Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Banishing ASCII art

In his keynote address on receiving the SIGCOMM lifetime achievement award, Larry Peterson discussed the evolution of the "manifestation of architecture" in networking.

As of 1981, that architecture was manifested by an ASCII-art diagrams in an RFC. But I was intrigued and surprised by his next remark that "we fixed that."

What do we think Prof. Peterson meant by this remark? How would we specify the TCP/IP stack if we were doing it today? (Assume we kept the same protocol...)

I assume there are surely plenty of formal ways to do it, but I'm ignorant of anything that has really taken over from ASCII-art diagrams or RFC-style BNF in practice yet.

I note with some chagrin that the HTTP 2.0 draft specification still is using ASCII-art diagrams of packed binary fields!