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Presentation language

This document deals with the formatting of data in an external representation. The following very basic and somewhat casually defined presentation syntax will be used. The syntax draws from several sources in its structure. Although it resembles the programming language 'C' in its syntax and XDR [XDR] in both its syntax and intent, it would be risky to draw too many parallels. The purpose of this presentation language is to document SSL only, not to have general application beyond that particular goal.

6.1 Basic block size

The representation of all data items is explicitly specified. The basic data block size is one byte (i.e. 8 bits). Multiple byte data items are concatenations of bytes, from left to right, from top to bottom. From the bytestream a multi-byte item (a numeric in the example) is formed (using C notation) by:

value = (byte[0] << 8*(n-1)) | (byte[1] << 8*(n-2)) | ... | byte[n-1];

This byte ordering for multi-byte values is the commonplace network byte order or big endian format.

6.2 Miscellaneous

Comments begin with "/*" and end with "*/".

Optional components are denoted by enclosing them in italic "[ ]" brackets.

Single byte entities containing uninterpreted data are of type opaque.

6.3 Vectors

A vector (single dimensioned array) is a stream of homogeneous data elements. The size of the vector may be specified at documentation time or left unspecified until runtime. In either case the length declares the number of bytes, not the number of elements, in the vector.

The syntax for specifying a new type T' that is a fixed length vector of type T is

T T'[n];

Here T' occupies n bytes in the data stream, where n is a multiple of the size of T. The length of the vector is not included in the encoded stream.

In the following example, Datum is defined to be three consecutive bytes that the protocol does not interpret, while Data is three consecutive Datum, consuming a total of nine bytes.

opaque Datum[3]; /* three uninterpreted bytes of data */
Datum Data[9];   /* 3 consecutive 3 byte vectors */

Variable length vectors are defined by specifying a subrange of legal lengths, inclusively, using the notation <floor..ceiling>. When encoded, the actual length precedes the vector's contents in the byte stream. The length will be in the form of a number consuming as many bytes as required to hold the vector's specified maximum (ceiling) length. A variable length vector with an actual length field of zero is referred to as an empty vector.

T T'<floor..ceiling>;

In the following example, mandatory is a vector that must contain between 300 and 400 bytes of type opaque. It can never be empty. The actual length field consumes two bytes, a uint16, sufficient to represent the value 400 (see Section 6.4). On the other hand, longer can represent up to 800 bytes of data, or 400 uint16 elements, and it may be empty. Its encoding will include a two byte actual length field prepended to the vector.

opaque mandatory<300..400>; /* length field is 2 bytes, cannot be empty */
uint16 longer<0..800>;      /* zero to 400 16-bit unsigned integers */

6.4 Numbers

The basic numeric data type is an unsigned byte (uint8). All larger numeric data types are formed from fixed length series of bytes concatenated as described in Section 6.1 and are also unsigned. The following numeric types are predefined.

uint8 uint16[2];
uint8 uint24[3];
uint8 uint32[4];
uint8 uint64[8];

6.5 Enumerateds

An additional sparse data type is available called enum. A field of type enum can only assume the values declared in the definition. Each definition is a different type. Only enumerateds of the same type may be assigned or compared. Every element of an enumerated must be assigned a value, as demonstrated in the following example. Since the elements of the enumerated are not ordered, they can be assigned any unique value, in any order.

enum { e1(v1), e2 (v1), ... , en (vN), [(n)] } Te;

Enumerateds occupy as much space in the byte stream as would its maximal defined ordinal value. The following definition would cause one byte to be used to carry fields of type Color.

enum { red(3), blue(5), white(7) } Color;

One may optionally specify a value without its associated tag to force the width definition without defining a superfluous element. In the following example, Taste will consume two bytes in the data stream but can only assume the values 1, 2 or 4.

enum { sweet(1), sour(2), bitter(4), (32000) } Taste;

The names of the elements of an enumeration are scoped within the defined type. In the first example, a fully qualified reference to the second element of the enumeration would be Such qualification is not required if the target of the assignment is well specified.

