Re: [Cbor] [Ext] Benjamin Kaduk's Discuss on draft-ietf-cbor-7049bis-14: (with DISCUSS and COMMENT)

Paul Hoffman <> Mon, 21 September 2020 15:59 UTC

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Thread-Topic: [Ext] Benjamin Kaduk's Discuss on draft-ietf-cbor-7049bis-14: (with DISCUSS and COMMENT)
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Subject: Re: [Cbor] [Ext] Benjamin Kaduk's Discuss on draft-ietf-cbor-7049bis-14: (with DISCUSS and COMMENT)
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Here are our responses to the COMMENTs. This is a follow-up to our earlier
responses to the DISCUSSes.

--Paul Hoffman

> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Is there a comprehensive list of things that generic (en/de)coders need
> to document their behavior for (e.g., how they handle duplicate map
> keys; whether/what validity checking is done, including which tag
> numbers are supported)?

No.  Such a document coming from the CBOR WG in the future could be useful.

> We use the expression "simple value" around 30 times, but "simple type
> value" only twice (and "simple type" a few other times); are we happy
> with the consistency of usage?

We simplified to the common expression in the first case and reworded
the second; we used the opportunity to increase the consistency of the
terminology some more.

> Please also note my comments on the IANA considerations in the
> per-section comments; at least the first couple are fairly
> consequential.

Noted and commented on.

> I'm pretty sympathetic to the secdir reviewer's desire for guidance on
> how to implement validity checking.  I think it would be possible to
> slot this into the existing discussion of validity in §5.3/5.4, possibly as
> an additional subsection reiterating that it's required to check the
> bits in 5.3.1/5.3.2, and the expectation that such checks are likely to
> be incomplete in the face of new tag number allocations.

Adding such guidance could indeed be useful, but not at this late stage in the
document. It seems like good work for the CBOR WG to adopt in the future.

> Section 1.2
> Where bit arithmetic or data types are explained, this document uses
> the notation familiar from the programming language C, except that
> In recent memory we've asked for some form of reference for "the
> programming language C" (even though the concepts we draw on are likely
> to remain invariant for anything called C).

We will add references to C that match those from the recently-approved RFC 8746.
Done in <>.

> Section 2
> In the basic (un-extended) generic data model, a data item is one of:
> [...]
> *  a sequence of zero or more Unicode code points ("text string")
> Hmm, since we use "data item" for both the abstract idea and the
> representation-format version, this description is only precise for the
> abstract version (the representation is further constrained to UTF-8).
> I am not sure whether there is a concise way to accurately express this
> state, though.

We have been using “encoded data item” for the latter; as we are talking about
the model level, it should be reasonably clear that we are talking about the
conceptual data item here.  (There is no great word for that; model-level data
item is maybe another, as clumsy as conceptual.)

> Section 3
> The initial byte and any additional bytes consumed to construct the
> argument are collectively referred to as the "head" of the data item.
> side note: Interesting that we define "head" but do not use "tail" :)

There was no need for us to define tail/body in this spec.

> Section 3.3
> meaning, as defined in Table 3.  Like the major types for integers,
> items of this major type do not carry content data; all the
> information is in the initial bytes.
> (editorial) The "head", as it were, right?

Yes, we will add that as a parenthesis.

> Section 3.4
> Conceptually, tags are interpreted in the generic data model, not at
> (de-)serialization time.  A small number of tags (specifically, tag
> number 25 and tag number 29) have been registered with semantics that
> may require processing at (de-)serialization time: The decoder needs
> I suggest adding additional language to reiterate that this is a
> point-in-time statement (and thus that there may be other such tags in
> existence).

We will replace "specifically" with "at this time"

> This means these tags cannot be implemented on top of every generic
> CBOR encoder/decoder (which might not reflect the serialization order
> for entries in a map at the data model level and vice versa); their
> implementation therefore typically needs to be integrated into the
> generic encoder/decoder.  The definition of new tags with this
> property is NOT RECOMMENDED.
> So we should give guidance to the DEs for the registry in question to
> that effect?

The DEs cannot enforce that — they would need a detailed understanding of the
specification (if that is required for the range), and it is only NOT
RECOMMENDED, so there may be a reason to deviate. Under the registration rules,
the DEs could discuss the supposed need to not follow the NOT RECOMMENDED with
the proposal authors.

