Revised WHOIS++ Index Services paper

Chris Weider <> Wed, 27 October 1993 04:22 UTC

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Subject: Revised WHOIS++ Index Services paper

Hot off the keyboard :^). See you all in Houston!

WNILS Working Group					Chris Weider
INTERNET-DRAFT						Merit Network, Inc.
							Jim Fullton
							Simon Spero
							UNC-Chapel Hill
							October, 1993

	Architecture of the Whois++ Index Service

Status of this memo:

The authors describe an architecture for indexing in distributed databases,
and apply this to the WHOIS++ protocol.

        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
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        Please check the I-D abstract listing contained in each Internet 
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	This Internet Draft expires April 26, 1994.

1. Purpose:

The WHOIS++ directory service [Deutsch, et al, 1992] is intended to provide
a simple, extensible directory service predicated on a template-based
information model and a flexible query language. This document describes
a general architecture designed for indexing distributed databases, and then
applys that architecture to link together many of these WHOIS++ servers
into a distributed, searchable wide area directory service.

2. Scope:

This document details a distributed, easily maintained architecture for
providing a unified index to a large number of distributed WHOIS++
servers. This architecture can be used with systems other than WHOIS++ to
provide a distributed directory service which is also searchable.

3. Motivation and Introduction:

It seems clear that with the vast amount of directory information potentially
available on the Internet, it is simply not feasible to build a centralized
directory to serve all this information. If we are to distribute the directory 
service, the easiest (although not necessarily the best) way of building the 
directory service is to build a hierarchy of directory information collection 
agents. In this architecture, a directory query is delivered to a certain agent
in the tree, and then handed up or down, as appropriate, so that the query
is delivered to the agent which holds the information which fills the query.
This approach has been tried before, most notably in some implementations of
the X.500 standard. However, there are number of major flaws with the approach 
as it has been taken. This new Index Service is designed to fix these flaws.

WNILS Working Group  	    Whois++ Index Service		Weider, et al.

3.1. The search problem

One of the primary assumptions made by recent implementations of distributed
directory services is that every entry resides in some location in a hierarch-
ical name space. While this arrangement is ideal for reading the entry once
one knows its location, it is not as good when one is searching for the 
location in the namespace of those entries which meet some set of criteria.  
If the only criteria we know about a desired entry are items which do not 
appear in the namespace, we are forced to do a global query. Whenever we issue
a global query (at the root of the namespace), or a query at the top of a 
given subtree in the namespace, that query is replicated to _all_ subtrees of 
the starting point. The replication of the query to all subtrees is not 
necessarily a problem; queries are cheap. However, every server to which the 
query has been replicated must process that query, even if it has no entries 
which match the specified criteria. This part of the global query processing 
is quite expensive. A poorly designed namespace or a thin namespace can cause 
the vast majority of queries to be replicated globally, but a very broad 
namespace can cause its own navigation problems. Because of these problems,
search has been turned off at high levels of the X.500 namespace.

3.2. The location problem

With global search turned off, one must know in advance how the name space is
laid out so that one can guide a query to a proper location. Also, the layout
of the namespace then becomes critical to a user's ability to find the 
desired information. Thus there are endless battles about how to lay out the
name space to best serve a given set of users, and enormous headaches whenever
it becomes apparent that the current namespace is unsuited to the current
usages and must be changed (as recently happened in X.500). Also, assuming
one does impose multiple hierarchies on the entries through use of the 
namespace, the mechanisms to maintain these multiple hierarchies in X.500 do
not exist yet, and it is possible to move entries out from under their 
pointers.  Also, there is as yet no agreement on how the X.500 namespace
should look even for the White Pages types of information that is currently
installed in the X.500 pilot project.

3.3. The Yellow Pages problem

Current implementations of this hierarchical architecture have also been
unsuited to solving the Yellow Pages problem; that is, the problem of
easily and flexibly building special-purpose directories (say of molecular
biologists) and of automatically maintaining these directories once they have
been built. In particular, the attributes appropriate to the new directory
must be built into the namespace because that is the only way to segregate
related entries into a place where they can be found without a global 
search. Also, there is a classification problem; how does one adequately
specify the proper categories so that people other than the creator of the
directory can find the correct subtree? Additionally, there is the problem
of actually finding the data to put into the subtree; if one must traverse
the hierarchy to find the data, we have to look globally for the proper 

3.4. Solutions 

The problems examined in this section can be addressed by a combination of two 
new techniques: directory meshes and forward knowledge.
WNILS Working Group         Whois++ Index Service               Weider, et al.

