[rfc-i] Immutability (was: on Rfced-future)

Martin Thomson <mt@lowentropy.net> Mon, 06 April 2020 01:43 UTC

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Date: Mon, 06 Apr 2020 11:42:35 +1000
From: "Martin Thomson" <mt@lowentropy.net>
To: rfc-interest@rfc-editor.org, "Brian E Carpenter" <brian.e.carpenter@gmail.com>
Subject: [rfc-i] Immutability (was: on Rfced-future)
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Moving over to a more appropriate venue.

On Sat, Apr 4, 2020, at 07:32, Brian E Carpenter wrote:
> > The (canonical, published) XML never ever should be adjusted to work
> > around a bug. Is this happening?
>  
> <heresyAlert>It should be happening. 

Hooray for sensible conclusions!  The how part is tricky though if we believe that there is a point in time at which a document becomes immutable.

> Obviously we must not update the substantive content, 

It is not clear to me that this is so different than an obvious editorial error.

Take this erratum for example: https://www.rfc-editor.org/errata/eid5031

That's not a substantive, nor do I think it would be hard to get people to agree that it is wrong.  However, it would require a change to text and not markup.  In some versions of document production, this sort of error is the result of not using semantic markup correctly, as you will see sometimes.

So you might infer from this that it is acceptable to change the way in which XML elements are structured in a way that does not change text, but instead only changes the types of elements and their attributes.  But it is sometimes the case that XML attributes carry semantics.

Take this example of the v2 XML:

<list style="hanging">
  <t hangText="Name:">Value</t>
  <t hangText="Key:">Semantic</t>
</list>

As an aside, I often see this instead, which is much worse, especially when you render to HTML (I've also seen people use <artwork> for this stuff):

<t>Name: Value</t>
<t>Key: Semantic</t>

Ideally, this becomes v3 XML:

<dl newline="false" spacing="normal">
  <dt>Note:</dt><dd>Value</dd>
  <dt>Key:</dt><dd>Semantic</dd>
</dl>

Here, we added attributes with values.  But we also converted attributes that carry meaning into elements.  So it's not a simple rule.  And maybe we altered whitespace in ways that might not be good, especially if we converted from the semantic-free form.

That is a long way of saying that the lines are necessarily crisp.  From here we might take a number of paths, but I think that you identify the most important baseline:

> and we should have an audit trail, 

Absolutely.  I think that improving the audit trail should always be a goal.  The requirements for clear and discoverable audit history increases as documents pass crucial control points in our processes.  That includes WGLC, and just about the entire path from there forward.

> but only by doing such updates can we have a reasonable situation at the end.

That seems like the right goal.

> If there isn't a v3.n sub-version number in the XML files today, there 
> certainly should be.</heresyAlert>

Is the date insufficient?  That is, we could decide to process a document by pretending that we have the limited knowledge and tools of the date of publication.

I realize that means we will have to learn that RFC XXXX is insufficiently precise a reference and that RFC XXXX at date Y is probably better, but you will find that most documents that cite RFCs have their own publication dates that can be used to provide a value for Y.

That would be a good outcome.

--Martin
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