This specification defines the WebFinger protocol, which can be used
to discover information about people or other entities on the
Internet using standard HTTP methods.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction...................................................2

2. Terminology....................................................3

3. Overview.......................................................3

4. Example Use of WebFinger.......................................3

4.1. Locating a User's Blog....................................3

4.2. Auto-Configuration of Email Clients.......................5

4.3. Retrieving Device Information.............................7

5. WebFinger Protocol.............................................8

5.1. Performing a WebFinger Query..............................8

5.2. The JSON Resource Descriptor (JRD) Document...............9

5.3. The "rel" Parameter.......................................9

5.4. WebFinger and URIs.......................................11

6. Cross-Origin Resource Sharing (CORS)..........................12

7. Controlling Access to Information.............................12

8. Hosted WebFinger Services.....................................13

9. Security Considerations.......................................14

10. IANA Considerations..........................................15

11. Acknowledgments..............................................16

12. References...................................................16

12.1. Normative References....................................16

12.2. Informative References..................................16

Author's Addresses...............................................17

1. Introduction

There is a utility found on UNIX systems called "finger" [12] that

allows a person to access information about another person or entity

that has a UNIX account.  The information queried might be on the

same computer or a computer anywhere in the world.  What is returned

via "finger" is a plain text file that contains unstructured

information provided by the queried user, stored in a file named

.plan in the user's home directory.

Like the finger command, WebFinger can be used to discover

information about people or other entities on the Internet.  However,

unlike the legacy finger command, WebFinger uses standard HTTP [2]

methods and utilizes a structured document that contains link

relations that are suitable for automated processes.  These link

relations point to information and might return properties related to

information a user or entity on the Internet wishes to share.  For a

person, the kinds of information that might be shared include a

personal profile address, identity service, telephone number, or

preferred avatar.  WebFinger may also be used to discover information

about other entities on the Internet, such as the amount of toner in

a printer or the physical location of a server.

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Information returned via WebFinger might be for direct human

consumption (e.g., another user's phone number) or it might be used

by systems to help carry out some operation (e.g., facilitate logging

into a web site by determining a user's identity service).

2. Terminology

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",


document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119 [1].

WebFinger makes heavy use of "Link Relations".  Briefly, a Link

Relation is an attribute and value pair used on the Internet wherein

the attribute identifies the type of link to which the associated

value refers.  In Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and Web Linking

[4], the attribute is a "rel" and the value is an "href". WebFinger

also uses the "rel" attribute, where the "rel" value is either a

single IANA-registered link relation type [12] or a URI [6].

3. Overview

WebFinger enables the discovery of information about users, devices,

and other entities that are associated with a host.  Discovery

involves a single HTTP GET request to the well-known [3] "webfinger"

resource at the target host and receiving back a JavaScript Object

Notation (JSON) [5] Resource Descriptor (JRD) document [11]

containing link relations.  The request MUST include the URI or IRI

[7] for the entity for which information is sought as a parameter

named "resource".

Use of WebFinger is illustrated in the examples in Section 4, then

described more formally in Section 5.

4. Example Use of WebFinger

In this section, we show a few samples using WebFinger so you can see

what the protocol looks like.  This is not an exhaustive list of

possible uses and the entire section is non-normative.

4.1. Locating a User's Blog

Assume you receive an email from Bob and he refers to something he

posted on his blog, but you do not know where Bob's blog is located.

It would be simple to discover the address of Bob's blog if he makes

that information available via WebFinger.

Let's assume your email client can discover the blog for you.  After

receiving the message from Bob (bob@example.com), you instruct your

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email client to perform a WebFinger query.  It does so by issuing the

following HTTPS query to example.com:

GET /.well-known/webfinger?

resource=acct%3Abob%40example.com HTTP/1.1

Host: example.com

The server might then respond with a message like this:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK

Access-Control-Allow-Origin: *

Content-Type: application/json; charset=UTF-8


"expires" : "2012-11-16T19:41:35Z",

"subject" : "acct:bob@example.com",

"aliases" :




"properties" :


"http://example.com/rel/role/" : "employee"


"links" :



