Standards body tries to improve on URLs

International standards group OASIS has taken on the task of tweaking the URL, or Web address, to give developers a cleaner way of designing and locating Web services.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
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An international standards body announced Wednesday that it has taken on the task of improving on the omnipresent URL, or Web address, to give developers a cleaner way to design and locate Web services.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) said it has formed a technical committee to work out how resources--such as data and services--can be placed and found on a network without their being tied to a URL on a specific machine.

To do this, the committee is designing the OASIS Extensible Resource Identifier (XRI), a method for identifying any resource--from a Web service to a particular file--across different network domains, applications and transport protocols.

"XRI syntax will be fully federated, the way DNS (domain name system) and IP (Internet Protocol) addressing are today, yet will still address the problem of how to identify the same logical resource stored in different physical locations," OneName Chief Technology Officer Drummond Reed, co-chair of the OASIS XRI Technical Committee, said in a statement.

Web services, which generally link servers over the Internet so businesses and individuals can share data, use URLs to point a person's machine to a network resource or service. The XRI effort is focused on making these accessible in location-independent way, so that the same invoice stored in different accounting systems can be accessed without needing a pointer to a specific machine, for example. If successful, the XRI project will provide a method for network directories to locate a file without having to know its exact physical location.

"You can think of XRI as a system that provides 'URLs for everything'--data, systems, organizations, services and people. Currently, we don't have a single, application and protocol-neutral way for identifying these types of resources," said Jason Bloomberg, an analyst at ZapThink.

XRI will build off the URL systems of today and work with the Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI), a Web services standard that provides a listing for locating Web services on a network, according to the OASIS committee. It is designed to go further than the leading network directory standard, LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol), in unifying different types of network directories, Bloomberg said.

OASIS, along with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), shepherds the development of a number of Web services specifications. Committee collaborators include Advanced Micro Devices, DataPower, Electronic Data Systems, Novell and Visa International.

The challenge that OASIS and XRI backers face is the pervasiveness of URLs, said Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst at ZapThink.

"Sure, things would work better if the universe used XRIs to identify location-independent services, but it will require widespread and consistent implementation," said Schmelzer. "They will need support of the WS-I (Web services Interoperability Organization) as well as the 'heavyweights'--IBM, Microsoft, Sun, BEA and others--to make this happen."