Tag Archives: HTTP

HTTP/2 in April 2016

On April 12 I had the pleasure of doing another talk in the Google Tech Talk series arranged in the Google Stockholm offices. I had given it the title “HTTP/2 is upon us, and here’s what you need to know about it.” in the invitation.

The room seated 70 persons but we had the amazing amount of over 300 people in the waiting line who unfortunately didn’t manage to get a seat. To those, and to anyone else who cares, here’s the video recording of the event.

If you’ve seen me talk about HTTP/2 before, you might notice that I’ve refreshed the material somewhat since before.

Summers are for HTTP

stockholm castle and ship
Stockholm City, as photographed by Michael Caven

In July 2015, 40-something HTTP implementers and experts of the world gathered in the city of Münster, Germany, to discuss nitty gritty details about the HTTP protocol during four intense days. Representatives for major browsers, other well used HTTP tools and the most popular HTTP servers were present. We discussed topics like how HTTP/2 had done so far, what we thought we should fix going forward and even some early blue sky talk about what people could potentially see being subjects to address in a future HTTP/3 protocol.

You can relive the 2015 version somewhat from my daily blog entries from then that include a bunch of details of what we discussed: day one, two, three and four.

http workshopThe HTTP Workshop was much appreciated by the attendees and it is now about to be repeated. In the summer of 2016, the HTTP Workshop is again taking place in Europe, but this time as a three-day event slightly further up north: in the capital of Sweden and my home town: Stockholm. During 25-27 July 2016, we intend to again dig in deep.

If you feel this is something for you, then please head over to the workshop site and submit your proposal and show your willingness to attend. This year, I’m also joining the Program Committee and I’ve signed up for arranging some of the local stuff required for this to work out logistically.

The HTTP Workshop 2015 was one of my favorite events of last year. I’m now eagerly looking forward to this year’s version. It’ll be great to meet you here!

Stockholm
The city of Stockholm in summer sunshine

HTTP redirects

I find that many web minded people working client-side or even server-side have neglected to learn the subtle details of the redirects of today. Here’s my attempt at writing another text about it that the ones who should read it still won’t.

Nothing here, go there!

The “redirect” is a fundamental part of the HTTP protocol. The concept was present and is documented already in the first spec (RFC 1945), published in 1996, and it has remained well used ever since.

A redirect is exactly what it sounds like. It is the sredirect-signerver sending back an instruction to the client – instead of giving back the contents the client wanted. The server basically says “go look over [here] instead for that thing you asked for“.

But not all redirects are alike. How permanent is the redirect? What request method should the client use in the next request?

All redirects also need to send back a Location: header with the new URI to ask for, which can be absolute or relative.

Permanent or Temporary

Is the redirect meant to last or just remain for now? If you want a GET to resource A permanently redirect users to resource B with another GET, send back a 301. It also means that the user-agent (browser) is meant to cache this and keep going to the new URI from now on when the original URI is requested.

The temporary alternative is 302. Right now the server wants the client to send a GET request to B, but it shouldn’t cache this but keep trying the original URI when directed to it.

Note that both 301 and 302 will make browsers do a GET in the next request, which possibly means changing method if it started with a POST (and only if POST). This changing of the HTTP method to GET for 301 and 302 responses is said to be “for historical reasons”, but that’s still what browsers do so most of the public web will behave this way.

In practice, the 303 code is very similar to 302. It will not be cached and it will make the client issue a GET in the next request. The differences between a 302 and 303 are subtle, but 303 seems to be more designed for an “indirect response” to the original request rather than just a redirect.

These three codes were the only redirect codes in the HTTP/1.0 spec.

GET or POST?

All three of these response codes, 301 and 302/303, will assume that the client sends a GET to get the new URI, even if the client might’ve sent a POST in the first request. This is very important, at least if you do something that doesn’t use GET.

If the server instead wants to redirect the client to a new URI and wants it to send the same method in the second request as it did in the first, like if it first sent POST it’d like it to send POST again in the next request, the server would use different response codes.

