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Project Gemini
"Speculative specification"
v0.10.0, February 3rd 2020

This is an increasingly less rough sketch of an actual spec for
Project Gemini.  Although not finalised yet, further changes to the
specification are likely to be relatively small.  You can write code
to this pseudo-specification and be confident that it probably won't
become totally non-functional due to massive changes next week, but
you are still urged to keep an eye on ongoing development of the
protocol and make changes as required.

This is provided mostly so that people can quickly get up to speed on
what I'm thinking without having to read lots and lots of old phlog
posts and keep notes.

Feedback on any part of this is extremely welcome, please email


1. Overview

Gemini is a client-server protocol featuring request-response
transactions, broadly similar to gopher or HTTP.  Connections are
closed at the end of a single transaction and cannot be reused.  When
Gemini is served over TCP/IP, servers should listen on port 1965 (the
first manned Gemini mission, Gemini 3, flew in March '65).  This is an
unprivileged port, so it's very easy to run a server as a "nobody"
user, even if e.g. the server is written in Go and so can't drop
privileges in the traditional fashion.

1.1 Gemini transactions

There is one kind of Gemini transaction, roughly equivalent to a
gopher request or a HTTP "GET" request.  Transactions happen as

C:   Opens connection
S:   Accepts connection
C/S: Complete TLS handshake (see 1.4)
C:   Validates server certificate (see 1.4.2)
C:   Sends request (one CRLF terminated line) (see 1.2)
S:   Sends response header (one CRFL terminated line), closes connection
     under non-success conditions (see 1.3.1, 1.3.2)
S:   Sends response body (text or binary data) (see 1.3.3)
S:   Closes connection
C:   Handles response (see 1.3.4)

1.2 Gemini requests

Gemini requests are a single CRLF-terminated line with the following


<URL> is a UTF-8 encoded absolute URL, of maximum length 1024 bytes.
If the scheme of the URL is not specified, a scheme of gemini:// is

Sending an absolute URL instead of only a path or selector is
effectively equivalent to building in a HTTP "Host" header.  It
permits virtual hosting of multiple Gemini domains on the same IP
address.  It also allows servers to optionally act as proxies.
Including schemes other than gemini:// in requests allows servers to
optionally act as protocol-translating gateways to e.g. fetch gopher
resources over Gemini.  Proxying is optional and the vast majority of
servers are expected to only respond to requests for resources at
their own domain(s).

1.3 Responses

Gemini response consist of a single CRLF-terminated header line,
optionally followed by a response body.

1.3.1 Response headers

Gemini response headers look like this:


<STATUS> is a two-digit numeric status code, as described below in
1.3.2 and in Appendix 1.

<whitespace> is any non-zero number of consecutive spaces or tabs.

<META> is a UTF-8 encoded string of maximum length 1024, whose meaning
is <STATUS> dependent.

If <STATUS> does not belong to the "SUCCESS" range of codes, then the
server MUST close the connection after sending the header and MUST NOT
send a response body.

If a server sends a <STATUS> which is not a two-digit number or a
<META> which exceeds 1024, the client SHOULD close the connection and
disregard the response header, informing the user of an error.

1.3.2 Status codes

Gemini uses two-digit numeric status codes.  Related status codes share
the same first digit.  Importantly, the first digit of Gemini status
codes do not group codes into vague categories like "client error" and
"server error" as per HTTP.  Instead, the first digit alone provides
enough information for a client to determine how to handle the
response.  By design, it is possible to write a simple but feature
complete client which only looks at the first digit.  The second digit
provides more fine-grained information, for unambiguous server logging,
to allow writing comfier interactive clients which provide a slightly
more streamlined user interface, and to allow writing more robust and
intelligent automated clients like content aggregators, search engine
crawlers, etc.

The first digit of a response code unambiguously places the response
into one of six categories, which define the semantics of the <META>


	The requested resource accepts a line of textual user input.
	The <META> line is a prompt which should be displayed to the
	user.  The same resource should then be requested again with
	the user's input included as a query component.  Queries are
	included in requests as per the usual generic URL definition
	in RFC3986, i.e. separated from the path by a ?.  There is no
	response body.


	The request was handled successfully and a response body will
	follow the response header.  The <META> line is a MIME media
	type which applies to the response body.


