curl ootw happy eyeballs timeout

Previous options of the week.

This week’s option has no short option and the long name is indeed quite long:

--happy-eyeballs-timeout-ms <milliseconds>

This option was added to curl 7.59.0, March 2018 and is very rarely actually needed.

To understand this command line option, I think I should make a quick recap of what “happy eyeballs” is exactly and what timeout in there that this command line option is referring to!

Happy Eyeballs

This is the name of a standard way of connecting to a host (a server really in curl’s case) that has both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.

When curl resolves the host name and gets a list of IP addresses back for it, it will try to connect to the host over both IPv4 and IPv6 in parallel, concurrently. The first of these connects that completes its handshake is considered the winner and the other connection attempt then gets ditched and is forgotten. To complicate matters a little more, a host name can resolve to a list of addresses of both IP versions and if a connect to one of the addresses fails, curl will attempt the next in a way so that IPv4 addresses and IPv6 addresses will be attempted, simultaneously, until one succeeds.

curl races connection attempts against each other. IPv6 vs IPv4.

Of course, if a host name only has addresses in one IP version, curl will only use that specific version.

Happy Eyeballs Timeout

For hosts having both IPv6 and IPv4 addresses, curl will first fire off the IPv6 attempt and then after a timeout, start the first IPv4 attempt. This makes curl prefer a quick IPv6 connect.

The default timeout from the moment the first IPv6 connect is issued until the first IPv4 starts, is 200 milliseconds. (The Happy Eyeballs RFC 6555 claims Firefox and Chrome both use a 300 millisecond delay, but I’m not convinced this is actually true in current versions.)

By altering this timeout, you can shift the likeliness of one or the other connect to “win”.

Example: change the happy eyeballs timeout to the same value said to be used by some browsers (300 milliseconds):

curl --happy-eyeballs-timeout-ms 300 https://example.com/

Happy Eyeballs++

There’s a Happy Eyeballs version two, defined in RFC 8305. It takes the concept a step further and suggests that a client such as curl should start the first connection already when the first name resolve answers come in and not wait for all the responses to arrive before it starts the racing.

curl does not do that level “extreme” Happy Eyeballing because of two simple reasons:

1. there’s no portable name resolving function that gives us data in that manner. curl won’t start the actual connection procedure until the name resolution phase is completed, in its entirety.

2. getaddrinfo() returns addresses in a defined order that is hard to follow if we would side-step that function as described in RFC 8305.

Taken together, my guess is that very few internet clients today actually implement Happy Eyeballs v2, but there’s little to no reason for anyone to not implement the original algorithm.

Curios extra

curl has done Happy Eyeballs connections since 7.34.0 (December 2013) and yet we had this lingering bug in the code that made it misbehave at times, only just now fixed and not shipped in a release yet. This bug makes curl sometimes retry the same failing IPv6 address multiple times while the IPv4 connection is slow.

Related options

--connect-timeout limits how long to spend trying to connect and --max-time limits the entire curl operation to a fixed time.

2 thoughts on “curl ootw happy eyeballs timeout”

    1. @Craig: yes, it certainly can. Firefox has that bug filed that says they should implement it that way, and maybe if/when the browsers go in that direction we will as well. I think I prefer to be a little more conservative with alt-svc until then.

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