netconf                                                       T. Goddard
Internet-Draft                                        Wind River Systems
Expires: April 15, 2004                                 October 16, 2003

                           NETCONF Over SOAP

Status of this Memo

   This document is an Internet-Draft and is in full conformance with
   all provisions of Section 10 of RFC2026.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
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   This Internet-Draft will expire on April 15, 2004.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2003). All Rights Reserved.


   The configuration protocol NETCONF is applicable to a wide range of
   devices in a variety of environments. The emergence of Web Services
   gives one such environment, and is presently characterized by the use
   of SOAP over HTTP.  NETCONF finds many benefits in this environment:
   from the use of existing standards, to ease of software development,
   to integration with deployed systems.  Herein, we describe a SOAP
   over HTTP binding that, when used with multiple persistent HTTP
   connections, yields an application protocol sufficient for NETCONF.

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Table of Contents

   1.    Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   2.    SOAP Background for NETCONF  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
   2.1   Use and Storage of WSDL and XSD  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
   2.2   SOAP over HTTP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
   2.3   HTTP Drawbacks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
   2.4   Important HTTP 1.1 Features  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
   3.    A SOAP Web Service for NETCONF . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
   3.1   Fundamental Use Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
   3.2   Mapping NETCONF Channels to HTTP Connections . . . . . . . .  7
   3.2.1 Asynchronous Functionality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
   3.3   NETCONF Sessions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
   3.4   Capabilities Exchange  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
   3.5   A NETCONF/SOAP example . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
   3.6   Managing Multiple Devices  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
   4.    Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   4.1   Integrity, Privacy, and Authentication . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   4.2   Vulnerabilities  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   4.3   Environmental Specifics  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
         Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
         Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
         Author's Address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
   A.    WSDL Definitions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
   A.1   NETCONF SOAP Binding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
   A.2   Sample Service Definition  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
         Intellectual Property and Copyright Statements . . . . . . . 18

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1. Introduction

   Given the use of XML [1] and the remote procedure call
   characteristics, it is natural to consider a binding of the NETCONF
   [13] operations to a SOAP [2] application protocol. This document
   proposes a binding of this form.

   Note that a SOAP binding for NETCONF is not necessarily intended only
   for managing individual devices.  For instance, a server providing a
   SOAP interface can act as a proxy for multiple devices, possibly
   connecting to those devices over BEEP [16] or serial lines.  In this
   case it is important to define a data model that appropriately
   aggregates the devices.

   In general, SOAP over HTTP is a natural application protocol for
   NETCONF (essentially because both emphasize remote procedure calls)
   but there are three areas that require care: the <rpc-progress>
   operation, the mechanism for aborting operations, and the
   notification channel.  The reason for this is that all of these
   functions are asynchronous (from the point of view of the manager)
   and HTTP is inherently synchronous and client-driven.

   Four basic topics are presented: SOAP specifics of interest to
   NETCONF, specifics on implementing NETCONF as a SOAP-based web
   service, security considerations, and an appendix with functional
   WSDL.  In some sense, the most important part of the document is the
   brief WSDL document presented in the Appendix.  With the right tools,
   the WSDL combined with the base NETCONF XML Schemas provide machine
   readable descriptions sufficient for the development of software
   applications using NETCONF.

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2. SOAP Background for NETCONF

   Why introduce SOAP as yet another wrapper around what is already a
   remote procedure call message?  There are, in fact, both technical
   and practical reasons.  The technical reasons are perhaps less
   compelling, but let's examine them first.

   SOAP is fundamentally an XML messaging scheme (which is capable of
   supporting remote procedure call) and it defines a simple message
   format composed of a "header" and a "body" contained within an
   "envelope".  The "header" contains meta-information relating to the
   message, and can be used to indicate such things as store-and-forward
   behaviour or transactional characteristics.  In addition, SOAP
   specifies an optional encoding for the "body" of the message.
   However, this encoding is not applicable to NETCONF as one of the
   goals is to have highly readable XML, and SOAP-encoding is optimized
   instead for ease of automated deserialization. These benefits of the
   SOAP message structure are basic, but worthwhile due to the fact that
   they are already standardized.

