Category Archives: Network

Internet. Networking.

HTTP/2 connection coalescing

Section 9.1.1 in RFC7540 explains how HTTP/2 clients can reuse connections. This is my lengthy way of explaining how this works in reality.

Many connections in HTTP/1

With HTTP/1.1, browsers are typically using 6 connections per origin (host name + port). They do this to overcome the problems in HTTP/1 and how it uses TCP – as each connection will do a fair amount of waiting. Plus each connection is slow at start and therefore limited to how much data you can get and send quickly, you multiply that data amount with each additional connection. This makes the browser get more data faster (than just using one connection).

6 connections

Add sharding

Web sites with many objects also regularly invent new host names to trigger browsers to use even more connections. A practice known as “sharding”. 6 connections for each name. So if you instead make your site use 4 host names you suddenly get 4 x 6 = 24 connections instead. Mostly all those host names resolve to the same IP address in the end anyway, or the same set of IP addresses. In reality, some sites use many more than just 4 host names.

24 connections

The sad reality is that a very large percentage of connections used for HTTP/1.1 are only ever used for a single HTTP request, and a very large share of the connections made for HTTP/1 are so short-lived they actually never leave the slow start period before they’re killed off again. Not really ideal.

One connection in HTTP/2

With the introduction of HTTP/2, the HTTP clients of the world are going toward using a single TCP connection for each origin. The idea being that one connection is better in packet loss scenarios, it makes priorities/dependencies work and reusing that single connections for many more requests will be a net gain. And as you remember, HTTP/2 allows many logical streams in parallel over that single connection so the single connection doesn’t limit what the browsers can ask for.

Unsharding

The sites that created all those additional host names to make the HTTP/1 browsers use many connections now work against the HTTP/2 browsers’ desire to decrease the number of connections to a single one. Sites don’t want to switch back to using a single host name because that would be a significant architectural change and there are still a fair number of HTTP/1-only browsers still in use.

Enter “connection coalescing”, or “unsharding” as we sometimes like to call it. You won’t find either term used in RFC7540, as it merely describes this concept in terms of connection reuse.

Connection coalescing means that the browser tries to determine which of the remote hosts that it can reach over the same TCP connection. The different browsers have slightly different heuristics here and some don’t do it at all, but let me try to explain how they work – as far as I know and at this point in time.

Coalescing by example

Let’s say that this cool imaginary site “example.com” has two name entries in DNS: A.example.com and B.example.com. When resolving those names over DNS, the client gets a list of IP address back for each name. A list that very well may contain a mix of IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. One list for each name.

You must also remember that HTTP/2 is also only ever used over HTTPS by browsers, so for each origin speaking HTTP/2 there’s also a corresponding server certificate with a list of names or a wildcard pattern for which that server is authorized to respond for.

In our example we start out by connecting the browser to A. Let’s say resolving A returns the IPs 192.168.0.1 and 192.168.0.2 from DNS, so the browser goes on and connects to the first of those addresses, the one ending with “1”. The browser gets the server cert back in the TLS handshake and as a result of that, it also gets a list of host names the server can deal with: A.example.com and B.example.com. (it could also be a wildcard like “*.example.com”)

If the browser then wants to connect to B, it’ll resolve that host name too to a list of IPs. Let’s say 192.168.0.2 and 192.168.0.3 here.

Host A: 192.168.0.1 and 192.168.0.2
Host B: 192.168.0.2 and 192.168.0.3

Now hold it. Here it comes.

The Firefox way

Host A has two addresses, host B has two addresses. The lists of addresses are not the same, but there is an overlap – both lists contain 192.168.0.2. And the host A has already stated that it is authoritative for B as well. In this situation, Firefox will not make a second connect to host B. It will reuse the connection to host A and ask for host B’s content over that single shared connection. This is the most aggressive coalescing method in use.

one connection

The Chrome way

Chrome features a slightly less aggressive coalescing. In the example above, when the browser has connected to 192.168.0.1 for the first host name, Chrome will require that the IPs for host B contains that specific IP for it to reuse that connection.  If the returned IPs for host B really are 192.168.0.2 and 192.168.0.3, it clearly doesn’t contain 192.168.0.1 and so Chrome will create a new connection to host B.

