Ray Denenberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Matthew Dovey <email@example.com>
Ray Denenberg firstname.lastname@example.org
Larry Dixson email@example.com
Matthew Dovey firstname.lastname@example.org
Janifer Gatenby Janifer.Gatenby@oclc.org
Ralph LeVan email@example.com
Ashley Sanders a.sanders@MANCHESTER.AC.UK
Rob Sanderson firstname.lastname@example.org
This specification is related to:
This is an abstract protocol definition for the Search Web Services searchRetrieve operation. It presents the model for the SearchRetrieve operation and is also intended to serve as a guideline for the development of application protocol bindings.
This document was last revised or approved by the OASIS Search Web Services TC on the above date. The level of approval is also listed above. Check the “Latest Version” or “Latest Approved Version” location noted above for possible later revisions of this document.
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The non-normative errata page for this specification is located at
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This document is an abstract protocol definition for the Search Web Services (SWS) searchRetrieve operation. It presents the model for the SearchRetrieve operation and is also intended to serve as a guideline for the development of application protocol bindings (hereafter bindings, see definitional note).
A binding describes the capabilities and general characteristic of a server or search engine, and how it is to be accessed. A binding may describe a class of servers via a human-readable document (sometimes known as a profile, but that term will not be used in this standard); or a binding may be a machine-readable file describing a single server, provided by that server, according to the description language, which is a fundamental component of the SWS standard.
Thus there are two primary types of bindings of interest to this abstract protocol definition: static and dynamic.
- A static binding is specified by a human-readable document. A server is known to operate according to that binding at a specific endpoint.
- A dynamic binding is a machine-readable description file that the server provides.
There is also a third binding type of interest:
- An intermediate binding is specified by a human-readable document, however it binds to one or more dynamic bindings. See Note about Intermediate Bindings. From the point of view of this Abstract Protocol Definition, intermediate bindings are treated as static bindings.
Corresponding to the concepts of static and dynamic bindings, there are two major premises of this standard.
One premise is that concrete specifications, in the form of
static bindings, will be developed and that this abstract protocol definition
is to be the foundation for their development, ensuring compatibility among
In this regard it is important to note that this document is not a protocol specification. The static bindings derived from this document are protocol specifications. Examples are SRU 1.1, SRU 2.0, and openSearch.
- Another premise is that any server, even one that existed prior to development of this standard, need only to provide a dynamic binding, that is, a self-description. It need make no other changes in order to be accessible. Furthermore, a client will be able to access any server that provides a description, if only it implements the capability to read the description file and interpret the description, and based on that description to formulate a request (including a query) and interpret the response.
In addition to application protocol bindings, there are auxiliary bindings, for example, to bind an application protocol binding to ATOM, or to bind the result to SOAP. However, these auxiliary bindings are not of concern to this abstract protocol definition and are not mentioned further in this document; so this document may refer to application protocol bindings unambiguously as “bindings”.
The key words “MUST”, “MUST NOT”, “REQUIRED”, “SHALL”, “SHALL NOT”, “SHOULD”, “SHOULD NOT”, “RECOMMENDED”, “NOT RECOMMENDED”, “MAY”, and “OPTIONAL” in this document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119]. When these words are not capitalized in this document, they are meant in their natural language sense.
This section describes an abstract data model, abstract processing model, and abstract result set model. A binding of this Abstract Protocol Definition should describe its data model, processing model, and result set model in terms of these abstract models.
A server exposes a datastore for access by a remote client for purposes of search and retrieval. The datastore is a collection of units of data. Such a unit is referred to as an abstract item in this model. For purposes of this model there is a single datastore at any given server.
· Bindings may use different terminology for various terms:
o For “abstract item”: “record” or “abstract record”, for example.
o “datastore”: “database”.
o “server”:. “search engine”.
· Whenever a binding does use alternative terminology, it should note the alternative usage, referring to the original terminology used in this document.
Associated with a datastore are one or more formats that the server may apply to an abstract item,
Resulting in an exportable structure referred to as a response Item.
the term item is often used in this document in place of “abstract item” or “response item” when the meaning is clear from the context or when the distinction is not important.
