re: Dienst and BFD/LIFN document

Reed Wade (
Mon, 8 Aug 1994 23:23:24 +0200


This seems to relate to the Dienst discussion.

We're working on a similar piece of the problem. Using LIFNs
(Location Independent File Names (essentially, URN's that refer
to an immutable set of octets)) we expect to be able to provide:

support for easy replication/caching
high scalability
file authenticity and integrity

We (Keith Moore) gave a short presentation describing our scheme
to the URI and IIIR working groups at the last IETF meeting in

See attached.

Reed Wade
--------- --

Network Working Group Keith Moore
Internet Draft Reed Wade
Expires: January 27, 1995 Stan Green
University of Tennessee
July 27, 1994

An Architecture for Bulk File Distribution


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 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 Internet Drafts as reference material or to cite
them other than as a "work in progress".


This memo describes a system for the automated replication of data files
and their descriptions to various file servers across the Internet. The
system maintains a distributed database which contains the locations of
each file distributed by the system, and will provide a list of
locations for any file upon request. The system provides assurances of
integrity, and authenticity, of the replicated files. It is intended
for use with the World Wide Web, Gopher, and similar applications, to
provide higher availability, improved response, and better use of
network resources.

1. Introduction

There are a number of problems associated with the current Internet
information infrastructure, which result in poor service to its users.
These problems include:

+ lack of scability. Many files are available at only a single file
server. Any popular file (e.g. Mosaic home page, weather map) will
cause a file server to be swamped.

+ lack of fault tolerance. If a file server is unavailable, there is no
mechanism to find alternate servers for that file.

+ inefficient use of network resources. The primary location of a file
may be halfway across the globe, or on the other side of a low-
bandwidth link. Even when alternate locations exist, there is
currently no mechanism to find a "nearby" location of a particular

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+ no assurances of authenticity or integrity. Files are currently
replicated from one server to another using a variety of ad hoc
mechanisms. Various translations may occur during this process, and
errors (or even deliberate modifications) may be introduced. There is
currently no mechanism for ensuring the integrity of replicated files,
nor any assurance that a copy of a file which is available on a server
has not been modified by someone other than the author.

2. Proposal

In order to address these problems, we propose the following
architecture. It is intended to provide replication of files across
multiple servers, scalable access to the files distributed by the
system, and the assurance of integrity and (optionally) authenticity for
each file. In addition it provides the ability to reliably cache such
files as well as the potential to take advantage of network proximity
for improved utiliziation.

Each file is given a unique name called a Location Independent File Name
(LIFN), which refers to that particular sequence of octets. Once a LIFN
has been assigned to a file, the binding between the LIFN and that
sequence of octets may not be changed. The space of LIFNs is sub-
divided among several "publishers" (or "naming authorities"), who are
responsible for ensuring the uniqueness of LIFNs within their portion of
LIFN-space, and also provide a LIFN-to-location mapping service for
those LIFNs.

The LIFN-to-location mapping service is provided by a network of
"location servers" collectively known as the "location database". These
servers accept requests for locations of LIFNs, as well as updates
containing new locations or requests to delete old LIFN-to-location
mappings. Such update requests require authentication; only those file
servers which are authorized by the publisher may store locations in the

Access to files themselves is provided by more-or-less conventional file
servers, using any protocol which provides binary transparent file
access. Such protocols would include HTTP, Gopher, FTP, and others, as
long as certain restrictions are observed.

Files are replicated among file servers using a "replication daemon". A
copy of the replication daemon runs on each file server. It accepts
descriptions of newly published files, and decides (based on site-
provided criteria) which files should be acquired by the file server.
It then queries the location database to find a location for each file
desired, and retrieves the file from one of the locations listed.
Finally, it updates the location database to inform it of the new
location for that file. The replication daemon may also act as a file

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reaper, deciding when to delete files, and informing the location
database when such files will no longer be available.

Associated with each file is a description. Included in the description
is so-called "bibliographic information", such as title, author,
content-type, etc., but also an MD5 or similar fingerprint of the file.
The relevant portions of the description are cryptographically signed by
the publisher. To perform an integrity check, a file server or user can
retrieve the description for any file (using whois++ or a similar
protocol), compute the MD5 fingerprint for that file, and compare this
with the one listed in the description. To check authenticity, it can
also verify the credentials of the file's description.

A file is "published" in the system by creating a description to go
along with the file, signing the description with the publisher's
private key, making the file available via one or more "master" file
servers, and listing those locations in the location database. The
description may also be sent (perhaps via ordinary email) to interested
parties. Such parties may include slave file servers (which can use
them to decide which new files to acquire), resource discovery servers
(which can then provide search services based on the file descriptions
and/or the files themselves), and ordinary users.