"rel" : "http://webfinger.net/rel/avatar",

"type" : "image/jpeg",

"href" : "http://www.example.com/~bob/bob.jpg"



"rel" : "http://webfinger.net/rel/profile-page",

"href" : "http://www.example.com/~bob/"



"rel" : "blog",

"type" : "text/html",

"href" : "http://blogs.example.com/bob/",

"titles" :


"en-us" : "The Magical World of Bob",

"fr" : "Le monde magique de Bob"




"rel" : "vcard",

"href" : "http://www.example.com/~bob/bob.vcf"


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The email client would take note of the

"http://packetizer.com/rel/blog" link relation in the above JRD

document that refers to Bob's blog.  This URL would then be presented

to you so that you could then visit his blog.  The email client might

also note that Bob has published an avatar link relation and use that

picture to represent Bob inside the email client.  Lastly, the client

might consider the vcard [14] link relation in order to update

contact information for Bob.

In the above example, an "acct" URI [8] is used in the query, though

any valid alias for the user might also be used.  An alias is a URI

that is different from the "subject" URI that identifies the same

entity.  In the above example, there is one "http" alias returned,

though there might have been more than one.  Had the "http:" URI

shown as an alias been used to query for information about Bob, the

query would have appeared as:

GET /.well-known/webfinger?

resource=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.example.com%2F~bob%2F HTTP/1.1

Host: example.com

The response would have been substantially the same, with the subject

and alias information changed as necessary.  Other information, such

as the expiration time might also change, but the set of link

relations and properties would be the same with either response.

4.2. Identity Provider Discovery for OpenID Connect

Suppose Carol wishes to authenticate with a web site she visits using

OpenID Connect [16].  She would provide the web site with her OpenID

Connect identifier, say carol@example.com.  The visited web site

would perform a WebFinger query looking for the OpenID Connect

Provider.  Since the site is interested in only one particular link

relation, the server might utilize the "rel" parameter as described

in section 5.3:

GET /.well-known/webfinger?




Host: example.com

The server might respond with a JSON Resource Descriptor document

like this:

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"expires" : "2012-11-16T19:41:35Z",

"subject" : "acct:carol@example.com",

"aliases" :




"properties" :


"http://example.com/rel/role/" : "employee"


"links" :



"rel" : "http://openid.net/specs/connect/1.0/issuer",

"href" : "https://openid.example.com/"




Since the "rel" parameter only filters the link relations returned by

the server, other elements of the response, including any aliases or

properties, would be returned.  Also, since support for the "rel"

parameter is optional, the client must not assume the "links" array

will contain only the requested link relation.

4.3. Auto-Configuration of Email Clients

WebFinger could be used to auto-provision an email client with basic

configuration data.  Suppose that sue@example.com wants to configure

her email client.  Her email client might issue the following query:

GET /.well-known/webfinger?

resource=mailto%3Asue%40example.com HTTP/1.1

Host: example.com

The response from the server would contain entries for the various

protocols, transport options, and security options.  If there are

multiple options, the server might return a link relation that for

each of the valid options and the client or Sue might select which

option to choose.  Since JRD documents list link relations in a

specific order, then the most-preferred choices could be presented

first.  Consider this response:


"subject" : "mailto:sue@example.com",

"links" :



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"rel" : "http://example.net/rel/smtp-server",

"properties" :


"host" : "smtp.example.com",

"port" : "587",

"login-required" : "yes",

"transport" : "starttls"




"rel" : "http://example.net/rel/imap-server",

"properties" :


"host" : "imap.example.com",

"port" : "993",

"transport" : "ssl"





In this example, you can see that the WebFinger server advertises an

SMTP service and an IMAP service.  In this example, the "href"

entries associated with the link relation are absent.  This is valid

when there is no external reference that needs to be made.

4.4. Retrieving Device Information

As another example, let's suppose there are printers on the network

and you would like to check the current toner level for a particular

printer identified via the URI device:p1.example.com.  While the

"device" URI scheme is not presently specified, we use it here for

illustrative purposes.