> IANA allocated tag numbers 65535, 4294967295, and
> 18446744073709551615 (binary all-ones in 16-bit, 32-bit, and 64-bit).
> These can be used as a convenience for implementers that want a
> single integer to indicate either that a specific tag is present, or
> the absence of a tag.  That allocation is described in Section 10 of
> (editorial) Chasing the reference, I suggest that it is a "single
> integer *data structure*" in the implementation's internal
> representation; just reading this text alone left me confused as to how
> this was intended to be used.

We will make this "...implementers that want a single integer data structure to

> [I-D.bormann-cbor-notable-tags].  These tags are not intended to
> occur in actual CBOR data items; implementations may flag such an
> occurrence as an error.
> I could maybe see this as "MAY".

Good point. We will change "may flag to "MAY flag".

> Section 3.4.2
> Thank you for mentioning leap seconds!
> Note that platform types for date/time may include null or undefined
> values, which may also be desirable at an application protocol level.
> While emitting tag number 1 values with non-finite tag content values
> (e.g., with NaN for undefined date/time values or with Infinite for
> an expiry date that is not set) may seem an obvious way to handle
> this, using untagged null or undefined is often a better solution.
> Application protocol designers are encouraged to consider these cases
> and include clear guidelines for handling them.
> It's rather unfortunate that the text here doesn't provide any
> justification for the claim of "better solution" (or reference to such
> justification).

We will change:
   using untagged null or undefined is often a better solution.
   using untagged null or undefined avoids the use of non-finites and results
   in a shorter encoding.

> Section 3.4.3
> occurs in a bignum when using preferred serialization).  Note that
> this means the non-preferred choice of a bignum representation
> instead of a basic integer for encoding a number is not intended to
> have application semantics (just as the choice of a longer basic
> integer representation than needed, such as 0x1800 for 0x00 does
> not).
> It may be "not intended to", but it does, if you're using a decoder in
> the generic data model.  We should be sure to cover the security
> considerations of this disparity (and the corresponding need for an
> application using CBOR to specify the data model it uses).

We will add text to the Security Considerations section about this disparity.

> Section
> Note that tag numbers 33 and 34 differ from 21 and 22 in that the
> data is transported in base-encoded form for the former and in raw
> byte string form for the latter.
> Do we want to mention tag 23 as well (as being the raw byte string)?

Tag 23 does not have a direct equivalent in the way that tags 33 and 34 have in
tags 21 and 22. Mentioning the lack of a direct equivalent doesn't seem
necessary and may actually cause confusion.

> Section 4.2.1
> [I did not validate the hex-encoded IEEE754 against the decimal values.]
> *  Indefinite-length items MUST NOT appear.  They can be encoded as
>   definite-length items instead.
> One could perhaps argue that a deterministic encoding procedure that
> uses indefinite-length items is possible, and even useful in some cases.
> This might argue for moving this requirement to Section 4.2.2's
> list of "additional considerations".  That said, an application is not
> obligated to use these core rules and can define its own rules if
> needed, so I don't object to this requirement.

We believe this requirement should stay with the core requirements.

> Section 4.2.3
> (Although [RFC7049] used the term "Canonical CBOR" for its form of
> requirements on deterministic encoding, this document avoids this
> term because "canonicalization" is often associated with specific
> uses of deterministic encoding only.  The terms are essentially
> interchangeable, however, and the set of core requirements in this
> document could also be called "Canonical CBOR", while the length-
> first-ordered version of that could be called "Old Canonical CBOR".)
> If this document avoids the term, maybe the final sentence should not be
> present?

It is not easy to manage the language that implementers will use. With documents
such as RFC 8785, people will continue to use “canonical”, and we want to avoid
a false alternative between “canonical” (old) and “deterministic” (new) because
it might make people choose “canonical” for no good reason.

> Section 5
> CBOR-based protocols MUST specify how their decoders handle invalid
> and other unexpected data.  CBOR-based protocols MAY specify that
> they treat arbitrary valid data as unexpected.  Encoders for CBOR-
> based protocols MUST produce only valid items, that is, the protocol
> cannot be designed to make use of invalid items.  An encoder can be
> Just to check: my interpretation is that CBOR Sequences are compatible
> with this requirement, since they use valid data items and just encode
> them in sequence.  Right?

A CBOR sequence in general (except when it is exactly one data item) is not a
well-formed (and therefore not a valid) data item. However, a CBOR sequence may
be required by the application to be composed of valid data items.

