My first overall thought is "why??"
Not everything needs to be wrapped in XML, and in this case, it appears
that there are few real benefits and a number of significant drawbacks.
It is difficult to tell from the document whether the authors actually
intend this format as a substitute for programming-data formats like
S-records, or as a format for transferring data dumps over the Internet.
It has a number of drawbacks which would seem to make it unsuitable for
the former case, and doesn't seem to offer much over a raw hex dump
for the latter. It would be helpful if the authors could clarify the
intended application for this format.
I would also advise the authors and other interested parties to examine
draft-housley-cms-fw-wrap-09.txt, on which an IETF Last Call recently
concluded. It describes a method for securely transporting firmware
images over the internet and directly to hardware devices. While it is
too complex to be suitable for direct programming of low-level devices,
it is quite appropriate for delivery as far as the workstation, device
programmer, or bootloader. [Note that I have nothing to do with that
document, other than having recently reviewed it]
In any case, I see a number of problems, some of which are significant;
- This specification repeatedly uses the word "byte" to refer to an octet.
Further, it prohibits representation of data with word sizes which are
not multiples of 8 bits, claiming that such things are not used in
"practical present-day applications". While byte sizes other than 8 bits
and word sizes which are not multiples of 8 bits have become extremely
uncommon in general-purpose computing devices, they are still used in
more special-purpose devices, and many of the low-level devices which
are within the stated scope of this document are programmed with data
which uses "odd" word sizes.
- The introduction indicates an intent to provide an alternative to
formats used for "hexadecimal data" and particularly device programming
data, the de facto standard "S-record" format is mentioned by name.
However, it fails to capture a fundamental property of such formats,
which is that they are generally simple enough to send to a device or
programmer without further parsing. The authors admit that an XML
parser is "not easily deployed in hardware devices", but suggest that
instead a workstation should be used to convert data from the specified
format into one the device can actually handle.
If this is the expected use case, then I fail to see the advantage over
simply transporting the data over established file-transfer protocols
(FTP, HTTP) in a format which can be directly understood by the device.
Many devices can be programmed by sending the distributed image over an
RS-232 connection with no preprocessing; requiring a translation step
severely reduces the set of devices that can be used for this purpose.
For example, it makes it unlikely that I would be able to walk around
my machine room with a PDA, upgrading firmware in network devices or
- This specification REQUIREs the use of SHA-1, providing no means to
upgrade to an alternate hash in the future. This lack of algorithm
agility is not very forward-looking.
- In section 4.1, you say "if the value is untrue...". I suspect you
mean something like "if the value does not match...". Further,
rather than leaving the behaviour in the case of an incorrect length
up to the implementation, it should be RECOMMENDED (RFC2119) that
implementations reject such files.
- In section 4.2, you require the start_address attribute to be
provided, even though it may not be meaningful in all cases. This
attribute should be OPTIONAL.
- I don't believe 64 bits are required to represent word size.
In fact, I question whether it is necessary for this format to
represent word size at all.
- The number of blocks is OPTIONAL, but the block length is REQUIRED.
Further, there is a per-block checksum but no overall checksum.
These properties would seem to suggest that the intent is to allow
stream-encoding by encoding an arbitrary number of relatively small
blocks. This is fine, but lacking both a block count and an overall
checksum, there is no way to tell whether the entire dump was
transferred correctly. I would suggest adding an overall-checksum
element, to be encoded after the last block (_not_ as an attribute).
- Why is the number of _bits_ in a block limited to 2^64-1?
This limitation seems unnecessary, given that everything else is
done in terms of octets.
- The requirement that words inside a dump be represented in network
order is silly. The contents of a dump are by their nature specific
to a particular device, and should be in whatever format is most
appropriate for that device. Again, I question whether this format
should have any notion of "words" at all.
- I understand the desire to ignore stray characters in dump data,
since various software may introduce additional formatting. However,
it seems reasonable to expect that attributes will be well-formed
and consist only of legal characters.
-- Jeffrey T. Hutzelman (N3NHS) <jhutz+(_at_)cmu(_dot_)edu>
Sr. Research Systems Programmer
School of Computer Science - Research Computing Facility
Carnegie Mellon University - Pittsburgh, PA
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