Following the procedures similar to those above, a query may be

issued to get link relations specific to this URI like this:

GET /.well-known/webfinger?resource=

device%3Ap1.example.com HTTP/1.1

Host: example.com

The link relations that are returned for a device may be quite

different than those for user accounts.  Perhaps we may see a

response like this:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK

Access-Control-Allow-Origin: *

Content-Type: application/json; charset=UTF-8

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"subject" : "device:p1.example.com",

"links" :



"rel" : "http://example.com/rel/tipsi",

"href" : ""




While this example is fictitious, you can imagine that perhaps the

Transport Independent, Printer/System Interface [15] may be enhanced

with a web interface that allows a device that understands the TIP/SI

web interface specification to query the printer for toner levels.

5. WebFinger Protocol

WebFinger is a simple HTTP-based web service that utilizes the JSON

Resource Descriptor (JRD) document format and the Cross-Origin

Resource Sharing (CORS) [10] specification.

5.1. Performing a WebFinger Query

WebFinger clients issue queries to the well-known resource /.well-

known/webfinger.  All queries MUST include the "resource" parameter

exactly once and set to the value of the URI for which information is

being sought.  If the "resource" parameter is absent or malformed,

the WebFinger server MUST return a 400 status code.

Clients MUST first attempt a query the server using HTTPS and utilize

HTTP only if an HTTPS connection cannot be established.  If the HTTPS

server has an invalid certificate or returns an HTTP status code

indicating some error, including a 4xx or 5xx, the client MUST NOT

use HTTP in attempt to complete the discovery.

WebFinger servers MUST return JRD documents as the default

representation for the resource.  A client MAY include the "Accept"

header to indicate a desired format, though no other format is

defined in this specification.  For the JRD document, the media type

is "application/json" [5].

If the client queries the WebFinger server and provides a URI for

which the server has no information, the server MUST return a 404

status code.

WebFinger servers MAY include cache validators in a response to

enable conditional requests by clients and/or expiration times as per

RFC 2616 section 13.

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5.2. The JSON Resource Descriptor (JRD) Document

The JSON Resource Descriptor (JRD) document is formally described in

Appendix A of [11].  There is a RECOMMENDED order of JRD elements.

Further, WebFinger requires some elements and some are optional.  The

following list indicates the preferred order and comments on the

presence or absence:

o "expires" (element) is optional

o "subject" (element) is required and MUST be the value of the

"resource" parameter

o "aliases" (array) is optional and absence or an empty array

are semantically the same

o "properties" (array) is optional and absence or an empty

array are semantically the same

o "links" (array) is optional and absence or an empty array are

semantically the same

Any array elements within the "links" array are presented by the

server in order of preference.

The "links" array is comprised of several elements.  As above, the

following list indicates the preferred order or elements within a

link array element and comments on the presence or absence:

o "rel" (element) is required

o "type" (element) is optional

o "href" (element) is optional

o "template" (element) is forbidden

o "titles" (array) is optional and absence or an empty array

are semantically the same

o "properties" (array) is optional and absence or an empty

array are semantically the same

5.3. The "rel" Parameter

WebFinger defines the "rel" parameter to request only a subset of the

information that would otherwise be returned without the "rel"

parameter.  When the "rel" parameter is used, only the link relations

that match the link relations provided via "rel" are included in the

array of links returned in the JSON Resource Descriptor document.

All other information normally present in a resource descriptor is

present in the resource descriptor, even when "rel" is employed.

The "rel" parameter MAY be transmitted to the server multiple times

in order to request multiple types of link relations.

The purpose of the "rel" parameter is to return a subset of

resource's link relations.  It is not intended to reduce the work

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required of a server to produce a response.  That said, use of the

parameter might reduce processing requirements on either the client

or server, and it might also reduce the bandwidth required to convey

the partial resource descriptor, especially if there are numerous

link relation values to convey for a given resource.

