Tag Archives: HTTP

HTTP cookies IETF working group

So finally (remember I mentioned this list when it was created back in January 2009) an IETF http-state working group was created, with the following description:

The HTTP State Management Mechanism (Cookies) was original created by Netscape Communications in their Netscape cookie specification, from which a formal specification followed (RFC 2109, RFC 2965). Due to years of implementation and extension, several ambiguities have become evident, impairing interoperability and the ability to easily implement and use HTTP State Management Mechanism.

I’m on the list from the start and I hope to be able to contribute some of my cookie experiences and knowledge to aid the document to actually end up with something useful. The ambition, while it was “toned down” somewhat since the initial posts of the mailing lists, is still fairly high I would claim:

The working group will refine RFC2965 to:

  • Incorporate errata and updates
  • Clarify conformance requirements
  • Remove known ambiguities where they affect interoperability
  • Clarify existing methods of extensibility
  • Remove or deprecate those features that are not widely implemented and also unduly affect interoperability
  • Add features that are already widely implemented or have a critical mass of support
  • Where necessary, add implementation advice
  • Document the security properties of HTTP State Management Mechanism and its associated mechanisms for common applications

In doing so, it should consider:

  • Implementer experience
  • Demonstrated use of HTTP State Management Mechanism
  • Impact on existing implementations and deployments
  • Ability to achieve broad implementation.
  • Ability to address broader use cases than may be contemplated by the original authors.

The Working Group’s specification deliverables are:

  • A document that is suitable to supersede RFC 2965
  • A document cataloging the security properties of HTTP State Management Mechanism

I think this is a scope that is manageable enough to actually have a chance to succeed and its planning is quite similar to that of the IETF httpbis group. Still, RFC2965 lists a huge pile of stuff that has never been implemented by anyone and even though it was a while since I did read that spec I also expect it to lack several things existing cookie parsers and senders already use. The notorious IE httpOnly is an example I can think of right now.

HTTPbis at IETF75

Mark, one of the editors of the ongoing HTTPbis efforts, first mentioned that there wasn’t going to be any HTTPbis meeting on the upcoming IETF75 meeting in Stockholm July 26-31, 2009. I felt a bit sorry for that since I live in Stockholm, I’m a bit involved in the HTTPbis work and I’ve never been to a IETF meeting.

It simply must have been due to my almighty powers, but apparently two of the editors are going here anyway and there has now been a request for a HTTPbis session during the meeting.

I’m looking forward to this! Hopefully it’ll bring some fun talks on tech we care about, but also meeting cool people in real life that I never met before.


Oh, and am I the only one who can’t find the dates anywhere on ietf75.se?

bittorrent vs HTTP

A while ago I put together my document FTP vs HTTP that compares data transfers done using those two protocols. Similarities and differences.

Today I’m taking the next step in this little series and I offer you Bittorrent vs HTTP! This document discusses differences in areas such as:

  • Transfer Speed
  • Streaming
  • Uplink
  • Firewalls
  • Redundancy
  • Server Load
  • Encryption
  • Protocol Standards

As usual, I’m all ears for your valuable input and help on making it more accurate and more detailed than I manage to myself. Point out my mistakes, my weird use of words or whatever. Post a comment here or email me.

bittorrent vs http

HTTP Status Report

Mark Nottingham Mark Nottingham held a very interesting one hour talk on the status of HTTP and the work on HTTPbis on a QCon conference recently, and luckily for us HTTP geeks there’s this great video/presentation from that.

curl is mentioned at least twice in the slides, unfortunately it has a wrong fact on the second mention where it says curl uses “Pragma: no-cache” as it isn’t true anymore. It used to do that, but we’ve stopped doing it in curl since a while ago.

I’m a subscriber to the httpbis mailing list and a casual contributor, but nonetheless his summary and overview of the state was refreshing as I’ve not been able to keep up with all the details and I haven’t been tracking that working group from its start either.

Code re-use is fun

Back in 2003 I wrote up support for the HTTP NTLM authentication method for libcurl. Happy with my achievement, I later that year donated a GPL licensed version of my code to the Wget project (which also was my first contact with the signed paper stuff with the GNU/FSF to waive my copyright claims and instead hand them over). What was perhaps not so amusing with this code was when both curl and Wget 2005 were discovered to have the same security flaw due to my mistakes in this code shared by both projects!

Just recently, the neon project seems to be interested in taking on the version I adjusted somewhat for them, so possibly the third HTTP code is soon using this. Yeah I posted it on their mailing list back then so it has been sitting there in the archives maturing for some 6 years by now…

I also happened to fall over the SSH Tunnel Creator tool, which I’ve never used myself, that apparently snatched my neon donation (quite according to what the license allowed of course) and used it in their tool to do NTLM!

It’s actually not until recent years I discovered libntlm, and while I don’t know how good it was back in the days when I wrote my first NTLM stuff I generally think using existing libs is the better idea…

More suggested HTTP fun

I’ve already previously expressed my deepest dislike with where the HTML5 work is going, and just yesterday two new internet-drafts appeared on ietf.org that spurred up discussions all around. They’re claimed to be “part of our effort to remove from HTML5 sections that are more appropriate elsewhere” but I’m thinking they’re rather inappropriate everywhere…

The first one named Content-Type Processing Model hits a subject that I’ve been over before, namely the stupidity of having web browsers guess the content based on what it looks like. IE introduced the “I really mean it property“, the HTML5 team wants to standardize the way of the guessing. Personally, I think the world of web will become a better place if the browsers would instead become stricter and more closer follow what the servers actually say the contents is, and then all users would complain to the site admins if things are wrong and then things should be fixed.

Guessing content types allows for sloppy behaviors, it makes it harder to write browsers for the web and it still features a significant risk of guessing wrong.

The second draft propagates for the new HTTP header “Origin”, which according to the authors would help to guard servers against CSRF (“Cross-Site Request Forgery“). The main author says 3% of users on the Internet gets their Referer header stripped while virtually none gets Origin stripped. I claim this is a bogus argument since they strip Referer beacause it is a known and established header and Origin is not. I also completely fail to see the goodness of this and based on several of the other responses on the ieth-http-wg mailing list I am not alone…

IETF http-state group created

Over at the IETF another group was just created named http-state (with an associated mailing list) with the specific goal:

Ultimately, the purpose of this group is to create an updated HTTP State Management Mechanism RFC (aka cookies) that will supersede the Netscape spec, RFCs 2109, 2964, 2965 then add in real-world usage (e.g. HTTPOnly), and possibly add in additional features and possibly merge in draft-broyer-http-cookie-auth-00.txt and draft-pettersen-cookie-v2-03.txt.

I’ve joined the list and I hope to follow and participate in this, as I believe the current state of HTTP cookies is a rather sorry mess and the netscape spec is still what closest describes how cookies work in the wild. Of course I’ll do it with my libcurl experience in my luggage.

While it perhaps would be cool to join the group in more formal way, there’s no way for me to participate in that IETF meeting in San Francisco in March.

Fun with executable extensions in viewvc

A few years ago I wrote up silly little perl script (let’s call it script.pl) that would fetch a page from a site that returns a “random URL off the internet”. I needed a range of URLs for a test program of mine and just making up a thousand or so URLs is tricky. Thus I wrote this script that I would run and allow to get a range of URLs on each invoke and then run it again later and append to the log file. It wasn’t a fancy script, but it solved my task.

The script was part of a project I got funded to work on, that was improving libcurl back in 2005/2006 so I thought adding and committing the script to CVS felt only natural and served a good purpose. To allow others to repeat what I did.

Fast forward to late 2008. The script is now browsable via viewvc on a site that… eh, doesn’t have “.pl” disabled as a cgi extension in its config! The result of course is that each time someone tries to view the script using the web interface, the web server invokes the script locally!

All of a sudden I get a mail from someone, who apparently is admin or something of the site this old script was using, and he mentions that a machine on our network is hammering his site with many requests per second (38 requests/second apparently) and asked me to stop this. It turns out a search engine crawler has indexed the viewvc output several times, and now some 8 processes or so were running this script.pl and they were all looping around getting a page, outputting the URL, getting another page…

While I think 38 requests second is a bit low to even be considered a DOS, it certainly wasn’t intended nor friendly and I was greatly surprised when I slowly realized how it all came to end up like this! Man I suck! It reminds me of my other extension mess from just a few months ago…

Maybe I’ll learn how to do things right in the future when I grow up!


Greg Dean posted an interesting idea on the ietf-http-wg mailing list, suggesting that a new response header would be added to HTTP (Estimated-Content-Length:) to allow servers to indicate a rough estimation of the content length in situation where it doesn’t actually now the exact size before it starts sending data.

In the current world, HTTP servers can only report the exact size to the client or no size at all and then the client will have to just deal with the response becoming any size at all. It then has no way to know even roughly how large the data is or how long the transfer is going to take.

The discussions following Greg’s post seem mostly positive thus far from several people.

Shared Dictionary Compression over HTTP

Wei-Hsin Lee of Google posted about their effort to create a dictionary-based compression scheme for HTTP. I find the idea rather interesting, and it’ll be fun to see what the actual browser and server vendors will say about this.

The idea is basically to use “cookie rules” (domain, path, port number, max-age etc) to make sure a client gets a dictionary and then the server can deliver responses that are diffs computed against the dictionary it has delivered before to the client. For repeated similar contents it should be able to achieve a lot better compression ratios than any other existing HTTP compression in use.

I figure it should be seen as a relative to the “Delta encoding in HTTP” idea, although the SDCH idea seems somewhat more generically applicable.

Since they seem to be using the VCDIFF algorithm for SDCH, the recent open-vcdiff announcement of course is interesting too.