Metanorma IETF v2 released with native RFC XML v3 support

Author’s picture Nick Nicholas on 06 Jan 2020

A brief origin story

The Metanorma journey started in November 2017, with the v0.2.0 release of our asciidoctor-rfc gem, created to allow users to author the RFC XML for IETF Internet Drafts and Requests for Comments using AsciiRFC markup (AsciiDoc for RFCs), catering for automated fetching of references and validation.

The gem as originally released generated output in both RFC XML v2 (RFC 7749) and RFC XML v3 (RFC 7991).

The context has changed since then, for the better!

Times change, Metanorma has metamorphosed

Metanorma now generates standards for various standards bodies, with broadly consistent inputs and outputs, centered on the usage of Metanorma XML. This effort started after the development of AsciiRFC and the asciidoctor-rfc gem, and was initially centered on ISO documents and documents resembling it. It has since grown to encompass over 10 standards flavours.

While asciidoctor-rfc was integrated into the metanorma command-line interface (as the metanorma-ietf gem), the input format of metanorma-ietf remained distinct from the rest of Metanorma; AsciiDoctor written for metanorma-ietf could not readily be repurposed for other Metanorma flavours. Likewise, Metanorma came to use the Relaton suite of gems and encoding language to manage bibliographies; metanorma-ietf remained cut off from that toolset.

RFC XML v3 has been maturing (with less resemblance to the original v3)

After several years, IETF has recently implemented RFC XML v3 in its own toolset for processing standards documents (with xml2rfc the most important of these, taking RFC XML input and generating HTML and TXT output.)

However, the version of RFC XML v3 it has implemented is at variance with that originally defined in RFC 7991; the differences are detailed in the RFC 7991 Implementation Notes. Using the RFC 7991 format as originally defined will cause the IETF xml2rfc tool to crash.

Rewriting Metanorma IETF in native Metanorma

Rather than patch the existing metanorma-ietf gem to deal with the updated RFC XML v3, we have decided to take the opportunity to bring metanorma-ietf back into the fold, and have its input format be consistent with the rest of Metanorma.

There are a number of Metanorma users who need to submit the same content to both the IETF and their own Standards Developing Organisation. As a result, we have published a version of metanorma-ietf which complies with the “RFC 7991 Implementation Notes”, and which uses the same markup and conventions as the rest of Metanorma, at the cost of losing some backward compatibility with previous versions of metanorma-ietf markup.

We are also now only supporting RFC XML v3 going forward; if you wish to author RFC XML v2 documents, you will need to use an earlier version of metanorma-ietf.

metanorma-ietf v2.0.0 has just been released, and the new version of metanorma-ietf is documented here.

In contrast to previous versions of metanorma-ietf, it is invoked as metanorma -t ietf instead of metanorma -t rfc3.

Some helpful links:

Benefits being native Metanorma

Metanorma IETF v2, being a native citizen of Metanorma, now fully takes advantage of Metanorma features:

  • Bibliographic auto-fetching now works with Metanorma IETF documents. This means that if you cite any document from a Relaton-supported bibliographic data source, such as IETF, ISO, ITU, IEC, NIST, OGC, just provide the proper document identifier, and all necessary metadata will be automatically fetched and rendered in the IETF RFC or Internet-Draft. In Metanorma IETF v1 manual fetching from the XMLRFC database was necessary for IETF documents, and any other types of references would require manual authoring of the XMLRFC bibliographic element (bleh!).

  • Metanorma AsciiDoc syntax is fully supported. This means you can easily transition an IETF document to another SDO’s format with minimal (or no) changes, vice versa. For those who need to keep standards in sync between SDOs will know how time-consuming (and unproductive) this process can become. Now it’s free, and automatic.

  • Content validation. Since Metanorma IETF v2 now uses Metanorma XML as the intermediary format, it takes advantage of Metanorma XML’s stringent validation processes and will produce warnings on content that run afoul of IETF rules before the document goes into the xmlrfc tool.

  • Upcoming Metanorma features, such as LaTeX support. Metanorma is designed to accept multiple input formats, including LaTeX input via tex2mn which is now in alpha. Since Metanorma IETF v2 is a first-class citizen in the Metanorma framework, this means that when Metanorma LaTeX input is supported, you can write IETF documents via a LaTeX syntax!

Upgrading your document to Metanorma IETF v2

In order to upgrade a document from Metanorma IETF v1 markup to Metanorma IETF v2, you can usefully compare the RFC XML v2 and RFC XML v3 documents at mn-samples-ietf:

  • “Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch”: v2 and v3

  • RFC 1149: v2 and v3

In particular:

  • The document attributes for author attributes have changed, to make them consistent with the rest of Metanorma. Breakdowns of addresses into their components are no longer available.

  • the obsoletes and updates document attributes take full Relaton identifiers as values, and not just RFC document numbers

  • There is no support for cached RFC XML, embedded RFC XML, or the :normative: split between normative and informative identifiers. All references must be entered as Relaton citations, either dynamically fetched given the document identifier from online sources, or as AsciiBib definition lists.

  • The intended-series document attribute is now expected to be supplied.

  • The docnumber document attribute is mandatory: it contains either the RFC number, or the Internet Draft identifier (including version number).

  • The abstract must either be marked up with [abstract] and a title, or left as a document preamble without a title: it cannot appear as [abstract] without a title.

  • Sourcecode, ASCII art, and images should not be embedded within example (= figure) markup: RFC XML v2 preamble/postamble text, which wraps around the sourcecode/artwork content of figures, is deprecated in RFC XML v3.

  • Notes are supported, but are rendered as the new aside element.

  • XML comments are no longer supported.

  • Reviewer comments are new supported, and rendered as the cref element.

  • Several attributes of blocks have been changed between RFC XML v2 and RFC XML v3. See the documentation of the flavour here, and RFC 7991 and the RFC 7991 Implementation Notes, for more information.

  • There is a slight change in the syntax of formatted external references, to accommodate the rest of Metanorma; e.g. 4.1 of becomes of,section=4.1.

Let’s get started!

Both metanorma-ietf v2 and the updated xml2rfc tool are new; you may encounter some teething problems as you start using the two together.

Do get in touch with us if you encounter any difficulties!