	The server is redirecting the client to a new location for the
	requested resource.  There is no response body.  The header
	text is a new URL for the requested resource.  The URL may be
	absolute or relative.  The redirect should be considered
	temporary, i.e. clients should continue to request the
	resource at the original address and should not performance
	convenience actions like automatically updating bookmarks.
	There is no response body.


	The request has failed.  There is no response body.  The
	nature of the failure is temporary, i.e. an identical request
	MAY succeed in the future.  The contents of <META> may provide
	additional information on the failure, and should be displayed
	to human users.


	The request has failed.  There is no response body.  The
	nature of the failure is permanent, i.e. identical future
	requests will reliably fail for the same reason.  The contents
	of <META> may provide additional information on the failure,
	and should be displayed to human users.  Automatic clients
	such as aggregators or indexing crawlers should should not
	repeat this request.


	The requested resource requires client-certificate
	authentication to access.  If the request was made without a
	certificate, it should be repeated with one.  If the request
	was made with a certificate, the server did not accept it and
	the request should be repeated with a different certificate.
	The contents of <META> may provide additional information on 
	certificate requirements or the reason a certificate was

Note that for basic interactive clients for human use, errors 4 and 5
may be effectively handled identically, by simply displaying the
contents of <META> under a heading of "ERROR".  The
temporary/permanent error distinction is primarily relevant to
well-behaving automated clients.  Basic clients may also choose not to
support client-certificate authentication, in which case only four
distinct status handling routines are required (for statuses beginning
with 1, 2, 3 or a combined 4-or-5).

The full two-digit system is detailed in Appendix 1.  Note that for
each of the six valid first digits, a code with a second digit of zero
corresponds is a generic status of that kind with no special
semantics.  This means that basic servers without any advanced
functionality need only be able to return codes of 10, 20, 30, 40 or

The Gemini status code system has been carefully designed so that the
increased power (and correspondingly increased complexity) of the
second digits is entirely "opt-in" on the part of both servers and

1.3.3 Response bodies

Response bodies are just raw content, text or binary, ala gopher.
There is no support for compression, chunking or any other kind of
content or transfer encoding.  The server closes the connection after
the final byte, there is no "end of response" signal like gopher's
lonely dot.

Response bodies only accompany responses whose header indicates a
SUCCESS status (i.e. a status code whose first digit is 2).  For such
responses, <META> is a MIME media type as defined in RFC 2046.

If a MIME type begins with "text/" and no charset is explicitly given,
the charset should be assumed to be UTF-8.  Compliant clients MUST
support UTF-8-encoded text/* responses.  Clients MAY optionally
support other encodings.  Clients receiving a response in a charset
they cannot decode SHOULD gracefully inform the user what happened
instead of displaying garbage.

If <META> is an empty string, the MIME type MUST default to
"text/gemini; charset=utf-8".

1.3.4 Response body handling

Response handling by clients should be informed by the provided MIME
type information.  Gemini defines one MIME type of its own
(text/gemini) whose handling is discussed below in 1.3.5.  In all
other cases, clients should do "something sensible" based on the MIME
type.  Minimalistic clients might adopt a strategy of printing all
other text/* responses to the screen without formatting and saving
all non-text responses to the disk.  Clients for unix systems may
consult /etc/mailcap to find installed programs for handling non-text

1.3.5 text/gemini responses Overview

In the same sense that HTML is the "native" response format of HTTP
and plain text is the native response format of gopher, Gemini defines
its own native response format - though of course, thanks to the
inclusion of a MIME type in the response header Gemini can be used to
serve plain text, rich text, HTML, Markdown, LaTeX, etc.

Response bodies of type "text/gemini" are a kind of lightweight
hypertext format inspired by gophermaps.  The format is line-based.
Any line which begins with the two character prefix "=>" is a link,
analogous to a gopher menu item with an item type other than "i"
(full syntax below).  All other lines are just text and should be
presented as-is (although see, analogous to a gopher menu
item with item type "i", but without the overhead of the dummy item
type, selector, host and port. Link syntax

Link lines have the following format:

=>[<whitespace>]<URL>[<whitespace><USER-FRIENDLY LINK NAME>]<CR><LF>


* <whitespace> is any non-zero number of consecutive spaces or
* Square brackets indicate that the enclosed content is
* <URL> is a URL, which may be absolute or relative.  If the URL does
  not include a scheme, a scheme of gemini:// is implied.