4. Directory meshes and forward knowledge

We'll hold off for a moment on describing the actual architecture used in
our solution to these problems and concentrate on a high level description of
what solutions are provided by our conceptual approach. To begin with,
although every entry in WHOIS++ does indeed have a unique identifier 
(resides in a specific location in the namespace) the navigational algorithms
to reach a specific entry do not necessarily depend on the identifier the
entry has been assigned. The Index Service gets around the namespace and
hierarchy problems by creating a directory mesh on top of the entries.
Each layer of the mesh has a set of 'forward knowledge' which indicates the
contents of the various servers at the next lower layer of the mesh. Thus 
when a query is received by a server in a given layer of the mesh, it can
prune the search tree and hand the query off to only those lower level servers
which have indicated that they might be able to answer it. Thus search becomes
feasible at all levels of the mesh. In the current version of this 
architecture, we have chosen a certain set of information to hand up the mesh 
as forward knowledge. This may or may not be exactly the set of information 
required to construct a truly searchable directory, but the protocol itself 
doesn't restrict the types of information which can be handed around.

In addition, the protocols designed to maintain the forward knowledge will
also work perfectly well to provide replication of servers for redundancy
and robustness. In this case, the forward knowledge handed around by the
protocols is the entire database of entries held by the replicated server.

Another benefit provided by the mesh of index servers is that since the
entry identification scheme has been decoupled from the navigation service,
multiple hierarchies can be built and easily maintained on top of the 
existing data. Also, the user does not need to know in advance where in the 
mesh the entry is contained.

Also, the Yellow Pages problem now becomes tractable, as the index servers
can pick and choose between information proffered by a given server; 
because we have an architecture that allows for automatic polling of data, 
special purpose directories become easy to construct and to maintain.

5. Components of the Index Service:

5.1. WHOIS++ servers

The whois++ service is described in [Deutsch, et al, 1992]. As that service 
specifies only the query language, the information model, and the server 
responses, whois++ services can be provided by a wide variety of databases 
and directory services. However, to participate in the Index Service, that 
underlying database must also be able to generate a 'centroid', or some other
type of forward knowledge, for the data it serves.

5.2. Centroids as forward knowledge

The centroid of a server is comprised of a list of the templates and 
attributes used by that server, and a word list for each attribute.
The word list for a given attribute contains one occurrence of every 
word which appears at least once in that attribute in some record in that 
server's data, and nothing else.

WNILS Working Group         Whois++ Index Service               Weider, et al.

For example, if a whois++ server contains exactly three records, as follows:

Record 1			Record 2
Template: User			Template: User
First Name: John 		First Name: Joe
Last Name: Smith		Last Name: Smith
Favourite Drink: Labatt Beer    Favourite Drink: Molson Beer

Record 3
Template: Domain
Domain Name:
Contact Name: Mike Foobar

the centroid for this server would be

Template: 	  User
First Name: 	  Joe
Last Name: 	  Smith
Favourite Drink:  Beer

Template:	  Domain
Domain Name:
Contact Name:     Mike
It is this information which is handed up the tree to provide forward 
knowledge.  As we mention above, this may not turn out to be the ideal 
solution for forward knowledge, and we suspect that there may be a number of 
different sets of forward knowledge used in the Index Service. However, the 
directory architecture is in a very real sense independent of what types of 
forward knowledge are handed around, and it is entirely possible to build a 
unified directory which uses many types of forward knowledge.

5.3. Index servers and Index server Architecture

A whois++ index server collects and collates the centroids (or other forward 
knowledge) of either a number of whois++ servers or of a number of other index
servers. An index server must be able to generate a centroid for the
information it contains. In addition, an index server can index any other
server it wishes, which allows one base level server (or index server) to
participate in many hierarchies in the directory mesh.

5.3.1. Queries to index servers

An index server will take a query in standard whois++ format, search its
collections of centroids, determine which servers hold records which may fill
that query, and then either a) forward the query to the appropriate servers
on behalf of the user, (chaining in the X.500 terminology) or b) notify the 
user's client of the next servers to contact to submit the query (referral in
the X.500 model).

5.3.2. Index server distribution model and centroid propogation

The diagram on the next page illustrates how a mesh of index servers might be
created for a set of whois++ servers. Although it looks like a hierarchy,
the protocols allow (for example) server A to be indexed by both server
D and by server H. 

