All of the mechanisms specified in this document are described in both prose and an augmented Backus-Naur Form (BNF) similar to that used by RFC 822 . Implementors will need to be familiar with the notation in order to understand this specification. The augmented BNF includes the following constructs:
The name of a rule is simply the name itself (without any enclosing "<" and ">") and is separated from its definition by the equal character "=". Whitespace is only significant in that indentation of continuation lines is used to indicate a rule definition that spans more than one line. Certain basic rules are in uppercase, such as SP, LWS, HT, CRLF, DIGIT, ALPHA, etc. Angle brackets are used within definitions whenever their presence will facilitate discerning the use of rule names.
Quotation marks surround literal text. Unless stated otherwise, the text is case-insensitive.
Elements separated by a bar ("I") are alternatives, e.g., "yes | no" will accept yes or no.
Elements enclosed in parentheses are treated as a single element. Thus, "(elem (foo | bar) elem)" allows the token sequences "elem foo elem" and "elem bar elem".
The character "*" preceding an element indicates repetition. The full form is "<n>*<m>element" indicating at least <n> and at most <m> occurrences of element. Default values are 0 and infinity so that "*(element)" allows any number, including zero; "1*element" requires at least one; and "1*2element" allows one or two.
Square brackets enclose optional elements; "[foo bar]" is equivalent to "*1(foo bar)".
Specific repetition: "<n>(element)" is equivalent to "<n>*<n>(element)"; that is, exactly <n> occurrences of (element). Thus 2DIGIT is a 2-digit number, and 3ALPHA is a string of three alphabetic characters.
A construct "#" is defined, similar to "*", for defining lists of elements. The full form is "<n>#<m>element" indicating at least <n> and at most <m> elements, each separated by one or more commas (",") and optional linear whitespace (LWS). This makes the usual form of lists very easy; a rule such as "( *LWS element *( *LWS "," *LWS element ))" can be shown as "1#element". Wherever this construct is used, null elements are allowed, but do not contribute to the count of elements present. That is, "(element), , (element)" is permitted, but counts as only two elements. Therefore, where at least one element is required, at least one non-null element must be present. Default values are 0 and infinity so that "#(element)" allows any number, including zero; "1#element" requires at least one; and "1#2element" allows one or two.
A semi-colon, set off some distance to the right of rule text, starts a comment that continues to the end of line. This is a simple way of including useful notes in parallel with the specifications.
The grammar described by this specification is word-based. Except where noted otherwise, linear whitespace (LWS) can be included between any two adjacent words (token or quoted-string), and between adjacent tokens and delimiters (tspecials), without changing the interpretation of a field. At least one delimiter (tspecials) must exist between any two tokens, since they would otherwise be interpreted as a single token. However, applications should attempt to follow "common form" when generating HTTP constructs, since there exist some implementations that fail to accept anything beyond the common forms.