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Re: Can the response entity be transmitted before all the request entity has been read?

From: Alex Rousskov <rousskov@measurement-factory.com>
Date: Mon, 15 Mar 2004 16:36:21 -0700 (MST)
To: Jamie Lokier <jamie@shareable.org>
Cc: HTTP WG <ietf-http-wg@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.BSF.4.58.0403151542181.17944@measurement-factory.com>

On Mon, 15 Mar 2004, Jamie Lokier wrote:

> Alex Rousskov wrote:
> > In that case, the most reliable strategy in the presence of
> > questionable traffic is often to switch to a tunnel behavior and
> > terminate the connection as soon as the response is sent.
> I see that is the most common strategy :).  It seems a bit dubious,
> though, because it's easy to imagine application code like this:
>      write "Status: 200\n\n";
>      write "Thank you for your submission.\n";
>      while ($x = read (...)) { store ($x) }
>      write "Great, all done.\n";

While it is easy to imagine such an application, tasking a proxy to
"rewrite" or "fix" application logic to fit HTTP restrictions seems
like a bad idea. IMO, upon receiving "Status: 200\n\n" and sending off
response headers, your proxy should become a "tunnel" and not try to
second-guess the application intent.

> As you say, there are theoretical and practical requirements for
> talking to real HTTP clients and proxies.  One of them may well be
> that the response shouldn't be sent before the request is read.
> I'd rather put the hard requirements, and every feature that will
> help with robustness, in the _server_, rather than document it as a
> requirement that applications have to follow.  It's the server's job
> to keep the communication good as reliable as possible, insulating
> the application.

IMO, the "Do No Harm" rule trumps the "Try to change the world to the
better" rule, especially for proxies (which is what you are
implementing in this context). If you can reliably convert garbage
into compliant output, do so. If your smart conversion algorithm
silently breaks a few innocent applications, then do no smart

If you need a negative example, consider Apache 2.x problems with
smart content-length guessing algorithm that, AFAIK, still stalls a
few simple CGIs that work fine with Apache 1.x:

Specifically, if your server will be able to detect and reject
applications that write before reading, fine. If your server delays
any application output until it thinks there is no more input, your
feature is probably going to be a popular target for denial of service
attacks (for example) and you are probably going to deadlock
applications that write more than one buffer worth of data (another

It is possible to have an HTTP-to-Applications API with enough logic
and controls that optimizations you mention are very appropriate and
safe. Is CGI such an interface? Do CGI specs document these things?

> That's contrary to most server implementations: they do give the
> application control over when to read and write, which is the
> opposite of what you're suggesting here.

Am I? A tunnel is exactly what gives the application unlimited ability
to read and write at any time, at will.

> I am so far following the advice in RFC 2616, which is to send
> 100-Continue if Expect: 100-continue is received and it's HTTP/1.1
> or greater, or if it's HTTP/1.1 (exactly that version) and it's POST
> or PUT.
> Is that advice good?

The former is not an advice, it is a MUST-level requirement :-)
so yes, you must do that.

The latter is a pro-active behavior intended to help RFC 2068 agents.
Unfortunately, it requires compliant RFC 2616 support for 100 Continue
in proxies. My bet that sending 100 Continue pro-actively will hurt in
more cases than it will help, but I have no data to prove that.

Moreover, there was a paper that formally proved that 100 Continue
leads to deadlocks in certain compliant environments, so we are
probably talking about a partially broken mechanism here anyway.

> That's a crucial question.  Should I either enforce that in the
> server, by insisting on reading the whole request before allowing
> any text of a non-error response to be sent (error can be sent
> immediately), or document it as an application requirement: that the
> application must do all its reading before it writes anything?

You cannot enforce this at the server without deadlocking or killing
the application or running out of server memory. Imagine an
application that writes more than you can buffer before it reads

> It seems that existing servers, e.g. Apache, thttpd and all the
> others don't do either: they allow request to be read by the
> application when it likes, the response to be sent before all the
> request is read if the application likes, and don't document this as
> a problem.  It's for application writers to be aware of it.

That's what I would do too, as far as code is concerned. Documenting
potential problems is always good, of course, especially if you can
give specific real-world examples.

> I'd simply like to know whether it's best to program the server to
> enforce that, knowing it's a common/rare client weakness, or to not
> enforce it but recommend it in the application interface
> documentation, or to permit it if it actually works in practice.

Make your HTTP-to-application proxy as simple as possible. Warn of
possible problems if the tunnel interface is abused. Let applications
decide how they want to deal with those problems.

> My strategy is to copy Apache's well-tested "lingering close":
> shutdown(fd,SHUT_WR) followed by reading everything for up to 30
> seconds, or until 2 seconds passes with no incoming data, then the
> full close().

Cool. I hope this well-tested algorithm is not what breaks CGIs in
Apache 2 :-). Also, FWIW, I recall half-close causing many problems
for Squid proxies for a while. It is probably fixed now.


Received on Monday, 15 March 2004 18:36:25 UTC

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