WNILS Working Group         Whois++ Index Service               Weider, et al.

  whois++		index			index
  servers		servers			servers
			for			for
 			whois++			lower-level
  	                servers			index servers
 |       |             
 |   A   |__
 |_______|  \            _______
	     \----------|       |
  _______               |   D   |__             ______
 |       |   /----------|_______|  \           |      |
 |   B   |__/                       \----------|      |
 |_______|                                     |  F   |
  _______                _______  /
 |       |              |       |-
 |   C   |--------------|   E   |
 |_______|              |_______|-
  _______                           \            ______
 |       |			     \----------|      |
 |   G   |--------------------------------------|  H   |
 |_______|                                      |______|

		Figure 1: Sample layout of the Index Service mesh

In the portion of the index tree shown above, whois++ servers A and B hand 
their centroids up to index server D, whois++ server C hands its centroid up to
index server E, and index servers D and E hand their centroids up to index 
server F. Servers E and G also hand their centroids up to H.

The number of levels of index servers, and the number of index servers at each
level, will depend on the number of whois++ servers deployed, and the response
time of individual layers of the server tree. These numbers will have to 
be determined in the field.

5.3.3. Centroid propogation and changes to centroids

Centroid propogation is initiated by an authenticated POLL command (sec. 5.2).
The format of the POLL command allows the poller to request the centroid of
any or all templates and attributes held by the polled server. After the
polled server has authenticated the poller, it determines which of the 
requested centroids the poller is allowed to request, and then issues a
CENTROID-CHANGES report (sec. 5.3) to transmit the data. When the poller
receives the CENTROID-CHANGES report, it can authenticate the pollee to
determine whether to add the centroid changes to its data. Additionally, if
a given pollee knows what pollers hold centroids from the pollee, it can
signal to those pollers the fact that its centroid has changed by issuing
a DATA-CHANGED command. The poller can then determine if and when to 
issue a new POLL request to get the updated information. The DATA-CHANGED
command is included in this protocol to allow 'interactive' updating of
critical information.

WNILS Working Group          Whois++ Index Service              Weider, et al.

5.3.4. Centroid propogation and mesh traversal

When an index server issues a POLL request, it may indicate to the polled
server what relationship it has to the polled. This information can be
used to help traverse the directory mesh. Only one field is specified in the
current proposal to transmit the relationship information, although it is
expected that richer relationship information will be shared in future 
revisions of this protocol. The field used for this information is the
X-hierarchy field, and can take on three values. The first is 'topology',
which indicates that the indexing server is at a higher level in the network
topology (e.g. indexes the whole regional ISP). The second is 'geographical',
which indicates that the polling server covers a geographical area subsuming
the pollee. The third is 'administrative', which indicates that
the indexing server covers an administrative domain subsuming the pollee.

5.3.5. Query handling and passing algorithms

When an index server receives a query, it searches its collection of centroids,
and determines which servers hold records which may fill that query. As
whois++ becomes widely deployed, it is expected that some index servers
may specialize in indexing certain whois++ templates or perhaps even
certain fields within those templates. If an index server obtains a match
with the query _for those template fields and attributes the server indexes_,
it is to be considered a match for the purpose of forwarding the query.
There are two methods of forwarding a query, called 'chaining' and 'referral'. Query referral

Query referral is the process of informing a client which servers to contact
next to resolve a query.  The syntax for notifying a client is outlined in
section 5.5. Query chaining

Query chaining is done when the queried index server takes responsibility for
resubmitting the query to the appropriate lower servers. The server 
will then forward the query using the syntax in section 5.4, but then takes
no further responsibility for the query. A whois++ query can specify the
'trace' option, which causes each server which receives the query to 
send its IANA handle and an identification string to the client.
6. Syntax for operations of the Index Service:

6.1. Data changed syntax

The data changed template look like this:

   Version-number: // version number of index service software, used to insure
		   // compatibility
   Time-of-latest-centroid-change: // time stamp of latest centroid change, GMT
   Time-of-message-generation: // time when this message was generated, GMT
   Server-handle: // IANA unique identifier for this server
   Best-time-to-poll: // For heavily used servers, this will identify when
		      // the server is likely to be lightly loaded
		      // so that response to the poll will be speedy, GMT
   Authentication-type: // Type of authentication used by server, or NONE
   Authentication-data: // data for authentication 
END DATA-CHANGED // This line must be used to terminate the data changed 
		 // message
WNILS Working Group          Whois++ Index Service              Weider, et al.