Support for the "rel" parameter is OPTIONAL, but RECOMMENDED on the


The following example presents the same example as found in section

4.1, but uses the "rel" parameter in order to select two link


GET /.well-known/webfinger?



rel=vcard HTTP/1.1

Host: example.com

In this example, the client requests the link relations of type

"http://webfinger.net/rel/profile-page" and "vcard".  The server then

responds with a message like this:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK

Access-Control-Allow-Origin: *

Content-Type: application/json; charset=UTF-8


"expires" : "2012-11-16T19:41:35Z",

"subject" : "acct:bob@example.com",

"aliases" :




"properties" :


"http://example.com/rel/role/" : "employee"


"links" :



"rel" : "http://webfinger.net/rel/profile-page",

"href" : "http://www.example.com/~bob/"



"rel" : "vcard",

"href" : "http://www.example.com/~bob/bob.vcf"


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As you can see, the server returned only the link relations requested

by the client, but also included the other parts of the JSON resource

Descriptor document.

In the event that a client requests links for link relations that are

not defined for the specified resource, a resource descriptor MUST be

returned.  In the returned JRD, the "links" array MAY be absent,

empty, or contain only links that did match a provided "rel" value.

The server MUST NOT return a 404 status code when a particular link

relation specified via "rel" is not defined for the resource, as a

404 status code is reserved for indicating that the resource itself

(e.g., either /.well-known/webfinger or the resource indicated via

the "resource" parameter) does not exist.

5.4. WebFinger and URIs

WebFinger requests can include a parameter specifying the URI of an

account, device, or other entity.  WebFinger is agnostic regarding

the scheme of such a URI: it could be an "acct" URI [7], an "http" or

"https" URI, a "mailto" URI, or some other scheme.

For resources associated with a user account at a host, use of the

"acct" URI scheme is RECOMMENDED, since it explicitly identifies an

account accessible via WebFinger.  Further, the "acct" URI scheme is

not associated with other protocols as, by way of example, the

"mailto" URI scheme is associated with email.  Since not every host

offers email service, using the "mailto" URI scheme [9] is not ideal

for identifying user accounts on all hosts.  That said, use of the

"mailto" URI scheme would be ideal for use with WebFinger to discover

mail server configuration information for a user.

A host MAY utilize one or more URIs that serve as aliases for the

user's account, such as URIs that use the "http" URI scheme [2].  A

WebFinger server MUST return substantially the same response to both

an "acct" URI and any alias URI for the account, including the same

set of link relations and properties.  The only elements in the

response that MAY be different include "subject", "expires", and

"aliases".  In addition, the server SHOULD include the entire list

aliases for the user's account in the JRD returned when querying the

LRDD resource or when utilizing the "resource" parameter.

5.5. "webfinger" Subdomain

It may be difficult or impossible for some hosts wanting to support

WebFinger requests to make a WebFinger server available for the host

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at the path /.well-known/webfinger. For instance, in the case of

hosted domains, no web server may be running on the host at all.

For that reason, WebFinger servers for a host MAY be located on a

specific subdomain named "webfinger". For example, the WebFinger

server for the host example.com MAY be located at the URI


Note that a WebFinger service can operate on any host, such as

bldg6.hq.example.com.  As such, the alternate location for the

WebFinger service in that example would be at the host named


WebFinger clients MUST first attempt to make a WebFinger request to

the host's /.well-known/webfinger endpoint, and then if that fails,

clients MUST then attempt to make the request to the WebFinger

endpoint at the "webfinger" subdomain of that host.

It should be appreciated that a 4xx, 5xx, or other status code from

the web server at the host indicates that a web server is operational

and such responses MUST NOT be considered a failure for the purposes

of this section.  For the sake of operational efficiency, a client

MUST query the "webfinger" subdomain only if it has reason to believe

that a web server is not operating at the host, such as when there is

a failure to establish an HTTP(S) connection to the host.

6. Cross-Origin Resource Sharing (CORS)

WebFinger is most useful when it is accessible without restrictions

on the Internet, including web browsers.  Therefore, WebFinger

servers MUST support Cross-Origin Resource Sharing (CORS) [10] by

including the following HTTP header in responses:

Access-Control-Allow-Origin: *

Enterprise WebFinger servers that wish to restrict access to

information from external entities SHOULD use a more restrictive

Access-Control-Allow-Origin header.

7. Access Control

As with all web resources, access to the /.well-known/webfinger

resource MAY require authentication.  Further, failure to provide

required credentials MAY result in the server forbidding access or

providing a different response than had the client authenticated with

the server.

