Internet DRAFT - draft-finlayson-mafp


Network Working Group				Ross Finlayson
Internet-Draft					Live Networks
Expire in six months				1998.01.16

               The Multicast Attribute Framing Protocol


1. 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 documents at any
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2. Abstract

The Internet has recently seen the emergence of applications that involve
the ongoing transmission, or ''pushing'', of structured data from a server to
one or more client nodes.  Most current applications send this data using
unicast communications - usually over TCP connections.  However, similar
applications can also be implemented using multicast-based protocols.
Multicast not only improves the scalability of this particular class of
application, but also makes possible an additional class of application in
which the participants can act as peers - sending data as well as receiving.

This Internet Draft describes the ''Multicast Attribute Framing Protocol''
(MAFP) - a generic, attribute-based data representation, intended for a
wide variety of multicast-based applications.  It is currently being used
to implement the ''multikit'' generic multicast session browser
(  This draft describes an early version of
MAFP that is likely to undergo changes in the future.  However, it is
being described now, in the hope that it will promote open discussion of
this and similar protocols - ideally leading to the adoption of an open,
interoperable standard for this class of application.

3. Introduction

MAFP is used to describe one or more objects that are being transmitted or
'announced' over the Internet, typically to a multicast address.  (Other
transmission mechanisms are possible, however, including unicast (UDP or
TCP), or even email.)  These announced objects are called "programs" (by
analogy with TV programs, not computer programs).

Each program is announced to a specific "directory".  That is, an
announcement in MAFP cspecifies both the program being announced, and a
directory to which it is being announced.  More than one program can - and
typically will - be announced to the same directory (in separate
announcements).  If the announcements are being made using multicast, then
the directory will be associated with a multicast address.

A program is described primarily as a set of "attributes" (name-value
pairs).  MAFP does not define any semantics for these attributes; the names
and values can be treated merely as opaque strings.  (Future documents may
define attribute profiles for specific applications.)

In addition to attributes, some program descriptions may also contain IP
address, port, and TTL ("time to live") parameters.  Recipient(s) may use
these parameters for additional communication (usually in a manner defined
by the attributes).  These parameters are distinguished from attributes;
this allows firewalls or proxies to perform appropriate checking and/or
translation, without having to understand anything about the attributes

MAFP was inspired in part by SDP [2] - a format designed specifically for
announcing multimedia sessions (primarily, over the MBone).  MAFP, however,
extends the SDP model in the following ways:
        - directories are 'first-class' objects, and can be 'announced'
	  within other directories, just like any other session
        - sessions can have arbitrary attributes (not just the fixed set of
	  attributes that were defined for SDP)
        - SDP's session bundling mechanism is generalized: Any arbitrary
	  collection of sessions can be combined and announced as a single

MAFP describes the layout (within a packet) of a "program announcement".
MAFP is independent of the underlying transport protocol, which may have
only "best efforts" datagram semantics (e.g., UDP), or may provide some
degree of reliable delivery.  The only requirement is that a program
announcement either be delivered entirely, or not at all.  (Future versions
of MAFP, however, may also allow announcements to be fragmented in ways that
might be exploited by underlying transport protocols [3].)

Section 4 describes the syntax of a MAFP "program announcement".  In
section 5 we present examples of MAFP announcements.  We close with an
outline of possible future directions for this protocol.

4. The Syntax of a MAFP Packet

4.1 Basic Lexical Structure and Syntax

The lexical structure of the current version of MAFP is based upon that of
the Tcl scripting language [4].  Future versions of MAFP will be more

A MAFP program announcement is a character string, possibly terminated by a
NUL character (i.e., value zero) or a LF (ASCII 0x0a).  It consists of a
"list" in the Tcl sense - i.e., a sequence of string "elements", each
separated by white-space.  Tcl's quoting rules apply to elements - in
particular, elements that contain white space are enclosed in braces {}.

A MAFP program announcement is given by the following BNF grammar :

<PROGRAM ANNOUNCEMENT> ::= <version> <command> <incarnation> \
	<directory id> <PROGRAM DESCRIPTION>

	<program id> <parent id> <expiration date> <PROGRAM SPECIFIER>

	"general" <ATTRIBUTE PAIRS>



<ATTRIBUTE NAME> ::= <string>
<ATTRIBUTE VALUE> ::= <string>

<IP ADDRESS> ::= x.y.z.w (i.e., a 'dotted quad' IPv4 address)
<PORT> ::= \
	a string representing a decimal integer in the range 0 through 65535
<SCOPE> ::= <TTL> <encryption key>
<TTL> ::= \
	a string representing a decimal integer in the range 0 through 255

The terminal symbols "general", "channel", "bundle", and "|" appear exactly
as shown (without the quote symbols).

The remaining (nonobvious) nonterminal symbols - <version>, <command>,
<incarnation>, <directory id>, <program id>, <parent id>, <expiration
date>, and <encryption key> - are described below

4.2. <version>

This field indicates the version of MAFP that is being used.  The current
version of MAFP is 3, represented by the character '3' (ASCII 0x33).  To
allow for possible future versions of MAFP that may use a raw binary
encoding, this must be the first character in the packet, and must be
immediately followed by a space (ASCII 0x20).

4.3. <command>

The <command> describes the nature of the announcement, and thus the action
to be taken by each receiver.  Three commands are currently defined: "d",
"p", and "x".

Both the "p" and "d" commands are handled as follows:
	- If the receiver has no current record of the announced program, then
	  it should create such a record, unless it also has no current record
	  of the 'parent' program (see below).
	- If the receiver has a current record of the announced program, then it
	  should update its existing record with the information from the
	  announcement.  Any new attributes defined in the announcement
	  are added to the existing record, but any attributes in the existing
	  record that are not redefined in the announcement should remain.
When handling a "d" command, the receiver updates its local copy of the
announced program, but does *not* re-announce it to anyone else.  The "p"
command, on the other hand, indicates that each recipient, in addition to
updating its local state, should also participate in announcing this
program to others.  (The "d" command is analogous to someone holding up
("displaying") a sign: the sign is visible only while the person is
present.  The "p" command, on the other hand, is analogous to someone
"posting" a sign on a notice board: the sign remains visible even after the
person has left.)

The "x" command indicates that the program is to be *deleted* from the
specified directory.  Like the "p" command, each receiver should also
participate in announcing this deletion to others.  If the receiver does
not already have a record of this program, then he should add a 'dummy'
record in its place, indicating that the program has been deleted.  This
allows the receiver to ignore any 'old' announcement for the same program
that it may see later.  (See the description of <incarnation> below.)

4.4. <incarnation>

The <incarnation> field is a non-negative integer (string) that indicates
the 'version' of the announcement.  A sender should increase the value of
this field if it changes the announcement in some way - e.g., when an
attribute changes, or when a "d" or "p" announcement is changed to an "x"
(i.e., deletion) announcement, or vice versa.  Receivers must ignore any
announcement whose <incarnation> is less than that which it already has
on-record for the program.

MAFP does not define the contents of this field - only that this it is a
non-negative integer that is increased (i.e., added to) whenever a program's
announcement changes.  If more than one node can make changes to a program,
then MAFP does not specify how these nodes coordinate their respective
<incarnation> fields, except for specifying that "the highest value wins".
One possible approach, however, is to simply use timestamps (under the
assumption that the nodes' clocks are at least roughly synchronized).

4.5. Program Ids

<directory id>, <program id>, and <parent id> are each "program ids": unique
identifiers that denote, respectively:
	- the directory to which the announcement is being made,
	- the program that is being announced, and
	- the parent of the program that's being announced,
	  or "{}" (the empty string) if the program has no parent.
The "parent" mechanism is used to implement a simple attribute inheritance
hierarchy.  Any attributes of the parent that are not redefined in an
announcement of the child are inherited by the child.

At present, MAFP does not define the structure of program ids; they can
merely be considered opaque strings.  Specific applications that use MAFP
may impose some structure on program ids - e.g., to ensure global
uniqueness.  Future versions of MAFP might also impose some structure -
e.g., to embed a public key representing the program's 'owner'.

