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Old 10-09-2011, 06:54 AM
psychonaut psychonaut is online now
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As in law, the distinction between these terms (and other auxiliary verbs) is particularly important in technical documents, such as computing standards. You may be interested to know that the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the body which maintains many of the basic Internet standards, has adopted a "current best practices" memorandum, RFC 2119, on the use of "must", "must not", "required", "shall", "shall not", "should", "should not", "recommended", "may", and "optional". Here's the relevant part of the memorandum:
Quote:
Originally Posted by RFC 2119
1 MUST This word, or the terms "REQUIRED" or "SHALL", mean that the definition is an absolute requirement of the specification.

2 MUST NOT This phrase, or the phrase "SHALL NOT", mean that the definition is an absolute prohibition of the specification.

3 SHOULD This word, or the adjective "RECOMMENDED", mean that there may exist valid reasons in particular circumstances to ignore a particular item, but the full implications must be understood and carefully weighed before choosing a different course.

4 SHOULD NOT This phrase, or the phrase "NOT RECOMMENDED" mean that there may exist valid reasons in particular circumstances when the particular behavior is acceptable or even useful, but the full implications should be understood and the case carefully weighed before implementing any behavior described with this label.

5 MAY This word, or the adjective "OPTIONAL", mean that an item is truly optional. One vendor may choose to include the item because a particular marketplace requires it or because the vendor feels that it enhances the product while another vendor may omit the same item. An implementation which does not include a particular option MUST be prepared to interoperate with another implementation which does include the option, though perhaps with reduced functionality. In the same vein an implementation which does include a particular option MUST be prepared to interoperate with another implementation which does not include the option (except, of course, for the feature the option provides.)
These definitions are incorporated by reference in many Internet standards and specifications, including those not even written by the IETF.