All the following examples are valid links:

=> gemini://
=> gemini:// An example link
=> gemini://	Another example link at the same host
=>gemini:// Yet another example link at the same host
=> foo/bar/baz.txt	A relative link
=> 	gopher:// A gopher link

Note that link URLs may have schemes other than gemini://.  This means
that Gemini documents can simply and elegantly link to documents
hosted via other protocols, unlike gophermaps which can only link to
non-gopher content via a non-standard adaptation of the `h` item-type. Text display

Textual content for Gopher is typically "hard-wrapped", i.e. composed
of lines no longer than (typically) 80 characters.  Each line of text
is printed to the screen as-is.  In contrast, in HTML content on the
web, browsers ignore the length of lines of text and instead "reflow"
text to a width appropriate for the display device - lines of text in
a HTML file which are "too long" get split up, while consecutive
lines which are "too short" get joined together.  Gemini adopts a
strategy between these two approaches, designed to strike a balance
between implementation complexity, flexibility of display width, and
support for common text formatting patterns.

Lines of text in a text/gemini document which are not link lines (i.e.
do not begin with "=>") which are longer than can fit on a client's
display device SHOULD be "wrapped" to fit, i.e. long lines should be
split (ideally at whitespace or at hyphens) into multiple consecutive
lines of a device-appropriate width.  Recall that text/gemini
processing is strictly line-based: the above wrapping is applied to
each line of text independently.  Multiple consecutive lines which
are shorter than the client's display device MUST NOT be combined.

Blank lines receive no special treatment: they are ordinary text
lines, with a display length of zero.  Thus, they fit on any
client's display device and never need to be wrapped.  Each
individual blank line in a text/gemini document MUST be rendered by
the client as an individual blank line.

In order to take full advantage of this method of text formatting,
uthors of text/gemini content SHOULD avoid hard-wrapping to a
pecific fixed width.  Most text editors can be configured to
"soft-wrap", i.e. to write this kind of file while displaying the long
lines wrapped to fit the author's display device.

Authors who insist on hard-wrapping their content MUST be aware that
the content will display neatly on clients whose display device is as
wide as the hard-wrapped lenth or wider, but will appear with
irregular line widths on narrower clients.

1.4 TLS

1.4.1 Version requirements

Use of TLS for Gemini transactions is mandatory.

Servers MUST use TLS version 1.2 or higher and SHOULD use TLS version
1.3 or higher.  Clients MAY refuse to connect to servers using TLS
version 1.2 or lower.

1.4.2 Server certificate validation

Clients can validate TLS connections however they like (including not
at all) but the strongly RECOMMENDED approach is to implement a
lightweight "TOFU" certificate-pinning system which treats self-signed
certificates as first- class citizens.  This greatly reduces TLS
overhead on the network (only one cert needs to be sent, not a whole
chain) and lowers the barrier to entry for setting up a Gemini site
(no need to pay a CA or setup a Let's Encrypt cron job, just make a
cert and go).

TOFU stands for "Trust On First Use" and is public-key security model
similar to that used by OpenSSH.  The first time a Gemini client
connects to a server, it accepts whatever certificate it is presented.
That certificate's fingerprint and expiry date are saved in a
persistent database (like the .known_hosts file for SSH), associated
with the server's hostname.  On all subsequent connections to that
hostname, the received certificate's fingerprint is computed and
compared to the one in the database.  If the certificate is not the
one previously received, but the previous certificate's expiry date
has not passed, the user is shown a warning, analogous to the one web
browser users are shown when receiving a certificate without a
signature chain leading to a trusted CA.

This model is by no means perfect, but it is not awful and is vastly
superior to just accepting self-signed certificates unconditionally.

1.4.3 Transient client certificate sessions

Self-signed client certificates can optionally be used by Gemini
clients to permit servers to recognise subsequent requests from the
same client as belonging to a single "session".  This facilitates
maintaining state in server-side applications.  The functionality is
very similar to HTTP cookies, but with important differences.