Color color =;       /* overspecified, but legal */
Color color = blue;     /* correct, type is implicit */

For enumerateds that are never converted to external representation, the numerical information may be omitted.

enum { low, medium, high } Amount;

6.6 Constructed types

Structure types may be constructed from primitive types for convenience. Each specification declares a new, unique type. The syntax for definition is much like that of C.

struct {
        T1 f1;
        T2 f2;
        Tn  fn;
} [T];

The fields within a structure may be qualified using the type's name using a syntax much like that available for enumerateds. For example, T.f2 refers to the second field of the previous declaration. Structure definitions may be embedded.

6.6.1 Variants

Defined structures may have variants based on some knowledge that is available within the environment. The selector must be an enumerated type that defines the possible variants the structure defines. There must be a case arm for every element of the enumeration declared in the select. The body of the variant structure may be given a label for reference. The mechanism by which the variant is selected at runtime is not prescribed by the presentation language.

struct {
        T1 f1;
        T2 f2;
        Tn fn;
        select (E) {
            case e1: Te1;
            case e2: Te2;
            case en: Ten;
        } [fv];
} [Tv];

For example

enum { apple, orange } VariantTag;
struct {
        uint16 number;
        opaque string<0..10<;     /* variable length */
} V1;
struct {
        uint32 number;
        opaque string[10];      /* fixed length */
} V2;
struct {
        select (VariantTag) {   /* value of variant selector is implicit */
            case apple: V1;     /* definition of VariantBody, tag = apple */
            case orange: V2;    /* definition of VariantBody, tag = orange */
        } variant_body; /* optional label on the variant portion */
} VariantRecord;

Variant structures may be qualified (narrowed) by specifying a value for the selector prior to the type. For example, a

orange VariantRecord

is a narrowed type of a VariantRecord containing a variant_body of type V2.

6.7 Cryptographic attributes

The four cryptographic operations digital signing, stream cipher encryption, block cipher encryption, and public key encryption are designated digitally-signed, stream-ciphered, block-ciphered, and public-key-encrypted, respectively. A field's cryptographic processing is specified by prepending an appropriate key word designation before the field's type specification. Cryptographic keys are implied by the current session state (see Section 7.1).

In digital signing, one-way hash functions are used as input for a signing algorithm. In RSA signing, a 36-byte structure of two hashes (one SHA and one MD5) is signed (encrypted with the private key). In DSS, the 20 bytes of the SHA hash are run directly through the Digital Signing Algorithm with no additional hashing.

In stream cipher encryption, the plaintext is exclusive-ORed with an identical amount of output generated from a cryptographically-secure keyed pseudorandom number generator.

In block cipher encryption, every block of plaintext encrypts to a block of ciphertext. Because it is unlikely that the plaintext (whatever data is to be sent) will break neatly into the necessary block size (usually 64 bits), it is necessary to pad out the end of short blocks with some regular pattern, usually all zeroes.

In public key encryption, one-way functions with secret "trapdoors" are used to encrypt the outgoing data. Data encrypted with the public key of a given key pair can only be decrypted with the private key, and vice-versa.

In the following example:

stream-ciphered struct {
        uint8 field1;
        uint8 field2;
        digitally-signed opaque hash[20];
} UserType;

The contents of hash are used as input for a signing algorithm, then the entire structure is encrypted with a stream cipher.

6.8 Constants

Typed constants can be defined for purposes of specification by declaring a symbol of the desired type and assigning values to it. Under-specified types (opaque, variable length vectors, and structures that contain opaque) cannot be assigned values. No fields of a multi-element structure or vector may be elided.

For example,

struct {
        uint8 f1;
        uint8 f2;
} Example1;
Example1 ex1 = {1, 4};  /* assigns f1 = 1, f2 = 4 */

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