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Dictionary Maintenance Working Group: Report

  • To: Multiple recipients of list <comcifs-l@iucr.org>
  • Subject: Dictionary Maintenance Working Group: Report
  • From: Brian McMahon <bm@iucr.org>
  • Date: Fri, 30 Jul 1999 13:58:03 +0100 (BST)
Dear Colleagues

Please find attached the draft final report of the COMCIFS technical
working group on dictionary maintenance. The working group was established 
in August 1997 following the ACA meeting at St Louis to investigate the
mechanisms required to allow CIF dictionaries developed and maintained at
various locations to act as a coherent distributed dictionary. The brief was
wide ranging, and covered administration of requested updates to public
dictionaries, reservation of namespaces for private dictionaries, resolution
of dictionary locations, versioning information, and layering of local
dictionaries on top of public ones. A preliminary report was given at the
mmCIF workshop at Rutgers University in October 1997, and several of the
early recommendations have been implemented for the mmCIF community.

The report below is attached in the hope that you will be able to read it
before or during the Glasgow congress, and that it can be accepted, in whole
or in part, during the COMCIFS business meeting.

My thanks are due to my co-workers John Westbrook and Herbert Bernstein,
who contributed a great deal to the work. They bear no responsibility for
its unnecessarily long gestation.

With best wishes
Brian

------------------------------------------------------------------------------
COMCIFS Working Group on Dictionary Maintenance
===============================================

Brian McMahon, John Westbrook, Herbert Bernstein

Draft Final report

27 July 1999

Introduction
------------
As the number of formal and informal uses of STAR and CIF grows, it
becomes increasingly important to have a clear understanding of what
defines a valid CIF data set. Particularly as cross-disciplinary
investigations become more common, it becomes essential to understand how to
merge CIFs from multiple disciplines, and to ensure efficient and
reliable transitions among versions of dictionaries.

Here we propose some mechanisms to ensure coherent interactions among
evolving definitions of CIFs for various domains of science.

Whether being done by an individual author or by the IUCr through
COMCIFS, the ground rules for extending the language are the same:

Once a definition has been given for a tag, then all CIFs written
using that tag must have the original meaning preserved forever.  This
does not mean that the definition of a tag may not be changed.  Errors
can and should be corrected, and definitions extended, but all of this
must be done in an upwards compatible way - once CIFs have been
created using a tag defined in a certain way, it would cause endless
confusion if years later, when those CIFs were validated against a
later dictionary, the meaning of what had been written in the past
were to be changed.  If a new concept is to be expressed, don't
recycle an old tag, create a new one.

If new tags are to be defined, they must be presented in a dictionary
conforming to the rules of the DDL appropriate to the domain involved.

Problems arise when multiple groups wish to make extensions with
similar tags.  COMCIFS will resolve conflicts involving official
dictionaries, but a standard protocol is needed to minimize conflicts
among local extensions made in different laboratories.

We give rules for concatenation, inclusion or overlay of one or more
dictionary files or, possibly, fragments of data files to build a
notional "virtual dictionary". The dictionary structures built in memory
by a validation application may not be exact images of this notional
dictionary file, but it is a convenient model for discussing how to
assemble dictionary fragments.

Six components of dictionary maintenance are identified and discussed below.
   1. Identify dictionaries
   2. Locate dictionaries
   3. Reserve namespaces
   4. Add to official dictionaries
   5. Merge dictionaries
   6. Versioning tools

A summary of the major recommendations arising from the discussion is given in
section 7.


1. Identification of dictionaries
---------------------------------
If one is to validate the data names appearing in a CIF data file, one must
know what dictionary it is appropriate to validate against. The process is
bidirectional; the CIF must identify the dictionary or dictionaries against
which it is claimed to be compliant; and when those dictionaries have been
retrieved, there must be internal confirmation that they are the files
required. These issues are addressed in reverse order below. Note that an
application seeking to validate a data file should not consider the file
invalid if a data name is found that has no definition in the dictionaries
referenced. The CIF standard permits the incorporation of local and
standard names in any data file. Nevertheless, it is recommended as good
practice that all data names in a CIF should be able to be validated against
dictionary files, including locally constructed dictionaries.


