Re: Jim: Re: [rfc-i] FIXED: Poll: RFCs with page numbers (pretty please) ? (was: Re: John/rsoc: Re: Page numbers in RFCs questions / preferences)

John C Klensin <> Wed, 28 October 2020 19:19 UTC

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Date: Wed, 28 Oct 2020 15:19:43 -0400
From: John C Klensin <>
To: Toerless Eckert <>, Jim Fenton <>
cc: Working Group Chairs <>, Phillip Hallam-Baker <>, John Levine <>, IETF Discussion Mailing List <>, RFC Interest <>,, David Noveck <>
Subject: Re: Jim: Re: [rfc-i] FIXED: Poll: RFCs with page numbers (pretty please) ? (was: Re: John/rsoc: Re: Page numbers in RFCs questions / preferences)
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--On Wednesday, October 28, 2020 17:40 +0100 Toerless Eckert
<> wrote:

> On Tue, Oct 27, 2020 at 04:57:38PM -0700, Jim Fenton wrote:
>> but if some
>> people are reading HTML versions, PDF versions, and TXT
>> versions, the pagination is different anyway (and nonexistent
>> for HTML) so trying to reference something by page number is
>> problematic.
> The thread is getting long so it is hard to not miss things
> said earlier, so let me repeat: My proposal was to add on IETF
> pages renderings with page numbers (not to remove any of the
> non-paginated renderings), AND make sure the pagination is
> consistent across them.

And, also to repeat, the expectation of consistent numbering (or
consistent pagination) across different renderings is
impractical and unwise.   As a specific and concrete example,
consider the relationship between a PDF document that contains
representations of several graphic images and the associated
text version.  The only way I can think of to make the
pagination (and numbering) consistent between them would be to
leave large areas of white space in the text.   That could be
done, but would make the text file longer and less useful.

AFAICT, the arguments against page numbers in the text files are:

(1) They are not allowed to be used in crossreferences within
the document, therefore they are utterly useless.
   Response: See many comments that contradict "utterly useless"
in this set of threads.  And we've had that rule for decades and
the RFC Editor and then the RFC Production Center enforce it.

(2) They are not allowed to be used in references within the RFC
Series to parts of other RFCs.
   Response: We've had that rule for decades and the RFC Editor
and then the RFC Production Center enforce it.

(3) We don't want them used by third parties or their documents
to references parts of RFCs.
   Response: As you point out, many other publications already
prohibit page number references to identify particular material
and do so for much the same reason we have.  But, as long as we
paginate documents, nothing we do is going to prevent someone
who insists on page numbers from counting and using them.  And,
as long as we have at least one paginated form (numbered or not)
that will be possible.  However, page numbers that are
inconsistent among renderings actually reinforces the "don't use
page numbers in references" rule because it is then clear that
they are too unstable to make good references, so maybe we
should be promoting their inclusion.

(4) Page numbers in plain text documents are so inherently evil
and/or the risk to horrible damage being done by anyone using
them so high that we need to suppress them and headers and
footers (and perhaps even pagination) as well.  That evilness
and risk of damage is acceptable in the PDF form, just not in
the plain-text one.
    Response: In fairness, no one whose comments I have read has
actually said/ claimed that, but it seems to me that it is were
several arguments against page identification (numbered or not)
seem to be heading.  YMMD.

By contrast, there are, it seems to me only two reasons for
retaining the page numbers (and pagination, headers, and
footers) in the plain text rendering:

 (a) They are traditional in the RFC Series and
	preserving that rendering in a format consistent with a
	significant fraction of the first 7000 or so of RFCs
	would seem to have some advantages.  Of course, no one
	is forced to use them, any more than anyone has been
	forced to use the standard text form since HTML and PDF
	forms became generally available years ago.
 (b) Of the fraction of the community that still prefers
	to use the plain text form (at least sometimes) and for
	one purpose or another, some fraction of them prefer to
	have the headers and footers and many of those prefer,
	or are not disturbed by, the page numbers.  Because many
	of the arguments against page numbers seem to be coming
	from people who do not find the plain text form useful,
	probably we should pay attention to that preference ...
	or start making the case for getting rid of the plain
	text form entirely, perhaps because those who prefer it
	(for any purpose) need to be persuaded to join the
	modern era and get with the programs.

Probably I'm missing something important but, if the above
analysis is even nearly correct, I don't understand why we are
still having this conversation.