Chrome will reuse the connection to host A if resolving host B returns a list that contains the specific IP of the connection host A is already using.

The Edge and Safari ways

They don’t do coalescing at all, so each host name will get its own single connection. Better than the 6 connections from HTTP/1 but for very sharded sites that means a lot of connections even in the HTTP/2 case.

curl also doesn’t coalesce anything (yet).

Surprises and a way to mitigate them

Given some comments in the Firefox bugzilla, the aggressive coalescing sometimes causes some surprises. Especially when you have for example one IPv6-only host A and a second host B with both IPv4 and IPv4 addresses. Asking for data on host A can then still use IPv4 when it reuses a connection to B (assuming that host A covers host B in its cert).

In the rare case where a server gets a resource request for an authority (or scheme) it can’t serve, there’s a dedicated error code 421 in HTTP/2 that it can respond with and the browser can then  go back and retry that request on another connection.

Starts out with 6 anyway

Before the browser knows that the server speaks HTTP/2, it may fire up 6 connection attempts so that it is prepared to get the remote site at full speed. Once it figures out that it doesn’t need all those connections, it will kill off the unnecessary unused ones and over time trickle down to one. Of course, on subsequent connections to the same origin the client may have the version information cached so that it doesn’t have to start off presuming HTTP/1.

A third day of deep HTTP inspection

The workshop roomThis fine morning started off with some news: Patrick is now our brand new official co-chair of the IETF HTTPbis working group!

Subodh then sat down and took us off on a presentation that really triggered a long and lively discussion. “Retry safety extensions” was his name of it but it involved everything from what browsers and HTTP clients do for retrying with no response and went on to also include replaying problems for 0-RTT protocols such as TLS 1.3.

Julian did a short presentation on http headers and his draft for JSON in new headers and we quickly fell down a deep hole of discussions around various formats with ups and downs on them all. The general feeling seems to be that JSON will not be a good idea for headers in spite of a couple of good characteristics, partly because of its handling of duplicate field entries and how it handles or doesn’t handle numerical precision (ie you can send “100” as a monstrously large floating point number).

Mike did a presentation he called “H2 Regrets” in which he covered his work on a draft for support of client certs which was basically forbidden due to h2’s ban of TLS renegotiation, he brought up the idea of extended settings and discussed the lack of special handling dates in HTTP headers (why we send 29 bytes instead of 4). Shows there are improvements to be had in the future too!

Martin talked to us about Blind caching and how the concept of this works. Put very simply: it is a way to make it possible to offer cached content for clients using HTTPS, by storing the data in a 3rd host and pointing out that data to the client. There was a lengthy discussion around this and I think one of the outstanding questions is if this feature is really giving as much value to motivate the rather high cost in complexity…

The list of remaining Lightning Talks had grown to 10 talks and we fired them all off at a five minutes per topic pace. I brought up my intention and hope that we’ll do a QUIC library soon to experiment with. I personally particularly enjoyed EKR’s TLS 1.3 status summary. I heard appreciation from others and I agree with this that the idea to feature lightning talks was really good.

With this, the HTTP Workshop 2016 was officially ended. There will be a survey sent out about this edition and what people want to do for the next/future ones, and there will be some sort of  report posted about this event from the organizers, summarizing things.

Attendees numbers

http workshopThe companies with most attendees present here were: Mozilla 5, Google 4, Facebook, Akamai and Apple 3.

The attendees were from the following regions of the world: North America 19, Europe 15, Asia/pacific 6.

38 participants were male and 2 female.

23 of us were also at the 2015 workshop, 17 were newcomers.

15 people did lightning talks.

I believe 40 is about as many as you can put in a single room and still have discussions. Going larger will make it harder to make yourself heard as easily and would probably force us to have to switch to smaller groups more and thus not get this sort of great dynamic flow. I’m not saying that we can’t do this smaller or larger, just that it would have to make the event different.

Some final words

I had an awesome few days and I loved all of it. It was a pleasure organizing this and I’m happy that Stockholm showed its best face weather wise during these days. I was also happy to hear that so many people enjoyed their time here in Sweden. The hotel and its facilities, including food and coffee etc worked out smoothly I think with no complaints at all.

Hope to see again on the next HTTP Workshop!

