate, in order to use
   PATCH, with "401 Unauthorized".  An authenticated user who does not
   have sufficient privilege to use PATCH may receive a "403 Forbidden"
   response.  Example error response with body detail

       HTTP/1.1 409 Conflict
       Content-Type: text/xml; charset="utf-8"
       Content-Length: xxx

       <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
       <D:error xmlns:D="DAV:">

3.3  Advertising Support in OPTIONS

   The server advertises its support for the features described here
   with OPTIONS response headers.  The "Allow" OPTIONS header is already
   defined in HTTP 1.1  to contain all the allowed methods on the
   addressed resource, so the server MUST add PATCH if it is allowed.

   Clients also need to know whether the server supports special patch
   formats, so this document introduces a new OPTIONS response header
   "Accept-Patch".  "Accept-Patch" MUST appear in the OPTIONS response
   for any resource where the PATCH method is shown as an allowed

   OPTIONS * is not used to advertise support for PATCH because the
   patch formats supported are likely to change from one resource to
   another.  A server MAY include the Accept-Patch header in response to
   OPTIONS *, and its value MAY be the union of known supported patch

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005                [Page 9]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

   Accept-Patch = "Accept-Patch" ":" #media-type

   Example: OPTIONS request and response for specific resource


       OPTIONS /example/buddies.xml HTTP/1.1


       HTTP/1.1 200 OK
       Accept-Patch: example/xcap+xml, application/gdiff

   The examples show a server that supports PATCH generally, with two
   formats supported (one of them is fictional).  On some resources, for
   example on XML files, different kinds of patch formats more
   appropriate to the resource may be supported.

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005               [Page 10]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

4.  Interdependencies with other Standards

4.1  PATCH and Access Control (RFC3744)

   If the server supports WebDAV Access Control [8], then the PATCH
   request SHOULD be subject to the same access control permissions as
   the PUT request.

4.2  PATCH and Instance Manipulations (RFC3230)

   A patch document is modelled as an instance being sent to the server,
   following the model of RFC3230 [6].  Thus, if the server supports
   instance manipulations, the client MAY apply a supported manipulation
   to the patch document after it is generated (for example, a
   compression algorithm could be applied to the patch document).  On
   the receiving end, the server MUST undo the instance manipulation
   then apply the resulting document as a patch.

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005               [Page 11]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

5.  IANA Considerations

   This document uses URNs to describe XML namespaces and XML schemas
   conforming to a registry mechanism described in [RFC3688].

   Registration request for the patch namespace:

   URI: urn:ietf:params:xml:ns:patch

   Registrant Contact: See the "Author's Address" section of this

   XML: None.  Namespace URIs do not represent an XML specification.

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005               [Page 12]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

6.  Security Considerations

   The security considerations for PATCH are nearly identical to the
   security considerations for PUT.  In addition, one might be concerned
   that a document that is patched might be more likely to be corrupted,
   but that concern is addressed through use of MD5 digests.

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005               [Page 13]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

7.  References

7.1  Normative References

   [1]  Freed, N. and N. Borenstein, "Multipurpose Internet Mail
        Extensions (MIME) Part Two: Media Types", RFC 2046, November

   [2]  Fielding, R., Gettys, J., Mogul, J., Frystyk, H., Masinter, L.,
        Leach, P. and T. Berners-Lee, "Hypertext Transfer Protocol --
        HTTP/1.1", RFC 2616, June 1999.

   [3]  van Hoff, A. and J. Payne, "Generic Diff Format Specification",
        W3C NOTE-gdiff-19970901, August 1997,

7.2  Non-Normative References

   [4]  Goland, Y., Whitehead, E., Faizi, A., Carter, S. and D. Jensen,
        "HTTP Extensions for Distributed Authoring -- WEBDAV", RFC 2518,
        February 1999.

   [5]  Mogul, J., Krishnamurthy, B., Douglis, F., Feldmann, A., Goland,
        Y., van Hoff, A. and D. Hellerstein, "Delta encoding in HTTP",
        RFC 3229, January 2002.

