RFC 0000 CBOR Sequences February 2020
Bormann Standards Track [Page]
Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Standards Track
C. Bormann
Universität Bremen TZI

RFC 0000

Concise Binary Object Representation (CBOR) Sequences


This document describes the Concise Binary Object Representation (CBOR) Sequence format and associated media type "application/cbor-seq". A CBOR Sequence consists of any number of encoded CBOR data items, simply concatenated in sequence.

Structured syntax suffixes for media types allow other media types to build on them and make it explicit that they are built on an existing media type as their foundation. This specification defines and registers "+cbor-seq" as a structured syntax suffix for CBOR Sequences.

Status of This Memo

This is an Internet Standards Track document.

This document is a product of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It represents the consensus of the IETF community. It has received public review and has been approved for publication by the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG). Further information on Internet Standards is available in Section 2 of RFC 7841.

Information about the current status of this document, any errata, and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc0000.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

The Concise Binary Object Representation (CBOR) [RFC7049] can be used for serialization of data in the JSON [RFC8259] data model or in its own, somewhat expanded, data model. When serializing a sequence of such values, it is sometimes convenient to have a format where these sequences can simply be concatenated to obtain a serialization of the concatenated sequence of values or to encode a sequence of values that might grow at the end by just appending further CBOR data items.

This document describes the concept and format of "CBOR Sequences", which are composed of zero or more encoded CBOR data items. CBOR Sequences can be consumed (and produced) incrementally without requiring a streaming CBOR parser that is able to deliver substructures of a data item incrementally (or a streaming encoder able to encode from substructures incrementally).

This document defines and registers the "application/cbor-seq" media type in the "Media Types" registry along with a Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP) Content-Format identifier. Media type structured syntax suffixes [RFC6838] were introduced as a way for a media type to signal that it is based on another media type as its foundation. CBOR [RFC7049] defines the "+cbor" structured syntax suffix. This document defines and registers the "+cbor-seq" structured syntax suffix in the "Structured Syntax Suffix Registry".

1.1. Conventions Used in This Document

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 BCP 14 [RFC2119] [RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all capitals, as shown here.

In this specification, the term "byte" is used in its now-customary sense as a synonym for "octet".

2. CBOR Sequence Format

Formally, a CBOR Sequence is a sequence of bytes that is recursively defined as either of the following:

In short, concatenating zero or more encoded CBOR data items generates a CBOR Sequence. (Consequently, concatenating zero or more CBOR Sequences also results in a CBOR Sequence.)

There is no end-of-sequence indicator. (If one is desired, CBOR encoding an array of the CBOR data model values being encoded, employing either a definite or an indefinite length encoding, as a single CBOR data item may actually be the more appropriate representation.)

CBOR Sequences, unlike JSON Text Sequences [RFC7464], do not use a marker between items. This is possible because CBOR-encoded data items are self delimiting and the end can always be calculated. (Note that, while the early object/array-only form of JSON was self delimiting as well, this stopped being the case when simple values such as single numbers were made valid JSON documents.)

Decoding a CBOR Sequence works as follows:

This means that if any data item in the sequence is not well formed, it is not possible to reliably decode the rest of the sequence. (An implementation may be able to recover from some errors in a sequence of bytes that is almost, but not entirely, a well-formed encoded CBOR data item. Handling malformed data is outside the scope of this specification.)

This also means that the CBOR Sequence format can reliably detect truncation of the bytes making up the last CBOR data item in the sequence, but it cannot detect entirely missing CBOR data items at the end. A CBOR Sequence decoder that is used for consuming streaming CBOR Sequence data may simply pause for more data (e.g., by suspending and later resuming decoding) in case a truncated final item is being received.

3. The "+cbor-seq" Structured Syntax Suffix

The use case for the "+cbor-seq" structured syntax suffix is analogous to that for "+cbor": it SHOULD be used by a media type when parsing the bytes of the media type object, as a CBOR Sequence leads to a meaningful result that is at least sometimes not just a single CBOR data item. (Without the qualification at the end, this sentence is trivially true for any +cbor media type, which of course should continue to use the "+cbor" structured syntax suffix.)

