HTTP [RFC2616] was originally used in the clear on the Internet.
However, increased use of HTTP for sensitive applications has
required security measures. SSL, and its successor TLS [RFC2246] were
designed to provide channel-oriented security. This document
describes how to use HTTP over TLS.
1.1. Requirements Terminology
Keywords "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT" and
"MAY" that appear in this document are to be interpreted as described
2. HTTP Over TLS
Conceptually, HTTP/TLS is very simple. Simply use HTTP over TLS
precisely as you would use HTTP over TCP.
2.1. Connection Initiation
The agent acting as the HTTP client should also act as the TLS
client. It should initiate a connection to the server on the
appropriate port and then send the TLS ClientHello to begin the TLS
handshake. When the TLS handshake has finished. The client may then
initiate the first HTTP request. All HTTP data MUST be sent as TLS
"application data". Normal HTTP behavior, including retained
connections should be followed.
2.2. Connection Closure
TLS provides a facility for secure connection closure. When a valid
closure alert is received, an implementation can be assured that no
further data will be received on that connection. TLS
implementations MUST initiate an exchange of closure alerts before
closing a connection. A TLS implementation MAY, after sending a
closure alert, close the connection without waiting for the peer to
send its closure alert, generating an "incomplete close". Note that
an implementation which does this MAY choose to reuse the session.
This SHOULD only be done when the application knows (typically
through detecting HTTP message boundaries) that it has received all
the message data that it cares about.
As specified in [RFC2246], any implementation which receives a
connection close without first receiving a valid closure alert (a
"premature close") MUST NOT reuse that session. Note that a
premature close does not call into question the security of the data
already received, but simply indicates that subsequent data might
have been truncated. Because TLS is oblivious to HTTP
request/response boundaries, it is necessary to examine the HTTP data
itself (specifically the Content-Length header) to determine whether
the truncation occurred inside a message or between messages.
2.2.1. Client Behavior
Because HTTP uses connection closure to signal end of server data,
client implementations MUST treat any premature closes as errors and
the data received as potentially truncated. While in some cases the
HTTP protocol allows the client to find out whether truncation took
place so that, if it received the complete reply, it may tolerate
such errors following the principle to "[be] strict when sending and
tolerant when receiving" [RFC1958], often truncation does not show in
the HTTP protocol data; two cases in particular deserve special note:
A HTTP response without a Content-Length header. Since data length
in this situation is signalled by connection close a premature
close generated by the server cannot be distinguished from a
spurious close generated by an attacker.
A HTTP response with a valid Content-Length header closed before
all data has been read. Because TLS does not provide document
oriented protection, it is impossible to determine whether the
server has miscomputed the Content-Length or an attacker has
truncated the connection.
There is one exception to the above rule. When encountering a
premature close, a client SHOULD treat as completed all requests for
which it has received as much data as specified in the Content-Length
A client detecting an incomplete close SHOULD recover gracefully. It
MAY resume a TLS session closed in this fashion.
Clients MUST send a closure alert before closing the connection.
Clients which are unprepared to receive any more data MAY choose not
to wait for the server's closure alert and simply close the
connection, thus generating an incomplete close on the server side.
2.2.2. Server Behavior
RFC 2616 permits an HTTP client to close the connection at any time,
and requires servers to recover gracefully. In particular, servers
SHOULD be prepared to receive an incomplete close from the client,
since the client can often determine when the end of server data is.
Servers SHOULD be willing to resume TLS sessions closed in this
Implementation note: In HTTP implementations which do not use
persistent connections, the server ordinarily expects to be able to
signal end of data by closing the connection. When Content-Length is
used, however, the client may have already sent the closure alert and
dropped the connection.
Servers MUST attempt to initiate an exchange of closure alerts with
the client before closing the connection. Servers MAY close the
connection after sending the closure alert, thus generating an
incomplete close on the client side.
2.3. Port Number
The first data that an HTTP server expects to receive from the client
is the Request-Line production. The first data that a TLS server (and
hence an HTTP/TLS server) expects to receive is the ClientHello.