(a) internal identification
---------------------------
For DDL1 dictionaries, the dictionaries are identified internally by
three fields; thus for the current working version of the core:
     _dictionary_name               cif_core.dic
     _dictionary_version            2.1
     _dictionary_update             1999-03-24

Each unique edition of a dictionary should have a unique triad of values
for these names. Each release version should have a different value of
_dictionary_version (minor revisions and bug fixes will take the form
2.1, 2.1.1 etc.). The structure of _dictionary_name is
<star-type>_<application>.dic

This convention will be enforced (by COMCIFS) on new dictionaries. The
original published core has instead:
     _compliance                    'CIF Dictionary (Core 1991)'

The implicit values for this file are
     _dictionary_name               cif_core.dic
     _dictionary_version            1.0
     _dictionary_update             1991-09-20

For DDL2, the equivalent identifiers are _dictionary.title,
_dictionary.version; the revision history is itemised with the data
names _dictionary_history.version, _dictionary_history.update, and
_dictionary_history.revision

As matters stand at present in DDL2 dictionaries (e.g. mmCIF), the
dictionary identification and history items are set in the single data block
that has scope over the entire file (this differs from practice in DDL1
dictionaries, where each definition is in a separate data block). It is
proposed that the dictionary information be stored in its own save frame in
future revisions of DDL2 dictionaries, so that dictionary naming and versioning 
can be handled at an application level when dictionaries are merged (as
discussed later).

(b) compliance certification
----------------------------
Data files should certify the dictionaries against which they may be validated 
with data names from the AUDIT_CONFORM category, e.g.
     _audit_conform_dict_name       cif_core.dic
     _audit_conform_dict_version    2.0
[for DDL2 files, _audit_conform.dict_name and _audit_conform.dict_version].
These data names may be looped when there are multiple dictionaries.

Ideally, the various _audit_ items (in categories such as AUDIT,
AUDIT_CONFORM, AUDIT_LINK, AUDIT_AUTHOR and AUDIT_CONTACT_AUTHOR)
should relate only to the creation and update of the current data
block. An attempt to encourage this has been made in the wording of
the definitions in the current core and mmCIF dictionaries.

We should enforce the rule that _audit_ items refer only to the
current data block, so that a file containing multiple data blocks
must repeat its _audit_ lists in each data block.


2. Location of dictionaries
---------------------------
The core data name _audit_conform_dict_location [_audit_conform.dict_location]
permits a data file to specify a filename or URL identifying the location of
the dictionary file referred to by _audit_conform_dict_name and *_version.

However, it is recommended that this data name be used only to locate local
dictionaries. To guard against changing file names or URLs, and to grant
access to the most current version of any dictionary, public dictionaries
are best located using a public registry. It is proposed that COMCIFS
maintain such a registry. An example of the contents of such a registry
(expressed of course as a STAR File) is given in Appendix 1. Note how the
example permits dictionaries local to a particular application or laboratory
to be made publicly available if so required.

It is possible to reference both public and local dictionaries: a value
of '.' for _audit_conform_dict_location implies that the location should
be obtained from the public registry information; e.g.
     loop_
         _audit_conform_dict_name
         _audit_conform_dict_version
         _audit_conform_dict_location
           cif_core.dic  2.1   .
           cif_pd.dic    1.0   .
           cif_my.dic    1.0   /usr/local/dics/my_local_dictionary
(In this example the dictionary file location is given as an absolute path
name, and hence is valid on only one machine or network.)

In detail, the recommendations for locating and loading dictionaries are as
follows.

(a) COMCIFS shall construct and maintain a registry of known
dictionaries.  The values that must have a unique value for each entry
are the combination of _dic.name and _dic.version.  Local dictionaries
appropriate to local data names with a reserved prefix "foo" may be
assigned the identifier cif_local_foo.dic, and their locations may be
registered as publicly accessible URLs if their maintainers are
willing to allow them to be visible to external validation software.
This file will be maintained by COMCIFS at a public and stable URL.
 
(b) Dictionary validation software source shall be distributed with a
copy of the most recent version of the above file, and with the URL of
the master copy hard coded. Library utilities should be provided that
permit local cacheing of the registry file, and the ability to
download and replace the cached register at periodic intervals.
Individual dictionary files located through the use of the registry
should also be cached locally.