Likewise, a server MAY provide different responses to different

clients based on other factors, such as whether the client is inside

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or outside a corporate network.  As a concrete example, a query

performed on the internal corporate network might return link

relations to employee pictures, whereas link relations for employee

pictures might not be provided to external entities.

Further, link relations provided in a WebFinger server response MAY

point to web resources that impose access restrictions.  For example,

the aforementioned corporate server may provide both internal and

external entities with URIs to employee pictures, but further

authentication might be required in order for the client to access

the picture resources if the request comes from outside the corporate


The decisions made with respect to what set of link relations a

WebFinger server provides to one client versus another and what

resources require further authentication, as well as the specific

authentication mechanisms employed, are outside the scope of this


8. Hosted WebFinger Services

As with most services provided on the Internet, it is possible for a

domain owner to utilize "hosted" WebFinger services.  By way of

example, a domain owner might control most aspects of their domain,

but use a third-party hosting service for email.  In the case of

email, mail servers for a domain are identified by MX records.  An MX

record points to the mail server to which mail for the domain should

be delivered.  It does not matter to the sending mail server whether

those MX records point to a server in the destination domain or a

different domain.

Likewise, a domain owner might utilize the services of a third party

to provide WebFinger services on behalf of its users.  Just as a

domain owner was required to insert MX records into DNS to allow for

hosted email serves, the domain owner is required to redirect HTTP(S)

queries to its domain to allow for hosted WebFinger services (if a

web server is operating at the domain) or insert DNS records for the

"webfinger" subdomain described in section 5.5.

When a query is issued to /.well-known/webfinger and the target host

is operating a web server, the web server MUST return a 301, 302, or

307 response status code that includes a Location header pointing to

the location of the hosted WebFinger service URL.  The WebFinger

service URL does not need to point to /.well-known/* on the hosting

service provider server.  In fact, it should not, as that location

would be reserved for queries relating to the service provider's

domain.  WebFinger clients MUST follow all 301, 302, or 307

redirection requests.

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As an example, let's assume that example.com's WebFinger services are

hosted by example.net.  Suppose a client issues a query for

acct:alice@example.com like this:

GET /.well-known/webfinger?

resource=acct%3Aalice%40example.com HTTP/1.1

Host: example.com

The server might respond with this:

HTTP/1.1 307 Temporary Redirect

Location: http://wf.example.net/example.com/webfinger?

resource=acct%3Aalice%40example.com HTTP/1.1

The client MUST follow the redirection, re-issuing the request to the

URL provided in the Location header.

9. Security Considerations

All of the security considerations applicable to Web Host Metadata

[11] and Cross-Origin Resource Sharing [10] are also applicable to

this specification.  Of particular importance is the recommended use

of HTTPS to ensure that information is not modified during transit.

Clients MUST verify that the certificate used on an HTTPS connection

is valid.

Service providers and users should be aware that placing information

on the Internet accessible through WebFinger means that any user can

access that information.  While WebFinger can be an extremely useful

tool for allowing quick and easy access to one's avatar, blog, or

other personal information, users should understand the risks, too.

If one does not wish to share certain information with the world, do

not allow that information to be freely accessible through WebFinger

and do not use any service supporting WebFinger.  Further, WebFinger

servers MUST NOT be used to provide any personal information to any

party unless explicitly or implicitly authorized by the person whose

information is being shared. Implicit authorization can be determined

by the user's voluntary utilization of a service as defined by that

service's relevant terms of use or published privacy policy.

The aforementioned word of caution is perhaps worth emphasizing again

with respect to dynamic information one might wish to share, such as

the current location of a user.  WebFinger can be a powerful tool

used to assemble information about a person all in one place, but

service providers and users should be mindful of the nature of that

information shared and the fact that it might be available for the

entire world to see.  Sharing location information, for example,

would potentially put a person in danger from any individual who

might seek to inflict harm on that person.