Workshop day two

HTTP Workshop At 5pm we rounded off another fully featured day at the HTTP workshop. Here’s some of what we touched on today:

Moritz started the morning with an interesting presentation about experiments with running the exact same site and contents on h1 vs h2 over different kinds of networks, with different packet loss scenarios and with different ICWND set and more. Very interesting stuff. If he makes his presentation available at some point I’ll add a link to it.

I then got the honor to present the state of the TCP Tuning draft (which I’ve admittedly been neglecting a bit lately), the slides are here. I made it brief but I still got some feedback and in general this is a draft that people seem to agree is a good idea – keep sending me your feedback and help me improve it. I just need to pull myself together now and move it forward. I tried to be quick to leave over to…

Jana, who was back again to tell us about QUIC and the state of things in that area. His presentation apparently was a subset of slides he presented last week in the Berlin IETF. One interesting take-away for me, was that they’ve noticed that the amount of connections for which they detect UDP rate limiting on, has decreased with 2/3 during the last year!

Here’s my favorite image from his slide set. Apparently TCP/2 is not a name for QUIC that everybody appreciates! ;-)

call-it-tcp2-one-more-time

While I think the topic of QUIC piqued the interest of most people in the room and there were a lot of questions, thoughts and ideas around the topic we still managed to get the lunch break pretty much in time and we could run off and have another lovely buffet lunch. There’s certainly no risk for us loosing weight during this event…

After lunch we got ourselves a series of Lightning talks presented for us. Seven short talks on various subjects that people had signed up to do

One of the lightning talks that stuck with me was what I would call the idea about an extended Happy Eyeballs approach that I’d like to call Even Happier Eyeballs: make the client TCP connect to all IPs in a DNS response and race them against each other and use the one that responds with a SYN-ACK first. There was interest expressed in the room to get this concept tested out for real in at least one browser.

We then fell over into the area of HTTP/3 ideas and what the people in the room think we should be working on for that. It turned out that the list of stuff we created last year at the workshop was still actually a pretty good list and while we could massage that a bit, it is still mostly the same as before.

Anne presented fetch and how browsers use HTTP. Perhaps a bit surprising that soon brought us over into the subject of trailers, how to support that and voilá, in the end we possibly even agreed that we should perhaps consider handling them somehow in browsers and even for javascript APIs… ( nah, curl/libcurl doesn’t have any particular support for trailers, but will of course get that if we’ll actually see things out there start to use it for real)

I think we deserved a few beers after this day! The final workshop day is tomorrow.

HTTP Workshop 2016, day -1

http workshop The HTTP Workshop 2016 will take place in Stockholm starting tomorrow Monday, as I’ve mentioned before. Today we’ll start off slowly by having a few pre workshop drinks and say hello to old and new friends.

I did a casual count, and out of the 40 attendees coming, I believe slightly less than half are newcomers that didn’t attend the workshop last year. We’ll see browser people come, more independent HTTP implementers, CDN representatives, server and intermediary developers as well as some friends from large HTTP operators/sites. I personally view my attendance to be primarily with my curl hat on rather than my Firefox one. Firmly standing in the client side trenches anyway.

Visitors to Stockholm these days are also lucky enough to arrive when the weather is possibly as good as it can get here with the warmest period through the summer so far with lots of sun and really long bright summer days.

News this year includes the @http_workshop twitter account. If you have questions or concerns for HTTP workshoppers, do send them that way and they might get addressed or at least noticed.

I’ll try to take notes and post summaries of each workshop day here. Of course I will fully respect our conference rules about what to reveal or not.

stockholm castle and ship

curl wants to QUIC

The interesting Google transfer protocol that is known as QUIC is being passed through the IETF grinding machines to hopefully end up with a proper “spec” that has been reviewed and agreed to by many peers and that will end up being a protocol that is thoroughly documented with a lot of protocol people’s consensus. Follow the IETF QUIC mailing list for all the action.