Whereas HTTP cookies are originally created by a webserver and given
to a client via a response header, client certificates are created by
the client and given to the server as part of the TLS handshake:
Client certificates are fundamentally a client-centric means of
identification.  Further, whereas HTTP cookies can be "resurrected" by
webservers after a client deletes them if the server recognises the
client by means of browser finger-printing or some other tracking
technology (leading to unkillable "super cookies"), if a client
deletes a client certificate and also the accompanying private key
(which the server has never seen), then the session ID can never be
recreated.  Thus clients not only need to opt in to a certificate
session, but once they have done so they retain a guaranteed ability
to opt out of it at any point and the server cannot defeat this

Gemini requests typically will be made without a client certificate
being sent to the server.  If a requested resource is part of a
server-side application which requires persistent state, a Gemini
server can return a status code of 61 (see Appendix 1 below) to
request that the client repeat the request with a "transient
certificate" to initiate a client certificate section.

Interactive clients for human users MUST inform users that such a
session has been requested and require the user to approve generation
of such a certificate.  Transient certificates MUST NOT be generated

Transient certificates are limited in scope to a particular domain.
Transient certificates MUST NOT be reused across different domains.

Transient certificates MUST be permanently deleted when the matching
server issues a response with a status code of 21 (see Appendix 1

Transient certificates MUST be permanently deleted when the client
process terminates.

Transient certificates SHOULD be permanently deleted after not having
been used for more than 24 hours.

Appendix 1. Full two digit status codes


	As per definition of single-digit code 1 in 1.3.2.


	As per definition of single-digit code 2 in 1.3.2.


	The request was handled successfully and a response body will
	follow the response header.  The <META> line is a MIME media
	type which applies to the response body.  In addition, the
	server is signalling the end of a transient client certificate
	session which was previously initiated with a status 61
	response.  The client should immediately and permanently
	delete the certificate and accompanying private key which was
	used in this request.


	As per definition of single-digit code 3 in 1.3.2.


	The requested resource should be consistently requested from
	the new URL provided in future.  Tools like search engine
	indexers or content aggregators should update their
	configurations to avoid requesting the old URL, and end-user
	clients may automatically update bookmarks, etc.  Note that
	clients which only pay attention to the initial digit of
	status codes will treat this as a temporary redirect.  They
	will still end up at the right place, they just won't be able
	to make use of the knowledge that this redirect is permanent,
	so they'll pay a small performance penalty by having to follow
	the redirect each time.


	As per definition of single-digit code 4 in 1.3.2.


	The server is unavailable due to overload or maintenance.
	(cf HTTP 503)


	A CGI process, or similar system for generating dynamic
	content, died unexpectedly or timed out.


	A proxy request failed because the server was unable to
	successfully complete a transaction with the remote host.
	(cf HTTP 502, 504)


	Rate limiting is in effect.  <META> is an integer number of
	seconds which the client must wait before another request is
	made to this server.
	(cf HTTP 429)

	As per definition of single-digit code 5 in 1.3.2.


	The requested resource could not be found but may be available
	in the future.
	(cf HTTP 404)
	(struggling to remember this important status code?  Easy:
	you can't find things hidden at Area 51!)


	The resource requested is no longer available and will not be
	available again.  Search engines and similar tools should
	remove this resource from their indices.  Content aggregators
	should stop requesting the resource and convey to their human
	users that the subscribed resource is gone.
	(cf HTTP 410)


	The request was for a resource at a domain not served by the
	server and the server does not accept proxy requests.


	The server was unable to parse the client's request,
	presumably due to a malformed request.
	(cf HTTP 400)


	As per definition of single-digit code 6 in 1.3.2.


	The server is requesting the initiation of a transient client
	certificate session, as described in 1.4.3.  The client should
	ask the user if they want to accept this and, if so, generate
	a disposable key/cert pair and re-request the resource using it.
	The key/cert pair should be destroyed when the client quits,
	or some reasonable time after it was last used (24 hours?


	This resource is protected and a client certificate which the
	server accepts as valid must be used - a disposable key/cert
	generated on the fly in response to this status is not
	appropriate as the server will do something like compare the
	certificate fingerprint against a white-list of allowed
	certificates.  The client should ask the user if they want to
	use a pre-existing certificate from a stored "key chain".


	The supplied client certificate is not valid for accessing the
	requested resource.


	The supplied client certificate was not accepted because its
	validity start date is in the future.


	The supplied client certificate was not accepted because its
	expiry date has passed.