OpenRFC.org Requests For Comments ... for the community
Welcome to OpenRFC
Home Full RFC index RFC humour Our technology
 
<< Previous <<      RFC 2234      >> Next >>    
Augmented BNF for Syntax Specifications: ABNF.
D. Crocker, Ed., P. Overell. November 1997.

 
[Direct link][Download PDF version][Download text version]
 

Network Working Group D. Crocker, Ed. Request for Comments: 2234 Internet Mail Consortium Category: Standards Track P. Overell Demon Internet Ltd. November 1997 Augmented BNF for Syntax Specifications: ABNF Status of this Memo This document specifies an Internet standards track protocol for the Internet community, and requests discussion and suggestions for improvements. Please refer to the current edition of the "Internet Official Protocol Standards" (STD 1) for the standardization state and status of this protocol. Distribution of this memo is unlimited. Copyright Notice Copyright (C) The Internet Society (1997). All Rights Reserved. TABLE OF CONTENTS 1. INTRODUCTION .................................................. 2 2. RULE DEFINITION ............................................... 2 2.1 RULE NAMING .................................................. 2 2.2 RULE FORM .................................................... 3 2.3 TERMINAL VALUES .............................................. 3 2.4 EXTERNAL ENCODINGS ........................................... 5 3. OPERATORS ..................................................... 5 3.1 CONCATENATION RULE1 RULE2 ............................. 5 3.2 ALTERNATIVES RULE1 / RULE2 ................................... 6 3.3 INCREMENTAL ALTERNATIVES RULE1 =/ RULE2 .................... 6 3.4 VALUE RANGE ALTERNATIVES %C##-## ........................... 7 3.5 SEQUENCE GROUP (RULE1 RULE2) ................................. 7 3.6 VARIABLE REPETITION *RULE .................................... 8 3.7 SPECIFIC REPETITION NRULE .................................... 8 3.8 OPTIONAL SEQUENCE [RULE] ..................................... 8 3.9 ; COMMENT .................................................... 8 3.10 OPERATOR PRECEDENCE ......................................... 9 4. ABNF DEFINITION OF ABNF ....................................... 9 5. SECURITY CONSIDERATIONS ....................................... 10 Crocker & Overell Standards Track [Page 1]
RFC 2234 ABNF for Syntax Specifications November 1997 6. APPENDIX A - CORE ............................................. 11 6.1 CORE RULES ................................................... 11 6.2 COMMON ENCODING .............................................. 12 7. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ............................................... 12 8. REFERENCES .................................................... 13 9. CONTACT ....................................................... 13 10. FULL COPYRIGHT STATEMENT ..................................... 14 1. INTRODUCTION Internet technical specifications often need to define a format syntax and are free to employ whatever notation their authors deem useful. Over the years, a modified version of Backus-Naur Form (BNF), called Augmented BNF (ABNF), has been popular among many Internet specifications. It balances compactness and simplicity, with reasonable representational power. In the early days of the Arpanet, each specification contained its own definition of ABNF. This included the email specifications, RFC733 and then RFC822 which have come to be the common citations for defining ABNF. The current document separates out that definition, to permit selective reference. Predictably, it also provides some modifications and enhancements. The differences between standard BNF and ABNF involve naming rules, repetition, alternatives, order-independence, and value ranges. Appendix A (Core) supplies rule definitions and encoding for a core lexical analyzer of the type common to several Internet specifications. It is provided as a convenience and is otherwise separate from the meta language defined in the body of this document, and separate from its formal status. 2. RULE DEFINITION 2.1 Rule Naming The name of a rule is simply the name itself; that is, a sequence of characters, beginning with an alphabetic character, and followed by a combination of alphabetics, digits and hyphens (dashes). NOTE: Rule names are case-insensitive The names <rulename>, <Rulename>, <RULENAME> and <rUlENamE> all refer to the same rule. Crocker & Overell Standards Track [Page 2]