(c) Each data file should contain a reference to one or more dictionary
files against which the file should be validated. This will comprise
minimally _audit_conform_dict_name [_audit_conform.dict_name for DDL2 
files] (N), and optionally *_version (V) and *_location (L). In the event
that no dictionaries are specified, the default validation dictionary
should be that identified as having N="cif_core.dic" and V="."
(i.e. the most recent version of the core dictionary). Since
dictionaries are intended always to be extended, it normally suffices
to specify only the name (and possibly location).

(d) A dictionary validation application should try to load the
referenced validation dictionaries according to the following
protocol.

If N, V and L are all given, try to load the file found at location L,
or a locally cached copy of the file thus referenced. If this
fails, raise a warning. Then search the dictionary registry for
entries matching the given N and V. If successful, try to load the
file at the location given by the matching entry (or a locally cached
copy). If this fails, try to load files identified from the registry
with the same N but progressively older versions V (version numbering
takes the form n.m.l..., where n, m, l, ... are integers referring to
progressively less significant revision levels). Version '.' should be
accessed prior to any other numbered version. If this attempt fails,
raise a warning indicating that the desired dictionary could not be
located.

If N and V are given, try to load locally cached or master copies of
the files with location given in the registry file, in the order
stated above, viz:
     - the version number V specified
     - the version with version number indicated as '.'
     - progressively older versions
Success in other than the first instance should be accompanied by a
warning message specifying the revision actually loaded.

If only N is given, try to load files identified in the registry by
     - the version with version number indicated as '.'
     - progressively older versions

If all efforts to load a referenced dictionary fail, the
validation application should raise a warning.

If all efforts to load all referenced dictionaries fail, the
validation application should raise an error.

(e) For any dictionary file successfully loaded according to the
protocol stipulated in (d), the validation application must scan the
file for internal identifiers (_dictionary_name, _dictionary_version)
and ensure that they match the values of N and V (where V is not
"."). Failure in matching should raise an error.


3. Reserved namespaces
----------------------
For official CIF dictionaries it may be taken as a responsibility of COMCIFS
to check at the approval stage that no data name clashes with any currently
registered in the existing official dictionaries. For local dictionaries
(files defining additional data names), a registry of reserved prefixes
is maintained by COMCIFS. See
 	http://www.iucr.org/iucr-top/cif/spec/reserved.html
for a proposed documentation of the conventions and procedures involved.

The reserved prefix is simply an underscore-bounded string within the data
name: for DDL1 applications it must be the first such component of the
data name; for DDL2 applications the first component of the data name if
describing data names in a category not defined in the official dictionaries;
or the first component after the period character (category delimiter)
if the local data name is an extension to an existing category.

The registry of reserved prefixes maintained as described in
http://www.iucr.org/iucr-top/cif/spec/reserved.html should include the
additional convention that a local dictionary defining data names with
reserved prefix foo will be identified by the dictionary name cif_local_foo.dic

The character string "[local]" shall not be used in any COMCIFS-approved
dictionary-defined tag, so that tags constructed with "[local]" in any
position will never conflict with tags in any official dictionary. This can
facilitate development work with tags that might in future be offered as
new public ones.

It would be prudent for any group planning any interchange of CIFs with
such tags to combine the "[local]" construct with a properly registered
prefix, such as "_foo" to make "_foo_[local]"; but for purely local
work involving only official dictionaries combined with local efforts,
only "[local]" somewhere within a tag would be necessary to avoid conflicts.

In order to resolve conflicts among local dictionaries and to facilitate
mapping the namespaces of local dictionaries into the namespace of official
dictionaries when particular local dictionaries achieve community
acceptance, a "cifmap" program is proposed which maps tags in both
CIFs and dictionaries to new namespaces, either tag-by-tag or in
blocks. In order to preserve the integrity of CIFs using the unmapped
dictionary, the remapped dictionary should not be given the same name as
the original.  The mapped dictionary is not a version of the original
dictionary.  It is a different dictionary

The exact syntax of the commands to cifmap should be discussed
and made as user-friendly as possible.  Since our context is CIF, it
seems natural to make the mapping into a loop, e.g.:
   loop_
      _cifmap_map.from
      _cifmap_map.to
      _cifmap_map.regex
      _cifmap_map.comments
      _cifmap_map.quoted_strings
           '_some_original_tag'     '_some_target_tag'       no  yes  yes
           '*_xyz_\[local\]'        '${1}_qrs_\[local\]'    yes  yes   no
           '*[.|_]abc_\[local\]*    '${1}${2}defghi_${3}'   yes   no  yes



4. Addition to official dictionaries
------------------------------------
As the official dictionaries become larger and more complex, it is useful to
have a mechanism allowing additions to be listed, tested and modified in an
orderly fashion before full integration with the official dictionary. An
administrative mechanism has been established for the mmCIF dictionary, and can 
serve as a model for other dictionaries. The mmCIF approach is as follows.