   It is the practical reasons that make SOAP over HTTP an interesting
   choice for device management.  It is not difficult to invent a
   mechanism for exchanging XML messages over TCP, but what is difficult
   is getting that mechanism supported in a wide variety of tools and
   operating systems and having that mechanism understood by a great
   many developers.  SOAP over HTTP (with WSDL) is seeing good success
   at this, and this means that a device management protocol making use
   of these technologies has advantages in being implemented and
   adopted.  Admittedly, there are interoperability problems with SOAP
   and WSDL, but such problems have wide attention and can be expected
   to be resolved.

2.1 Use and Storage of WSDL and XSD

   One of the advantages of using machine readable formats such as Web
   Services Description Language (WSDL) [3] and XML Schemas [4] is that
   they can be used automatically in the software development process.
   With appropriate tools, WSDL and XSD can be used to generate classes
   that act as remote interfaces or application specific data
   structures. Other uses, such as document generation and service
   location, are also common.  A great innovation found with many
   XML-based definition languages is the use of hyperlinks for referring
   to documents containing supporting definitions. For instance, in
   WSDL, the import statement

     <import namespace=""

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    imports the definitions of XML types and elements from the base
   NETCONF schema.  Ideally, the file containing that schema is hosted
   on a web server under the authority of the standards body that
   defined the schema.  In this way, dependent standards can be built up
   over time and all are accessible to automated software tools that
   ensure adherence to the standards. Thus, it will gradually become as
   important for to host documents like

    as the IETF now hosts documents such as

2.2 SOAP over HTTP

   While it is true that SOAP focuses on messages and can be bound to
   different underlying protocols such as HTTP, SMTP, or BEEP, most
   existing SOAP implementations support only HTTP or HTTP/TLS.  For
   this discussion we will assume SOAP over HTTP or HTTP/TLS unless
   otherwise specified. (This also includes applications of IPSec to
   SOAP over HTTP.)

   Note that there are a number of advantages to considering SOAP over
   protocols other than HTTP, as HTTP assigns its very distinct client
   and server roles by connection initiation. This causes difficulties
   in supporting asynchronous notification (possibly relieved by
   replacing SOAP/HTTP with SOAP/BEEP). However, it is also the case
   that the full potential of HTTP is not currently used by SOAP.  For
   instance, multiple SOAP replies to a single request could be
   contained in a multipart MIME [6] response.  This would be a similar
   strategy to the use of multipart/related with SOAP attachments [14].

2.3 HTTP Drawbacks

   HTTP is not the ideal transport for messaging, but it is adequate for
   the most basic interpretation of "remote procedure call".  HTTP is
   based on a communication pattern whereby the client (which initiates
   the TCP connection) makes a "request" to the server.  The server
   returns a "response" and this process is continued (possibly over a
   persistent connection, as described below).  This matches the basic
   idea of a remote procedure call where the caller invokes a procedure
   on a remote server and waits for the return value.

   Potential criticisms of HTTP could include the following:

   o  server-initiated data flow is awkward

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   o  headers are verbose and text-based

   o  idle connections may be closed by intermediate proxies

   o  data encapsulation must adhere to MIME

   o  bulk transfer relies on stream-based ordering

   In many ways these criticisms are directed at particular compromises
   in the design of HTTP.  As such, they are important to consider, but
   it is not clear that they result in fatal drawbacks for a device
   management protocol.

2.4 Important HTTP 1.1 Features

   HTTP 1.1 [7] includes two important features that provide for
   relatively efficient transport of SOAP messages.  These features are
   "persistent connections" and "chunked transfer-coding".

   Persistent connections allow a single TCP connection to be used
   across multiple HTTP requests. This permits multiple SOAP request/
   response message pairs to be exchanged without the overhead of
   creating a new TCP connection for each request. Given that a single
   stream is used for both requests and responses, it is clear that some
   form of framing is necessary.  For messages whose length is known in
   advance, this is handled by the HTTP header "Content-length".  For
   messages of dynamic length, "Chunking" is required.

   HTTP "Chunking" or "chunked transfer-coding" allows the sender to
   send an indefinite amount of binary data.  This is accomplished by
   informing the receiver of the size of each "chunk" (substring of the
   data) before the chunk is transmitted.  The last chunk is indicated
   by a chunk of zero length.  Chunking can be effectively used to
   transfer a large XML document where the document is generated on-line
   from a non-XML form in memory.