> Section 5.1
> Other decoders can present partial information about a top-level data
> item to an application, such as the nested data items that could
> already be decoded, or even parts of a byte string that hasn't
> completely arrived yet.
> This has potential to make some security types antsy, if coupled with
> encryption mechanisms that release alleged plaintext prior to
> authenticity check.  It's not immediately clear that this text needs to
> change, though if it's also not a key point, perhaps it is easier to
> just drop the mention rather than think about it more, though I'd also
> be happy to see discussion of issues with streaming decryption in the
> security considerations section.

We will will add:
   Such an application also MUST have matching streaming security mechanism,
   where the desired protection is available for incremental data presented
   to the application.

> Section 5.3
> A CBOR-based protocol MUST specify which of these options its
> decoders take, for each kind of invalid item they might encounter.
> Are the lists of types of validity error presented in the following
> subsections exhaustive for the respective data models?  If so, it might
> be worth mentioning that explicitly.

The WG worked hard on the lists of types of validity errors, and it is meant to
be complete, but it would be dangerous to declare they are exhaustive.

> Section 5.4
> *  It can report an error (and not return data).  Note that this
>   error is not a validity error per se.  This kind of error is more
>   likely to be raised by a decoder that would be performing validity
>   checking if this were a known case.
> (soapbox) Could we maybe be a little less encouraging of this behavior?
> I am remembering horror stories of TLS stacks that did this for
> extension types, which is an interoperability nightmare.  I recognize
> that there are cases where it is the desired behavior, but in the
> general case tags are an extensibility point and we shouldn't encourage
> that joint to rust shut.

We will add a sentence after the first sentence in the bullet point:
   Note that treating this case as an error can cause ossification, and is
   thus not encouraged.

> Section 5.6.1
> As discussed in Section 2.2, specific data models can make values
> equivalent for the purpose of comparing map keys that are distinct in
> the generic data model.  Note that this implies that a generic
> decoder may deliver a decoded map to an application that needs to be
> checked for duplicate map keys by that application (alternatively,
> the decoder may provide a programming interface to perform this
> service for the application).  Specific data models cannot
> distinguish values for map keys that are equal for this purpose at
> the generic data model level.
> This last bit seems like something that is forbidden by the protocol (vs
> "cannot"); I wonder if a slight rewording is in order.

We will change the sentence to read "Specific data models are not able to
distinguish values..."

> Section 6.2
> *  Numbers with fractional parts are represented as floating-point
>   values, performing the decimal-to-binary conversion based on the
>   precision provided by IEEE 754 binary64.  Then, when encoding in
> I forget if this conversion requires round-to-nearest or if multiple
> rounding modes are available (the latter would of course be problematic
> if we proceed on to the "can be represented in smaller float without
> changing value" step).

We will add "The mathematical value of the JSON number is converted to binary64
using the roundTiesToEven procedure in Section 4.3.1 of [IEEE754] and update
the reference to point to the 2019 version.

> Section 8
> The notation borrows the JSON syntax for numbers (integer and
> floating-point), True (>true<), False (>false<), Null (>null<), UTF-8
> (soapbox) Is literal '>' and '<' really the best quoting strategy here
> (and later on)?

Yes. The actual best quoting would be using a font change, but that will be
confusing for readers of some formats of the eventual RFC. Using quotation marks
would definitely cause confusion in some readers that > and < do not.

> Section 9.1, 9.2
> What guidance can we give to the experts?

We can't give any long-term guidance. Saying something like "it is good to
balance the need for conserving the extensibility by keeping code points
available and the need to react to requirements of applications" is possible,
but is not actually useful and would simply become an attractive target for
aggrieved applicants.

> Section 9.3
> Applications that use this media type:  None yet, but it is expected
>   that this format will be deployed in protocols and applications.
> I don't believe this to be currently accurate.

Good catch. We will change this to "Many"

> Additional information:  *  Magic number(s): n/a
> I guess 0xd9d9f7 doesn't count, then?

It is far from a universal magic number.

> Section 9.4
> The CoAP Content-Format for CBOR is defined in
> [IANA.core-parameters]:
> Is "defined in" the right way to word this?

We will change "defined in" to "registered in".

> Section 10
> I guess the attack where you use indefinite-length encoding to achieve
> total 'n' greater than 2**64 is not really practical at present...


> Please add a mention of the risks of mixing a constrained decoder with a
> variant (non-preferred-serialization) encoder, as alluded to in Section
> 4.1.