6.2. Polling syntax

   Version-number: // version number of poller's index software, used to
		   // insure compatibility
   Type-of-poll: // type of forward data requested. CENTROID is the only
		// one currently defined
   Start-time: // give me all the centroid changes starting at this time, GMT
   End-time: // ending at this time, GMT
   Template: // a standard whois++ template name, or the keyword ALL, for a
	     // full update.
   Field:    // used to limit centroid update information to specific fields,
	     // is either a specific field name, a list of field names, 
             // or the keyword ALL
   Server-handle: // IANA unique identifier for the polling server. 
		  // this handle may optionally be cached by the polled
		  // server to announce future changes
   X-Hierarchy: // This field indicates the relationship which the poller
		// bears to the pollee. Typical values might include 
		// 'Topology', 'Geographical", or "Administrative" 
   Authentication-type: // Type of authentication used by poller, or NONE
   Authentication-data: // Data for authentication
END POLL     // This line must by used to terminate the poll message

6.3. Centroid change report

As the centroid change report contains nested multiply-occuring blocks,
each multiply occurring block is surrounded *in this paper* by curly
braces '{', '}'. These curly braces are NOT part of the syntax, they are
for identification purposes only. 

The syntax of a Data: item is either a list of words, one word per line, with
the syntax:

  word <tab> weight

or the keyword:


. The weight is not required, but is expected to be used by weighting servers.
The keyword ANY as the only item of a Data: list means that any value for
this field should be treated as a hit by the indexing server.

The field Any-field: needs more explanation than can be given in the body
of the syntax description below. It can take two values, True or False. If
the value is True, the pollee is indicating that there are fields in this
template which are not being exported to the polling server, but wishes to 
treat as a hit. Thus, when the polling server gets a query which has a term 
requesting a field not in this list for this template, the polling server 
will treat that term as a 'hit'.  If the value is False, the pollee is 
indicating that there are no other fields for this template which should be 
treated as a hit. This field is required because the basic model for the
WHOIS++ query syntax requires that the results of each search term be 'and'ed
together. This field allows polled servers to export data only for
non-sensitive fields, yet still get referrals of queries which contain 
sensitive terms.

   Version-number: // version number of pollee's index software, used to
		   // insure compatibility
   Start-time: // change list starting time, GMT
   End-time: // change list ending time, GMT
   Server-handle: // IANA unique identifier of the responding server
   Case-sensitive: // states whether data is case sensitive or case
		   // insensitive. values are TRUE or FALSE
   Authentication-type: // Type of authentication used by pollee, or NONE
   Authentication-data: // Data for authentication
   Compression-type: // Type of compression used on the data, or NONE
   Size-of-compressed-data: // size of compressed data if compression is used
   Operation: // One of 3 keywords: ADD, DELETE, FULL
	      // ADD - add these entries to the centroid for this server
              // DELETE - delete these entries from the centroid of this
              // server
	      // FULL - the full centroid as of end-time follows
{ // The multiply occurring template block starts here
    Template: // a standard whois++ template name
    Any-field: // TRUE or FALSE. See beginning of 6.3 for explanation.
  { // the template contains multiple field blocks
    Field: // a field name within that template
    Data: // Either the keyword ANY, or
          // the word list itself, one per line, cr/lf terminated
	  // each word may be optionally followed by a <tab> and a weight.
  } // the field ends with END FIELD
} // the template block ends with END TEMPLATE
    END CENTROID-CHANGES // This line must be used to terminate the centroid
			 // change report

6.4. Forwarded query

   Version-number: // version number of forwarder's index software, used to 
		   // insure compatibility
   Forwarded-From: // IANA unique identifier of the server forwarding query 
   Forwarded-time: // time this query forwarded, GMT (used for debugging)
   Trace-option: // YES if query has 'trace' option listed, NO if not.
		 // used at message reception time to generate trace 
	         // information
   Query-origination-address: // address of origin of query
   Body-of-Query: // The original query goes here
   Authentication-type: // Type of authentication used by queryer
   Authentication-data: // Data for authentication
   END FORWARDED-QUERY // This line must be used to terminate the body of the
 		       // query

6.5. Query referral

   Version-number: // version number of index software, used to insure
		   // compatibility
   Query-id: // some query identifier so the client knows which query to
             // issue to the following servers
   Body-of-Query: // the original query goes here
   Next-Servers: // A list of servers to ask next, either IP addresses or
		 // hostnames, one per line, cr/lf terminated

7. References

  Deutsch, et al. Architecture of the WHOIS++ service. August 1992. 
   Available by anonymous FTP as

WNILS Working Group          Whois++ Index Service              Weider, et al.

8. Author's Addresses

Chris Weider
Industrial Technology Institute, Pod G
2901 Hubbard Rd, 
Ann Arbor, MI 48105
O: (313) 747-2730
F: (313) 747-3185

Jim Fullton
MCNC Center for Communications
Post Office Box 12889
3021 Cornwallis Road
Research Triangle Park
North Carolina 27709-2889
O: 919-248-1499
F: 919-248-1405

Simon Spero
310 Wilson Library CB #3460
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3460
O: (919) 962-9107
F: (919) 962-5604