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Re: Proposal (I-D) for extending HTTP to support out-of-order responses

From: Koen Holtman <koen@hep.caltech.edu>
Date: Tue, 8 May 2001 00:02:56 -0700 (PDT)
To: Jeffrey Mogul <mogul@pa.dec.com>
cc: http-wg@hplb.hpl.hp.com, Koen Holtman <koen@hep.caltech.edu>
Message-ID: <Pine.A41.4.10.10105072127280.17796-100000@hep216.cithep.caltech.edu>

On Wed, 11 Apr 2001, Jeffrey Mogul wrote:

> 	Title		: Support for out-of-order responses in HTTP
> 	Author(s)	: J. Mogul
> 	Filename	: draft-mogul-http-ooo-00.txt
> 	Pages		: 14
> 	Date		: 09-Apr-01
> 	http://www.ietf.org/internet-drafts/draft-mogul-http-ooo-00.txt

Just read the draft, overall it looks good.  The hop-by-hop approach
seems to be the right one.  I could not discover any potential problems
in interacting with correctly implemented legacy caches.

Some comments:

1. The end of section 3.1 got me thinking a bit:

   A client SHOULD NOT send an RID header field with a request if the
   semantics of the operation might not permit reordering.  A server
   SHOULD NOT reorder a response if the semantics of the operation might
   not permit reordering.  For example, a DELETE request probably ought
   not to be reordered with other requests.

This language is really too vague, as it does not spell out the criteria
for knowing when "the semantics of the operation might not permit
reordering". In theory, as people can layer whatever they want on top of
GET, of course *any* two operations *might* not permit reordering, so what
is a poor proxy in the middle to do?  So what is a hard criterion one can
define for not permitting reordering?

The end of Section (Pipelining) of RFC 2616 gives some guidance

   Clients SHOULD NOT pipeline requests using non-idempotent methods or
   non-idempotent sequences of methods (see section 9.1.2). Otherwise, a
   premature termination of the transport connection could lead to
   indeterminate results. A client wishing to send a non-idempotent
   request SHOULD wait to send that request until it has received the
   response status for the previous request.

So it looks like correctly implemented clients will already avoid
pipelining for non-idempotent requests.  So there will not be a big
potential loss of efficiency if all non-idempotent requests are are
defined as `does not permit reordering'.

On the other hand, 2616 seems to imply that pipelining idempotent requests
is OK.  Also I believe it is considered to be legal for a 1.1 proxy to
multiplex one incoming request stream over multiple outgoing streams to
the same server.  So I believe 1.1 already implies that idempotent
requests could arrive out-of-order at the server -- is this correct?  If
that is the case then just reordering the responses to non-idempotent
requests should also be OK.

So it looks like 2616 implies that the hard criterion for not permitting
re-ordering should be whether the request is non-idempotent.  However the
example in the draft "a DELETE request probably ought not to be reordered
with other requests." seems to even broaden this, as DELETE *is*
idempotent, though not safe.  So this implies a preference for broadening
the criterion to non permitting the re-ordering of unsafe requests???  
Probably so.

One additional observations before I propose new language for the draft..  
In general I do not like the specification style where both sides of the
wire are responsible for enforcing a protocol constraint (here the
constraint is not being able to do response reordering in some cases).
While this style potentially creates a higher tolerance against bugs in
implementations it also adds some software complexity and limits the
ability to override such constraints in protocol extensions.  In this case
I would like the policing of this constraint to be the responsibility of
the client only -- the server should trust that the client knows what it
is doing, as it has potentially out-of-band information about

So all in all I propose this new language to replace the qouted paragraph

   A client MUST NOT send an RID header field on an unsafe
   request (all requests except GET and HEAD requests are unsafe),
   unless it has out-of-band information that the potential
   re-ordering of the response to the request is not a problem.  
   A client MAY send a RID header on any safe request.

2. The language in section 3.1 does not answer these questions:

2A) If a proxy server gets a sequence of (idempotent) requests, all with a
RID header, section 3.1 is currently silent as far as I can see on whether
this means that the requests may be forwarded upstream in a different

2B) If an origin server gets a sequence of (idempotent) requests, all with
a RID header, section 3.1 is currently silent as far as I can see on
whether this means that the requests may be processed (this processing may
generate side effects!!!) in a different order.

Section 2.1 seems to imply that the answers to both these are `yes'.  
According to my reasoning about multiplexing pipelined requests above,
HTTP/1.1 implies that answering `yes' to both 2A) and 2B) should be safe.  
However I am not completely sure if this is true for all HTTP applications
in practice...

In any case, the draft should answer the above questions in the
`specification' section, though I am not sure if the answer to A) should
be yes.

3. The following language at the end of section 3.3 looked scary on first

   A proxy might need to establish a new inbound transport connection in
   order to allow continued reordering of unrelated responses while
   preserving the ordering constraints implied by the RID-Barrier header
   (relative to a previous request that it has forwarded without yet
   receiving a response).

On second reading I am assuming that "unrelated responses" means
`responses to requests gotten from a different client', which would make
the language non-scary.  Though I am not 100% sure that this is what was
meant, so the language probably needs to be clarified.

4. The purpose of rid-barrier seems to be to separate on the whole path to
the origin server 2 sets of reorderable request sequences for which the
responses should not be mixed among the sequences. HOWEVER if a proxy
somwhere along this path multiplexes the request stream onto 2 (or more)
different outgoing connections (this might easily happen especially if not
all requests are on the same origin server) then one of the streams will
have the rid-barrier missing, which means that the (parts of the) 2
request sequences in this sequence with missing rid-barrier become
re-orderable again. So it looks like rid-barrier will not always work for
its intended use.


A1) instead of sending rid-barrier have the client `drain the pipeline'
(as HTTP/1.1 suggests you do before a non-idempotent request), this will
prevent any mixing between the two sequences.

A2) change the RID field to add an extra identifier which denotes a group
of requests with reorderable responses.

i.e.  the sequence (each line a requesr)

RID: 1
RID: 2
RID: 3
RID: 4


RID: A,1
RID: A,2
<non-rid normal request, could also be ommitted>
RID: B,3
RID: B,4

and then one can put a constraint on any server that responses can only be
reordered when the first token in the RID field is the same.

I would prefer alternative A1), A2) seems to be overkill.

Note that for the same reason that rid-barrier does not always work, a
nonsafe request between two rid-sequences can also not be counted on to
prevent re-ordering of the responses (and requests too???) between the
sequences further upstream. It looks like to only way to be sure is to
drain the pipeline.  This should be documented in the draft!  If the
answer to question 2A above is `yes' we now have the somewhat non-obvious
result that if the client sends through some proxies

RID: 1
RID: 2
RID-BARRIER or non-safe
RID: 3
RID: 4

without waiting anywhere for the pipeline to drain, it is entirely
possible that the origin server will see

RID: 4
RID: 3
RID-BARRIER or non-safe
RID: 2
RID: 1

because a proxy in the middle multiplexed the `RID-BARRIER or non-safe'
onto a different connection than the other requests.

5. About the security considerations: if a client sends

GET /a RID: 1
GET /b RID: 2

then resource /a could potentially respond with

200 OK
RID: 2
bla bla bla

thus spoofing a reponse from resource /b!!!  Resource /a might then get
the server to abort or hang the connection -- a client or proxy getting
the single response might then cache or use the response as a valid
response from /b without suspecting that anything is wrong. If /b is a
known URL at which to get a certificate this will be a problem...  The
attacker /a might be able to put up a web page that makes many browsers
emit the above two requests with a high predictability. 

In general a client cannot assume that two resources on the other end of a
hop-to-hop connection are in the same trust domain.  Also in the

rid-aware client --- 1.1 proxy not rid-aware -- origin server with /a
                                            ---- origin server with /b

unless the client has checks to prevent this, the resource /a could spoof
/b which is on a different origin server by sending a `rid: 2' header not
protected by a connection header through the proxy.

Overall it looks like tight sanity checking of the responses by the
client, and deferring the use of the response for something important
(like caching, saving, certification) until all responses are received and
checked, will prevent many (maybe all?) spoofing attacks.  
But a more complete analysis is needed for sure.

OK, these are all my comments.  I only thought of some of these points
while writing the message, so the message has become a bit less structured
than I intended, for this I apologize.

Received on Tuesday, 8 May 2001 08:04:22 UTC

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