RFC 2234 ABNF for Syntax Specifications November 1997 Unlike original BNF, angle brackets ("<", ">") are not required. However, angle brackets may be used around a rule name whenever their presence will facilitate discerning the use of a rule name. This is typically restricted to rule name references in free-form prose, or to distinguish partial rules that combine into a string not separated by white space, such as shown in the discussion about repetition, below. 2.2 Rule Form A rule is defined by the following sequence: name = elements crlf where <name> is the name of the rule, <elements> is one or more rule names or terminal specifications and <crlf> is the end-of- line indicator, carriage return followed by line feed. The equal sign separates the name from the definition of the rule. The elements form a sequence of one or more rule names and/or value definitions, combined according to the various operators, defined in this document, such as alternative and repetition. For visual ease, rule definitions are left aligned. When a rule requires multiple lines, the continuation lines are indented. The left alignment and indentation are relative to the first lines of the ABNF rules and need not match the left margin of the document. 2.3 Terminal Values Rules resolve into a string of terminal values, sometimes called characters. In ABNF a character is merely a non-negative integer. In certain contexts a specific mapping (encoding) of values into a character set (such as ASCII) will be specified. Terminals are specified by one or more numeric characters with the base interpretation of those characters indicated explicitly. The following bases are currently defined: b = binary d = decimal x = hexadecimal Crocker & Overell Standards Track [Page 3]
RFC 2234 ABNF for Syntax Specifications November 1997 Hence: CR = %d13 CR = %x0D respectively specify the decimal and hexadecimal representation of [US-ASCII] for carriage return. A concatenated string of such values is specified compactly, using a period (".") to indicate separation of characters within that value. Hence: CRLF = %d13.10 ABNF permits specifying literal text string directly, enclosed in quotation-marks. Hence: command = "command string" Literal text strings are interpreted as a concatenated set of printable characters. NOTE: ABNF strings are case-insensitive and the character set for these strings is us-ascii. Hence: rulename = "abc" and: rulename = "aBc" will match "abc", "Abc", "aBc", "abC", "ABc", "aBC", "AbC" and "ABC". To specify a rule which IS case SENSITIVE, specify the characters individually. For example: rulename = %d97 %d98 %d99 or rulename = %d97.98.99 Crocker & Overell Standards Track [Page 4]
RFC 2234 ABNF for Syntax Specifications November 1997 will match only the string which comprises only lowercased characters, abc. 2.4 External Encodings External representations of terminal value characters will vary according to constraints in the storage or transmission environment. Hence, the same ABNF-based grammar may have multiple external encodings, such as one for a 7-bit US-ASCII environment, another for a binary octet environment and still a different one when 16-bit Unicode is used. Encoding details are beyond the scope of ABNF, although Appendix A (Core) provides definitions for a 7-bit US-ASCII environment as has been common to much of the Internet. By separating external encoding from the syntax, it is intended that alternate encoding environments can be used for the same syntax. 3. OPERATORS 3.1 Concatenation Rule1 Rule2 A rule can define a simple, ordered string of values -- i.e., a concatenation of contiguous characters -- by listing a sequence of rule names. For example: foo = %x61 ; a bar = %x62 ; b mumble = foo bar foo So that the rule <mumble> matches the lowercase string "aba". LINEAR WHITE SPACE: Concatenation is at the core of the ABNF parsing model. A string of contiguous characters (values) is parsed according to the rules defined in ABNF. For Internet specifications, there is some history of permitting linear white space (space and horizontal tab) to be freelyPand implicitlyPinterspersed around major constructs, such as delimiting special characters or atomic strings. NOTE: This specification for ABNF does not provide for implicit specification of linear white space. Any grammar which wishes to permit linear white space around delimiters or string segments must specify it explicitly. It is often useful to provide for such white space in "core" rules that are Crocker & Overell Standards Track [Page 5]
RFC 2234 ABNF for Syntax Specifications November 1997 then used variously among higher-level rules. The "core" rules might be formed into a lexical analyzer or simply be part of the main ruleset. 3.2 Alternatives Rule1 / Rule2 Elements separated by forward slash ("/") are alternatives. Therefore, foo / bar will accept <foo> or <bar>. NOTE: A quoted string containing alphabetic characters is special form for specifying alternative characters and is interpreted as a non-terminal representing the set of combinatorial strings with the contained characters, in the specified order but with any mixture of upper and lower case.. 3.3 Incremental Alternatives Rule1 =/ Rule2 It is sometimes convenient to specify a list of alternatives in fragments. That is, an initial rule may match one or more alternatives, with later rule definitions adding to the set of alternatives. This is particularly useful for otherwise- independent specifications which derive from the same parent rule set, such as often occurs with parameter lists. ABNF permits this incremental definition through the construct: oldrule =/ additional-alternatives So that the rule set ruleset = alt1 / alt2 ruleset =/ alt3 ruleset =/ alt4 / alt5 is the same as specifying ruleset = alt1 / alt2 / alt3 / alt4 / alt5 Crocker & Overell Standards Track [Page 6]
