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Versions: 00                                                            
INTERNET-DRAFT
draft-ietf-uri-urn-handles-00.txt

William Arms
David Ely
Corporation for National Research Initiatives

June 23, 1995
Expires: December 23, 1995

The Handle System

Status of this document

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 documents at any time.  It is inappropriate to use
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than as "work in progress."

To learn the current status of any Internet-Draft, please
check the "1id-abstracts.txt" listing contained in the
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Coast).

[Page 1]


Abstract

The Handle System provides identifiers for digital objects
and other resources in distributed computer systems.  These
identifiers are known as handles.  The system ensures that
handles are unique and that they can be retained over long
time periods.   Since the system makes no assumptions about
the characteristics of the items that are identified, handles
can be used in a wide variety of systems and applications.

The handle system has the following components:  naming
authorities, handle generators, the global handle server,
local handle servers, caching handle servers, client software
libraries, proxy servers, and administrative tools.  For
reasons of performance and availability, the global, local,
and caching servers are implemented as distributed systems
comprising many server computers.  All components, except the
local handle server, have been implemented and are available
for general use by the research community.

The handle system provides all the capabilities listed in RFC
1737, K. Sollins, L. Masinter, "Functional Requirements for
Uniform Resource Names", 12/20/1994.

[Page 2]


Contents

1   Introduction
    1.1  Overview
    1.2  Historical background
    1.3  The handle system and the Internet Engineering Task
Force

2.  The handle system
    2.1  System components
    2.2  Policies and procedures

3.  Basic  Concepts
    3.1  Handles and handle records
    3.2  Resolution of handles
    3.3  Indirect handle
    3.4  Syntax

4.  Naming Authorities
    4.1  The naming authority hierarchy
    4.2  Creating naming authorities
    4.3  Primary handle server for a naming authority
    4.4  Handles for naming authorities

5.  Handle Servers
    5.1  The global handle server
    5.2  Local handle servers
    5.3  Storing handles

6.  Resolution of Handles
    6.1  Clients
    6.2  Resolution without caches
    6.3  Resolution with caching

7.  Administration
    7.1  Tools for administration of handles
    7.2  Firewalls

8.  The Handle System Project

9.  References

10.  Authors' Addresses

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1.  Introduction

1.1  Overview

The Handle System provides identifiers for digital objects
and other resources in distributed computer systems on
networks, especially the Internet.  These identifiers are
known as handles.  The system ensures that handles are unique
and that they can be retained over long time periods.

Fundamentally, a handle is an identifier that has associated
with it one or more fields of typed data.  To resolve a
handle is to present a handle to the system and have returned
some or all of the associated data.  In some applications,
this data can be used to locate the item, but the system
places no restriction on the types of data that can be stored
with the handle.  Handle servers are distributed computer
systems that store handle data and provide a rapid service to
resolve handles.

Implementation of the handle system by the Corporation for
National Research Initiatives (CNRI) began in mid-1994 and is
scheduled for completion by the end of 1995.  This paper is
an overview of the entire system.

1.2  Historical background

The design and implementation of the handle system has been
part of the Computer Science Technical Reports project,
funded by ARPA.  One part of this project was to develop an
architecture for the underlying infrastructure of the digital
library.  This defines digital objects with repositories to
store them, and describes how handles are used to identify
the digital objects.   The architecture is described in a
paper by Robert Kahn and Robert Wilensky [cnri.dlib/tn95-01].
The Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI) and
others are implementing Kahn/Wilensky repositories using the
handle system.

During 1994/95, a team led by David Ely at CNRI implemented a
global handle server, client libraries, and simple management
tools.  An early application, which is nearing completion, is
its use in the deposit of digital objects at the Copyright
Office of the Library of Congress.

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The CNRI handle system is completely general in the types of
network-accessible items that can be identified, where they
are stored, and how they are accessed.  It is not restricted
to digital objects stored in repositories.  Typical examples
of other items that can be identified with handles include
World Wide Web pages, e-mail addresses, or public keys.

