CoAP Web Linking and Serialization

Web Linking is a fundamental part of any REST protocol, and it is the feature that makes it more versatile and flexible when compared with other alternative technologies. In CoRE, linking is defined by RFC6690 in a similar way as HTTP defines it in RFC5988. URI's are defined in RFC3986. We will see some of the basic concepts in this chapter.


We will briefly have to explain what a URI is as it is probably very intuitive since it is part of our daily HTTP browsing. Everyone can recognize the following syntax of the URI scheme.

   \_/   \_______________/\________/\__________/\___/
    |           |              |          |       |
   scheme     authority       path      query   fragment

A URI can be classified as a locator, a name, or both. Uniform Resource Locator (URL) refers to URIs that allow for identification and location of a resource by describing how to access it on a network. Uniform Resource Name (URN) are used as globally unique identifiers. Universally Unique IDentifier (UUID) are unique and persistent URNs that do not require a central registration authority.

The URI format is used on pretty much any application protocol in existence, from FTP, HTTP or telnet to CoAP. Some with little variations in the syntax, like that of the email mailto or the telephone tel, as you can see below.

   tel     :                        +34-690-555-1212
   mailto  :                      ?subject=issue
   urn:uuid:                        f81d4fa...a0c91e6bf6
   ftp     ://        /rfc/rfc1808.txt
   http    ://        /rfc/rfc2396.txt
   \______/   \__________________/ \___________________/\___________/
     |              |                       |                  |
   scheme        authority                 path              query

The CoAP URI is similar: "coap:" "//" host [ ":" port ] path-abempty [ "?" query ], the examples below show several usages of it. You can try some yourself at

   coap:// /lamp             ?rt=light-lux#rec=3
   coap://[2001:db8:::1]:5683 /temperature      ?ct=60
   coap://        /.well-known/core
   \__/  \_________________/\______________/\__________/\___/
     |           |                 |                |           |
   scheme     authority           path            query     fragment

Media Types

In addition to URIs, it is important to know other concepts used in REST applications and systems. In particular concepts like media-types, content-types, and content coding. There is a very good clarification document,

  1. Media Type: Media types are registered in the IANA Media Types registry. They identify the general type like "audio" or "text" combined with a subtype like "ogg", "plain", or "html", resulting in strings like "audio/ogg", "text/plain", and "text/html". In IoT, common media types are used for applications that consume the information like "application/senml+cbor" or "application/link-format". Media-Types are registered in IANA.

  2. Content Type: Content types are used in HTTP to specify a media type, optionally associated with additional, media type-specific parameters (separated from the media type and each other by semicolons).

  3. Content Coding: Content codings are registered in the IANA HTTP Parameters registry and identify an optional transformation to the representation of a resource, such as the compression or encryption of some data.

  4. Content Format: Content formats are used in CoAP to identify the combination of a content type and a content coding. They are registered in the IANA CoAP Content-Formats registry.

For example, the content-format 11060 identifies the content type application/cbor (defined by RFC7049) combined with the content coding deflate (defined by RFC7049).

At this point, we are capable of having applications point to specific locations using URLs, indicating concrete protocols used to get resources, and serving those resources in a specific format.

Just like a web browser understands HTTP and the common media types for HTML text/html and images image/jpeg, an IoT client could understand CoAP and common media types like application/cbor, which implies data will be send in CBOR format.

A commonly confused term is link or target attributes, which are defined in RFC6690 and RFC5988 and describe information useful to be added to a target link. They are hints indicating information about the link. In HTTP "media" for example indicates the destination medium, "rel" specifies the relation with another link, and so on.

In CoAP link attributes can define some properties of a device, for example the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) defines resource type "rt" link attributes that help understand which type of device is behind the link, like "" or "oic.d.light". They use a urn-like type of format. Another link attribute that is used today is interface description "if" which lets the client know that the link points to an interface of some kind.

Data Serialization

We have explained how resources exposed by a CoAP Server can be addressed using URIs and how the client can tell the server how content is to be presented and which format to use. We have even mention how that content can be serialized, that is how it is sent on the wire, by using CBOR. While CBOR is binary and hard to read without translation tools for humans, there is a serialization format called SenML that is much readable.

SenML can be represented in various formats with their respective media types which are: application/senml-exi , application/senml+cbor , application/senml+json , application/senml+xml. We will use JSON as it is one of the most common and it is easily readable - and writable - in this document. To illustrate with an example, we have the following exchange between two CoAP endpoints.

The CoAP client will request the resources available under the path /device. The request asks for the content format identifier of 110, which means application/senml+json without any additional content coding.

REQ: GET coap://

The response below uses the CoAP code of 2.05, which means that the operation was successful The payload contains a times series of measurements with the base name bn indicating the URN of the device, the base time bt when the time series started, the units bu and the version used ver of 2.

After the base values there is the individual measurements containing the field name n either current or voltage, the time it was measured t , which is negative for historical data before the base measurement. The SenML output would look like the one below:

RES: 2.05 Content
    [   {"bn":"urn:dev:mac:0024befffe804ff1/","bt":1276020076,"bu":"A","ver":2},

At first glance, it looks like JSON and is easily understandable by humans. However, given that we have constrains in bandwidth, it would be very useful to have a data format that, among other features, is much smaller in message size. For that purpose the Concise Binary Object Representation (CBOR) was created. Below you can see the same payload in CBOR in only 147 Bytes.

00000000: 85a4 2178 1d75 726e 3a64 6576 3a6d 6163  ..!x.urn:dev:mac
00000010: 3a30 3032 3462 6566 6666 6538 3034 6666  :0024befffe804ff
00000020: 312f 221a 4c0e 856c 2361 4163 7665 7202  1/".L..l#aAcver.
00000030: a300 6776 6f6c 7461 6765 0161 5602 00a3  ..gvoltage.aV...
00000040: 0067 6375 7272 656e 7406 2302 fb3f f4cc  .gcurrent.#..?..
00000050: cccc cccc cda4 0067 6375 7272 656e 7406  .......gcurrent.
00000060: 2202 0105 fb40 40b8 51eb 851e b8a2 0067  "....@@.Q......g
00000070: 6375 7272 656e 7402 fb3f fb33 3333 3333  current..?.33333
00000080: 33                                       3