Http2 interim meeting NYC

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

On June 5th, around thirty people sat down around a huge table in a conference room on the 4th floor in the Google offices in New York City, with a heavy rain pouring down outside.

It was time for another IETF http2 interim meeting. The attendees were all participants in the HTTPbis work group and came from a wide variety of companies and countries. The major browser vendors were represented there, and so were operators and big service providers and some proxy people. Most of the people who have been speaking up on the mailing list over the last year or so, unfortunately with a couple of people notably absent. (And before anyone asks, yes we are a group where the majority is old males like me.)

Most people present knew many of the others already, which helped to create a friendly familiar spirit and we quickly got started on the Thursday morning working our way through the rather long lits of issues to deal with. When we had our previous interim meeting in London, I think most of us though we would’ve been further along today but recent development and discussions on the list had actually brought back a lot of issues we though we were already done with and we now reiterated a whole slew of subjects. We weren’t allowed to take photographs indoors so you won’t see any pictures of this opportunity from me here.

Google offices building logo

We did close many issues and I’ll just quickly mention some of the noteworthy ones here…

Extensions

We started out with the topic of “extensions”. Should we revert the decision from Zurich (where it was decided that we shouldn’t allow extensions in http2) or was the current state of the protocol the right one? The arguments for allowing extensions included that we’d keep getting requests for new things to add unless we have a way and that some of the recent stuff we’ve added really could’ve been done as extensions instead. An argument against it is that it makes things much simpler and reliable if we just document exactly what the protocol has and is, and removing “optional” behavior from the protocol has been one of the primary mantas along the design process.

The discussion went back and forth for a long time, and after almost three hours we had kind of a draw. Nobody was firmly against “the other” alternative but the two sides also seemed to have roughly the same amount of support. Then it was yet again time for the coin toss to guide us. Martin brought out an Australian coin and … the next protocol draft will allow extensions. Again. This also forces implementation to have to read and skip all unknown frames it receives compared to the existing situation where no unknown frames can ever occur.

BLOCKED as an extension

A rather given first candidate for an extension was the BLOCKED frame. At the time BLOCKED was added to the protocol it was explicitly added into the spec because we didn’t have extensions – and it is now being lifted out into one.

ALTSVC as an extension

What received slightly more resistance was the move to move out the ALTSVC frame as well. It was argued that the frame isn’t mandatory to support and therefore easily can be made into an extension.

Simplified padding

Another small change of the wire format since draft-12 was the removal of the high byte for padding to simplify. It reduces the amount you can pad a single frame but you can easily pad more using other means if you really have to, and there were numbers presented that said that 255 bytes were enough with HTTP 1.1 already so probably it will be enough for version 2 as well.

Schedule

There will be a new draft out really soon: draft -13. Martin, our editor of the spec, says he’ll be able to ship it in a week. That is intended to be the last draft, intended for implementation and it will then be expected to get deployed rather widely to allow us all in the industry to see how it works and be able to polish details or wordings that may still need it.

We had numerous vendors and HTTP stack implementers in the room and when we discussed schedule for when various products will be able to see daylight. If we all manage to stick to the plans. we may just have plenty of products and services that support http2 by the September/October time frame. If nothing major is found in this latest draft, we’re looking at RFC status not too far into 2015.

Meeting summary

I think we’re closing in for real now and I have good hopes for the protocol and our progress to a really wide scale deployment across the Internet. The HTTPbis group is an awesome crowd to work with and I had a great time. Our hosts took good care of us and made sure we didn’t lack any services or supplies. Extra thanks go to those of you who bought me dinners and to those who took me out to good beer places!

My http2 document

Yeah, it will now become somewhat out of date and my plan is to update it once the next draft ships. I’ll also do another http2 presentation already this week so I hope to also post an updated slide set soonish. Stay tuned!

Wireshark

My plan is to cooperate with the other Wireshark hackers and help making sure we have the next draft version supported in Wireshark really soon after its published.

curl and nghttp2

Most of the differences introduced are in the binary format so nghttp2 will need to be updated again – it is the library curl uses for the wire format of http2. The curl parts will need some adjustments, for example for Content-Encoding gzip that no longer is implicit but there should be little to do in the curl code for this draft bump.

http2 in curl

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

While the first traces of http2 support in curl was added already back in September 2013 it hasn’t been until recently it actually was made useful. There’s been a lot of http2 related activities in the curl team recently and in the late January 2014 we could run our first command line inter-op tests against public http2 (draft-09) servers on the Internet.

