Digital Preservation Technical Paper

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Digital Preservation Technical Paper:



A scheme of persistent unique identifiers for representation information

Document Control


Adrian Brown, Head of Digital Preservation

Document Reference:




Issue Date:

27 July 2006



1Introduction 5

2Scope 6

3PUID Structure 8

4Expression of PUIDs as info URIs 9

5Scheme Administration 11

  1. Introduction

This document is the second in a series of technical papers produced by the Digital Preservation Department of The National Archives (TNA), covering detailed technical issues related to the preservation and management of electronic records. This technical paper describes the scheme of persistent unique identifiers for representation information developed by TNA as part of its PRONOM system.

PRONOM is a technical registry service which describes the technical dependencies of digital objects in order to support long-term preservation. These technical dependencies, which correspond to the OAIS concept of representation information, include the formats in which objects are encoded, the software tools which may be required to perform actions on those objects (such as creation, rendering, and migration), and the operating system and hardware dependencies of those tools.
The PRONOM Persistent Unique Identifier (PUID) is an extensible scheme for providing persistent, unique and unambiguous identifiers for units of representation information recorded in the PRONOM registry. Such identifiers are fundamental to the exchange and management of digital objects, by allowing human or automated user agents to unambiguously identify, and share that identification of, the representation information required to support access to an object. This is a virtue both of the inherent uniqueness of the identifier, and of its binding to a definitive description of the representation information in a registry such as PRONOM.
At present, the PUID scheme has been confined to one particular class of representation information: the format in which a digital object is encoded. Formats are considered a particular priority for such a scheme. No existing, universally-applicable system provides for this. Unix ‘magic numbers’ and Macintosh data-forks do provide some of this functionality, but the same is not true within DOS or Microsoft Windows environments. The three-character file extension is neither standardised nor unique, and is interpreted differently by different environments. Equally, the IANA MIME-type scheme does not provide sufficient granularity or coverage to satisfy the requirements for unique identifiers. The PUID scheme has been developed for the single purpose of providing such identifiers.
The scheme is designed to be extensible, and will be expanded in future to include other classes of representation information in PRONOM, such as compression methods, character encoding schemes, and operating systems.

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