   In terms of application to SOAP message exchanges, persistent
   connections are clearly important for performance reasons, and are
   particularly important when it is the persistence of authenticated
   connections that is at stake.  When one considers that messages of
   dynamic length are the rule rather than the exception for SOAP
   messages, it is also clear that Chunking is very useful.  In some
   cases it is possible to buffer a SOAP response and determine its
   length before sending, but the storage requirements for this are
   prohibitive for many devices. Together, these two features provide a
   good foundation for device management using SOAP over HTTP.

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3. A SOAP Web Service for NETCONF

3.1 Fundamental Use Case

   The fundamental use case for NETCONF over SOAP (NETCONF/SOAP) over
   HTTP is that of a management console ("manager" role) managing one or
   more devices running NETCONF agents ("agent" role).  The manager
   initiates one or more HTTP connections to the agent and drives the
   NETCONF sessions through repeated SOAP messages over HTTP requests.
   When the manager closes all HTTP connections associated with a
   session, the NETCONF session is also closed.

3.2 Mapping NETCONF Channels to HTTP Connections

   While the transport of SOAP over BEEP [17] has been specified, the
   purpose of this discussion is to describe how to map the channel
   semantics and performance characteristics already assumed by NETCONF
   onto (possibly persistent) SOAP over HTTP connections. This
   configuration is chosen because it is the one that benefits most from
   existing SOAP tools and implementations.  It is true that BEEP has
   many advantages over HTTP for the transport of SOAP messages, but the
   fact remains that HTTP is currently more widely deployed than BEEP.
   At some point in the future, NETCONF/SOAP over BEEP may also be of
   interest.  At that time it can be easily dealt with as many of the
   issues already discussed in this document are pertinent. There would
   simply be a few enhancements regarding asynchronous notification.

   NETCONF employs potentially three channels per session: the
   management channel, the operation channel, and the notification
   channel.  In the SOAP over HTTP binding, each of these channels can
   be mapped to an individual HTTP connection (although the notification
   channel may be a BEEP channel in a separate TCP connection). Thus,
   SOAP messages on one connection (corresponding to the management
   channel) must be able to refer to SOAP messages on another connection
   (corresponding to the operation channel) as the "session" is
   potentially spread across multiple TCP connections. For instance, it
   may be necessary to abort a time-extended SOAP request on the
   "operation" HTTP connection by sending an "<rpc-abort>" message on
   the "management" HTTP connection.

   Distinct "operation" and "management" HTTP connections are not
   defined; the agent may limit the number of HTTP connections in the
   same session, and each is capable those "management" and "operation"
   procedure calls supported by NETCONF over SOAP.

3.2.1 Asynchronous Functionality

   NETCONF uses two types of asynchronous functionality, and the mapping

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   of these onto SOAP over HTTP is somewhat problematic. The two
   asynchronous functions are <rpc-progress> and notifications on the
   notification channel, and these are not supported in the SOAP over
   HTTP application protocol. Instead, the client can periodically poll
   the appropriate elements of via <get-state> (on a secondary HTTP
   connection) to obtain progress information or notification log

   Additionally, the notification mechanism for NETCONF is specified in
   an existing standard for reliable syslog [12] and it is suggested
   that the same mechanism be used with the SOAP binding (it is simply
   external). If notifications via SOAP over HTTP are desired, it is
   probably most effective if an HTTP connection is established from the
   agent to the management console.  Such a connection could be
   established in response to the manager connecting to the device.
   More sophisticated functionality, such as multiple SOAP replies to a
   single request, would require enhancements to the SOAP over HTTP

3.3 NETCONF Sessions

   NETCONF sessions are persistent for both performance and semantic
   reasons.  NETCONF session state contains the following:

   1.  Authentication Information

   2.  Capability Information

   3.  Locks

   4.  Pending Operations

   5.  Operation Sequence Numbers

   Authentication must be maintained throughout a session due to the
   fact that it is expensive to establish. Capability Information is
   maintained so that appropriate operations can be applied during a
   session. Locks are released upon termination of a session as this
   makes the protocol more robust.  Pending operations come and go from
   existence during the normal course of RPC operations. Operation
   sequence numbers provide the small but necessary state information to
   refer to operations during the session.

