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Jesse's feedback on HTTP/2 header compression

From: Jesse Wilson <jesse@swank.ca>
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2013 01:44:34 -0700
Message-ID: <CAME=j1=BkSTpsCRZDY6N9P_A3HJFSTKr3v33uZO+AbGAasqFHQ@mail.gmail.com>
To: ietf-http-wg@w3.org
I'm implementing HTTP/2 and would like to point out some rough edges! I
don‘t have many specific recommendations; that can come later. Overall I’m
very happy with the direction of HPACK and HTTP/2.0.


State management is hard

The spec is ambiguous in a few places. My first attempt at a reference set
was a bitset that tracked which entry indices were set. This doesn‘t work
well. I actually would need to track two bits of state per entry: whether
it has been emitted for the current header set, and also whether it is in
the reference set for the next round. Ugly. The set doesn’t offer much
guidance here.

How do reference set elements get evicted? The spec says nothing about how
pruning impacts the reference set.

And the examples don‘t help out. They don’t even demonstrate pruning! They
also omit tracking which headers in the reference set have been emitted (so
they won't be emitted again).

I fear that pruning is going to be a major source of bugs in the wild.
Especially since it‘ll usually work. My client and your server will agree
on the contents of the header table until eventually I evict something that
you don’t, or vice versa.

For example, I‘m building in Java and there’s an impedance mismatch between
Java‘s stupid UTF-16 strings and the spec’s UTF-8 strings. I need to track
the byte lengths of everything so that I can evict correctly. If I
accidentally use the number of UTF-16 chars I‘ll be consistent with the
UTF-8 byte length until I use a multibyte character. When that happens, my
internal buffer size could get out of sync with my peer’s buffer size.

This is mostly Java‘s fault, but UTF-16 chars are not unique to Java.
What’s the maximum string length in a HTTP/2.0 header? Spec omits that. It
can‘t be longer than a frame length? Or can header frame boundaries
interrupt a header frame’s contents? That would be tricky to implement!
Length-prefixed

I see a potential problem in the way header lengths are encoded. Suppose
I'm reading a 100 byte HEADERS block and it includes a string of length
200. One of these lengths is incorrect, and my program needs to detect this
and issue a protocol error. But detecting it is awkward because the
100-byte frame size is not local information for the header reader. Even
worse, the same kind of problem can happen when reading variable-length
integers. I could overflow my 100 bytes while reading byte five of a 5-byte
number.
Chromium & Firefox

To confirm my HPACK parsing is working I‘m connecting to OkHttp’s
MockWebServer with Chromium and Firefox nightlies. The latest public
Chromium implements weak compression: it doesn't compress. Instead it just
uses literal header without indexing. Not to pick on the Chromium team, but
this is a bad sign for the simplicity of HPACK! The Firefox code does use
compression, though I couldn't interoperate. (Is their initial headers
table different from mine?).
Bugs & Attack Vectors

At Square, our apps and browsers make HTTP requests against our load
balancers. Those load balancers do some basic request routing and then
forward requests to the appropriate app server.

An attacker could exploit a buggy load balancer by causing it to
misinterpret request headers. For example, it could use UTF-16 characters
to corrupt the headers table, causing it to interpret a dangerous header
like :path /_internal_status as a benign header like user-agent:
/_internal_status.
Priority in headers is awkward

My first attempt at header compression broke because Firefox was sending a
priority in the HTTP/2 HEADERS frame, and I wasn‘t prepared to deal with
it. I fixed it by reading that priority, but then suffered another dumb bug
because I failed to decrement the frame’s length by 4 bytes.

This is annoying. The only potential danger here is that it‘s another
opportunity for a frame to be internally inconsistent. What do you do when
you encounter a 0-length header that has its PRIORITY bit set? Correct code
should fail with a protocol exception, but it’s not too hard to imagine
incorrect code proceeding here.


Again; these are nitpicks! Thanks for the fine spec guys.
Received on Thursday, 29 August 2013 08:45:24 UTC

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