Such a format is referred to as a response item type or item type. It represents a common understanding shared by the client and server of the information contained in the items of the datastore, to allow the transfer of that information. It does not represent nor does it constrain the internal representation or storage of that information at the server.
Bindings may use different terminology for “item type”, for example “schema”.
A client sends a searchRetrieve request to a server; it responds with a searchRetrieve response. The request includes a search query to be matched against the items at the server’s datastore. The server processes the query, creating a result set (see Result Set Model) of items that match the query. The server may also partition the result set into result groups.
· Bindings may use different terminology for various terms:
o “result group”. For example “page”.
o “searchRetrieve request”. For example “query”. And in turn, that binding would refer to a “query” ( as defined in this document) with different terminology, for example “search terms”.
The request also indicates either the desired number of items or which group (by group number) to be included in the response, and includes information about how the individual items in the response, as well as the response at large, are to be formatted.
The response includes items from the result set, diagnostic information, and a result set identifier that the client may use in a subsequent, refining request to retrieve additional items.
This is a logical model; support of result sets is neither assumed nor required by this standard.
There are applications where result sets are critical; on the other hand there are applications where result sets are not viable. An example of the first might be scientific investigation of a database with comparison of data sets produced at different times. An example of the latter might be a very frequently used database of web pages in which persistent result sets would be an impossible burden on the infrastructure due to the frequency of use.
Processing of a query results in the selection of a set of items, represented by a result set maintained at the server. Logically, it is an ordered list of references to the items. Once created, a result set cannot be modified; any operation that would somehow change a result set instead creates a new result set. Each result set is referenced via a unique identifying string, generated by the server when the result set is created.
From the client's point of view, the result set is a set of abstract items each referenced by an ordinal number, beginning with 1. The client may request a given item from a result set according to a specific format. For example the client may request item 1 in Dublin Core, and subsequently request item 1 in MODS. The format in which items are supplied is not a property of the result set, nor is it a property of the abstract items as a member of the result set; the result set is simply the ordered list of abstract items.
A server might support requests by item (as in the preceding paragraph) or it may instead support requests by group. It may support one form only or both.
The items in a result set are not necessarily ordered according to any specific or predictable scheme. The server determines the order of the result set, unless it has been created with a request that includes a sort specification. (In that case, only the final sorted result set is considered to exist, even if the server internally creates a temporary result set and then sorts it. The unsorted, temporary result set is not considered to have ever existed, for purposed of this model.) In any case, the order must not change. If a result set is created and subsequently sorted, a new result set must be created and the old result set no longer exists.
Thus, suppose an abstract item is deleted or otherwise becomes unavailable while a result set which references that item still exists. This MUST not cause re-ordering. For example, if a client retrieves items 1 through 3, and subsequently item 2 becomes unavailable, if the server again requests item 3, it must be the same item 3 (see note) that was returned as item 3 in the earlier operation. (If the server requests item 2, and it is no longer available, the server should supply a diagnostic in place of the response item for item 2. Bindings should specify this mechanism in more detail.)
“Same item” does not necessarily mean the same content; the item’s content may have changed.
Abstract request parameters are listed in Table 1 and abstract response elements in Table 2. A binding should list applicable abstract parameters and elements and indicate the corresponding actual name of the parameter or element to be transmitted in a request or response.
Some bindings are “intermediate bindings”. Similar to static bindings, they are specified in human-readable form, however for intermediate bindings, although the abstract parameters correspond to actual parameters in the binding, the binding is in turn another abstract protocol definition and the actual parameters become abstract parameter to be mapped to the real actual parameters via dynamic bindings. The openSearch binding is an example. For purposes of this Abstract Protocol Definition, these intermediate bindings are treated as static bindings.
The actual name listed in a binding SHOULD be the same as the abstract name, unless there is a reason for it to differ, for example, when a server expects a specific name.
A binding may exclude a particular parameter or element (declare that it is not used). A binding should indicate for every parameter and element used whether it is mandatory or optional, if it is repeatable, and any other usage rules or constraints. A binding may define additional parameters and elements not listed in this abstract protocol definition.