An editorial board has been appointed, to which new data items may be
submitted. The board members have responsibility for the scientific content of
the new items; they work alongside technical editors responsible for ensuring
that the new definitions are compliant with the dictionary syntax.

Proposed extensions to the dictionary are submitted to the mmCIF web server in
the form of a dictionary entry. To facilitate this, a definition template
is available on the mmCIF server via the URL
     http://ndbserver.rutgers.edu/NDB/mmcif/dict-templates/index.html

Proposed definitions receive a preliminary review by the editorial staff and
are then sent to the appropriate board member(s) for scientific content review.
The reviewers receive full dictionary definitions and return them with
corrections and/or modifications.

Once definitions have been approved they are put into a provisional extensions
dictionary. If the proposed data item was submitted with a local data name
prefix, that prefix is removed in the entry in the extensions dictionary, but
an alias to the local dictionary name (with the extension) is retained. A
policy for retention times for these aliases is under discussion within the
mmCIF community.

The provisional dictionary is made available on the mmCIF server and updated
on a continuing basis. Members of the community at large are encouraged to
monitor the evolution of the extensions dictionary via the mmCIF web page,
and to comment on all new data items via the mmCIF list server.

When the extensions dictionary has been formally approved by COMCIFS, the new
data items are incorporated into the parent mmCIF dictionary.

It is recommended that other dictionary maintenance groups study this model
and consider offering it within their own communities. A set of definition
templates should be constructed for DDL1 dictionaries.


5. Merging dictionaries
-----------------------
Suppose that one wishes to validate a data file against the core
dictionary, except that one wishes to modify the enumeration range of one
or more data items. (For example, the core dictionary permits
_atom_site_attached_hydrogens an enumeration range of 0 to 8; but one
might wish to validate well-behaved organic molecules where anything
above 4 almost certainly represents a mistake.) It would seem
laborious to create an alternative dictionary of the same size as the
core simply for this one change.

Here is a suggested protocol for extending, replacing and merging
dictionary definition fragments. (The terminology "dictionary
fragment" refers here to a physical file which contains one or more
data blocks or save frames containing complete or partial sets of
attributes associated with data names that are identified in the
relevant dictionary data block or save frame through the item "_name"
or "_item.name".)

(a) Assemble and load all dictionary fragments against which the
current data block will be validated. The order of presentation is
important. Dictionary fragments should be assembled in the order cited
by a data file.  A dictionary validation application may accept a list
of additional dictionary fragments to PREPEND to, REPLACE, or APPEND
to the list referenced internally.

(b) Define three modes in which name collisions in the aggregate
dictionary file may be resolved, called STRICT, REPLACE and OVERLAY.

(c) Scan the aggregate dictionary files in the order of
loading. Assemble for each data name a composite definition frame
thus, depending on the mode in which the validation application is
working:

    STRICT: If a data name appears to be multiply defined, generate a
fatal error
    REPLACE: All attributes previously stored for the conflicting data
name are expunged, and only the attributes in the later data block
(or save frame) containing the definition are preserved
    OVERLAY: New attributes are added to those already stored for the
data name; conflicting attributes replace those already stored

Appendix 2 describes the process in more detail for a DDL1.4 dictionary,
and Appendix 3 gives some examples.

This protocol permits the creation of a coherent virtual dictionary from
several different dictionary files or fragments. Although it must be used with
care, it permits different levels of validation based on dictionary-driven
methods, without modifying the original dictionary files themselves.


6. Versioning tools
-------------------
Though we all desire dictionary stability in order to avoid confusion and
to keep software from breaking, change is a constant of the progress of
science.  New dictionaries for new applications of CIF will be needed and
new versions of existing dictionaries will be needed. Further, retrieval of a
specific previous version may be required to resolve anomalies or difficulties
in data file validation.  When there was just a core dictionary changing every
few years, almost any mechanism of managing such changes would work.  As we
enter a period of multiple dictionaries and rapid rates of change, a
rigorous approach to revision control will help to ensure a stability of use
even while the dictionaries themselves change.