RFC 2234 ABNF for Syntax Specifications November 1997 3.4 Value Range Alternatives %c##-## A range of alternative numeric values can be specified compactly, using dash ("-") to indicate the range of alternative values. Hence: DIGIT = %x30-39 is equivalent to: DIGIT = "0" / "1" / "2" / "3" / "4" / "5" / "6" / "7" / "8" / "9" Concatenated numeric values and numeric value ranges can not be specified in the same string. A numeric value may use the dotted notation for concatenation or it may use the dash notation to specify one value range. Hence, to specify one printable character, between end of line sequences, the specification could be: char-line = %x0D.0A %x20-7E %x0D.0A 3.5 Sequence Group (Rule1 Rule2) Elements enclosed in parentheses are treated as a single element, whose contents are STRICTLY ORDERED. Thus, elem (foo / bar) blat which matches (elem foo blat) or (elem bar blat). elem foo / bar blat matches (elem foo) or (bar blat). NOTE: It is strongly advised to use grouping notation, rather than to rely on proper reading of "bare" alternations, when alternatives consist of multiple rule names or literals. Hence it is recommended that instead of the above form, the form: (elem foo) / (bar blat) be used. It will avoid misinterpretation by casual readers. The sequence group notation is also used within free text to set off an element sequence from the prose. Crocker & Overell Standards Track [Page 7]
RFC 2234 ABNF for Syntax Specifications November 1997 3.6 Variable Repetition *Rule The operator "*" preceding an element indicates repetition. The full form is: <a>*<b>element where <a> and <b> are optional decimal values, indicating at least <a> and at most <b> occurrences of element. Default values are 0 and infinity so that *<element> allows any number, including zero; 1*<element> requires at least one; 3*3<element> allows exactly 3 and 1*2<element> allows one or two. 3.7 Specific Repetition nRule A rule of the form: <n>element is equivalent to <n>*<n>element That is, exactly <N> occurrences of <element>. Thus 2DIGIT is a 2-digit number, and 3ALPHA is a string of three alphabetic characters. 3.8 Optional Sequence [RULE] Square brackets enclose an optional element sequence: [foo bar] is equivalent to *1(foo bar). 3.9 ; Comment A semi-colon starts a comment that continues to the end of line. This is a simple way of including useful notes in parallel with the specifications. Crocker & Overell Standards Track [Page 8]
RFC 2234 ABNF for Syntax Specifications November 1997 3.10 Operator Precedence The various mechanisms described above have the following precedence, from highest (binding tightest) at the top, to lowest and loosest at the bottom: Strings, Names formation Comment Value range Repetition Grouping, Optional Concatenation Alternative Use of the alternative operator, freely mixed with concatenations can be confusing. Again, it is recommended that the grouping operator be used to make explicit concatenation groups. 4. ABNF DEFINITION OF ABNF This syntax uses the rules provided in Appendix A (Core). rulelist = 1*( rule / (*c-wsp c-nl) ) rule = rulename defined-as elements c-nl ; continues if next line starts ; with white space rulename = ALPHA *(ALPHA / DIGIT / "-") defined-as = *c-wsp ("=" / "=/") *c-wsp ; basic rules definition and ; incremental alternatives elements = alternation *c-wsp c-wsp = WSP / (c-nl WSP) c-nl = comment / CRLF ; comment or newline comment = ";" *(WSP / VCHAR) CRLF alternation = concatenation *(*c-wsp "/" *c-wsp concatenation) Crocker & Overell Standards Track [Page 9]
RFC 2234 ABNF for Syntax Specifications November 1997 concatenation = repetition *(1*c-wsp repetition) repetition = [repeat] element repeat = 1*DIGIT / (*DIGIT "*" *DIGIT) element = rulename / group / option / char-val / num-val / prose-val group = "(" *c-wsp alternation *c-wsp ")" option = "[" *c-wsp alternation *c-wsp "]" char-val = DQUOTE *(%x20-21 / %x23-7E) DQUOTE ; quoted string of SP and VCHAR without DQUOTE num-val = "%" (bin-val / dec-val / hex-val) bin-val = "b" 1*BIT [ 1*("." 1*BIT) / ("-" 1*BIT) ] ; series of concatenated bit values ; or single ONEOF range dec-val = "d" 1*DIGIT [ 1*("." 1*DIGIT) / ("-" 1*DIGIT) ] hex-val = "x" 1*HEXDIG [ 1*("." 1*HEXDIG) / ("-" 1*HEXDIG) ] prose-val = "<" *(%x20-3D / %x3F-7E) ">" ; bracketed string of SP and VCHAR without angles ; prose description, to be used as last resort 5. SECURITY CONSIDERATIONS Security is truly believed to be irrelevant to this document. Crocker & Overell Standards Track [Page 10]
