Media type centralization is a feature, not a bug

Via Stefan, a proposal from the WSO2 gang for an approach to decentralizing media types and removing the requirement for the registration process.

Been there, tried that. I used to think that was a good idea, but no longer do.

Problem one: an abundance of media types is a bad thing for pretty much the same reasons that an abundance of application interfaces is a bad thing; the more that is different, the more difficult interoperability becomes. We need less, more general media types, not more specific ones.

Problem two, specific to their solution for this “problem” (which is “application/data-format;uri=”): media type parameters don’t affect the semantics of the payload. This solution requires changing the Web to incorporate parameters in this way. Consider, if an existing firewall was configured to block, for example, image/svg+xml content. If SVG were also assigned its own “media type URI” and delivered using application/data-format, that firewall wouldn’t be able to block it. Oops.

Problem three (which mnot convinced me of): having your media type reviewed by the capable volunteers on ietf-types, is a good thing. Sure, you could still do that while using a decentralized token/process, but I consider having motivation for review built-in to the mechanism a feature, not a bug, especially given problem one above.

Update; here’s an older position of mine.

0 thoughts on “Media type centralization is a feature, not a bug

  1. Paul Fremantle


    I agree with your reasoning. Having things reviewed by the IETF-Types volunteers is a good thing. The problem is – in my experience – that it doesn’t happen. The ratio of IETF registered types to real data formats is a 1:n where n is very large indeed.

    The problem of more general media types is that they just push the problem elsewhere. For example, we could do everything with RDF triples, but then you have just pushed the problem to be one of finding a suitable ontology.

    One of the best things about the web is how minimal the number of truly centralized services are – and media types just doesn’t seem – to me – to be in the same class as DNS root servers and IP address allocation.

    However, I would like to see an approach that does help solve the firewall problem which I do accept is a valid issue.


  2. Mark Baker

    Paul – I don’t think you’ve pushed the problem off, you have actually solved an important part of the problem. Just not all of it.

    And the DNS tree proposal avoided the firewall problem. It’s architecturally right by the Web.

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