A single application may need to work with a virtual dictionary
created from multiple official dictionaries and one or more local
dictionaries by layering the definitions from each dictionary onto
those of the others. A general long-term implementation of this approach may
require extensions to the DDLs to allow precise specification of dictionary
deletions and insertions, including changes to comments and of lines
within text fields, and a merging of virtual dictionary management
software into a variant of the popular Unix revision control system,
rcs, with some improvements to provide a simple CIF-editor interface
and better protection against file corruption than rcs provides.  The
resulting software suite could well be called cifrcs.


7. Recommendations
------------------
(1) A registry of reserved prefixes should be maintained by COMCIFS to permit
    software developers exclusive use of a reserved namespace.
    [Comment: this is already in place at the URL published in the main body of 
    the report.]
(2) COMCIFS should maintain a registry of known dictionaries mapping dictionary
    identifiers against real URLs.
(3) Dictionary files for validation should be located and loaded with
    reference to the registry. 
(4) The data names _audit_conform_dict_name, *_version and *_location 
    (or their DDL2 equivalents) should be included in each data block of a
    data file.
(5) A virtual dictionary may be constructed by prepending, replacing or
    appending external dictionary files to the list specified in the
    _audit_conform_ items of a data block. 
(6) The protocol for merging dictionaries as outlined in section 5 of this
    report should be approved and published.
(7) Mechanisms should be established by dictionary maintenance groups to permit
    suggestions for new data names to be received from the public, reviewed
    and incorporated into subsequent revisions of public dictionaries.
    [Comment: the mmCIF model is commended but may not be appropriate for all
    communities.]


APPENDIX 1. An example dictionary registry file
-----------------------------------------------
data_validation_dictionaries 
    loop_
      _dic.name
      _dic.version
      _dic.DDL_compliance
      _dic.reserved_prefix
      _dic.URL
      _dic.description
      _dic.maintainer_name
      _dic.maintainer_email
    cif_core.dic
      .  1.4   .               ftp://ftp.iucr.org/pub/cifdics/cif_core.dic
      'Core CIF Dictionary'           'B. McMahon' bm@iucr.org
    cif_core.dic
      1.0   1.4   .            ftp://ftp.iucr.org/pub/cifdics/cifdic.C91
      'Original Core CIF Dictionary'  'B. McMahon' bm@iucr.org
    cif_core.dic
      2.0.1   1.4   .          ftp://ftp.iucr.org/pub/cifdics/cif_core_2.0.1.dic
      'Core CIF Dictionary'           'B. McMahon' bm@iucr.org
    cif_core.dic
      2.1     1.4   .          ftp://ftp.iucr.org/pub/cifdics/cif_core_2.1.dic
      'Core CIF Dictionary'           'B. McMahon' bm@iucr.org
    cif_pd.dic
      1.0   1.4   .            ftp://ftp.iucr.org/pub/cifdics/cif_pd_1.0.dic
      'Powder CIF Dictionary'         'B.H. Toby' Brian.Toby@NIST.GOV
    cif_mm.dic
      1.0   2.1.2   .          ftp://ftp.iucr.org/pub/cifdics/cif_mm_1.0.dic
      'Macromolecular CIF Dictionary' 'P.M.D.F. Fitzgerald'
      paula_fitzgerald@merck.com
    cif_local_iucr.dic
      1.0   1.4   iucr         ftp://ftp.iucr.org/pub/cifdics/cifdic.iucr
      'IUCr journal use'              'B. McMahon' bm@iucr.org
    cif_local_xtal.dic
      1.0   1.4   xtal         ftp://ftp.crystal.uwa.edu.au/pub/cifdic.xtal
      'Xtal program system'           'S.R. Hall' syd@crystal.uwa.edu.au
    cif_local_shelx.dic
      1.0   1.4   shelx      .        'SHELX solution and refinement programs'
      'G.M. Sheldrick' gsheldr@shelx.uni-ac.gwdg.de
    cif_local_gsas.dic
      1.0   1.4   gsas       .   'GSAS powder refinement system' 'A. Larson' .
    cif_local_cgraph.dic
      1.0   1.4   cgraph       ftp://ftp.OxfordCryosystems.co.uk/foo.bar
      'Oxford Cryosystems Crystallographica package'
      'A. Renshaw' alex@OxfordCryosystems.co.uk
    cif_local_ccdc.dic
      1.0   1.4   ccdc        ftp://ftp.ccdc.cam.ac.uk/foo.bar
      'Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre' 'F.H. Allen'  
      allen@ccdc.cam.ac.uk