RFC 2234 ABNF for Syntax Specifications November 1997 6. APPENDIX A - CORE This Appendix is provided as a convenient core for specific grammars. The definitions may be used as a core set of rules. 6.1 Core Rules Certain basic rules are in uppercase, such as SP, HTAB, CRLF, DIGIT, ALPHA, etc. ALPHA = %x41-5A / %x61-7A ; A-Z / a-z BIT = "0" / "1" CHAR = %x01-7F ; any 7-bit US-ASCII character, excluding NUL CR = %x0D ; carriage return CRLF = CR LF ; Internet standard newline CTL = %x00-1F / %x7F ; controls DIGIT = %x30-39 ; 0-9 DQUOTE = %x22 ; " (Double Quote) HEXDIG = DIGIT / "A" / "B" / "C" / "D" / "E" / "F" HTAB = %x09 ; horizontal tab LF = %x0A ; linefeed LWSP = *(WSP / CRLF WSP) ; linear white space (past newline) OCTET = %x00-FF ; 8 bits of data SP = %x20 Crocker & Overell Standards Track [Page 11]
RFC 2234 ABNF for Syntax Specifications November 1997 ; space VCHAR = %x21-7E ; visible (printing) characters WSP = SP / HTAB ; white space 6.2 Common Encoding Externally, data are represented as "network virtual ASCII", namely 7-bit US-ASCII in an 8-bit field, with the high (8th) bit set to zero. A string of values is in "network byte order" with the higher-valued bytes represented on the left-hand side and being sent over the network first. 7. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The syntax for ABNF was originally specified in RFC 733. Ken L. Harrenstien, of SRI International, was responsible for re-coding the BNF into an augmented BNF that makes the representation smaller and easier to understand. This recent project began as a simple effort to cull out the portion of RFC 822 which has been repeatedly cited by non-email specification writers, namely the description of augmented BNF. Rather than simply and blindly converting the existing text into a separate document, the working group chose to give careful consideration to the deficiencies, as well as benefits, of the existing specification and related specifications available over the last 15 years and therefore to pursue enhancement. This turned the project into something rather more ambitious than first intended. Interestingly the result is not massively different from that original, although decisions such as removing the list notation came as a surprise. The current round of specification was part of the DRUMS working group, with significant contributions from Jerome Abela , Harald Alvestrand, Robert Elz, Roger Fajman, Aviva Garrett, Tom Harsch, Dan Kohn, Bill McQuillan, Keith Moore, Chris Newman , Pete Resnick and Henning Schulzrinne. Crocker & Overell Standards Track [Page 12]
RFC 2234 ABNF for Syntax Specifications November 1997 8. REFERENCES [US-ASCII] Coded Character Set--7-Bit American Standard Code for Information Interchange, ANSI X3.4-1986. [RFC733] Crocker, D., Vittal, J., Pogran, K., and D. Henderson, "Standard for the Format of ARPA Network Text Message," RFC 733, November 1977. [RFC822] Crocker, D., "Standard for the Format of ARPA Internet Text Messages", STD 11, RFC 822, August 1982. 9. CONTACT David H. Crocker Paul Overell Internet Mail Consortium Demon Internet Ltd 675 Spruce Dr. Dorking Business Park Sunnyvale, CA 94086 USA Dorking Surrey, RH4 1HN UK Phone: +1 408 246 8253 Fax: +1 408 249 6205 EMail: dcrocker@imc.org paulo@turnpike.com Crocker & Overell Standards Track [Page 13]
RFC 2234 ABNF for Syntax Specifications November 1997 10. Full Copyright Statement Copyright (C) The Internet Society (1997). All Rights Reserved. This document and translations of it may be copied and furnished to others, and derivative works that comment on or otherwise explain it or assist in its implementation may be prepared, copied, published and distributed, in whole or in part, without restriction of any kind, provided that the above copyright notice and this paragraph are included on all such copies and derivative works. However, this document itself may not be modified in any way, such as by removing the copyright notice or references to the Internet Society or other Internet organizations, except as needed for the purpose of developing Internet standards in which case the procedures for copyrights defined in the Internet Standards process must be followed, or as required to translate it into languages other than English. The limited permissions granted above are perpetual and will not be revoked by the Internet Society or its successors or assigns. This document and the information contained herein is provided on an "AS IS" basis and THE INTERNET SOCIETY AND THE INTERNET ENGINEERING TASK FORCE DISCLAIMS ALL WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO ANY WARRANTY THAT THE USE OF THE INFORMATION HEREIN WILL NOT INFRINGE ANY RIGHTS OR ANY IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. Crocker & Overell Standards Track [Page 14]

   

[Home] [Full RFC index] [RFC humour] [Our technology]

Copyright © Inter-Corporate Computer & Network Services, Inc.  All rights reserved.
All trademarks and RFC contents are the property of their respective owners.