   Since it is generally not possible to support a full NETCONF session
   with a single HTTP connection, it is necessary to identify the
   NETCONF session in a way that can span multiple HTTP connections.
   This can be performed with the HTTP request URI, as in the following
   POST request with the target session "sid-123":

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   POST /netconf/sid-123 HTTP/1.0
   Content-Type: text/xml; charset=utf-8
   Content-Length: 470

   Note that the session identifier must either be known by the manager
   (in order to attach to an existing session) or be communicated from
   the agent to the manager prior to the exchange of any significant
   NETCONF messages.  For this, it is recommended that the session
   identifier be determined via <get-state>. An empty session identifier
   may be used in the case where only an operations channel is required
   (in this case the agent assigns a new session to that HTTP

   Thus, in the case of SOAP over HTTP, a NETCONF "session" is a
   collection of HTTP connections with common authenticated users and a
   common session identifier as indicated in the HTTP reqest URI header.
   To support automated cleanup, a NETCONF over SOAP session is closed
   when all connections associated with that session are closed.

3.4 Capabilities Exchange

   Capabilities exchange, if defined through a NETCONF RPC operation,
   can easily be accommodated in the SOAP binding.

3.5 A NETCONF/SOAP example

   Since the proposed WSDL (in Appendix A.1) uses document/literal
   encoding, the use of a SOAP header and body has little impact on the
   representation of a NETCONF operation.  This example shows HTTP/1.0
   for simplicity.

   POST /netconf HTTP/1.0
   Content-Type: text/xml; charset=utf-8
   Accept: application/soap+xml, text/*
   Cache-Control: no-cache
   Pragma: no-cache
   Content-Length: 470

   <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
       <rpc id="101" xmlns="">
           <config xmlns="">

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   The HTTP/1.0 response is also straightforward:

   HTTP/1.0 200 OK
   Content-Type: text/xml; charset=utf-8

   <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
       <rpc-reply id="101" xmlns="">
         <config xmlns="">

3.6 Managing Multiple Devices

   When a server is acting as a proxy for multiple devices, the URL for
   the HTTP POST can be used to indicate which device is the target.  It
   may also be desirable to use the HTTP POST URL as a means for
   selecting from multiple virtual devices on a single device.

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4. Security Considerations

   NETCONF is used to access and modify configuration information, so
   the ability to access this protocol should be limited to users and
   systems that are authorized to view or modify the agent's
   configuration data.

   Because configuration information is sent in both directions, it is
   not sufficient for just the client or user to be authenticated with
   the server.  The identity of the server should also be authenticated
   with the client.

   Configuration data may include sensitive information, such as user
   names or security keys.  So, NETCONF should only be used over
   communications channels that provide strong encryption for data

   If the NETCONF server provides remote access through insecure
   protocols, such as HTTP, care should be taken to prevent execution of
   the NETCONF program when strong user authentication or data privacy
   is not available.

4.1 Integrity, Privacy, and Authentication

   The NETCONF SOAP binding relies on an underlying secure transport for
   integrity and privacy.  Such transports are expected to include TLS
   [10] and IPSec. There are a number of options for authentication
   (some of which are deployment-specific):

   o  within the transport (such as with TLS client certificates)

   o  within HTTP (such as Digest Access Authentication [8])

   o  within SOAP (such as a digital signature in the header [15])

   HTTP and SOAP level authentication can be integrated with RADIUS [11]
   to support remote authentication databases.

4.2 Vulnerabilities

   The above protocols may have various vulnerabilities, and these may
   be inherited by NETCONF/SOAP.

   NETCONF itself may have vulnerabilities due to the fact that an
   authorization model is not currently specified.

   It is important that device capabilities and authorization remain

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   constant for the duration of any outstanding NETCONF session. In the
   case of NETCONF/SOAP, this constancy must be given particular
   attention as a session may span multiple HTTP connections.

4.3 Environmental Specifics

   Some deployments of NETCONF/SOAP may choose to use HTTP without
   encryption.  This presents vulnerabilities but may be selected for
   deployments involving closed networks or debugging scenarios.