Applications encountering a "+cbor-seq" media type can then either simply use generic processing if all they need is a generic view of the CBOR Sequence or use generic CBOR Sequence tools for initial parsing and then implement their own specific processing on top of that generic parsing tool.

4. Practical Considerations

4.1. Specifying CBOR Sequences in Concise Data Definition Language (CDDL)

In Concise Data Definition Language (CDDL) [RFC8610], CBOR sequences are already supported as contents of byte strings using the .cborseq control operator (Section 3.8.4 of [RFC8610]) by employing an array as the controller type:

my-embedded-cbor-seq = bytes .cborseq my-array
my-array = [* my-element]
my-element = my-foo / my-bar

Currently, CDDL does not provide for unadorned CBOR sequences as a top-level subject of a specification. For now, the suggestion is to use an array, as for the .cborseq control operator, for the top-level rule and add English text that explains that the specification is really about a CBOR sequence with the elements of the array:

; This defines an array, the elements of which are to be used
; in a CBOR sequence:
my-sequence = [* my-element]
my-element = my-foo / my-bar

(Future versions of CDDL may provide a notation for top-level CBOR sequences, e.g., by using a group as the top-level rule in a CDDL specification.)

4.2. Diagnostic Notation

CBOR diagnostic notation (see Section 6 of [RFC7049]) or extended diagnostic notation (Appendix G of [RFC8610]) also does not provide for unadorned CBOR Sequences at this time (the latter does provide for CBOR Sequences embedded in a byte string as per Appendix G.3 of [RFC8610]).

In a similar spirit to the recommendation for CDDL above, this specification recommends enclosing the CBOR data items in an array. In a more informal setting, where the boundaries within which the notation is used are obvious, it is also possible to leave off the outer brackets for this array, as shown in these two examples:

[1, 2, 3]

1, 2, 3

Note that it is somewhat difficult to discuss zero-length CBOR Sequences in the latter form.

4.3. Optimizing CBOR Sequences for Skipping Elements

In certain applications, being able to efficiently skip an element without the need for decoding its substructure, or efficiently fanning out elements to multi-threaded decoding processes, is of the utmost importance. For these applications, byte strings (which carry length information in bytes) containing embedded CBOR can be used as the elements of a CBOR sequence:

; This defines an array of CBOR byte strings, the elements of which
; are to be used in a CBOR sequence:
my-sequence = [* my-element]
my-element = bytes .cbor my-element-structure
my-element-structure = my-foo / my-bar

Within limits, this may also enable recovering from elements that internally are not well formed; the limitation is that the sequence of byte strings does need to be well formed as such.

5. Security Considerations

The security considerations of CBOR [RFC7049] apply. This format provides no cryptographic integrity protection of any kind but can be combined with security specifications such as CBOR Object Signing and Encryption (COSE) [RFC8152] to do so. (COSE protections can be applied to an entire CBOR sequence or to each of the elements of the sequence independently; in the latter case, additional effort may be required if there is a need to protect the relationship of the elements in the sequence.)

As usual, decoders must operate on input that is assumed to be untrusted. This means that decoders MUST fail gracefully in the face of malicious inputs.

6. IANA Considerations

6.1. Media Type

Media types are registered in the "Media Types" registry [IANA-MEDIA-TYPES]. IANA has registered the MIME media type for CBOR Sequence, application/cbor-seq, as follows:

Type name: application

Subtype name: cbor-seq

Required parameters: N/A

Optional parameters: N/A

Encoding considerations: binary

Security considerations: See RFC 0000, Section 5.

Interoperability considerations: Described herein.

Published specification: RFC 0000.

Applications that use this media type: Data serialization and deserialization.

Fragment identifier considerations: N/A

Additional information:

  • Deprecated alias names for this type: N/A
  • Magic number(s): N/A
  • File extension(s): N/A
  • Macintosh file type code(s): N/A
Person & email address to contact for further information:

Intended usage: COMMON

Author: Carsten Bormann (cabo@tzi.org)

Change controller: IETF

6.2. CoAP Content-Format Registration

IANA has assigned a CoAP Content-Format ID for the media type "application/cbor-seq", within the "CoAP Content-Formats" subregistry of the "Constrained RESTful Environments (CoRE) Parameters" registry [IANA-CORE-PARAMETERS], from the "Expert Review" (0-255) range ([RFC8126]). The assigned ID is shown in Table 1.