To tell the client “the URI you sent a POST to, is permanently redirected to B where you should instead send your POST now and in the future”, the server responds with a 308. And to complicate matters, the 308 code is only recently defined (the spec was published in June 2014) so older clients may not treat it correctly! If so, then the only response code left for you is…

The (older) response code to tell a client to send a POST also in the next request but temporarily is 307. This redirect will not be cached by the client though so it’ll again post to A if requested to. The 307 code was introduced in HTTP/1.1.

Oh, and redirects work the exact same way in HTTP/2 as they do in HTTP/1.1.

The helpful table version

Permanent Temporary
Switch to GET 301 302 and 303
Keep original method 308 307

It’s a gap!

Yes. The 304, 305, and 306 codes are not used for redirects at all.

What about other HTTP methods?

I decided to simplify the explanation above. In all places where it says POST above, you can replace it with any non-GET method. They’re just slightly less common on the browser centric web.

curl and redirects

I couldn’t write a text like this without spicing it up with some curl details!

First, curl and libcurl don’t follow redirects by default. You need to ask curl to do it with -L (or –location) or libcurl with CURLOPT_FOLLOWLOCATION.

It turns out that there are web services out there in the world that want a POST sent, are responding with HTTP redirects that use a 301, 302 or 303 response code and still want the HTTP client to send the next request as a POST. As explained above, browsers won’t do that and neither will curl – by default.

Since these setups exist, and they’re actually not terribly rare, curl offers options to alter its behavior.

You can tell curl to not change the non-GET request method to GET after a 30x response by using the dedicated options for that:
–post301, –post302 and –post303. If you are instead writing a libcurl based application, you control that behavior with the CURLOPT_POSTREDIR option.

Here’s how a simple HTTP/1.1 redirect can look like. Note the 301, this is “permanent”:
curl-shows-redirect

HTTP/2 adoption, end of 2015

http2 front imageWhen I asked my surrounding in March 2015 to guess the expected HTTP/2 adoption by now, we as a group ended up with about 10%. OK, the question was vaguely phrased and what does it really mean? Let’s take a look at some aspects of where we are now.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the question was that it didn’t specify HTTPS. All the browsers of today only implement HTTP/2 over HTTPS so of course if every HTTPS site in the world would support HTTP/2 that would still be far away from all the HTTP requests. Admittedly, browsers aren’t the only HTTP clients…

During the fall of 2015, both nginx and Apache shipped release versions with HTTP/2 support. nginx made it slightly harder for people by forcing users to select either SPDY or HTTP/2 (which was a technical choice done by them, not really enforced by the protocols) and also still telling users that SPDY is the safer choice.

Let’s Encrypt‘s finally launching their public beta in the early December also helps HTTP/2 by removing one of the most annoying HTTPS obstacles: the cost and manual administration of server certs.

Amount of Firefox responses

This is the easiest metric since Mozilla offers public access to the metric data. It is skewed since it is opt-in data and we know that certain kinds of users are less likely to enable this (if you’re more privacy aware or if you’re using it in enterprise environments for example). This also then measures the share by volume of requests; making the popular sites get more weight.

Firefox 43 counts no less than 22% of all HTTP responses as HTTP/2 (based on data from Dec 8 to Dec 16, 2015).

Out of all HTTP traffic Firefox 43 generates, about 63% is HTTPS which then makes almost 35% of all Firefox HTTPS requests are HTTP/2!

Firefox 43 is also negotiating HTTP/2 four times as often as it ends up with SPDY.

Amount of browser traffic

One estimate of how large share of browsers that supports HTTP/2 is the caniuse.com number. Roughly 70% on a global level. Another metric is the one published by KeyCDN at the end of October 2015. When they enabled HTTP/2 by default for their HTTPS customers world wide, the average number of users negotiating HTTP/2 turned out to be 51%. More than half!

Cloudflare however, claims the share of supported browsers are at a mere 26%. That’s a really big difference and I personally don’t buy their numbers as they’re way too negative and give some popular browsers very small market share. For example: Chrome 41 – 49 at a mere 15% of the world market, really?

I think the key is rather that it all boils down to what you measure – as always.