We will add the following:

Section 4.1 gives examples of limitations in interoperability when using a
constrained CBOR decoder with input from a CBOR encoder that uses a
non-preferred serialization. When a single data item is consumed both by such a
constrained decoder and a full decoder, it can lead to security issues that can
be exploited by an attacker who can inject or manipulate content.

> I also mention this down in G.3, but there seem to be some relevant
> considerations regarding whether/when bignums and integers of the same
> value are considered to be equivalent, in particular that the situation
> is different depending on the data model in use.  This could probably
> fit nicely into general discussion of handling the multiple possible
> serializations of various data items.

We will add the following:

As discussed throughout this document, there are many values that can be
considered "equivalent" in some circumstances and "not equivalent" in others. As
just one example, the numeric value for the number "one" might be expressed as
an integer or a bignum. A system interpreting CBOR input might accept either
form for the number "one", or might reject one (or both) forms. Such acceptance
or rejection can have security implications in the program that is using the
interpreted input.

> I would consider (but am not sure if I would end up adding) a mention
> that CBOR can convey time values, and thus that protocols using CBOR to
> convey time values are likely to rely on a source of accurate time.

This would only come up when an implementation compared a time value that had
been encoded with CBOR with an actual clock. That situation would be identical
to the time value encoded in any encoding system, and is thus not special to any
encoding system.

> I might incorporate by reference the RFC 4648 security considerations
> since we talk about base64 in several places.

Good point; added.

> Protocols using CBOR text strings will likely have internationalization
> considerations; whether CBOR itself should mention this is not entirely
> clear to me.

CBOR does not add any security considerations other than those already in UTF8.
We will add a pointer to those.

> The potential loss of (e.g., type) information when converting from CBOR
> to JSON is probably worth a mention, noting that applications performing
> such conversions should consider whether they are affected and/or it's
> desired to include specific type information in the generated JSON.

There are multiple ways to do this, which is one thing we could point out.

We will add:
   It is common to convert CBOR data to other formats. In many cases, CBOR
   has more expressive types than other formats; this is particularly
   true for the common conversion to JSON. The loss of type information can
   cause security issues for the systems that are processing the
   less-expressive data.

> numbers may exceed linear effort.  Also, some hash-table
> implementations that are used by decoders to build in-memory
> representations of maps can be attacked to spend quadratic effort,
> unless a secret key (see Section 7 of [SIPHASH]) or some other
> mitigation is employed.  Such superlinear efforts can be exploited by
> It seems likely that an alternate reference not behind a paywall would
> be usable to make this point.

We will change to use the current reference and add a reference to one that is
apparently maintained by one of the authors:

> Section 11.2
> Would not [PCRE] need to be normative (if that functionality remains,
> per the DISCUSS)?

Please see the discussion under the DISCUSS for this.

> Appendix A
> [I did not verify the examples.]
> ATTIC FIFTY STATERS).  (Note that all these single-character strings
> could also be represented in native UTF-8 in diagnostic notation,
> just not in an ASCII-only specification like the present one.)  In
> The present specification is not ASCII-only...

Good catch. We will remove "like the present one".

> Appendix C
>  return 0;                     // no break out
> Should this be 'return mt'?  IIUC the return value is a message type
> or -1 for the break code, and errors are indicated out of band via
> fail().

This was caught earlier by Stuart Cheshire, and we have a more complete fix
already in the repo (PR #203).

> void encode_sint(int64_t n) {
>  uint64t ui = n >> 63;    // extend sign to whole length
>  mt = ui & 0x20;          // extract major type
> If this is supposed to be C, you probably want to declare mt.

It is labeled as pseudo-code (hard to compile with an ellipsis in there).
But it doesn’t hurt to declare mt.

This is pseudocode, not actual C. However, we will declare mt in it to make it

> Appendix F
> *  major type 7, additional information 24, value < 32 (incorrect or
>   incorrectly encoded simple type)
> I see "incorrectly encoded", but I'm not sure I understand what is meant
> by "incorrect simple type".

We will change this to "(incorrect)".

> Appendix G.3
> integers and floating point values.  Experience from implementation
> and use now suggested that the separation between these two number
> domains should be more clearly drawn in the document; language that
> suggested an integer could seamlessly stand in for a floating point
> value was removed.  Also, a suggestion (based on I-JSON [RFC7493])
> So instead we have skew between the generic data model and the extended
> model, where the generic model thinks some numers are different that the
> extended model treats as the same.  Should we mention that here as well?

That is not really a change from RFC 7049; clearly identifying the data models
is a new way to discuss CBOR that is used in many places in the current