APPENDIX 2: Merging or overlay of dictionaries with respect to DDL 1.4
----------------------------------------------------------------------
[Imagine a hypothetical dictionary merge operation
    cifdiccreate -mode OVERLAY a.dic b.dic > c.dic]

(1) a.dic and b.dic should each have at most one datablock containing the
data names _dictionary_name and _dictionary_version (with, optionally,
_dictionary_update and _dictionary_history). The *_name and *_version
together identify uniquely the dictionary file, and should match
corresponding entries in the IUCr registry if this is a public dictionary.
This information is conventionally stored in a datablock named
data_on_this_dictionary.

In DDL1.4, all four of _dictionary_name, *_version, *_update and
*_history are scalars, i.e. may not be looped. So a possible protocol
for constructing the new dictionary identifier section in the
resultant c.dic is the following:

   1. Create a datablock data_on_this_dictionary at the top of c.dic.
   2. If a dictionary name is supplied (via command-line switch
"-dname" for example) write this as the value of _dictionary_name;
otherwise generate a pseudo-unique string (e.g. concatenate the
hostid, pid and current date string on a Unix system).
   3. If a dictionary version number is supplied (via command-line
switch "-dversion" for example) write this as the value of
_dictionary_version; otherwise supply the value "1.0".
   4. Supply the current date in the format yyyy-mm-dd as the value of
_dictionary_update.
   5. Create a composite _dictionary_history by concatenation of the
individual _dictionary_history fragments.

(2) COMCIFS has currently undertaken not to use STAR global_
constructs in CIF data dictionaries. However, there is a global_ section
in the DDL1.4 dictionary, and we should perhaps plan for future instances.
For our purposes, we presume that each datablock within the primitive file
following a global_ statement implements the global assignments
according to the standard STAR rules. That is, in the case of DDL1.4
itself, the global_ statement "_list no" is implemented in each
successive datablock unless that datablock already contains a
different "_list" statement. The global assignment does not extend
across file boundaries (i.e. in our example, a global_ in a.dic is
expanded only to the end of the file a.dic, and not applied to
b.dic). All global_'s are expanded in the merge process and no global_
statement is written to c.dic.

(3) There is no deep significance to the ordering of datablocks
(containing definitions) in dictionaries, though they are conventionally
sorted alphabetically. For convenience, datablocks should be written out
in the order in which they are encountered in the input primitive
dictionary files, except that definitions modified by subsequent entries
remain in their initial location.

(4) We propose the following procedure. Load a datablock
from the first dictionary file. Locate the '_name' tag. (Because _name
may be looped, there may be more than one value. For now, we assume
there's a single value of _name.) Search the next dictionary file for
a datablock containing the same value of '_name'. Load the contents of
that datablock.

(a) If the new datablock contains only data items
that do not appear in the first datablock, they are simply
concatenated with those already present.

(b) If the new datablock contains a scalar data item already present in the
first datablock (i.e. with "_list no") discard the stored attributes.

(c) If the new datablock contains data items that may be looped and
that occur in the first datablock, build a new composite table of
values in this way:
      (i) construct a valid loop header if necessary
      (ii) do not repeat identical sets of values (i.e. collapse
identical table rows)
      (iii) if it is possible to identify the category key, then issue
a fatal warning and die if there are identical instances of a key
value (after the normalisation of step (ii) has occurred)
      (iv) else append new rows to the table

When the new composite datablock has been built according to these
principles, search the next dictionary file specified and repeat.



APPENDIX 3: Examples
--------------------
We consider how a hypothetical validation program "dictcheck" might validate a
data file against a range of local validation dictionaries.