The global handle system has been in operation since mid-
1994.  During the first six months of 1995, CNRI has added a
caching handle server for greater performance, advanced tools
for administration of handles and naming authorities, and a
proxy server for use with World Wide Web clients.  During the
second half of 1995, local handle servers are being added to
provide a balance between local autonomy in managing handles
and global, long-term availability of handles.  Local handle
servers will also allow excellent performance in resolving
very large numbers of handles.

1.3  The handle system and the Internet Engineering Task
Force

While the handle server has been under development, the
Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has been seeking a
system for naming Internet objects.  The term used by the
IETF is Universal Resource Name (URN).  RFC 1737 gives a list
of requirements.  While the IETF has not yet completed
specification of the syntax of URN, the handle system
provides all the functions listed in RFC 1737.


2.  The handle system

2.1  System components

The handle system contains the following parts.

o     Naming authorities are entities authorized to create
new handles and store them, with their associated handle
records, in handle servers.

o     Handle generators create new handles on behalf of
 naming authorities.

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o     Handle servers store handles and provide a service to
resolve them.  There is a single global handle server and
many associated local handle servers.

o     Client software is used for user applications to
communicate with handle servers.

o     Caching servers are used to provide fast resolution of
handles for clients and to minimize the frequency with
which client software accesses other handle servers.

o     Proxy servers permit Web browsers and other clients to
resolve handles.

o     Administrative tools are provided to create naming
authorities, to create, modify, and delete handle records,
and to create and maintain administrative groups.

Each handle server is implemented as a distributed computer
system, which may have many server computers.

2.2  Policies and procedures

The long-term value of the handle system depends upon many
independent sub-systems, operated by independent
organizations and a good balance between local and global
servers.  The global handle server and well-managed local
handle servers can ensure their own integrity, but can not
guarantee that other local handle servers are well behaved,
maintain acceptable levels of performance, or even continue
to exists.

The following are planned to maintain the integrity of the
system, with the minimal policies and procedures.

o     The global handle server is designed to be a high
performance, highly available system.

o     Whenever a handle is stored on any handle server, a
check for uniqueness is made.  In particular, the global
handle server ensures uniqueness amongst handles stored at
the global level.

o     It is strongly recommended that all handles should be
stored on the global handle server where long term
persistence is required or the handle is used to identify
valuable or otherwise important items.

[Page 6]


3.  Basic  Concepts

3.1  Handles and handle records

A handle provides a name for an item.  A handle record, as
stored in a handle server, contains:

        the handle
        one or more fields of typed data
        administrative information

Here are some examples:

o     The item is a digital object stored in one or more
repositories, as described by Kahn and Wilensky.  The data
field contains the identity of a repository or a set of
repositories.

 o     The item is an html page, stored on several World Wide Web
servers.  Each data field contains a URL.

Two important types of resource that are identified by
handles are naming authorities and handle servers.

3.2  Resolution of handles

Resolution of handles is carried out by handle servers, at
the request of a client.  To resolve a handle, a handle
server receives as input a handle and returns some or all of
the fields of typed data in the corresponding handle record.

The client can request that all data fields in the handle
record be returned or only those fields that contain data of
a given type.

The preferred method of transport is by UDP, but some
firewalls do not pass UDP packets.  Therefore, TCP is
provided as an option.

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3.3  Indirect handle

An indirect handle is a special type of data field that can
be held in a handle record.  The data field contains the
address of a handle server, with a specific data type to
indicate that this is an indirect handle.  A handle server
addresses is either an IP address or a domain name.

One use of an indirect handle is to allow reorganization of
handles amongst handle servers.  Indirect handles are left as
forwarding addresses.  A second important use is described in
Section 5.2.