A static binding SHOULD include a table of (or should otherwise list) the request parameters and response elements used in that binding. In addition it should include the following information:
The Table below shows the abstract parameters of the SWS searchResponse request, including brief descriptions. For more detailed descriptions follow the link provided with the abstract parameter name.
Abstract Parameter Name
e.g. 'text/html', ‘application/atom+xml’ , application/x+sru
The search query of the request.
The position within the result set of the first item to be returned.
The number of items requested to be returned.
The number of the result group requested to be returned.
e.g. string, jpeg, dc, iso2709. From list provided by server.
The requested order of the result set.
Table 2: Response Elements
Abstract Element Name
The number of items matched by the query.
The number of result groups in the result set.
The identifier for the result set created by the query.
An individual response item (one of possibly many).
The next position within the result set following the final returned item.
The next result group following the group being returned.
Error message and/or diagnostics.
The server may echo the request back to the client.
The responseType parameter of the request indicates the type of response to be supplied. This SHOULD be an IANA media/mime type. Examples: 'text/html', 'application/xhtml+xml', ‘application/xml’, ‘application/atom+xml’, ‘application/x+sru’.
The query parameter of the request contains a search query to be matched against the datastore at the server creating a result set of items that match the query.
The startPosition parameter of the request indicates the desired position within the result set of the first item to be returned.
(If the startPosition parameter is included in the request, then the group parameter should not be included. )
For example if the value of this parameter is 2, and the value of the maximumItems parameter is 3, then the request is for items 2, 3, and 4.
Possible values of this parameter are specified in bindings. For example a binding might say that the value must be a positive integer, and that if the request is for the first item within the result set, the value is 1. Another binding might allow the value ‘first’ or ‘last’, or ‘next’. Default value if this parameter is not supplied and expected server behavior when an invalid value is supplied may be specified by a binding, fixed at a server, or determined by the server for each request.
For example, if the parameter is not supplied, the server might always begin with the next item (following the last item supplied in the previous operation) or might always begin with the first item. If an invalid value is supplied, for example the value 10 when there are only nine items, the server might not send any items and instead return a diagnostic, or it may begin with the 9th item, or the first item.
The maximumItems parameter of the request indicates the number of items requested to be included in the response. Possible values of this parameter are specified in bindings. For example a binding might say that the value must be an integer, and 0 or greater. Another binding might allow the value ‘all’. The default value if not supplied may be specified by a binding, fixed at a server, or determined by the server for each request. The server might return less than this number of items, for example if there are fewer matching items than requested, or might declare an error if it cannot return the requested number. The server might return more than this number of items; a binding may indicate that the server will not return more than this number of items, or it may indicate that it might.
The group parameter of the request indicates the desired result group to be returned.
(If the group parameter is included in the request, then the startPosition parameter should not be included.)
Possible values of this parameter are specified in bindings. For example a binding might say that the value must be a positive integer, and that if the request is for the first result group within the result set, the value is 1. Another binding might allow the value ‘first’ or ‘last’, or ‘next’. Default value if this parameter is not supplied and expected server behavior when an invalid value is supplied may be specified by a binding, fixed at a server, or determined by the server for each request.
For example, if the parameter is not supplied, the server might always begin with the next result group (following the last result group supplied in the previous operation) or might always begin with the first result group. If an invalid value is supplied, for example the value 10 when there are only nine groups, the server might not send any group and instead return a diagnostic, or it may send the 9th group, or the first group.
The responseItemType parameter of the request indicates the format to be used for the items in the response.
The sortOrder parameter of the request indicates the requested order of the result set, for example, which field to sort on, ascending or descending, and so forth.
The numberOfItems element of the response is the number of items matched by the query (the cardinality of the result set). Possible values of this element are specified in bindings. For example a binding might say that the value must be an integer, and 0 or greater. Another binding might list string values with semantics like “unknown” or “too many to count”, or a structured value with a number and a confidence level.