The receiver should ignore an announcement if the <directory id> does not
correspond to the transmission mechanism (e.g., a multicast group address)
on which the announcement is being made.

As a special case, a <program id> of "SELF" (without the quote symbols)
indicates that this description is for the directory itself, rather than
for a program within the directory.  In this case, <command> must be "d"
or "p" only - not "x", and the <PROGRAM SPECIFIER> fields must denote
a "channel" (see below).

This (optional) self-description mechanism allows a receiver to learn the
complete attributes of a directory, given only the directory's IP
address and port.

4.6. <expiration date>

This field specifies the time at which the announced program will expire
(and can thus be removed from the receiver's records).  It is an integer in
"Unix time format": the number of seconds since 1/1/1970 UTC.

Note that, because of attribute inheritance,  a program's expiration date
should not exceed that of its parent.  If an announcement is received that
attempts to set a program's expiration date to a later time than that of its
parent, then the parent's expiration date should be used instead.

4.7. <encryption key>

In the future this field will be used to specify an encryption key for a
"channel" (see below).  Currently, the only value defined for this field is
the string "nokey", meaning: no encryption is performed.

4.8. Channels and Bundles

MAFP recognizes three distinct kinds of program: channels, bundles, and
'general' (everything else).

A channel has an associated IP address, port number, and TTL.  (A directory
is itself a channel.)

Bundles are used to implement a simple grouping mechanism.  An announcement
of a bundle includes each of its members.

5. Examples

The first example below illustrates the announcement of a program -
specifically a bundle "prog2" with two members: (i) a channel "prog4" (note
the multicast address, port, and TTL), and (ii) a 'general' program (i.e.,
neither a channel nor a bundle) "prog6".  (The announcement is being made
to the directory "prog1".)

Each of the three programs (the bundle and its two members) has an attribute
named "anAttributeName"; the channel has an additional attribute named
"anotherAttributeName".  Note the use of braces to 'quote' multi-word
attribute values.

The line breaks in this example are for clarification only.  Newline
characters must *not* appear in an actual "on-the-wire" announcement.

2 d 0 prog1
    prog2 prog3 857203200 bundle
	prog4 prog5 857203200 channel 50470 127 nokey
	    anAttributeName {This is an attribute of the channel} |
	prog6 prog7 857203200 general
	    anAttributeName {This is an attribute of the 'general' program}
	    anotherAttributeName foobar |
	anAttributeName {This is an attribute of the 'bundle'}

The second example - taken from an actual use of MAFP - illustrates the
announcement of an earthquake report.  (Once again, the line breaks are for
clarification only.)

2 p 880038262 P:
	P: R::TEMPLATE-AtomicNonChannel
	    880200567 general
		startTime 879941367
		magnitude 5.4Ms
		longitude 175.79W
		latitude 14.04S
		depth 33.0

6. Possible Future Directions

(In no particular order)

- Make the syntax more programming language independent, and (ideally)
  leverage off an existing attribute description format - possibly XML [5]
- Use NTP time format (instead of Unix)?
- Define attributes as (name, type, value) triples, rather than
  (name, value) pairs?
- Define a way to delete (rather than just redefine) attributes
- Define a compression scheme, to efficiently support low-bandwidth links
- Allow program announcements to be digitally signed, for integrity
- Try to be as consistent as possible with SAP [6], and/or any
  reliable multicast protocols that emerge from the IRTF's
  "reliable multicast" working group [7].
- I18N
- Support IPv6 addresses as well as IPv4

6. References

[1] "multikit" - a distributed, multicast-based directory browser
[2] M Handley, V. Jacobson.  SDP: Session Description Protocol
[3] David D. Clark, David L. Tennenhouse.  Architectural Considerations for
        New Generation Protocols.  SIGCOMM 1990.
	("Application Layer Framing")
[4] Tcl/Tk
[5] World Wide Web Consortium.  Extensible Markup Language
[6] M Handley.  SAP: Session Announcement Protocol
[7] IRTF "reliable multicast" working group