3.4  Syntax

A handle has the form:

      n/d

Where n is a naming authority and d is an arbitrary string.
The string d is unique, for that naming authority. The
following are examples of valid handles:

      berkeley.cs/1994.12.05.23.42.12;7
      cnri.dlib.papers/tn95-137

The precise character sets allowed in n and d are still under
discussion.  All alphanumeric and certain other ASCII
characters are allowed.  Text is case insensitive.  Within n,
a period (.) has a special significance.

For identification in Internet applications, a handle may be
preceded by "hdl:", "hdl://", "x-hdl:", or "x-hdl://" as in
the following example:

      hdl:cnri.dlib/tn95-01

[Page 8]


4.  Naming Authorities

4.1  The naming authority hierarchy

The name of a naming authority, n, consists of one or more
strings, separated by periods.  Examples are:

      berkeley.cs
      cnri.cs-tr.technology

The high-order part of the name ("berkeley" in the first
example) is issued by the global naming authority.

Example.  The global naming authority issues the name "cnri".
Future naming authorities, created by cnri might be "cnri.cs-
tr" or "cnri.xiwt".

4.2  Creating naming authorities

Each naming authority, n, has at least one super-
administrator who has full privileges for that naming
authority, including permission to create a lower order
naming authority, n.n', with its own super-administrator.
This super-administrator creates permissions for
administration of handles within that naming authority, and
can also create new naming authorities, n.n'.n'', and so on.
Super-administrators can delegate privileges to other
administrators, including the privilege of creating naming
authorities.

Example.  The super-administrator for "cnri.cs-tr" can create
a naming authority "cnri.cs-tr.technology".

4.3  Primary handle server for a naming authority

Every naming authority has associated with it a primary
handle server, denoted by P.  When a new naming authority is
created, the primary handle server is initially set to be the
global handle server, G.   Thereafter the administrator of
the naming authority can designate any handle server as its
primary handle server, P.

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Whenever the naming authority, n, creates a handle, n/d,
either the handle, n/d, is stored in P or an indirect handle
is stored in P, indicating that n/d exists and pointing to a
handle server that holds n/d.  Thus the primary handle server
of any naming authority has handle records for all naming
authorities that the naming authority has created.

4.4  Handles for naming authorities

When a new naming authority, n.n', is created, it is given a
handle.  The form of the handle is: n.n'. The data part is
null.  The data field of the handle record contains the
address of the primary handle server, P.

The handle for the naming authority is stored both in the
global handle server and in the primary handle server of n.
Thus the global handle server has records for all naming
authorities.


5.  Handle Servers

5.1  The global handle server

The global handle server is a distributed system that stores
and resolves handles.  It is publicly accessible.  The system
is highly secure, is fault tolerant, and designed to run
continuously.  The global handle server is denoted by G.

One function of G is to store handle records for items that
must be retained over very long periods of time, such as
copyright registration, or legal records.  G also stores
handles for all naming authorities and local handle servers.

G is a public service and any client can ask G to resolve any
handle.  Since the handles for all naming authorities and
registered handle servers are stored in G, and G is public,
the name of every naming authority, n, and its primary handle
server, P, are public and available to all clients.

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5.2  Local handle servers

Local handle servers are a local option.  They work in
conjunction with the global handle server to store and
resolve handles locally.  They provide increased local
control of handles, distribute the computing load between
central and locally supplied equipment, and provide simple
access controls to handle data.  By storing individual
handles on both a local and the global handle server, they
can be used to back up each other.

Local handle servers can be created and operated by naming
authorities or repositories.  Other organizations, such as
service bureaus, can also create and run local handle
servers.  For a local handle server to
become a registered part of the overall handle system, it
must be given a handle (by some naming authority).  This
handle is then stored in G, the global handle server.

Local handle servers are not public services.  Permissions
for a client to use local handle server to resolve a handle
 are set by the system administrators.   Currently, the only
such method of access control is by the IP address of the
client that makes a query to the handle server.

Each local handle server is implemented as a set of one or
more server computers.  When several computers are used,
handles are distributed amongst them using a hash table.
For reasons of performance and reliability, data may be
replicated across these computers, but this is hidden from
client programs.