The numberOfGroups element of the response is the number of result groups, if the server has partitioned the result set into groups. Possible values of this element are specified in bindings. For example a binding might say that the value must be an integer, and 0 or greater. Another binding might list string values with semantics like “unknown” or “too many to count”, or a structured value with a number and a confidence level.
If the server supports result sets, it may include the resultSetId element in the response, to be used in a subsequent request, for example to retrieve additional items from the result set, to sort the result set, or to refine the search. (Bindings should specify the mechanism to carry out these functions.)
There will be varying degrees of result set support, for example a server might only support one result set at a time. However the server should attempt to assign a unique name for every result set created so that even when a result sets ceases to exist the client will not mistakenly request items from the new set when meaning to refer to a previous set with the same identifier.
An item element of the response (one of possibly many) is one of the items that the server is attempting to return.
The nextPosition element of the response indicates the next position within the result set following the final returned item. For example if the result set has six items and the response included items 1 through 4, then the value of this element would be 5.
Possible values of this element are specified in bindings. For example a binding might say that the value must be an integer, and 1 or greater. Another binding might allow string values, for example, ‘end’, indicating that the final returned item was the last. If the result set has six items and the response included items 1 through 6, this might be considered a special case and a binding might declare that the value of nextPosition in this case be 1, or it might specify a special string, for example “done”.
The nextGroup element of the response indicates the next result group following the group being returned (meaningful only if the server is responding to a request for a group request rather than a request for items).
Possible values of this element are specified in bindings. For example a binding might say that the value must be an integer, and 1 or greater. Another binding might allow string values, for example, ‘end’, indicating that the final returned item was the last.
The server should supply diagnostics and error messages as appropriate. Bindings should describe relevant details including how diagnostics are to be included and encoded within a response.
In the echoedRequest element of the response, the server may echo the request back to the client along with the response. This is for the benefit of thin clients (such as a web browser) who may not have the facility to remember the query that generated the response it has just received. The manner in which the server encodes the echoed request is specified in bindings.
A description file SHOULD be provided by a server to describe itself, how it can be queried, and how query results may be interpreted.
Thus there are logically six parts to a description file:
When more than one abstract process is defined, the description file may need to include descriptions for each abstract process. At minimum “how to formulate a request” (2) would differ for different abstract processes.
Examples are provided in non-normative Annex B.
The following individuals have participated in the creation of this specification and are gratefully acknowledged:
Kerry Blinco, Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
Ray Denenberg, Library of Congress
Larry Dixson, Library of Congress
Matthew Dovey, JISC
Janifer Gatenby, OCLC/PICS
Ralph LeVan, OCLC
Ashley Sanders, University of Manchester
Rob Sanderson, University of Liverpool
As noted in the introduction, a binding describes the capabilities and general characteristic of a search engine and how it may be accessed. A binding may be a human-readable document (a static binding), or a machine-readable file (a dynamic binding) provided by that server according to the SWS Description Language, a component of the SWS standard.
A premise of this standard is:
· A client will be able to access any search engine that provides a description, if only it implements the capability to read the description file and interpret the description, and based on that description to formulate a request (including a query) and interpret the response.
Thus the description language will be a fundamental component of the SWS standard and a major part of the OASIS SWS Technical Committee’s work. The description language has not yet been developed. The purpose of this annex is to describe a hypothetical example of a description file.
The following is a hypothetical description file. It has three sections:
<name>Science Fiction Database</name>
<responseInfo type='xml' xmlns:srw='http://www.loc.gov/zing/srw/'>
The general description component includes general information about the search engine, for example, contact information.
As seen in the example, the request information includes a request template and an example.
The request template includes abstract parameter names enclosed in curly brackets. When valid values for the respective parameters are substituted for the abstract parameter names the result is a valid request.
For example, the template includes:
which says in effect that the actual parameter name for the abstract parameter maximumItems is maximumRecords.
In the above example an XPath expression (element <tagPath>) is supplied
corresponding to an abstract parameter, indicating where in the response XML that parameter may be found. For example,
says that the XPath expression to find an element corresponding to the abstract element <item> is: