character dimensions, attribute lengths

Sorry if this has been covered repeatedly, I have searched the unidata site
and the netcdf users guide and just don't see the issue addressed directly.
It's a "best practices" question, but is not actually answered in that
document either.

I'm working on an implementation of NetCDF with a very varied group,
and the issue of string lengths is a real problem for some of them. All our
data is numeric;  attributes are often char though.

Some participants use software that requires them to specify string
lengths for char variables, I assume it's fortran but am not sure. Their
work-around is to declare these as dimensions in the netcdf file: STRING256,
STRING64, STRING32,  etc.

This seems like a misuse of the concept of dimensions in netcdf, but I'd
like to know if it's a widely accepted way to deal with the fact that strings don't exist in netcdf. I'd prefer to deal with the issue in software, and leave this out of our specification. It seems ... messy to me, but if it's commonly
done then I guess I'll stop arguing.

Thanks very much -
Nan Galbraith

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