   A device managed by NETCONF may interact (over protocols other than
   NETCONF) with devices managed by other protocols, all of differing
   security.  Each point of entry brings with it a potential

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Normative References

   [1]   Bray, T., Paoli, J., Sperberg-McQueen, C. and E. Maler,
         "Extensible Markup Language (XML) 1.0 (Second Edition)", W3C
         REC REC-xml-20001006, October 2000, <

   [2]   Box, D., Ehnebuske, D., Kakivaya, G., Layman, A., Mendelsohn,
         N., Nielsen, H., Thatte, S. and D. Winer, "Simple Object Access
         Protocol (SOAP) 1.1", W3C Note NOTE-SOAP-20000508, May 2000,

   [3]   Christensen, E., Curbera, F., Meredith, G. and S. Weerawarana,
         "Web Services Description Language (WSDL) 1.1", W3C Note
         NOTE-wsdl-20010315, March 2001, <

   [4]   Thompson, H., Beech, D., Maloney, M. and N. Mendelsohn, "XML
         Schema Part 1: Structures", W3C Recommendation
         REC-xmlschema-1-20010502, May 2001, <

   [5]   Freed, N. and N. Borenstein, "Multipurpose Internet Mail
         Extensions (MIME) Part One: Format of Internet Message Bodies",
         RFC 2045, November 1996, <>.

   [6]   Freed, N. and N. Borenstein, "Multipurpose Internet Mail
         Extensions (MIME) Part Two: Media Types", RFC 2046, November
         1996, <>.

   [7]   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, <

   [8]   Franks, J., Hallam-Baker, P., Hostetler, J., Leach, P.,
         Luotonen, A., Sink, E. and L. Stewart, "An Extension to HTTP:
         Digest Access Authentication", RFC 2069, January 1997, <http://>.

   [9]   Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement
         Levels", RFC 2119, March 1997, <

   [10]  Dierks, T., Allen, C., Treese, W., Karlton, P., Freier, A. and
         P. Kocher, "The TLS Protocol Version 1.0", RFC 2246, January
         1999, <>.

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   [11]  Rigney, C., Willens, S., Rubens, A. and W. Simpson, "Remote
         Authentication Dial In User Service (RADIUS)", RFC 2865, June
         2000, <>.

   [12]  Rose, M. and D. New, "Reliable Delivery for syslog", RFC 3195,
         November 2001, <>.

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Informative References

   [13]  Enns, R., "NETCONF Configuration Protocol",
         draft-ietf-netconf-prot-00 (work in progress), Aug 2003,

   [14]  Barton, J., Nielsen, H. and S. Thatte, "SOAP Messages with
         Attachments", W3C Note NOTE-SOAP-attachments-20001211, Dec
         2000, <

   [15]  Brown, A., Fox, B., Hada, S., LaMacchia, B. and H. Maruyama,
         "SOAP Security Extensions: Digital Signature", W3C Note
         NOTE-SOAP-dsig-20010206, Feb 2001, <

   [16]  Rose, M., "The Blocks Extensible Exchange Protocol Core", RFC
         3080, March 2001, <>.

   [17]  O'Tuathail, E. and M. Rose, "Using the Simple Object Access
         Protocol (SOAP) in Blocks Extensible Exchange Protocol (BEEP)",
         RFC 3288, June 2002, <>.

Author's Address

   Ted Goddard
   Wind River Systems
   #180, 6815-8th Street NE
   Calgary, AB  T2E 7H7

   Phone: (403) 730-7590

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Appendix A. WSDL Definitions


   The following WSDL document assumes a hypothetical location for the
   NETCONF schema.

   <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

     <import namespace=""

     <message name="rpcRequest">
       <part name="in" element="xb:rpc"/>
     <message name="rpcResponse">
       <part name="out" element="xb:rpc-reply"/>

     <portType name="rpcPortType">
       <operation name="rpc">
         <input message="tns:rpcRequest"/>
         <output message="tns:rpcResponse"/>

     <binding name="rpcBinding" type="tns:rpcPortType">
       <SOAP:binding style="document"
       <operation name="rpc">
           <SOAP:body use="literal"
           <SOAP:body use="literal"

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A.2 Sample Service Definition

   The following WSDL document assumes a hypothetical location for the
   NETCONF/SOAP WSDL definitions.  A typical deployment of a device
   manageable via NETCONF/SOAP would provide a service definition
   similar to the following to identify the address of the device.

   <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

     <import namespace=""

     <service name="netconf">
       <port name="rpcPort" binding="xs:rpcBinding">
         <SOAP:address location="http://localhost:8080/netconf"/>


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Intellectual Property Statement

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   Funding for the RFC Editor function is currently provided by the
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