Standards Update, IEEE 1003.7: System Administration

Jeffrey S. Haemer jsh at
Sat Oct 21 13:09:21 AEST 1989

From: Jeffrey S. Haemer <jsh at>


            An Update on UNIX* and C Standards Activities

                            September 1989

                 USENIX Standards Watchdog Committee

                   Jeffrey S. Haemer, Report Editor

IEEE 1003.7: System Administration Update

Steven J. McDowall <sjm at> reports on the July 10-14, 1989
meeting, in San Jose, California:

        War and Remembrance  - How I survived a Posix Meeting

Listen closely to this tale of wonder and bewilderment and hope that
you shall never have to face such horrors as I.  Yes, I was there
when, in a flurry of activity, the 1003.7 committee elected Steven
Carter to the chair.  To show he was a good choice, Carter immediately
sat on the chair to which he'd been elected.  This was swiftly
followed by the election of Vice-chairs Martin Kirk and Dave Hinnant
(though I shall speculate not on what vices they may have perpetrated
on those chairs); Mark Colburn, Secretary (owing to a proven ability
to take dictation lying on a pool-side sun bed); and their honors Bob
Bauman and Shoshana O'Brien, Technical Editors.

You may sense that I feel few exciting things happened in San Jose.
Correct.  I wish this group would get into some real fights, like
other groups.  Interoperability may prove our only hope.  Still,
progress is progress, however uncontentious. Here's what else seemed
to me to be important.

  1.  Language Independence

      The group voted, nearly unanimously, that the country of
      Language should be independent.  We were uncertain about where,
      precisely, it might be, but tentatively put it near Borneo.

      We chose to use ASN.1 ("Abstract Syntax Notation - 1") as our
      internal notation for data structures. The group also appointed
      me representative to the 1003.1 language-bindings group to watch
      what those pursuers of knowledge are doing in this area.


  * UNIX is a registered trademark of AT&T in the U.S. and other

September 1989 Standards Update     IEEE 1003.7: System Administration

                                - 2 -

  2.  Interoperability

      X/Open continues to push this into the foreground.  Luckily for
      us, they also continue to help us understand what it entails.
      Group consensus holds that interoperability is within the
      purview of 1003.7.  What we're still uncertain of is how far
      down we should standardize; only through the application layer?
      down to the packet layer?

      For example, a standard application-layer protocol insuring
      interoperability might require that certain Application Program
      Interface (API) calls be available, with given arguments and
      results, but say nothing about how those calls are made.  In
      contrast, a transport-level protocol might require that the
      information be fed into the API will be in a pseudo-ASN.1 format
      to help in non-homogeneous networks.  A still lower level
      protocol might detail the exact packet structure, including
      ASN.1 format for the object data, to prevent foreign machines in
      a non-homogeneous network from throwing out otherwise
      unrecognizable packets.

      Most committee members have strong, idiosyncratic ideas about
      this subject and the issue is certain to re-surface in Brussels.
      We need input on this from the community at large. Where do YOU
      think a standards organization like the IEEE should draw the
      line in ensuring interoperability?

      [Editor's note -- This is not a rhetorical question.  Things you
      do in the future may be affected by decisions P1003.7 makes in
      this arena.  If you have an opinion on this subject, speak up.]

      As an aside, the current X/OPEN representative, Jim Oldroyd of
      the Instruction Set, Ltd., who has really helped the group a
      great deal in this area, may not attend the next 1003.7 meeting.
      We think this would be a real loss, and hope that X/OPEN and his
      employer find a way to arrange for him to go.

  3.  Misc.

      Some progress was made in doing the ASN.1 syntax for a few of
      the basic objects the committee decided on for phase I of the
      standard.  Everyone is discovering that defining such objects
      (File Systems, Devices, Spools, etc.) in a non-ambiguous way
      using a meta-language like ASN.1 might not be as easy as we
      first thought.  Live and learn, eh?

September 1989 Standards Update     IEEE 1003.7: System Administration

Volume-Number: Volume 17, Number 43

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