Table 1: CoAP Content-Format ID
Media type Encoding ID Reference
application/cbor-seq - 63 RFC 0000

6.3. Structured Syntax Suffix

Structured Syntax Suffixes are registered within the "Structured Syntax Suffix Registry" maintained at [IANA-STRUCTURED-SYNTAX-SUFFIX]. IANA has registered the "+cbor-seq" structured syntax suffix in accordance with [RFC6838] as follows:

  • Name: CBOR Sequence
  • +suffix: +cbor-seq
  • References: RFC 0000
  • Encoding considerations: binary
  • Fragment identifier considerations: The syntax and semantics of fragment identifiers specified for +cbor-seq SHOULD be the same as that specified for "application/cbor-seq". (At the time of publication of this document, there is no fragment identification syntax defined for "application/cbor-seq".)
    • The syntax and semantics for fragment identifiers for a specific "xxx/yyy+cbor-seq" SHOULD be processed as follows:
      • For cases defined in +cbor-seq, where the fragment identifier resolves per the +cbor-seq rules, then process as specified in +cbor-seq.
      • For cases defined in +cbor-seq, where the fragment identifier does not resolve per the +cbor-seq rules, then process as specified in "xxx/yyy+cbor-seq".
      • For cases not defined in +cbor-seq, then process as specified in "xxx/yyy+cbor-seq".
  • Interoperability considerations: n/a
  • Contact: CBOR WG mailing list (cbor@ietf.org), or any IESG-designated successor.
  • Author/Change controller: IETF

7. References

7.1. Normative References

IANA, "Constrained RESTful Environments (CoRE) Parameters", <https://www.iana.org/assignments/core-parameters>.
IANA, "Media Types", <https://www.iana.org/assignments/media-types>.
IANA, "Structured Syntax Suffix Registry", <https://www.iana.org/assignments/media-type-structured-suffix>.
Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc2119>.
Bormann, C. and P. Hoffman, "Concise Binary Object Representation (CBOR)", RFC 7049, DOI 10.17487/RFC7049, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc7049>.
Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC 2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8174>.

7.2. Informative References

Freed, N., Klensin, J., and T. Hansen, "Media Type Specifications and Registration Procedures", BCP 13, RFC 6838, DOI 10.17487/RFC6838, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc6838>.
Williams, N., "JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) Text Sequences", RFC 7464, DOI 10.17487/RFC7464, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc7464>.
Wilde, E., "A Media Type Structured Syntax Suffix for JSON Text Sequences", RFC 8091, DOI 10.17487/RFC8091, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8091>.
Cotton, M., Leiba, B., and T. Narten, "Guidelines for Writing an IANA Considerations Section in RFCs", BCP 26, RFC 8126, DOI 10.17487/RFC8126, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8126>.
Schaad, J., "CBOR Object Signing and Encryption (COSE)", RFC 8152, DOI 10.17487/RFC8152, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8152>.
Bray, T., Ed., "The JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) Data Interchange Format", STD 90, RFC 8259, DOI 10.17487/RFC8259, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8259>.
Birkholz, H., Vigano, C., and C. Bormann, "Concise Data Definition Language (CDDL): A Notational Convention to Express Concise Binary Object Representation (CBOR) and JSON Data Structures", RFC 8610, DOI 10.17487/RFC8610, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8610>.


This document has mostly been generated from [RFC7464] by Nico Williams and [RFC8091] by Erik Wilde, which do a similar but slightly more complicated exercise for JSON [RFC8259]. Laurence Lundblade raised an issue on the CBOR mailing list that pointed out the need for this document. Jim Schaad and John Mattsson provided helpful comments.

Author's Address

Carsten Bormann
Universit&#228;t Bremen TZI
Postfach 330440
D-28359 Bremen