Amount of the top-sites in the world

Netcraft bundles SPDY with HTTP/2 in their October report, but it says that “29% of SSL sites within the thousand most popular sites currently support SPDY or HTTP/2, while 8% of those within the top million sites do.” (note the “of SSL sites” in there)

That’s now slightly old data that came out almost exactly when Apache first release its HTTP/2 support in a public release and Nginx hadn’t even had it for a full month yet.

Facebook eventually enabled HTTP/2 in November 2015.

Amount of “regular” sites

There’s still no ideal service that scans a larger portion of the Internet to measure adoption level. The httparchive.org site is about to change to a chrome-based spider (from IE) and once that goes live I hope that we will get better data.

W3Tech’s report says 2.5% of web sites in early December – less than SPDY!

I like how isthewebhttp2yet.com looks so far and I’ve provided them with my personal opinions and feedback on what I think they should do to make that the preferred site for this sort of data.

Using the shodan search engine, we could see that mid December 2015 there were about 115,000 servers on the Internet using HTTP/2.  That’s 20,000 (~24%) more than isthewebhttp2yet site says. It doesn’t really show percentages there, but it could be interpreted to say that slightly over 6% of HTTP/1.1 sites also support HTTP/2.

On Dec 3rd 2015, Cloudflare enabled HTTP/2 for all its customers and they claimed they doubled the number of HTTP/2 servers on the net in that single move. (The shodan numbers seem to disagree with that statement.)

Amount of system lib support

iOS 9 supports HTTP/2 in its native HTTP library. That’s so far the leader of HTTP/2 in system libraries department. Does Mac OS X have something similar?

I had expected Window’s wininet or other HTTP libs to be up there as well but I can’t find any details online about it. I hear the Android HTTP libs are not up to snuff either but since okhttp is now part of Android to some extent, I guess proper HTTP/2 in Android is not too far away?

Amount of HTTP API support

I hear very little about HTTP API providers accepting HTTP/2 in addition or even instead of HTTP/1.1. My perception is that this is basically not happening at all yet.

Next-gen experiments

If you’re using a modern Chrome browser today against a Google service you’re already (mostly) using QUIC instead of HTTP/2, thus you aren’t really adding to the HTTP/2 client side numbers but you’re also not adding to the HTTP/1.1 numbers.

QUIC and other QUIC-like (UDP-based with the entire stack in user space) protocols are destined to grow and get used even more as we go forward. I’m convinced of this.

Conclusion

Everyone was right! It is mostly a matter of what you meant and how to measure it.

Future

Recall the words on the Chromium blog: “We plan to remove support for SPDY in early 2016“. For Firefox we haven’t said anything that absolute, but I doubt that Firefox will support SPDY for very long after Chrome drops it.

curl and HTTP/2 by default

cURLFollowers of this blog know that I’ve dabbled with HTTP/2 stuff for quite some time, and curl got its initial support for the new protocol version already in September 2013.

curl shipped “proper” HTTP/2 support as it looks in the final specification both for the command line tool and the libcurl library before any browsers did in their release versions. (Firefox was the first browser to ship HTTP/2 in a release version, followed by Chrome. Both did this in the beginning of 2015.)

libcurl features an option that lets the application to select HTTP version to use, and that includes HTTP/2 since back then. The command line tool got a corresponding command line option (aptly named –http2) to switch on this protocol version.

This goes hand in hand with curl’s general philosophy that it just does the basics and you have to specifically switch on more features and tell it to enable things you want to use. This conservative approach makes it very reliable protocol-wise and provides applications a very large level of control. The downside is of course that fewer people switch on certain features since they’re just not aware of them. Or as in this case with HTTP/2, it also complicates matters that only a subset of users still have a HTTP/2 tool and library since they might still run outdated versions or they may run recent versions that were built without the necessary prerequisites present (basically the nghttp2 library).

By default?

libcurl is even more conservative that the curl tool so switching default for the library isn’t really on the agenda yet. We are very careful of modifying behavior so we’re saving that for later but what about upping the curl tool a notch?