5.3  Storing handles

Each naming authority, n, has at least one super-
administrator who has full privileges to create handles for
that naming authority, and to attach administrative
permissions to each handle.  The administrative permissions
for each handle include the right to modify or delete the
handle or some of its handle data.  These permissions are
stored in the primary handle server.

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Naming authorities can choose to store the handles that they
create on any handle servers for which they have access
permissions, local or global.  When a handle is stored in
several servers, one is declared to be authoritative.  This
can be the global handle server, G, the primary handle
server, P, or another local handle server, subject to the
naming authority having administrative permission to store
handles on that handle server.

G is publicly accessible for handle resolution.  If a handle
is stored in G, then  any client can resolve it.  Handles
stored on other handles servers can be resolved only by
clients that have suitable permissions.

Example.  The naming authority "cmu.cs.robotics" might choose
G as authoritative for the handle to an important object, and
also enter the handle in its primary handle server, P, for
local use.

When n creates a handle, it makes a record in P, the primary
handle server of naming authority n, with an indirect handle
to each handle server that is able to resolve this handle.
This indirect  handle indicates that the handle exists and
can be resolved by a query to the appropriate handle server.
Access controls on P should be set so that any client with
permission to query the handle server is able to read this
indirect handle.

Example.  The naming authority "cnri.cs-tr.technology"
creates a handle "cnri.cs-tr.technology/d1" which is stored
in the global handle server.  An indirect handle is stored in
the primary handle server indicating that a handle "cnri.cs-
tr.technology/d1" is stored in the global handle server.


6.  Resolution of Handles

6.1  Clients

The handle system provides a client library of routines,
currently written in the C programming language.  They
interface with the global and local handle servers and with
caching servers.  They can be included in client programs
that wish to contact handle servers.  The interface
specification for the client library will be documented and
made public.

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Caches are used by clients to reduce the load on the other
handle servers, particularly the global handle server, G.
Resolution of handles using caches is, in general, faster
than resolution without caches.

The caching server is a shared cache to be used by a group of
clients.  The architecture also allows a cache to be
incorporated within an individual client.

The recommended configuration is for any client, C, to have
an assigned cache, C1.  This can be integrated into the
client or can be caching server shared by several clients.
C1, itself, may be connected to a higher order caching
server, C2.  To avoid resolution involving many steps, the
recommended configuration is to have no more than two levels
of caches, C1 and C2.

A proxy server has been developed that acts as a client to
the handle system for use with World Wide Web browsers and
other clients.  The client passes a handle to the proxy
server which attempts to resolve it.  If the handle can be
resolved into one or more URLs, a URL is returned to the
client.

The proxy server is configured as a separate server to be
used by a group of clients.  The recommended configuration is
that every organization that wishes to use the handle system
should provide both a caching and proxy server for its
community.

The proxy server has been developed by CNRI in consultation
with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the
developer of Mosaic, but is intended to work with other
clients that support proxies.  Mosaic will be configured to
use the proxy when a handle is specified in place of a URL.
The proxy server will be supported by future releases of
Mosaic.  It is also compatible with the earlier proxy server
developed by CERN and will be kept compatible with other
proxy servers as they are developed by the World Wide Web
community.

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The rest of this section is an informal description of how a
client, C, resolves any handle, h.  A detailed description of
the resolution algorithm is in preparation.  Important
details include: (a) each handle server can be implemented as
one or more server computers; (b) checks are required to
prevent looping through indirect handles; (c) the client may
not have access permissions for all local handle servers;
(d) the client request may ask for all the data in a handle
record or data of specified types only;  (e) because the
local handle servers are independently managed, the client
may encounter inconsistent data or unacceptably poor response
from a server.

6.2  Resolution without caches

If the client, C, is not attached to any caching server, it
uses the following steps to resolve a handle, h.

1.  C sends a query to G.

    If the handle record for h is stored in G, G resolves h.