   [6]  Mogul, J. and A. Van Hoff, "Instance Digests in HTTP", RFC 3230,
        January 2002.

   [7]  Clemm, G., Amsden, J., Ellison, T., Kaler, C. and J. Whitehead,
        "Versioning Extensions to WebDAV (Web Distributed Authoring and
        Versioning)", RFC 3253, March 2002.

   [8]  Clemm, G., Reschke, J., Sedlar, E. and J. Whitehead, "Web
        Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV) Access Control
        Protocol", RFC 3744, May 2004.

Author's Address

   Lisa Dusseault
   Open Source Application Foundation
   2064 Edgewood Dr.
   Palo Alto, CA  94303


Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005               [Page 14]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

Appendix A.  Acknowledgements

   PATCH is not a new concept, it first appeared in HTTP in drafts of
   version 1.1 written by Roy Fielding and Henrik Frystyk.

   Thanks to Adam Roach, Chris Sharp, Julian Reschke, Geoff Clemm, Scott
   Lawrence, Jeffrey Mogul, Roy Fielding, Greg Stein, Jim Luther, Alex
   Rousskov, Jamie Lokier and Joe Hildebrand for review and advice on
   this document.

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005               [Page 15]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

Appendix B.  Changes

B.1  Changes from -00

   OPTIONS support: removed "Patch" header definition and used Allow and
   new "Accept-Patch" headers instead.

   Supported patch formats: removed vcdiff and diffe as these do not
   have defined MIME types and did not seem to be strongly desired.

   PATCH method definition: Clarified cache behavior.

B.2  Changes from -01

   Removed references to XCAP - not yet a RFC.

   Fixed use of MIME types (this "fix" now obsolete)

   Explained how to use MOVE or COPY in conjunction with PATCH, to
   create a new resource based on an existing resource in a different

B.3  Changes from -02

   Clarified that MOVE and COPY are really independent of PATCH.

   Clarified when an ETag must change, and when Last-Modified must be

   Clarified what server should do if both Content-Type and IM headers
   appear in PATCH request.

   Filled in missing reference to DeltaV and ACL RFCs.

   Stopped using 501 Unsupported for unsupported patch formats.

   Clarified what a static resource is.

   Refixed use of MIME types for patch formats.

   Limited the scope of some restrictions to apply only to 'gdiff'

B.4  Changes from -03

   Various typographical, terminology consistency, and other minor
   clarifications or fixes.

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005               [Page 16]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

B.5  Changes from -04

   Moved paragraphs on ACL and RFC3230 interoperability to new section.

   Added security considerations.

   Added IANA considerations, registration of new namespace, and
   discontinued use of "DAV:" namespace for new elements.

   Added example of error response.

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005               [Page 17]

Internet-Draft                 HTTP PATCH                    August 2004

Intellectual Property Statement

   The IETF takes no position regarding the validity or scope of any
   Intellectual Property Rights or other rights that might be claimed to
   pertain to the implementation or use of the technology described in
   this document or the extent to which any license under such rights
   might or might not be available; nor does it represent that it has
   made any independent effort to identify any such rights.  Information
   on the procedures with respect to rights in RFC documents can be
   found in BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Copies of IPR disclosures made to the IETF Secretariat and any
   assurances of licenses to be made available, or the result of an
   attempt made to obtain a general license or permission for the use of
   such proprietary rights by implementers or users of this
   specification can be obtained from the IETF on-line IPR repository at

   The IETF invites any interested party to bring to its attention any
   copyrights, patents or patent applications, or other proprietary
   rights that may cover technology that may be required to implement
   this standard.  Please address the information to the IETF at

Disclaimer of Validity

   This document and the information contained herein are provided on an

Copyright Statement

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2004).  This document is subject
   to the rights, licenses and restrictions contained in BCP 78, and
   except as set forth therein, the authors retain all their rights.


   Funding for the RFC Editor function is currently provided by the
   Internet Society.

Dusseault              Expires February 28, 2005               [Page 18]