Here is an example: a data file test.cif includes the fragment
    _audit_conform_dict_name   'official'
    _dummy                     1234.5

The entry for "_dummy" in the dictionary "official" looks like this:
    data_dummy
    _name               '_dummy'
    _type                numb
    _enumeration_range   0:          # i.e. any positive number

A local validation dictionary dict_A has entry
    data_dummy_modified
    _name               '_dummy'
    _enumeration_range   0:1000

A local validation dictionary dict_B has entry
    data_dummy
    _name               '_dummy'
    _type_extended       integer

A local validation dictionary dict_C has entry
    data_dummy
    _name               '_dummy'
    _type                char

Here is an analysis of some runs of the notional dictcheck application.

dictcheck test.cif
    The data item is valid (assuming dictcheck was able to locate and load
    the dictionary "official".

dictcheck -mode STRICT -A "dict_A" test.cif
    An attempt is made to define the data name "_dummy" in two dictionaries;
    the validation process fails.

dictcheck -mode OVERLAY -A "dict_A" test.cif
    The value of _dummy is invalid, because the latest enumeration range
    restricts its value from 0 to 1000.

dictcheck -mode OVERLAY -P "dict_A" test.cif
    The value of _dummy is valid, because dict_A is prepended to the list of
    dictionary fragments scanned, so that the last enumeration range stored
    is 0:

dictcheck -mode OVERLAY -A "dict_B" test.cif
    An additional attribute (_type_extended, a local attribute presumed to
    be understood by the validation software) is overlaid on the properties
    of _dummy, and its value is now invalid because it is not an integer.

dictcheck -mode REPLACE -A "dict_B" test.cif
    The _type_extended attribute is now present, but the original _type
    attribute has been lost (mode REPLACE expunges any stored information).
    I suggest that whether or not this is an error is application dependent.

dictcheck -mode REPLACE -A "dict_C" test.cif
    The value of "_dummy" is invalid, because it is not of type char.

dictcheck -mode OVERLAY -A "dict_C" test.cif
    Now there is an inconsistency in the "virtual dictionary" - the
    definition block for "_dummy" has effectively two attributes
        _type                char
        _enumeration_range   0:
    which are incompatible, because an attempt has been made to impose
    a numeric range on a character value.

An OVERLAY example: a.dic has the following entry:

   data_cell_volume
    _name                      '_cell_volume'
    _category                    cell
    _type                        numb
    _type_conditions             esd
    _enumeration_range           0.0:
    _units                       A^3^
    _units_detail              'cubic angstroms'
    _definition
;              Cell volume V in angstroms cubed.
;

b.dic has this datablock:

   data_cell_volume_additional
    _name                      '_cell_volume'
    _type_construct      '[+-]?[1-9][0-9]*\.?[0-9]*\(([1-9]?[0-9]*)\)?'
    _example                   123.4

These are merged to create the legitimate datablock

   data_cell_volume
    _name                      '_cell_volume'
    _category                    cell
    _type                        numb
    _type_conditions             esd
    _enumeration_range           0.0:
    _units                       A^3^
    _units_detail              'cubic angstroms'
    _definition
;              Cell volume V in angstroms cubed.
;
    _type_construct      '[+-]?[1-9][0-9]*\.?[0-9]*\(([1-9]?[0-9]*)\)?' 
    _example                   123.4

Now suppose we merge an additional datablock from another file,

   data_cell_volume_additional  # same name, but OK - in a different file
    _name                      '_cell_volume'
    _example                   4567.8
    _example_detail            'large cell'

The resultant looks like this:   
   data_cell_volume            
    _name                      '_cell_volume' 
    _category                    cell 
    _type                        numb 
    _type_conditions             esd 
    _enumeration_range           0.0: 
    _units                       A^3^ 
    _units_detail              'cubic angstroms' 
    _definition
;              Cell volume V in angstroms cubed. 
;   
    _type_construct      '[+-]?[1-9][0-9]*\.?[0-9]*\(([1-9]?[0-9]*)\)?'
    loop_ _example  _example_detail     123.4           .
                                       4567.8          'large cell'

Now try to merge in another datablock,

 data_cell_volume_more
    _name                      '_cell_volume'
    loop_ _example  _example_detail     4567.8          'large cell'
                                         123.4          'small cell'
    _units                       A^3^

This now causes a fatal error. Note first that the first row in the
"_example" table duplicates the second row in the preceding example, but this
is not an error; the second occurrence of " 4567.8  'large cell'" is simply
discarded. However, the next row conflicts with an existing row containing
an identical key value, and this IS an error.
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