The location database consists of one or more servers for each
publisher. These are listed in either a well-known master directory, or
a reserved portion of the DNS name space, so that a client can easily
find out which server to query for a particular LIFN. The query itself
uses a datagram-based protocol, which is designed to impose the least
possible overhead for both client and server. Updates to the location
server use a similar protocol; however, these protocols also require
authentication to prevent unauthorized (or untrusted) servers from
listing alternate locations for a file. Location updates are posted to
a single location server and propagated to the other peer servers via a
batch version of the update protocol (using virtual circuits rather than

It is not necessary to keep all location servers for a publisher in
sync. The location query service does not guarantee that it returns all
instances of a given file. If the list of locations provided by one
server is insufficient, the client is free to consult the other servers
in the hope of finding a better one. Similarly, if one or more of the
locations thus provided is "stale" (that is, points to a file that no
longer exists), the client may also look for the file at its other
listed locations. (Note that while a file server may delete a file
whose location is listed in the location database, it may not re-use a
filename for a different file or change that file in any way.).

To minimize the liklihood of stale file locations, file servers are
encouraged to inform the location database in advance of actually
deleting a file. The response to a location query includes a "time to
live" field which is used by clients or proxy servers to maintain a

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cache of LIFN-to-location mappings. After being informed that a file is
going to disappear, the location servers will adjust the "time to live"
field in future responses to queries for that file, to reflect the time
when the file is expected to disappear. Until that time, the "time to
live" field is the value supplied by the file server when it posted the
location. Specifying a time to live of "N" in a location update is
tantamount to an agreement that the file server will not delete the file
without informing the location server "N" seconds in advance of doing

A special file replication protocol is used between file servers. It
provides mutual authentication to prevent spoofing, and pipelining to
transfer large numbers of files effeciently, even over high-delay links.
It may also accomodate compression on a per-file basis (for low-
bandwidth links), and checkpointing to allow for recovery when transfers
of large files are interrupted.

3. Evaluation

The system should scale in several ways. User demand for any particular
file can be distributed over multiple file servers. The location
database is also distributed, both because each publisher maintains its
own servers, and also because several servers can be provided for any
publisher. In addition, the current location query protocol provides
for a cacheable "redirect" response that allows the LIFN space for a
particular publisher to be divided across several secondary servers,
without imposing any additional structure on the LIFNs themselves.
Because there is no need for synchronization, location updates can also
be distributed across several servers, and effeciently transmitted among
location server peers. This avoids the overhead with multi-phase commit
protocols which would be needed to ensure consistency.

Integrity and authenticity are provided by the MD5 fingerprint and the
cryptographic signature in the file description. A possible weak point
in the current system is the assumption that DNS will be used to
identify location servers for a particular publisher, since DNS is not
itself secure. It should be pointed out that since only trusted
locations will be listed by the location service, a user may not wish to
perform integrity or authenticity checks for every file accessed.
However, the capability is there for when it is needed.

The system allows a client to consult a local cache or proxy server
before attempting to access a file which may already be available
locally. Since the binding between a LIFN and the file is fixed, if a
client has a LIFN for a file, and the cache has a file which goes with
it, the client has a reasonable assurance that the cached copy is
correct (assuming it trusts the cache). If the time-to-live field in a
location response is nonzero, LIFN-to-location bindings can also be
reliably cached for that amount of time.

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Finally, this system allows the potential that a client can select a
"nearby" location from among several locations for a file, or from among
several available location servers. A means by which this may be
accomplished has been proposed and is under investigation.

4. Open Problems

As stated above, there is a need to provide a means by which a client
may choose from among several service locations to take advantage of
network proximity.

If existing file servers are to adopt this plan, there needs to be a
transition scheme. As stated above, locations (i.e. file names) of
files provided by the location databases may not be reused, even for
updates to the file. This is in contrast to the present-day use of file
locations (URLs) which are expected to be stable references to the
*current* version of a file. If the replication daemon is to replace
the ordinary mirroring software that is presently in use, it must also
provide "stable" locations for the same files, which may be updated in
place and accessed by more traditional means. This could be
accomplished by having each description include a "suggested-filename"
field. The file server would concoct a local filename from this field;
any new file from the same publisher with the same suggested-filename
would replace the old copy of the file stored in that location (but not
the copy of the file stored in the location listed in the location

There is a need to describe many types of relationships in the file
description. The details of such descriptions are yet to be defined.

5. Implementation status

A prototype version of this system is being constructed by the authors.
A distributed location database and client library have been constructed
and interfaced to Mosaic; the resulting client demonstrated the ability
to (crudely) select from among multiple locations of a file, and to
recover from the failure of both file servers and location database
servers. The replication daemon and its associated protocols are
currently under development.

Experience from the use of the prototype will be used to construct a
second version of the system, which the authors intend to make widely

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