I’d like us to join the fun

Similarly to how we implemented HTTP/2 support early on for curl, I would like us to get “on the bandwagon” early for QUIC to be able to both aid the protocol development and serve as a testing tool for both the protocol and the server implementations but then also of course to get us a solid implementation for users who’d like a proper QUIC capable client for data transfers.

implementations

The current version (made entirely by Google and not the output of the work they’re now doing on it within the IETF) of the QUIC protocol is already being widely used as Chrome speaks it with Google’s services in preference to HTTP/2 and other protocol options. There exist only a few other implementations of QUIC outside of the official ones Google offers as open source. Caddy offers a separate server implementation for example.

the Google code base

For curl’s sake, it can’t use the Google code as a basis for a QUIC implementation since it is C++ and code used within the Chrome browser is really too entangled with the browser and its particular environment to become very good when converted into a library. There’s a libquic project doing exactly this.

for curl and others

The ideal way to implement QUIC for curl would be to create “nghttp2” alternative that does QUIC. An ngquic if you will! A library that handles the low level protocol fiddling, the binary framing etc. Done that way, a QUIC library could be used by more projects who’d like QUIC support and all people who’d like to see this protocol supported in those tools and libraries could join in and make it happen. Such a library would need to be written in plain C and be suitably licensed for it to be really interesting for curl use.

a needed QUIC library

I’m hoping my post here will inspire someone to get such a project going. I will not hesitate to join in and help it get somewhere! I haven’t started such a project myself because I think I already have enough projects on my plate so I fear I wouldn’t be a good leader or maintainer of a project like this. But of course, if nobody else will do it I will do it myself eventually. If I can think of a good name for it.

some wishes for such a library

  • Written in C, to offer the same level of portability as curl itself and to allow it to get used as extensions by other languages etc
  • FOSS-licensed suitably
  • It should preferably not “own” the socket but also work in-memory and to allow applications to do many parallel connections etc.
  • Non-blocking. It shouldn’t wait for things on its own but let the application do that.
  • Should probably offer both client and server functionality for maximum use.
  • What else?

No websockets over HTTP/2

There is no websockets for HTTP/2.

By this, I mean that there’s no way to negotiate or upgrade a connection to websockets over HTTP/2 like there is for HTTP/1.1 as expressed by RFC 6455. That spec details how a client can use Upgrade: in a HTTP/1.1 request to switch that connection into a websockets connection.

Note that websockets is not part of the HTTP/1 spec, it just uses a HTTP/1 protocol detail to switch an HTTP connection into a websockets connection. Websockets over HTTP/2 would similarly not be a part of the HTTP/2 specification but would be separate.

(As a side-note, that Upgrade: mechanism is the same mechanism a HTTP/1.1 connection can get upgraded to HTTP/2 if the server supports it – when not using HTTPS.)

chinese-socket

Draft

There’s was once a draft submitted that describes how websockets over HTTP/2 could’ve been done. It didn’t get any particular interest in the IETF HTTP working group back then and as far as I’ve seen, there has been very little general interest in any group to pick up this dropped ball and continue running. It just didn’t go any further.

This is important: the lack of websockets over HTTP/2 is because nobody has produced a spec (and implementations) to do websockets over HTTP/2. Those things don’t happen by themselves, they actually require a bunch of people and implementers to believe in the cause and work for it.

Websockets over HTTP/2 could of course have the benefit that it would only be one stream over the connection that could serve regular non-websockets traffic at the same time in many other streams, while websockets upgraded on a HTTP/1 connection uses the entire connection exclusively.

Instead

So what do users do instead of using websockets over HTTP/2? Well, there are several options. You probably either stick to HTTP/2, upgrade from HTTP/1, use Web push or go the WebRTC route!

If you really need to stick to websockets, then you simply have to upgrade to that from a HTTP/1 connection – just like before. Most people I’ve talked to that are stuck really hard on using websockets are app developers that basically only use a single connection anyway so doing that HTTP/1 or HTTP/2 makes no meaningful difference.

Sticking to HTTP/2 pretty much allows you to go back and use the long-polling tricks of the past before websockets was created. They were once rather bad since they would waste a connection and be error-prone since you’d have a connection that would sit idle most of the time. Doing this over HTTP/2 is much less of a problem since it’ll just be a single stream that won’t be used that much so it isn’t that much of a waste. Plus, the connection may very well be used by other streams so it will be less of a problem with idle connections getting killed by NATs or firewalls.