We could switch the default to use HTTP/2 as soon as the tool has the powers built-in. But for regular clear text HTTP, using the Upgrade: header has a few drawbacks. It makes the requests larger, it complicates matter somewhat that most servers don’t do upgrades on HTTP POST requests (and a few others) so there might indeed be several requests before an upgrade is actually made even on a server that supports HTTP/2 and perhaps the strongest reason: we already found servers that (wrongly, I would claim) reject requests with Upgrade: headers they don’t understand. All this taken together, Upgrade over HTTP will break too many requests that work with HTTP 1.1. And then we haven’t even considered how the breakage situation will be when using explicit or transparent proxies…

By default!

To help users with this problem of HTTP upgrades not being feasible by default, we’ve just landed a new alternative to the “set HTTP version” that only sets HTTP/2 for HTTPS requests and leaves it to HTTP/1.1 for clear text HTTP requests. This option will ship in the next release, to be called 7.47.0, and can of course be tested out before that with git or daily snapshot builds.

Setting this option is next to risk-free, as the HTTP/2 negotiation in TLS is based on one or two TLS extensions (NPN and ALPN) that both have proper fallbacks to 1.1.

Said and done. The curl tool now sets this option. Using the curl tool on a HTTPS:// URL will from now on use HTTP/2 by default as soon as both the libcurl it uses and the server it connects to support HTTP/2!

We will of course keep our eyes and ears open to see if this causes any problems. Let us know what you see!

copy as curl

Using curl to perform an operation a user just managed to do with his or her browser is one of the more common requests and areas people ask for help about.

How do you get a curl command line to get a resource, just like the browser would get it, nice and easy? Both Chrome and Firefox have provided this feature for quite some time already!

From Firefox

You get the site shown with Firefox’s network tools.  You then right-click on the specific request you want to repeat in the “Web Developer->Network” tool when you see the HTTP traffic, and in the menu that appears you select “Copy as cURL”. Like this screenshot below shows. The operation then generates a curl command line to your clipboard and you can then paste that into your favorite shell window. This feature is available by default in all Firefox installations.

firefox-copy-as-curl

From Chrome

When you pop up the More tools->Developer mode in Chrome, and you select the Network tab you see the HTTP traffic used to get the resources of the site. On the line of the specific resource you’re interested in, you right-click with the mouse and you select “Copy as cURL” and it’ll generate a command line for you in your clipboard. Paste that in a shell to get a curl command line  that makes the transfer. This feature is available by default in all Chome and Chromium installations.

chrome-copy-as-curl

On Firefox, without using the devtools

If this is something you’d like to get done more often, you probably find using the developer tools a bit inconvenient and cumbersome to pop up just to get the command line copied. Then cliget is the perfect add-on for you as it gives you a new option in the right-click menu, so you can get a quick command line generated really quickly, like this example when I right-click an image in Firefox:

firefox-cliget

TCP tuning for HTTP

I’m the author of a brand new internet-draft that I submitted just the other day. The title is TCP Tuning for HTTP,  and the intent is to gather a set of current best practices for HTTP implementers; to share and distribute knowledge we’ve gathered over the years. Clients, servers and intermediaries. For HTTP/1.1 as well as HTTP/2.

I’m now awaiting, expecting and looking forward to feedback, criticisms and additional content for this document so that it can become the resource I’d like it to be.

How to contribute to this?

  1.  ideally, send your feedback to the HTTPbis mailing list,
  2. or submit an issue or pull-request on github for the draft.md
  3. or simply email me your comments: daniel <at> haxx.se

I’ve been participating first passively and more and more actively over the years within the IETF, mostly in the HTTPbis working group. I think open protocols and open standards are important and I like being part of making them reality. I have the utmost respect and admiration for those who are involved in putting the RFCs together and thus improve the world we live in, step by step.

For a long while I’ve been wanting  to step up and “pull my weight” too,  to become a better participant in this area, and I’m happy to now finally take this step. Hopefully this is just the first step of many more to come.

(Psssst: While gathering feedback and updating the git version, the current work in progress version of the draft is always visible here.)

h2 performance at Velocity NYC

Tuesday October 13th 2015 I co-presented a talk at the Velocity conference in NYC together with Ragnar Lönn of Loadimpact. Ragnar is a friend of mine and another Swede.