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The easy access to user information via WebFinger was a design goal

of the protocol, not a limitation.  If one wishes to limit access to

information available via WebFinger, such as a WebFinger server for

use inside a corporate network, the network administrator must take

measures necessary to limit access from outside the network.  Using

standard methods for securing web resources, network administrators

do have the ability to control access to resources that might return

sensitive information.  Further, WebFinger servers can be employed in

such a way as to require authentication and prevent disclosure of

information to unauthorized entities.

A WebFinger server has no means of ensuring that information provided

by a user is accurate.  Likewise, neither the server nor the client

can be absolutely guaranteed that information has not been

manipulated either at the server or along the communication path

between the client and server.  Use of HTTPS helps to address some

concerns with manipulation of information along the communication

path, but it clearly cannot address issues where the server provided

incorrect information, either due to being provided false information

or due to malicious behavior on the part of the server administrator.

As with any information service available on the Internet, users

should wary of information received from untrusted sources.

Because WebFinger requests for a host may be served by the

"webfinger" subdomain of the host, it should be ensured that the

"webfinger" subdomain is under the same administrative control as the

domain itself (just as one would typically expect that the "www"

subdomain should be controlled by the same authority as the domain


10. IANA Considerations

This specification registers the "webfinger" well-known URI in the

Well-Known URI Registry as defined by [3].

URI suffix:  webfinger

Change controller:  IETF

Specification document(s):  RFC QQQ

Related information:  The JSON Resource Descriptor (JRD) documents

obtained via the WebFinger web service are described in RFC 6415

Appendix A and RFC QQQ.

[RFC EDITOR: Please replace "QQQ" references in this section with the

number for this RFC.]

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11. Acknowledgments

The authors would like to acknowledge Eran Hammer-Lahav, Blaine Cook,

Brad Fitzpatrick, Laurent-Walter Goix, Joe Clarke, Michael B. Jones,

and Peter Saint-Andre for their invaluable input.

12. References

12.1. Normative References

[1]   Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement

Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.

[2]   Fielding, R., Gettys, J., Mogul, J., Frystyk, H.,

Masinter, L., Leach, P., and T. Berners-Lee, "Hypertext

Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1", RFC 2616, June 1999.

[3]   Nottingham, M., Hammer-Lahav, E., "Defining Well-Known Uniform

Resource Identifiers (URIs)", RFC 5785, April 2010.

[4]   Nottingham, M., "Web Linking", RFC 5988, October 2010.

[5]   Crockford, D., "The application/json Media Type for

JavaScript Object Notation (JSON)", RFC 4627, July 2006.

[6]   Berners-Lee, T., Fielding, R., and Masinter, L., "Uniform

Resource Identifier (URI): Generic Syntax", STD 66, RFC 3986,

January 2005.

[7]   Duerst, M., "Internationalized Resource Identifiers (IRIs)",

RFC 3987, January 2005.

[8]   Saint-Andre, P., "The 'acct' URI Scheme", draft-ietf-appsawg-

acct-uri-01, October 2012.

[9]   Duerst, M., Masinter, L., and J. Zawinski, "The 'mailto' URI

Scheme", RFC 6068, October 2010.

[10]  Van Kesteren, A., "Cross-Origin Resource Sharing", W3C CORS

http://www.w3.org/TR/cors/, July 2010.

[11]  Hammer-Lahav, E. and Cook, B., "Web Host Metadata", RFC 6415,

October 2011.

12.2. Informative References

[12]  IANA, "Link Relations", http://www.iana.org/assignments/link-


Jones, et al.            Expires May 21, 2013                  [Page 16]

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[13]  Zimmerman, D., "The Finger User Information Protocol", RFC

1288, December 1991.

[14]  Perreault, S., "vCard Format Specification", RFC 6350, August


[15]  "Transport Independent, Printer/System Interface", IEEE Std

1284.1-1997, 1997.

[16]  Sakimura, N., Bradley, J., Jones, M., de Medeiros, B.,

Mortimore, C., and E. Jay, "OpenID Connect Messages 1.0", June

2012, http://openid.net/specs/openid-connect-messages-1_0.html.


Paul E. Jones

Cisco Systems, Inc.

Gonzalo Salgueiro

Cisco Systems, Inc.

Joseph Smarr


Additional Source: Internet Engineering Task Force

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