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Last Call Review of draft-alakuijala-brotli-08
review-alakuijala-brotli-08-genart-lc-kyzivat-2016-04-19-00

Request Review of draft-alakuijala-brotli
Requested revision No specific revision (document currently at 11)
Type Last Call Review
Team General Area Review Team (Gen-ART) (genart)
Deadline 2016-05-03
Requested 2016-04-12
Authors Jyrki Alakuijala , Zoltan Szabadka
I-D last updated 2016-04-19
Completed reviews Genart Last Call review of -08 by Paul Kyzivat (diff)
Genart Last Call review of -08 by Paul Kyzivat (diff)
Genart Telechat review of -09 by Paul Kyzivat (diff)
Secdir Last Call review of -08 by Liang Xia (diff)
Opsdir Last Call review of -08 by Dan Romascanu (diff)
Assignment Reviewer Paul Kyzivat
State Completed Snapshot
Review review-alakuijala-brotli-08-genart-lc-kyzivat-2016-04-19
Reviewed revision 08 (document currently at 11)
Result Not ready
Completed 2016-04-19
review-alakuijala-brotli-08-genart-lc-kyzivat-2016-04-19-00
I am the assigned Gen-ART reviewer for this draft. The General Area
Review Team (Gen-ART) reviews all IETF documents being processed by the
IESG for the IETF Chair. Please wait for direction from your document
shepherd or AD before posting a new version of the draft. For more
information, please see the FAQ at <‚Äč
http://wiki.tools.ietf.org/area/gen/trac/wiki/GenArtfaq>.

Document: draft-alakuijala-brotli-08
Reviewer: Paul Kyzivat
Review Date: 2016-04-19
IETF LC End Date: 2016-04-08
IESG Telechat date: 2016-04-21

Summary:

This draft has serious issues, described in the review, and needs to be
rethought.

Major: 2
Minor: 0
Nits:  0

==========

(1) Major:

It is unclear to me whether this document seeks to be an authoritative
specification of the Brotli format, or simply an explanation of the
format the supplements another specification.

Evidence that it intends to be normative:

- The introduction states: "The purpose of this specification is to
define a lossless compressed data format..." and "This specification is
intended for use by software implementers to compress data into and/or
decompress data from the brotli format."

- I had some discussion with the author after my Last Call review. In
that discussion I learned of three successful attempts to create new
implementations of Brotli using earlier versions of this document,
without reference to another implementation.

Evidence that it doesn't intend to be normative:

- The intended status is Informational.

- There is no 2119 or similar language in the document

- The document provides a URL on github for an open source
implementation. (However this is not a normative reference. There is no
Reference section in the document.)

If this document is intended to be normative, then it should be
restructured as such, using 2119 language, with actual references to
stable documents, and with more clarity.

If this document is intended to be informative, then it should be
restructured to formally identify the normative specification of the
format, and then concentrate on supplementing that document with further
explanation.

(2) Major:

If this document intends to be normative, *I* don't think it is
sufficient for the task. I said the same in my Last Call review. I
subsequently learned from the author that others have successfully used
to create implementations, so perhaps my judgement is too harsh, but I
remain concerned. I was told that an implementer spent 20-40 hours
understanding this document sufficiently to create a decoder. (Distinct
from the time required to do the implementation.) Perhaps the format is
inherently difficult and such level of effort to understand it is
expected. That is more effort than I was prepared to exert for a Gen-ART
review. But without doing that I can't suggest how to improve the
description.

The following is from my Last Call review:

I spent many hours trying to decipher the document, but ultimately
failed. (I have no experience in implementing compression/decompression
algorithms, but I have many decades of programming experience including
that involving detailed bit manipulation and data representation.)

If two expert programmers were asked to independently build
encoder/decoders in accord with this document, IMO it would be
incredibly unlikely (impossible) that the resulting programs would be
interoperable. And given the complexity of the encoding it would also be
extremely difficult to figure out *why* they didn't interoperate.

My sense from reading this document is that the format is operationally
defined by an existing program (https://github.com/google/brotli) and
that this document is an attempt to re-render the source code in
English. However the algorithms being described are so complex that
English (at least *this* English) is inadequate for the job.

I started out making notes about particular places where I found the
language confusing or ambiguous. But there were so many that I
ultimately gave up.

I have serious doubts that the goal of this document achievable using
natural language text. I don't have much of an idea of what to try to
achieve this. It will take much more than just patching the current
document. If possible at all it will require a vastly different approach.

To achieve the goal of having a specification independent of a
particular implementation it may be necessary to abandon backward
compatibility with *this* implementation. (I recognize that doing so may
be unacceptable.)