Build Date: Mon Jun 17 11:30:09 2024 UTC

I've got some bad news for non-smokers: Non-smokers die every day.
-- Bill Hicks

An Open Letter to Tim Berners-Lee

by Mr. Bad

1999-10-21 11:25:37

Mr. Bad busts the Father of the Web over an egregious spelling mistake!

From: "Mr. Bad"
To: timbl@w3.org
Subject: Complaint about HTTP: "Referer"
Date: Wed, 20 Oct 1999 21:00:11 -0700

Dear Tim B.-L.:

I'm writing to you about an issue that's been bugging me for some time. In the HTTP protocol, which I *BELIEVE* you were instrumental in developing (correct me if I'm wrong on this), there is an EGREGIOUS spelling mistake.

Of course I refer (haha) to the HTTP header "Referer." As you may or may not know, there is NO WORD in the English language that is spelled "R-E-F-E-R-E-R."

http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?va=referer

If the word is intended to mean, "one who refers" or "the referring party" (as I could not but suppose it would), the correct spelling is "R-E-F-E-R-R-E-R:"

http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?va=referrer

Of course, as you and I both know, computer languages and protocols don't revolve around the English language. We all take shortcuts and write database fields named "ordrNum" or create variables named "foo," "tmp" or "ItemCnt." Abbreviations and just plain meaningless names are par for the course in the computer world.

But the HTTP protocol is an EXCEPTION to this. Practically EVERY OTHER header field in HTTP is a fully-spelled-out English word or phrase ("ETag" being a notable exception). And several of the headers are MUCH longer than "Referer."

So there is no hiding behind expediency or data size or anything else when it comes to "Referer." It's not easier or more reasonable in terms of transmission time (optimizing by one character, indeed!). It's not a clever abbreviation or a commonly-used technical term. It's JUST PLAIN WRONG.

If it were a less-visible header that was so badly misspelled, like "Content-MD5" or "If-Unmodified-Since" or something like that, I wouldn't be in so much of a huff. But the "Referer" header has become an integral part of Web development, and the misspelling is often bandied about by people who don't know better. Even newbie Web site owners review their "referer logs" or read their "referer reports." The entire Internet advertising industry is BASED on "referer tracking."

I don't want to point any fingers here. I don't care whose fault the original misspelling was. There's no value in that for anyone. I just want to get this problem corrected and move on.

Now, given the huge installed base of Web server software, Web browsers, log-analysis software, and various programming libraries in many different language, it will be a monumental task to get this problem fixed. In fact, there is only one person who has the technical moral authority to lead this tremendous effort. ONLY YOU, Tim Berners-Lee can make this change happen. ONLY YOU can right the wrong that was made oh-so-long ago.

I CALL on you, as a renowned (dare I say it) SPIRITUAL leader of the Web community, to correct this error as soon as possible. The horse is already out of the barn as far as HTTP/1.1 is concerned, but it is not too late for HTTP/1.2 or HTTP-NG or HTTP/2.0 or whatever is next in the chute. The Web community, TOGETHER, working as a UNIT, can put the history of "Referer" behind us and move towards a brighter tomorrow.

Pick up the mantle of leadership, Tim Berners-Lee! Fight the good fight! Do it for the CHILDREN. I beseech you: don't let this horrible issue go unresolved! It is a CANCER at the HEART of the WEB!

~Mr. Bad

-- 
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 Mr. Bad  | http://pigdog.org/ |  RoR - Alucard
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Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

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