Daniel and Ragnar at VelocityThe presentation was split up in two parts, in which I laid out the foundations of HTTP/2 in the first part, and Ragnar then presented the results of his performance study in the second part.

I think an interesting take away from the study is the following.

Existing sites are usually having a lot of resources that need to get downloaded. An average site has around one hundred now and the number is increasing. Those resources often have dependencies or trigger subsequent transfers. Like a HTML file gets parsed and then a CSS file is downloaded and once the CSS is downloaded it gets parsed and images specified in there are downloaded. It easily gets even more “steps” like that when downloading javascript, that triggers more javascript that renders parts of the page that causes more resources to get downloaded.

velocity room

Nothing new there, right? But when switching a site like that over to HTTP/2 the performance gain will be capped at a certain percentage no matter how large latency you have to the site because what limits such a site to perform well is the time it takes to get to the end of the slowest “dependency chain”. It is less of an issue with HTTP/1.1 since if the resources are from the same site, browsers won’t do more than 6 requests in parallel anyway (on the 6 separate TCP connections it’ll use).

It becomes evident that in order to make such a site really benefit from HTTP/2, the site would have to be modified ever so slightly so that it would deliver its contents with shorter chains and allow the browsers to get more of the resources earlier, in parallel rather than serially.

The actual talk

Splitting up a presentation in two parts with two talkers is more difficult than doing it yourself. I think we did a decent job and we ended the presentation early. It enabled us to answer to a lot of questions and we were actually quite bombarded with them – all relevant and well considered and I think we managed to bring more to the room thanks to them. A lot of the questions were about more generic HTTP/2 and deployments though and not all exactly about the performance study of the presentation.

The audience gave us an average score of 3.74 out of 5. Not too shabby. The room seated 360 persons but it wasn’t completely filled up.

libbrotli is brotli in lib form

Brotli is this new cool compression algorithm that Firefox now has support for in Content-Encoding, Chrome will too soon and Eric Lawrence wrote up this nice summary about.

So I’d love to see brotli supported as a Content-Encoding in curl too, and then we just basically have to write some conditional code to detect the brotli library, add the adaption code for it and we should be in a good position. But…

There is (was) no brotli library!

It turns out the brotli team just writes their code to be linked with their tools, without making any library nor making it easy to install and use for third party applications.

an unmotivated circle sawWe can’t have it like that! I rolled up my imaginary sleeves (imaginary since my swag tshirt doesn’t really have sleeves) and I now offer libbrotli to the world. It is just a bunch of files and a build system that sucks in the brotli upstream repo as a submodule and then it builds a decoder library (brotlidec) and an encoder library (brotlienc) out of them. So there’s no code of our own here. Just building on top of the great stuff done by others.

It’s not complicated. It’s nothing fancy. But you can configure, make and make install two libraries and I can now go on and write a curl adaption for this library so that we can get brotli support for it done. Ideally, this (making a library) is something the brotli project will do on their own at some point, but until they do I don’t mind handling this.

As always, dive in and try it out, file any issues you find and send us your pull-requests for everything you can help us out with!

http2 explained in markdown

http2 explainedAfter twelve  releases and over 140,000 downloads of my explanatory document “http2 explained“, I eventually did the right thing and converted the entire book over to markdown syntax and put the book up on gitbook.com.

Better output formats, now epub, MOBI, PDF and everything happens on every commit.

Better collaboration, github and regular pull requests work fine with text content instead of weird binary word processor file formats.

Easier for translators. With plain text commits to aid in tracking changes, and with the images in a separate directory etc writing and maintaining translated versions of the book should be less tedious.

I’m amazed and thrilled that we already have Chinese, Russian, French and Spanish translations and I hear news about additional languages in the pipe.

I haven’t yet decided how to do with “releases” now, as now we update everything on every push so the latest version is always available to read. Go to http://daniel.haxx.se/http2/ to find out the latest about the document and the most updated version of the document.

Thanks everyone who helps out. You’re the best!