Consequently, common practice has been to run HTTP/TLS over a
separate port in order to distinguish which protocol is being used.
When HTTP/TLS is being run over a TCP/IP connection, the default port
is 443. This does not preclude HTTP/TLS from being run over another
transport. TLS only presumes a reliable connection-oriented data
2.4. URI Format
HTTP/TLS is differentiated from HTTP URIs by using the 'https'
protocol identifier in place of the 'http' protocol identifier. An
example URI specifying HTTP/TLS is:
3. Endpoint Identification
3.1. Server Identity
In general, HTTP/TLS requests are generated by dereferencing a URI.
As a consequence, the hostname for the server is known to the client.
If the hostname is available, the client MUST check it against the
server's identity as presented in the server's Certificate message,
in order to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks.
If the client has external information as to the expected identity of
the server, the hostname check MAY be omitted. (For instance, a
client may be connecting to a machine whose address and hostname are
dynamic but the client knows the certificate that the server will
present.) In such cases, it is important to narrow the scope of
acceptable certificates as much as possible in order to prevent man
in the middle attacks. In special cases, it may be appropriate for
the client to simply ignore the server's identity, but it must be
understood that this leaves the connection open to active attack.
If a subjectAltName extension of type dNSName is present, that MUST
be used as the identity. Otherwise, the (most specific) Common Name
field in the Subject field of the certificate MUST be used. Although
the use of the Common Name is existing practice, it is deprecated and
Certification Authorities are encouraged to use the dNSName instead.
Matching is performed using the matching rules specified by
[RFC2459]. If more than one identity of a given type is present in
the certificate (e.g., more than one dNSName name, a match in any one
of the set is considered acceptable.) Names may contain the wildcard
character * which is considered to match any single domain name
component or component fragment. E.g., *.a.com matches foo.a.com but
not bar.foo.a.com. f*.com matches foo.com but not bar.com.
In some cases, the URI is specified as an IP address rather than a
hostname. In this case, the iPAddress subjectAltName must be present
in the certificate and must exactly match the IP in the URI.
If the hostname does not match the identity in the certificate, user
oriented clients MUST either notify the user (clients MAY give the
user the opportunity to continue with the connection in any case) or
terminate the connection with a bad certificate error. Automated
clients MUST log the error to an appropriate audit log (if available)
and SHOULD terminate the connection (with a bad certificate error).
Automated clients MAY provide a configuration setting that disables
this check, but MUST provide a setting which enables it.
Note that in many cases the URI itself comes from an untrusted
source. The above-described check provides no protection against
attacks where this source is compromised. For example, if the URI was
obtained by clicking on an HTML page which was itself obtained
without using HTTP/TLS, a man in the middle could have replaced the
URI. In order to prevent this form of attack, users should carefully
examine the certificate presented by the server to determine if it
meets their expectations.
3.2. Client Identity
Typically, the server has no external knowledge of what the client's
identity ought to be and so checks (other than that the client has a
certificate chain rooted in an appropriate CA) are not possible. If a
server has such knowledge (typically from some source external to
HTTP or TLS) it SHOULD check the identity as described above.
[RFC2459] Housley, R., Ford, W., Polk, W. and D. Solo, "Internet
Public Key Infrastructure: Part I: X.509 Certificate and
CRL Profile", RFC 2459, January 1999.
[RFC2616] Fielding, R., Gettys, J., Mogul, J., Frystyk, H., Masinter,
L., Leach, P. and T. Berners-Lee, "Hypertext Transfer
Protocol, HTTP/1.1", RFC 2616, June 1999.
[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key Words for use in RFCs to indicate
Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
[RFC2246] Dierks, T. and C. Allen, "The TLS Protocol", RFC 2246,
[RFC2817] Khare, R. and S. Lawrence, "Upgrading to TLS Within
HTTP/1.1", RFC 2817, May 2000.
This entire document is about security.
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