Network Working Group I.A. Young, Ed.
Internet-Draft Independent
Intended status: Informational August 16, 2013
Expires: February 17, 2014

Metadata Query Protocol


This document defines a simple protocol for retrieving metadata about entities. The goal of the protocol is to profile various aspects of HTTP to allow requesters to rely on certain, rigorously defined, behaviour.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Many clients of web-based services are capable of consuming descriptive metadata about a service in order to customize or information the client's connection parameters. While the form of the metadata (e.g.. JSON, XML) and content varies between services this document attempts to specifies a set of semantics for HTTP [RFC2616] that allow clients to rely on certain behavior. The defined behavior is meant to make it easy for clients to perform queries, to be efficient for both requesters and responders, and allow the responder to scale in various ways.

1.1. Notation and Convention

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC2119 [RFC2119].

1.2. Terminology

2. Protocol Transport

The metadata retrieval protocol seeks to fully employ the features of the HTTP protocol. Additionally this specification makes mandatory some optional HTTP features.

2.1. HTTP Version

Metadata retrieval protocol responders MUST use HTTP, version 1.1 [RFC2616]

2.2. HTTP Method

All metadata retrieval requests MUST use the GET method.

2.3. Request Headers

All metadata retrieval requests MUST include the following HTTP headers:

All metadata retrieval requests SHOULD include the following HTTP headers:

A metadata request to the same URL, after an initial request, MUST include the following header per section 13.3.4 of RFC2616 [RFC2616]:

2.4. Response Headers

All successful metadata retrieval responses (even those that return no results) MUST include the following headers:

All metadata retrieval responses SHOULD include the following headers:

2.5. Status Codes

This protocol uses the following HTTP status codes:

2.6. Base URL

Requests defined in this document are performed by issuing an HTTP GET request to a particular URL. The final component of the path to which requests are issued is defined by the requests specified within this document. A base URL precedes such paths. Such a base URL MUST contain at least the scheme and host name components. It MAY also include a port as well as a path. It MUST NOT include URL fragments. If a path is included the path required by the particular defined request is appended to the path in the base URL.

2.7. Content Negotiation

As there may be many representations for a given piece of metadata, agent-driven content negotiation is used to ensure the proper representation is delivered to the requester. In addition to the required usage of the Accept header a response SHOULD also support the use of the Accept-Charset header.

3. Metadata Query Protocol

The metadata query protocol retrieves metadata based on one or more "tag" or "keyword" identifiers. A request may return information for none, one, or a collection of entities.

3.1. Identifiers

The query protocol uses identifiers to "tag" metadata for single- and multi-entity metadata collections. An identifier MAY contain any URL-encodable character but MUST NOT start with '{' (ASCII 0x7B) as this character has a special meaning in the first position (see below). The assignment of such identifiers to a particular metadata document is the responsibility of the query responder. If a metadata collection already contains a well known identifier it is RECOMMENDED that such a natural identifier is used when possible. Any given metadata collection MAY have more than one identifier associated with it.

3.1.1. Transforms

In some cases it may be advantageous to query for metadata using a transformed identifier. For example, some protocols will transmit hashed entity identifiers. This may be done to reduce the overall size of the identifier, escape special characters, obfuscate the identifier, etc.

A transformed identifier is represented by pre-pending the identifier with '{' + transformation indicator + '}'. The transformation indicator MUST be composed exclusively of printable ASCII characters (0x21-0x7E) excluding '{' (0x7B) and '}' (0x7D). Such an identifier need only make sense in the context within which it is used. Responders MUST support the MD5 (transformation indicator 'md5') and SHA1 (transformation indicator 'sha1') hashing algorithms as identifier transformations. The responder MAY support other transformation indicators.


For example, the identifier

3.2. Protocol

3.2.1. Request


A Metadata Query request is performed by issuing an HTTP GET request. All Metadata Query requests MUST use the URL format:

3.2.2. Response

The response to a Metadata Query request MUST be a document that provides metadata for the given request identifiers in the format described by the request's Content-Type header. Note, in the event that multiple identifiers were used in the request, it is the responder's responsibility to ensure that the metadata returned is valid. If the responder can not create a valid document it MUST respond with a 500 status code. An example of such an error would be the case where the result of the query is metadata for multiple entities but the request content type does not support returning multiple results in a single document.

3.2.3. Example Request and Response

GET /service/entities/ HTTP/1.1
Accept: application/samlmetadata+xml

Example Metadata Query Request

HTTP/1.x 200 OK
Content-Type: application/samlmetadata+xml
ETag: abcdefg
Last-Modified: Thu, 15 Apr 2010 12:45:26 GMT
Content-Length: 1234

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

Example Metadata Query Response

4. Efficient Retrieval and Caching

4.1. Conditional Retrieval

Upon a successful response the responder is required to return an ETag header and may return a Last-Modified header as well. Requesters SHOULD user either or both, with the ETag being preferred, in any subsequent requests for the same resource. In the event that a resource has not changed since the previous request, the requester will receive a 304 (Not Modified) status code as a response.

4.2. Content Caching

Responders SHOULD include cache control information with successful (200 status code) responses, assuming the responder knows when retrieved metadata is meant to expire. The responder should also include cache control information with 404 Not Found responses. This allows the requester to create and maintain a negative-response cache. When cache controls are used only the 'max-age' directive SHOULD be used.

4.3. Content Compression

As should be apparent from the required request and response headers this protocol encourages the use of content compression. This is in recognition that some metadata documents can be quite large or fetched with relatively high frequency.

Requesters SHOULD support, and advertise support for, gzip compression unless such usage would put exceptional demands on constrained environments. Responders MUST support gzip compression. Requesters and responders MAY support other compression algorithms.

5. Security Considerations

5.1. Integrity

As metadata often contains information necessary for the secure operation of interacting services it is RECOMMENDED that some form of content integrity checking be performed. This may include the use of SSL/TLS at the transport layer, digital signatures present within the metadata document, or any other such mechanism.

5.2. Confidentiality

In many cases service metadata is public information and therefore confidentiality is not required. In the cases where such functionality is required, it is RECOMMENDED that both the requester and responder support SSL/TLS. Other mechanisms, such as XML encryption, MAY also be supported.

5.3. Authentication

All responders which require client authentication to view retrieved information MUST support the use of HTTP basic authentication over SSL/TLS. Responders SHOULD also support the use of X.509 client certificate authentication.

6. IANA Considerations

This document has no actions for IANA.

7. Acknowledgements

The editor would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their contributions to this document:

Special acknowledgement is due to Chad LaJoie (Covisint) for his work in editing previous versions of this specification.

8. Normative References

[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
[RFC2616] 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.

Author's Address

Ian A. Young (editor) Independent EMail: