Tag Archives: HTTP/3

QUIC and HTTP/3 with wolfSSL

Disclaimer: I work for wolfSSL but I don’t speak for wolfSSL. I state my own opinions and I try to be as honest and transparent as possible. As always.

QUIC API

Back in the summer of 2020 I blogged about QUIC support coming in wolfSSL. That work never actually took off, primarily I believe because the team kept busy with other projects and tasks that had more customer focus and interest and yeah, there was not really any noticeable customer demand for QUIC with wolfSSL.

Time passed.

On July 21 2022, Stefan Eissing submitted his work on introducing a QUIC API and after reviews and updates, it was merged into the wolfSSL master branch on August 9th.

The QUIC API is planned to appear “for real” in a coming wolfSSL release version. Until then, we can play with what is available in git.

Let me be clear here: the good people at wolfSSL has not decided to write a full QUIC implementation, because that would be insane when so many good alternatives are already being worked on. This is just a set of new functions to allow wolfSSL to be used as TLS component when a QUIC stack is created.

Having QUIC support in wolfSSL is just one (but important) step along the way as it makes it possible to use wolfSSL to build a QUIC implementation but there are some more steps needed to turn this baby into full HTTP/3.

ngtcp2

Luckily, ngtcp2 exists and it is an established QUIC implementation that was written to be TLS agnostic from the beginning. This “only” needs adaptions provided to make sure it can be built and used with wolSSL as the TLS provider.

Stefan brought wolfSSL support to ngtcp2 in this PR. Merged on August 13th.

nghttp3

nghttp3 is the HTTP/3 library that uses ngtcp2 for QUIC, so once ngtcp2 supports wolfSSL we can use nghttp3 to do HTTP/3.

curl

curl can (as one of the available options) get built to use nghttp3 for HTTP/3, and if we just make sure we use an underlying ngtcp2 built to use a wolfSSL version with QUIC support, we can now do proper curl HTTP/3 transfers powered by wolfSSL.

Stefan made it possible to build curl with the wolfSSL+ngtcp2 combo in this PR. Merged on August 15th.

Available HTTP/3 components

With this new ecosystem addition, the chart of HTTP/3 components for curl did not get any easier to parse!

If you start by selecting which HTTP/3 library (or maybe I should call it HTTP/3 vertical) to use when building, there are three available options to go with: quiche, msh3 or nghttp3. Depending on that choice, the QUIC library is given. quiche does QUIC as well, but the two other HTTP/3 libraries use dedicated QUIC libraries (msquic and ngtcp2 respectively).

Depending on which QUIC solution you use, there is a limited selection of TLS libraries to use. The image above shows TLS libraries that curl also supports for other protocols, meaning that if you pick one of those you can still use that curl build to for example do HTTPS for HTTP version 1 or 2.

TLS options

If you instead rather pick TLS library first, only quictls and BoringSSL are supported by all QUIC libraries (quictls is an OpenSSL fork with a BoringSSL-like QUIC API patched in). If you rather build curl to use Schannel (that’s the native Windows TLS API), GnuTLS or wolfSSL you have also indirectly chosen which QUIC and HTTP/3 libraries to use.

Picotls

ngtcp2 supports Picotls shown in orange in the image above because that is a TLS 1.3-only library that is not supported for other TLS operations within curl. If you build curl and opt to go with a ngtcp2 build using Picotls for QUIC, you would need to have use an second TLS library for other TLS-using protocols. This is possible, but is rarely what users prefer.

No OpenSSL option

It should probably be especially highlighted that the plain vanilla OpenSSL is not an available option. Primarily because they decided that the already created API was not good enough for them so they will instead work on implementing their own QUIC library to be released at some point in the future. That also implies that if we want to build curl to do HTTP/3 with OpenSSL in the future, we probably need to add support for a forth QUIC library – and someone would also have to write a HTTP/3 library to use OpenSSL for QUIC.

Why wolfSSL adding QUIC is good for HTTP/3

People in general want to build applications and infrastructure using released, official and supported libraries and the sad truth is that there is a clear shortage in such TLS libraries with QUIC support.

In your typical current Linux distribution, quictls and BoringSSL are usually not viable options. The first since it is an OpenSSL fork not many even ship as a package and the second because it is done by Google for Google and they don’t do releases and generally care little for outside-Google users.

For the situations where those two TLS options are out of the game, the image above shows you the grim reality: your HTTP/3 options are limited. On Windows you can go with msh3 since it can use Schannel there, but on non-Windows you can only use ngtcp2/nghttp3 and before this wolfSSL support the only TLS option was GnuTLS.

For many embedded solutions, or even FIPS requirements, wolfSSL is now the only viable option for doing HTTP/3 with curl.

New HTTP core specs

Before this, the latest refreshed specification of HTTP/1.1 was done in the RFC 7230 series, published in June 2014. After that, HTTP/2 was done in the spring of 2015 and recently the HTTP/3 spec has been a work in progress.

To better reflect this new world of multiple HTTP versions and an HTTP protocol ecosystem that has some parts that are common for all versions and some other parts that are specific for each particular version, the team behind this refresh has been working on this updated series.

My favorite documents in this “cluster” are:

HTTP Semantics

RFC 9110 basically describes how HTTP works independently of and across versions.

HTTP/1.1

RFC 9112 replaces 7230.

HTTP/2

RFC 9113 replaces 7540.

HTTP/3

RFC 9114 is finally the version three of the protocol in a published specification.

Credits

Top image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay. The HTTP stack image is done by me, Daniel.

now on HTTP/3

The first mention of QUIC on this blog was back when I posted about the HTTP workshop of July 2015. Today, this blog is readable over the protocol QUIC subsequently would turn into. (Strictly speaking, it turned into QUIC + HTTP/3 but let’s not be too literal now.)

The other day Fastly announced that all their customers now can enable HTTP/3, and since this blog and the curl site are graciously running on the Fastly network I went ahead and enabled the protocol.

Within minutes and with almost no mistakes, I could load content over HTTP/3 using curl or browsers. Wooosh.

The name HTTP/3 wasn’t adopted until late 2018, and the RFC has still not been published yet. Some of the specifications for QUIC have however.

curling curl with h3

msh3 as the third h3 backend

With the brand new merged support for the msh3 library, curl now supports no less than three different HTTP/3 backends. It was merged into curl’s git repository on April 10.

When you build curl, you have the option to build it with HTTP/3 support enabled. The HTTP/3 support in curl is still considered experimental so it is still not enabled by default.

The HTTP/3 support in curl depends on the presence and support from third party libraries. You need to select and enable a specific HTTP/3 backend when you build curl. It has previously been doing HTTP/3 using either quiche or ngtcp2 + nghttp3. Starting now, there is yet another option to consider: the msh3 library.

The msh3 library itself uses msquic for doing QUIC. This is a multi platform library that uses Schannel for TLS when on Windows and OpenSSL/quictls for other platforms. The Schannel part probably makes solution this particularly interesting for curl users on Windows.

curl with rust

I did an online presentation with this name for the Rust Linz meetup, on January 27 2022. This is the recording:

The individual slides are also available.

Content quickly

In this presentation I talk about how libcurl’s most important aspect is the stable ABI and API. If we just maintain those, we can change the internals however we like.

libcurl has a system with build-time selected components, called backends. They are usually powered by third party libraries. With the recently added HTTP backend there are now seven “flavors” of backends.

A backend can be provided by a library written in rust, as long as that rust component provides a C interface that libcurl can use. When it does, it being rust or not is completely transparent and a non-issue for libcurl.

curl currently supports components written in rust for three different backends:

None of these backends are yet “feature complete”, but we are moving slowly towards that. Your help is appreciated!

The QUIC API OpenSSL will not provide

In a world that is now gradually adopting HTTP/3 (which, as you know, is implemented over QUIC), the problem with the missing API for QUIC is still a key problem.

There are a number of existing QUIC library implementation now since a few years back, and they are slowly maturing. The QUIC protocol became RFC 9000 and friends, but the most popular TLS libraries still don’t provide the necessary APIs to make QUIC libraries possible to use them.

Example that makes people want HTTP/3

Example tweet of what makes people keen on experimenting and deploying HTTP/3.

OpenSSL PR8797

For a long time, many people and projects (including yours truly) in the QUIC community were eagerly following the OpenSSL Pull Request 8797, which introduced the necessary QUIC APIs into OpenSSL. This change brought the same API to OpenSSL that BoringSSL already provides and as such the API has already been used and tested out by several independent implementations.

Implementations have a problem to ship to the world based on BoringSSL since that’s a TLS library without versions and proper releases, so it is not a good choice for the big wide world. OpenSSL is already the most widely used TLS library out there and lots of applications are already made to use that.

Delays made quictls happen

The OpenSSL PR8797 was delayed back in February 2020 on when the OpenSSL management committee (OMC) decreed that they would not deal with that PR until after their pending 3.0.0 release had shipped.

“It is our expectation that once the 3.0 release is done, QUIC will become a significant focus of our effort.”

OpenSSL then proceeded and their 3.0.0 release was delayed significantly compared to their initial time schedule.

In March 2021, Microsoft and Akamai announced quictls, an OpenSSL fork with the express idea to ship OpenSSL + the QUIC API. They didn’t want to wait for OpenSSL to do it.

Several QUIC libraries can now use quictls. quictls has kept their fork up to date and now offers the equivalent of OpenSSL 3.0.0 + the QUIC API.

While we’ve been waiting for OpenSSL to adopt the API.

OpenSSL makes a turn instead

Then came the next blow to everyone’s expectations. An autumn surprise. On October 13, the OpenSSL OMC announces:

The focus for the next releases is QUIC, with the objective of providing a fully functional QUIC implementation over a series of releases (2-3).

OpenSSL has decided to implement a complete QUIC stack on their own and with the given time line it sounds like it will take them a few years (?) to ship. And instead of providing the API lots of implementers have been been waiting for so long, they explicitly say that it is a non-goal at the start:

The MVP will not contain a library API for an HTTP/3 implementation (it is a non-goal of the initial release).

I didn’t write my own QUIC implementation but I’ve followed the work of several of the implementations fairly closely and it is fairly complicated journey they set out for themselves – for very unclear reasons. There already exist several high quality QUIC libraries, why does OpenSSL think they need to make yet another one? They seem to be overloaded with work already before, which the long delays of the 3.0.0 release seemed to show, how are they going to be able to add a complete new stack implementation of top of this? The future will tell.

PR8797 closed

On October 20 2021, the pull request that was created in April 2019, is finally closed for real as a “won’t fix”.

Screenshot of the actual closing of the PR

Where are we now?

The lack of a QUIC API in OpenSSL has held us back and with this move from OpenSSL, it will continue to hold us back for an uncertain amount of time going forward.

QUIC stacks will have to stick to using or switching to other libraries.

I’m disappointed.

James Snell, one of the key contributors on the QUIC and HTTP/3 work in nodejs tweeted:

Credits

Image by Marzena P. from Pixabay

QUIC is RFC 9000

The official publication date of the relevant QUIC specifications is: May 27, 2021.

I’ve done many presentations about HTTP and related technologies over the years. HTTP/2 had only just shipped when the QUIC working group had been formed in the IETF and I started to mention and describe what was being done there.

I’ve explained HTTP/3

I started writing the document HTTP/3 explained in February 2018 before the protocol was even called HTTP/3 (and yeah the document itself was also called something else at first). The HTTP protocol for QUIC was just called “HTTP over QUIC” in the beginning and it took until November 2018 before it got the name HTTP/3. I did my first presentation using HTTP/3 in the title and on slides in early December 2018, My first recorded HTTP/3 presentation was in January 2019 (in Stockholm, Sweden).

In that talk I mentioned that the protocol would be “live” by the summer of 2019, which was an optimistic estimate based on the then current milestones set out by the IETF working group.

I think my optimism regarding the release schedule has kept up but as time progressed I’ve updated that estimation many times…

HTTP/3 – not yet

The first four RFC documentations to be ratified and published only concern QUIC, the transport protocol, and not the HTTP/3 parts. The two HTTP/3 documents are also in queue but are slightly delayed as they await some other prerequisite (“generic” HTTP update) documents to ship first, then the HTTP/3 ones can ship and refer to those other documents.

QUIC

QUIC is a new transport protocol. It is done over UDP and can be described as being something of a TCP + TLS replacement, merged into a single protocol.

Okay, the title of this blog is misleading. QUIC is actually documented in four different RFCs:

RFC 8999 – Version-Independent Properties of QUIC

RFC 9000 – QUIC: A UDP-Based Multiplexed and Secure Transport

RFC 9001 – Using TLS to Secure QUIC

RFC 9002 – QUIC Loss Detection and Congestion Control

My role: I’m just a bystander

I initially wanted to keep up closely with the working group and follow what happened and participate on the meetings and interims etc. It turned out to be too difficult for me to do that so I had to lower my ambitions and I’ve mostly had a casual observing role. I just couldn’t muster the energy and spend the time necessary to do it properly.

I’ve participated in many of the meetings, I’ve been present in the QUIC implementers slack, I’ve followed lots of design and architectural discussions on the mailing list and in GitHub issues. I’ve worked on implementing support for QUIC and h3 in curl and thanks to that helped out iron issues and glitches in various implementations, but the now published RFCs have virtually no traces of me or my feedback in them.

Where is HTTP/3 right now?

tldr: the level of HTTP/3 support in servers is surprisingly high.

The specs

The specifications are all done. They’re now waiting in queues to get their final edits and approvals before they will get assigned RFC numbers and get published as such – they will not change any further. That’s a set of RFCs (six I believe) for various aspects of this new stack. The HTTP/3 spec is just one of those. Remember: HTTP/3 is the application protocol done over the new transport QUIC. (See http3 explained for a high-level description.)

The HTTP/3 spec was written to refer to, and thus depend on, two other HTTP specs that are in the works: httpbis-cache and https-semantics. Those two are mostly clarifications and cleanups of older HTTP specs, but this forces the HTTP/3 spec to have to get published after the other two, which might introduce a small delay compared to the other QUIC documents.

The working group has started to take on work on new specifications for extensions and improvements beyond QUIC version 1.

HTTP/3 Usage

In early April 2021, the usage of QUIC and HTTP/3 in the world is measured by a few different companies.

QUIC support

netray.io scans the IPv4 address space weekly and checks how many hosts that speak QUIC. Their latest scan found 2.1 million such hosts.

Arguably, the netray number doesn’t say much. Those two million hosts could be very well used or barely used machines.

HTTP/3 by w3techs

w3techs.com has been in the game of scanning web sites for stats purposes for a long time. They scan the top ten million sites and count how large share that runs/supports what technologies and they also check for HTTP/3. In their data they call the old Google QUIC for just “QUIC” which is confusing but that should be seen as the precursor to HTTP/3.

What stands out to me in this data except that the HTTP/3 usage seems very high: the top one-million sites are claimed to have a higher share of HTTP/3 support (16.4%) than the top one-thousand (11.9%)! That’s the reversed for HTTP/2 and not how stats like this tend to look.

It has been suggested that the growth starting at Feb 2021 might be explained by Cloudflare’s enabling of HTTP/3 for users also in their free plan.

HTTP/3 by Cloudflare

On radar.cloudflare.com we can see Cloudflare’s view of a lot of Internet and protocol trends over the world.

The last 30 days according to radar.cloudflare.com

This HTTP/3 number is significantly lower than w3techs’. Presumably because of the differences in how they measure.

Clients

The browsers

All the major browsers have HTTP/3 implementations and most of them allow you to manually enable it if it isn’t already done so. Chrome and Edge have it enabled by default and Firefox will so very soon. The caniuse.com site shows it like this (updated on April 4):

(Earlier versions of this blog post showed the previous and inaccurate data from caniuse.com. Not anymore.)

curl

curl supports HTTP/3 since a while back, but you need to explicitly enable it at build-time. It needs to use third party libraries for the HTTP/3 layer and it needs a QUIC capable TLS library. The QUIC/h3 libraries are still beta versions. See below for the TLS library situation.

curl’s HTTP/3 support is not even complete. There are still unsupported areas and it’s not considered stable yet.

Other clients

Facebook has previously talked about how they use HTTP/3 in their app, and presumably others do as well. There are of course also other implementations available.

TLS libraries

curl supports 14 different TLS libraries at this time. Two of them have QUIC support landed: BoringSSL and GnuTLS. And a third would be the quictls OpenSSL fork. (There are also a few other smaller TLS libraries that support QUIC.)

OpenSSL

The by far most popular TLS library to use with curl, OpenSSL, has postponed their QUIC work:

“It is our expectation that once the 3.0 release is done, QUIC will become a significant focus of our effort.”

At the same time they have delayed the OpenSSL 3.0 release significantly. Their release schedule page still today speaks of a planned release of 3.0.0 in “early Q4 2020”. That plan expects a few months from the beta to final release and we have not yet seen a beta release, only alphas.

Realistically, this makes QUIC in OpenSSL many months off until it can appear even in a first alpha. Maybe even 2022 material?

BoringSSL

The Google powered OpenSSL fork BoringSSL has supported QUIC for a long time and provides the OpenSSL API, but they don’t do releases and mostly focus on getting a library done for Google. People outside the company are generally reluctant to use and depend on this library for those reasons.

The quiche QUIC/h3 library from Cloudflare uses BoringSSL and curl can be built to use quiche (as well as BoringSSL).

quictls

Microsoft and Akamai have made a fork of OpenSSL available that is based on OpenSSL 1.1.1 and has the QUIC pull-request applied in order to offer a QUIC capable OpenSSL flavor to the world before the official OpenSSL gets their act together. This fork is called quictls. This should be compatible with OpenSSL in all other regards and provide QUIC with an API that is similar to BoringSSL’s.

The ngtcp2 QUIC library uses quictls. curl can be built to use ngtcp2 as well as with quictls,

Is HTTP/3 faster?

I realize I can’t blog about this topic without at least touching this question. The main reason for adding support for HTTP/3 on your site is probably that it makes it faster for users, so does it?

According to cloudflare’s tests, it does, but the difference is not huge.

We’ve seen other numbers say h3 is faster shown before but it’s hard to find up-to-date performance measurements published for the current version of HTTP/3 vs HTTP/2 in real world scenarios. Partly of course because people have hesitated to compare before there are proper implementations to compare with, and not just development versions not really made and tweaked to perform optimally.

I think there are reasons to expect h3 to be faster in several situations, but for people with high bandwidth low latency connections in the western world, maybe the difference won’t be noticeable?

Future

I’ve previously shown the slide below to illustrate what needs to be done for curl to ship with HTTP/3 support enabled in distros and “widely” and I think the same works for a lot of other projects and clients who don’t control their TLS implementation and don’t write their own QUIC/h3 layer code.

This house of cards of h3 is slowly getting some stable components, but there are still too many moving parts for most of us to ship.

I assume that the rest of the browsers will also enable HTTP/3 by default soon, and the specs will be released not too long into the future. That will make HTTP/3 traffic on the web increase significantly.

The QUIC and h3 libraries will ship their first non-beta versions once the specs are out.

The TLS library situation will continue to hamper wider adoption among non-browsers and smaller players.

The big players already deploy HTTP/3.

Updates

I’ve updated this post after the initial publication, and the biggest corrections are in the Chrome/Edge details. Thanks to immediate feedback from Eric Lawrence. Remaining errors are still all mine! Thanks also to Barry Pollard who filed the PR to update the previously flawed caniuse.com data.

QUIC with wolfSSL

We have started the work on extending wolfSSL to provide the necessary API calls to power QUIC and HTTP/3 implementations!

Small, fast and FIPS

The TLS library known as wolfSSL is already very often a top choice when users are looking for a small and yet very fast TLS stack that supports all the latest protocol features; including TLS 1.3 support – open source with commercial support available.

As manufacturers of IoT devices and other systems with memory, CPU and footprint constraints are looking forward to following the Internet development and switching over to upcoming QUIC and HTTP/3 protocols, wolfSSL is here to help users take that step.

A QUIC reminder

In case you have forgot, here’s a schematic view of HTTPS stacks, old vs new. On the right side you can see HTTP/3, QUIC and the little TLS 1.3 box there within QUIC.

ngtcp2

There are no plans to write a full QUIC stack. There are already plenty of those. We’re talking about adjustments and extensions of the existing TLS library API set to make sure wolfSSL can be used as the TLS component in a QUIC stack.

One of the leading QUIC stacks and so far the only one I know of that does this, ngtcp2 is written to be TLS library agnostic and allows different TLS libraries to be plugged in as different backends. I believe it makes perfect sense to make such a plugin for wolfSSL to be a sensible step as soon as there’s code to try out.

A neat effect of that, would be that once wolfSSL works as a backend to ngtcp2, it should be possible to do full-fledged HTTP/3 transfers using curl powered by ngtcp2+wolfSSL. Contact us with other ideas for QUIC stacks you would like us to test wolfSSL with!

FIPS 140-2

We expect wolfSSL to be the first FIPS-based implementation to add support for QUIC. I hear this is valuable to a number of users.

When

This work begins now and this is just a blog post of our intentions. We and I will of course love to get your feedback on this and whatever else that is related. We’re also interested to get in touch with people and companies who want to be early testers of our implementation. You know where to find us!

I can promise you that the more interest we can sense to exist for this effort, the sooner we will see the first code to test out.

It seems likely that we’re not going to support any older TLS drafts for QUIC than draft-29.