    Otherwise, G returns the address of P, the primary handle
    server of naming authority, n.

2.  If h is not yet resolved, C sends h to P.

    If h is stored in P and C has the correct access
    permissions, P resolves h.

    Otherwise, if there is an indirect handle to another
    handle server, M, which stores h, P sends the client the
    address of M.

3.  If h is not yet resolved, the client, C, sends h to M.

    If the client has the correct access permissions, M
    resolves h.  (If C does not have permission, it should
    try other handle servers that hold the handle.)

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6.3  Resolution with caching

If the client, C, is connected to a cache, C1, resolution of
h follows these steps:

1.  The client, C, asks C1 to resolve h.

    If the handle record of h is in the cache, the handle
    record is returned to C.

2.  Otherwise, if the identity of P, the primary handle
    server of naming authority n, is stored in C1, C1
    resolves the handle following steps 2 and 3 above in the
    description of resolution without caching.

3.  If the handle has not been resolved, and C1 is connected
    to a higher cache, C2, C1 asks C2 to resolve both h and
    P, and pass the results to C1 to be saved in C1's cache.

    If h and P are not in C2's cache, the request is passed
    to the next higher cache, until the handle is resolved
    until the highest cache is reached.  (The recommended
    configuration is to have no more than two levels of
    cache.)

4.  If there is no higher cache, then the cache sends a
    request to G asking for the resolution of h and P.  The
    resolution algorithm then continues as in the description
    of resolution without caching..


7.  Administration

7.1  Tools for administration of handles

Administrative data is stored in each handle record as a
special data type.  Access to this data is governed by access
permissions specified for each handle separately.

Administrative tools are provided for creation of naming
authorities; for creating, modifying, and deleting handles;
for changing access permissions by individual or by group.

Two sets of tools are currently provided.  The first uses
electronic mail.  The only security is to check the "from"
field in the e-mail header.  The second uses Mosaic forms.
Security is by ID and password.  A third level of security is
under development.  It  is intended to use public key encryption.

[Page 15]


7.2  Firewalls

The handle system is based on the UDP protocol.  This enables
a large number of transactions to be handled efficiently, but
some security firewalls reject UDP packets.  Therefore, the
choice of UDP or TCP is provided as alternatives for the
local handle server, caching server, and client library, but
not for the global handle server.


8.   The Handle System Project

During fall 1994, CNRI made the Phase 0 handle system
available on the Internet.  This included a single-computer
global handle server, administration by e-mail, the basic
client library and an X-Mosaic client.  Phase 1 will be
released in July 1995.  It includes the distributed global
handle server, caching handle server, proxy handle server,
administration by e-mail or Mosaic forms, full client , and
TCP support for firewalls.  Phase 2 is scheduled for release
later in 1995.  It includes everything in Phase 1, plus the
local handle server.  The release date for security based on
public key encryption is not yet scheduled.

The following have contributed to the handle system design
and implementation: David Ely (project head), William
Arms, Navjeet Chabbewal, Judith Grass,  Timothy Kendall,
Charles Orth, Ed Overly, John Stewart.  We want to
acknowledge the contribution on Robert Kahn, Robert Wilensky,
and the other members of the Computer Science Technical
Reports project.

This research was supported in part by the Advanced Research
Projects Agency under Grant No. MDA-972-92-J-1029.  Its
content does not necessarily reflect the position or policy
of the Government or CNRI, and no official endorsement
should be inferred.

[Page 16]


9.  References

hdl:cnri.dlib/tn95-01  Kahn, Robert and Wilensky, Robert.  "A
framework for distributed digital object services".  May,
1995.
(http://WWW.CNRI.Reston.VA.US/home/cstr/arch/k-w.html)


10.  Authors' Addresses

William Arms (warms@cnri.reston.va.us)
David Ely (dely@cnri.reston.va.us)

Corporation for National Research Initiatives
Suite 100, 1895 Preston White Drive
Reston, VA  22091
Tel:  (703) 620-8990

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