The Web Push API was brought by W3C during 2015 and is in many ways a more “webby” way of doing push than the much more manual and “raw” method that websockets is. If you use websockets mostly for push notifications, then this might be a more convenient choice.

Also introduced after websockets, is WebRTC. This is a technique introduced for communication between browsers, but it certainly provides an alternative to some of the things websockets were once used for.

Future

Websockets over HTTP/2 could still be done. The fact that it isn’t done just shows that there isn’t enough interest.

Non-TLS

Recall how browsers only speak HTTP/2 over TLS, while websockets can also be done over plain TCP. In fact, the only way to upgrade a HTTP connection to websockets is using the HTTP/1 Upgrade: header trick, and not the ALPN method for TLS that HTTP/2 uses to reduce the number of round-trips required.

If anyone would introduce websockets over HTTP/2, they would then probably only be possible to be made over TLS from within browsers.

everybody runs this code all the time

I was invited to talk about curl at the recent FOSS North conference in Gothenburg on May 26th. It was the first time the conference ran, but I think it went smooth and the ~110 visitors seemed to have a good time. It was a single track and there was a fairly good and interesting mix of talkers and subjects I think. They’re already planning to make it return again in spring 2017, so if you’re into FOSS and you’re in the Nordic region, consider this event next year…

I took on the subject of talking about my hacker ring^W^Wcurl project insights. Here’s my slide set:

At the event I sat down and had a chat with Simon Campanello, a reporter at IDG Techworld here in Sweden who subsequently posted this article about curl (in Swedish) and how our code has ended up getting used so widely.

photo of me from the Techworld article

My URL isn’t your URL

URLs

When I started the precursor to the curl project, httpget, back in 1996, I wrote my first URL parser. Back then, the universal address was still called URL: Uniform Resource Locators. That spec was published by the IETF in 1994. The term “URL” was then used as source for inspiration when naming the tool and project curl.

The term URL was later effectively changed to become URI, Uniform Resource Identifiers (published in 2005) but the basic point remained: a syntax for a string to specify a resource online and which protocol to use to get it. We claim curl accepts “URLs” as defined by this spec, the RFC 3986. I’ll explain below why it isn’t strictly true.

There was also a companion RFC posted for IRI: Internationalized Resource Identifiers. They are basically URIs but allowing non-ascii characters to be used.

The WHATWG consortium later produced their own URL spec, basically mixing formats and ideas from URIs and IRIs with a (not surprisingly) strong focus on browsers. One of their expressed goals is to “Align RFC 3986 and RFC 3987 with contemporary implementations and obsolete them in the process“. They want to go back and use the term “URL” as they rightfully state, the terms URI and IRI are just confusing and no humans ever really understood them (or often even knew they exist).

The WHATWG spec follows the good old browser mantra of being very liberal in what it accepts and trying to guess what the users mean and bending backwards trying to fulfill. (Even though we all know by now that Postel’s Law is the wrong way to go about this.) It means it’ll handle too many slashes, embedded white space as well as non-ASCII characters.

From my point of view, the spec is also very hard to read and follow due to it not describing the syntax or format very much but focuses far too much on mandating a parsing algorithm. To test my claim: figure out what their spec says about a trailing dot after the host name in a URL.

On top of all these standards and specs, browsers offer an “address bar” (a piece of UI that often goes under other names) that allows users to enter all sorts of fun strings and they get converted over to a URL. If you enter “http://localhost/%41” in the address bar, it’ll convert the percent encoded part to an ‘A’ there for you (since 41 in hex is a capital A in ASCII) but if you type “http://localhost/A A” it’ll actually send “/A%20A” (with a percent encoded space) in the outgoing HTTP GET request. I’m mentioning this since people will often think of what you can enter there as a “URL”.

The above is basically my (skewed) perspective of what specs and standards we have so far to work with. Now we add reality and let’s take a look at what sort of problems we get when my URL isn’t your URL.

So what  is a URL?

Or more specifically, how do we write them. What syntax do we use.

I think one of the biggest mistakes the WHATWG spec has made (and why you will find me argue against their spec in its current form with fierce conviction that they are wrong), is that they seem to believe that URLs are theirs to define and work with and they limit their view of URLs for browsers, HTML and their address bars. Sure, they are the big companies behind the browsers almost everyone uses and URLs are widely used by browsers, but URLs are still much bigger than so.