There’s a lot to be said about http2 for those not into its nitty gritty details, but I’ll focus on the curl side of this universe in this blog post. I’ll do separate posts and presentations on http2 “internals” later.

A quick http2 overview

http2 (without the minor version, as per what the IETF work group has decided on) is a binary protocol that allows many logical streams multiplexed over the same physical TCP connection, it features compressed headers in both directions and it has stream priorities and more. It is being designed to maintain the user concepts and paradigms from HTTP 1.1 so web sites don’t have to change contents and web authors won’t need to relearn a lot. The web will not break because of http2, it will just magically work a little better, a little smoother and a little faster.

In libcurl we build http2 support with the help of the excellent library called nghttp2, which takes care of all the binary protocol details for us. You’ll also have to build it with a new enough version of the SSL library of your choice, as http2 over TLS will require use of some fairly recent TLS extensions that not many older releases have and several TLS libraries still completely lack!

The need for an extension is because with speaking TLS over port 443 which HTTPS implies, the current and former web infrastructure assumes that we will speak HTTP 1.1 over that, while we now want to be able to instead say we want to talk http2. When Google introduced SPDY then pushed for a new extension called NPN to do this, which when taken through the standardization in IETF has been forked, changed and renamed to ALPN with roughly the same characteristics (I don’t know the specific internals so I’ll stick to how they appear from the outside).

So, NPN and especially ALPN are fairly recent TLS extensions so you need a modern enough SSL library to get that support. OpenSSL and NSS both support NPN and ALPN with a recent enough version, while GnuTLS only supports ALPN. You can build libcurl to use any of these threes libraries to get it to talk http2 over TLS.

http2 using libcurl

(This still describes what’s in curl’s git repository, the first release to have this level of http2 support is the upcoming 7.36.0 release.)

Users of libcurl who want to enable http2 support will only have to set CURLOPT_HTTP_VERSION to CURL_HTTP_VERSION_2_0 and that’s it. It will make libcurl try to use http2 for the HTTP requests you do with that handle.

For HTTP URLs, this will make libcurl send a normal HTTP 1.1 request with an offer to the server to upgrade the connection to version 2 instead. If it does, libcurl will continue using http2 in the clear on the connection and if it doesn’t, it’ll continue using HTTP 1.1 on it. This mode is what Firefox and Chrome will not support.

For HTTPS URLs, libcurl will use NPN and ALPN as explained above and offer to speak http2 and if the server supports it. there will be http2 sweetness from than point onwards. Or it selects HTTP 1.1 and then that’s what will be used. The latter is also what will be picked if the server doesn’t support ALPN and NPN.

Alt-Svc and ALTSVC are new things planned to show up in time for http2 draft-11 so we haven’t really thought through how to best support them and provide their features in the libcurl API. Suggestions (and patches!) are of course welcome!

http2 with curl

Hardly surprising, the curl command line tool also has this power. You use the –http2 command line option to switch on the libcurl behavior as described above.

Translated into old-style

To reduce transition pains and problems and to work with the rest of the world to the highest possible degree, libcurl will (decompress and) translate received http2 headers into http 1.1 style headers so that applications and users will get a stream of headers that look very much the way you’re used to and it will produce an initial response line that says HTTP 2.0 blabla.

Building (lib)curl to support http2

See the README.http2 file in the lib/ directory.

This is still a draft version of http2!

I just want to make this perfectly clear: http2 is not out “for real” yet. We have tried our http2 support somewhat at the draft-09 level and Tatsuhiro has worked on the draft-10 support in nghttp2. I expect there to be at least one more draft, but perhaps even more, before http2 becomes an official RFC. We hope to be able to stay on the frontier of http2 and deliver support for the most recent draft going forward.

PS. If you try any of this and experience any sort of problems, please speak to us on the curl-library mailing list and help us smoothen out whatever problem you got!

cURL