Post details: URI structure

Oct 06, 2006 : URI structure

Non-nerdy abstract: some folks like to do all sorts of crazy things with what you simply know as a URL or website address. We abstract them to be names with no content, or internationalize them, etc, etc and call them URIs, IRIs, XRIs, etc. This is about the semantic structure of a URI.

A while ago there was some discussion started by Norm Walsh on the use of URIs using schemes other than http: . One direction the discussion took was that specifications for other schemes provided a human-readable description of how the URI was to be constructed. For example, the URN:ISBN specification has a "Declaration of syntactic structure" explaining the four parts it contains. Using the http: scheme for all our URIs means (at best) we'd have non-normative descriptions of the URI structure.

Today, however, I came across Marc Hadley's URI Templating post, which includes a link to a draft specification for URI Templates. This would mean machine-readable URI structure declarations (better than human-readable spec documents, on many levels). I think it's a great start.

The trouble still lies in how to discover a URI Template, given a URI. For URIs used in web apps, a WADL document you already have could reference the template. And I bet WSDL 2.0 can do something with URI syntax, since it supports descriptions of REST APIs. But URIs can be used in so many other contexts (even offline) where discovery would be probably impossible. URI Templates may be provided by a 3rd party, so even having the template located at some special URL (e.g. robots.txt) or referenced in a URL document (e.g. favicon) would not necessarily be ideal.

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