The WHATWG view of a URL is not widely adopted outside of browsers.

colon-slash-slash

If we ask users, ordinary people with no particular protocol or web expertise, what a URL is what would they answer? While it was probably more notable years ago when the browsers displayed it more prominently, the :// (colon-slash-slash) sequence will be high on the list. Seeing that marks the string as a URL.

Heck, going beyond users, there are email clients, terminal emulators, text editors, perl scripts and a bazillion other things out there in the world already that detects URLs for us and allows operations on that. It could be to open that URL in a browser, to convert it to a clickable link in generated HTML and more. A vast amount of said scripts and programs will use the colon-slash-slash sequence as a trigger.

The WHATWG spec says it has to be one slash and that a parser must accept an indefinite amount of slashes. “http:/example.com” and “http:////////////////////////////////////example.com” are both equally fine. RFC 3986 and many others would disagree. Heck, most people I’ve confronted the last few days, even people working with the web, seem to say, think and believe that a URL has two slashes. Just look closer at the google picture search screen shot at the top of this article, which shows the top images for “URL” google gave me.

We just know a URL has two slashes there (and yeah, file: URLs most have three but lets ignore that for now). Not one. Not three. Two. But the WHATWG doesn’t agree.

“Is there really any reason for accepting more than two slashes for non-file: URLs?” (my annoyed question to the WHATWG)

“The fact that all browsers do.”

The spec says so because browsers have implemented the spec.

No better explanation has been provided, not even after I pointed out that the statement is wrong and far from all browsers do. You may find reading that thread educational.

In the curl project, we’ve just recently started debating how to deal with “URLs” having another amount of slashes than two because it turns out there are servers sending back such URLs in Location: headers, and some browsers are happy to oblige. curl is not and neither is a lot of other libraries and command line tools. Who do we stand up for?

Spaces

A space character (the ASCII code 32, 0x20 in hex) cannot be part of a URL. If you want it sent, you percent encode it like you do with any other illegal character you want to be part of the URL. Percent encoding is the byte value in hexadecimal with a percent sign in front of it. %20 thus means space. It also means that a parser that for example scans for URLs in a text knows that it reaches the end of the URL when the parser encounters a character that isn’t allowed. Like space.

Browsers typically show the address in their address bars with all %20 instances converted to space for appearance. If you copy the address there into your clipboard and then paste it again in your text editor you still normally get the spaces as %20 like you want them.

I’m not sure if that is the reason, but browsers also accept spaces as part of URLs when for example receiving a redirect in a HTTP response. That’s passed from a server to a client using a Location: header with the URL in it. The browsers happily allow spaces in that URL, encode them as %20 and send out the next request. This forced curl into accepting spaces in redirected “URLs”.

Non-ASCII

Making URLs support non-ASCII languages is of course important, especially for non-western societies and I’ve understood that the IRI spec was never good enough. I personally am far from an expert on these internationalization (i18n) issues so I just go by what I’ve heard from others. But of course users of non-latin alphabets and typing systems need to be able to write their “internet addresses” to resources and use as links as well.

In an ideal world, we would have the i18n version shown to users and there would be the encoded ASCII based version below, to get sent over the wire.

For international domain names, the name gets converted over to “punycode” so that it can be resolved using the normal system name resolvers that know nothing about non-ascii names. URIs have no IDN names, IRIs do and WHATWG URLs do. curl supports IDN host names.

WHATWG states that URLs are specified as UTF-8 while URIs are just ASCII. curl gets confused by non-ASCII letters in the path part but percent encodes such byte values in the outgoing requests – which causes “interesting” side-effects when the non-ASCII characters are provided in other encodings than UTF-8 which for example is standard on Windows…

Similar to what I’ve written above, this leads to servers passing back non-ASCII byte codes in HTTP headers that browsers gladly accept, and non-browsers need to deal with…

No URL standard

I’ve not tried to write a conclusive list of problems or differences, just a bunch of things I’ve fallen over recently. A “URL” given in one place is certainly not certain to be accepted or understood as a “URL” in another place.

Not even curl follows any published spec very closely these days, as we’re slowly digressing for the sake of “web compatibility”.

