What is normative?
John C Klensin
klensin at jck.com
Tue Oct 7 22:27:05 CEST 2008
While it is clearly easy to say "remove the normative text from
the Rationale document and put it somewhere else", it has never
been clear to me that we actually agree on which text there is
normative and which is not.
Please keep in mind while reading this that the document we
casually refer to as "Rationale" actually includes definitions,
background material, and explanations in addition to actual
rationale material. Perhaps we should lengthen the title even
In his email message of 29 September, Mark proposed a list. I'd
like to review and comment on that list in the hope of putting
this issue into perspective (and, as a consequence, explain why
I'm resisting dealing with it for fear of introducing serious
and further delays).
The section numbers given are Mark's note and refer to
Rationale-02 and the forthcoming Rationale-03 (no change in
these section numbers). I've added the titles of those
sections (and the leading asterisks) for the convenience of the
WG in reading this note.
*** 1.5.2 Terminology about Characters and Character Sets
Obviously normative definitions.
*** 1.5.3 DNS-related Terminology
Obviously normative definitions
*** 1.5.4 Terminology Specific to IDNA
This too. But 1.5.1 ("Documents and Standards"), which
defines the terms "IDNA2003" and "IDNA2008", probably
needs to come along as well, especially if 9.1 is
considered normative (see below).
*** 4. IDNA2008 Document List
This section is what is referred to elsewhere in the
IETF as a "roadmap". We never consider them normative.
If we considered 1.5.1 to be normative (by it is not on
Mark's list), then we could collapse this document list
into it as part of the definition of what IDNA2008
actually is. But, while it wouldn't be a big deal, that
is the point at which "moving text" turns into "move and
rewrite", which means the WG has more to check and
*** 5 Permitted Characters: An Inclusion List
This introductory section is an explanation of the
IDNA2008 model. It is definitely not normative. It
even says that in its second paragraph.
*** 5.1 A Tiered Model of Permitted Characters and Labels
While 5.1.1., 5.1.2, and 5.1.3 contain the definitions
of PROTOCOL-VALID, DISALLOWED, and UNASSIGNED,
respectively, the introductory material in 5.1 itself is
clearly explanation and motivation as should be clear
from reading the first paragraph. Even those
definitions are really not normative: the real
definitions are the category-assigning rules in Tables
and those subsections are just explanations of general
*** 5.2 Registration Policy
Others have pointed out that this section doesn't
actually define any policies, it just explains what they
are and why they are important and even explicitly
permits "no policy at all" as a policy. In addition, if
the definition of "normative" is tied to what is needed
to be understood in order to implement Protocol / Bidi/
Tables, this material clearly does not.
*** 9.1 Summary of Major Changes from IDNA2003
Whatever this is, I do not believe that it is normative.
See separate note on that subject. On the other hand,
if it were to be treated as normative, then 1.5.5
("Punycode is an Algorithm, not a Name") is probably
necessary to understanding it and hence should be moved
along with it.
I don't expect everyone to agree with me on the above analyses.
But my two main points for today are that
(1) if we decide to start moving "normative" material out of
Rationale and into either Protocol or a separate document, we
are first going to have to agree about what material falls into
the "normative" category. I believe that the analysis above
suggests quite strongly that it is not a simple decision with an
(2) If "normative" doesn't really mean that but is, instead, a
placeholder category-term for "definitional, explanatory, and
rationale/motivational material in the Rationale document that
some people think is important and agreed-upon enough to keep,
while the rest of the Rationale document, which they like less,
is permitted to slip through the cracks", then I believe we
should be having a different discussion --really the discussion
associated with Tranche 1, Statement (1.a)-- and not about
Just my opinion, of course.
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