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Version Control with Subversion
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Version Control with Subversion - Chapter 8. Developer Information - RA-DAV (Repository Access Using HTTP/DAV)

RA-DAV (Repository Access Using HTTP/DAV)

The libsvn_ra_dav library is designed for use by clients that are being run on different machines than the servers with which they communicating, specifically servers reached using URLs that contain the https: or https: protocol portions. To understand how this module works, we should first mention a couple of other key components in this particular configuration of the Repository Access Layer—the powerful Apache HTTP Server, and the Neon HTTP/WebDAV client library.

Subversion's primary network server is the Apache HTTP Server. Apache is a time-tested, extensible open-source server process that is ready for serious use. It can sustain a high network load and runs on many platforms. The Apache server supports a number of different standard authentication protocols, and can be extended through the use of modules to support many others. It also supports optimizations like network pipelining and caching. By using Apache as a server, Subversion gets all of these features for free. And since most firewalls already allow HTTP traffic to pass through, system administrators typically don't even have to change their firewall configurations to allow Subversion to work.

Subversion uses HTTP and WebDAV (with DeltaV) to communicate with an Apache server. You can read more about this in the WebDAV section of this chapter, but in short, WebDAV and DeltaV are extensions to the standard HTTP 1.1 protocol that enable sharing and versioning of files over the web. Apache 2.0 and later versions come with mod_dav, an Apache module that understands the DAV extensions to HTTP. Subversion itself supplies mod_dav_svn, though, which is another Apache module that works in conjunction with (really, as a back-end to) mod_dav to provide Subversion's specific implementations of WebDAV and DeltaV.

When communicating with a repository over HTTP, the RA loader library chooses libsvn_ra_dav as the proper access module. The Subversion client makes calls into the generic RA interface, and libsvn_ra_dav maps those calls (which embody rather large-scale Subversion actions) to a set of HTTP/WebDAV requests. Using the Neon library, libsvn_ra_dav transmits those requests to the Apache server. Apache receives these requests (exactly as it does generic HTTP requests that your web browser might make), notices that the requests are directed at a URL that is configured as a DAV location (using the <Location> directive in httpd.conf), and hands the request off to its own mod_dav module. When properly configured, mod_dav knows to use Subversion's mod_dav_svn for any filesystem-related needs, as opposed to the generic mod_dav_fs that comes with Apache. So ultimately, the client is communicating with mod_dav_svn, which binds directly to the Subversion Repository Layer.

That was a simplified description of the actual exchanges taking place, though. For example, the Subversion repository might be protected by Apache's authorization directives. This could result in initial attempts to communicate with the repository being rejected by Apache on authorization grounds. At this point, libsvn_ra_dav gets back the notice from Apache that insufficient identification was supplied, and calls back into the Client Layer to get some updated authentication data. If the data is supplied correctly, and the user has the permissions that Apache seeks, libsvn_ra_dav's next automatic attempt at performing the original operation will be granted, and all will be well. If sufficient authentication information cannot be supplied, the request will ultimately fail, and the client will report the failure to the user.

By using Neon and Apache, Subversion gets free functionality in several other complex areas, too. For example, if Neon finds the OpenSSL libraries, it allows the Subversion client to attempt to use SSL-encrypted communications with the Apache server (whose own mod_ssl can “speak the language”). Also, both Neon itself and Apache's mod_deflate can understand the “deflate” algorithm (the same one used by the PKZIP and gzip programs), so requests can be sent in smaller, compressed chunks across the wire. Other complex features that Subversion hopes to support in the future include the ability to automatically handle server-specified redirects (for example, when a repository has been moved to a new canonical URL) and taking advantage of HTTP pipelining.


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Version Control with Subversion
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