There’s no unified URL standard and there’s no work in progress towards that. I don’t count WHATWG’s spec as a real effort either, as it is written by a closed group with no real attempts to get the wider community involved.

My affiliation

I’m employed by Mozilla and Mozilla is a member of WHATWG and I have colleagues working on the WHATWG URL spec and other work items of theirs but it makes absolutely no difference to what I’ve written here. I also participate in the IETF and I consider myself friends with authors of RFC 1738, RFC 3986 and others but that doesn’t matter here either. My opinions are my own and this is my personal blog.

curl 7.49.0 goodies coming

Here’s a closer look at three new features that we’re shipping in curl and libcurl 7.49.0, to be released on May 18th 2016.

connect to this instead

If you’re one of the users who thought --resolve and doing Host: header tricks with --header weren’t good enough, you’ll appreciate that we’re adding yet another option for you to fiddle with the connection procedure. Another “Swiss army knife style” option for you who know what you’re doing.

With --connect-to you basically provide an internal alias for a certain name + port to instead internally use another name + port to connect to.

Instead of connecting to HOST1:PORT1, connect to HOST2:PORT2

It is very similar to --resolve which is a way to say: when connecting to HOST1:PORT1 use this ADDR2:PORT2. --resolve effectively prepopulates the internal DNS cache and makes curl completely avoid the DNS lookup and instead feeds it with the IP address you’d like it to use.

--connect-to doesn’t avoid the DNS lookup, but it will make sure that a different host name and destination port pair is used than what was found in the URL. A typical use case for this would be to make sure that your curl request asks a specific server out of several in a pool of many, where each has a unique name but you normally reach them with a single URL who’s host name is otherwise load balanced.

--connect-to can be specified multiple times to add mappings for multiple names, so that even following HTTP redirects to other host names etc can be handled. You don’t even necessarily have to redirect the first used host name.

The libcurl option name for for this feature is CURLOPT_CONNECT_TO.

Michael Kaufmann brought this feature.

http2 prior knowledge

In our ongoing quest to provide more and better HTTP/2 support in a world that is slowly but steadily doing more and more transfers over the new version of the protocol, curl now offers --http2-prior-knowledge.

As the name might hint, this is a way to tell curl that you have “prior knowledge” that the URL you specifies goes to a host that you know supports HTTP/2. The term prior knowledge is in fact used in the HTTP/2 spec (RFC 7540) for this scenario.

Normally when given a HTTP:// or a HTTPS:// URL, there will be no assumption that it supports HTTP/2 but curl when then try to upgrade that from version HTTP/1. The command line tool tries to upgrade all HTTPS:// URLs by default even, and libcurl can be told to do so.

libcurl wise, you ask for a prior knowledge use by setting CURLOPT_HTTP_VERSION to CURL_HTTP_VERSION_2_PRIOR_KNOWLEDGE.

Asking for http2 prior knowledge when the server does in fact not support HTTP/2 will give you an error back.

Diego Bes brought this feature.

TCP Fast Open

TCP Fast Open is documented in RFC 7413 and is basically a way to pass on data to the remote machine earlier in the TCP handshake – already in the SYN and SYN-ACK packets. This of course as a means to get data over faster and reduce latency.

The --tcp-fastopen option is supported on Linux and OS X only for now.

This is an idea and technique that has been around for a while and it is slowly getting implemented and supported by servers. There have been some reports of problems in the wild when “middle boxes” that fiddle with TCP traffic see these packets, that sometimes result in breakage. So this option is opt-in to avoid the risk that it causes problems to users.

A typical real-world case where you would use this option is when  sending an HTTP POST to a site you don’t have a connection already established to. Just note that TFO relies on the client having had contact established with the server before and having a special TFO “cookie” stored and non-expired.

TCP Fast Open is so far only used for clear-text TCP protocols in curl. These days more and more protocols switch over to their TLS counterparts (and there’s room for future improvements to add the initial TLS handshake parts with TFO). A related option to speed up TLS handshakes is --false-start (supported with the NSS or the secure transport backends).

With libcurl, you enable TCP Fast Open with CURLOPT_TCP_FASTOPEN.

Alessandro Ghedini brought this feature.