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RFC 4387

Proposed STD
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Internet X.509 Public Key Infrastructure Operational Protocols: Certificate Store Access via HTTP


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Network Working Group                                    P. Gutmann, Ed.
Request for Comments: 4387                        University of Auckland
Category: Standards Track                                  February 2006

                Internet X.509 Public Key Infrastructure
        Operational Protocols: Certificate Store Access via HTTP

Status of This Memo

   This document specifies an Internet standards track protocol for the
   Internet community, and requests discussion and suggestions for
   improvements.  Please refer to the current edition of the "Internet
   Official Protocol Standards" (STD 1) for the standardization state
   and status of this protocol.  Distribution of this memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2006).


   The protocol conventions described in this document satisfy some of
   the operational requirements of the Internet Public Key
   Infrastructure (PKI).  This document specifies the conventions for
   using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP/HTTPS) as an interface
   mechanism to obtain certificates and certificate revocation lists
   (CRLs) from PKI repositories.  Additional mechanisms addressing PKIX
   operational requirements are specified in separate documents.

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Table of Contents

   1. Introduction ....................................................2
   2. HTTP Certificate Store Interface ................................3
      2.1. Converting Binary Blobs into Search Keys ...................4
      2.2. Attribute Types: X.509 .....................................5
      2.3. Attribute Types: PGP .......................................6
      2.4. Attribute Types: XML .......................................6
      2.5. Implementation Notes and Rationale .........................6
           2.5.1. Identification ......................................7
           2.5.2. Checking of Input Values ............................9
           2.5.3. URI Notes ..........................................10
           2.5.4. Responses ..........................................11
           2.5.5. Performance Issues .................................12
           2.5.6. Miscellaneous ......................................13
      2.6. Examples ..................................................14
   3. Locating HTTP Certificate Stores ...............................15
      3.1. Information in the Certificate ............................15
      3.2. Use of DNS SRV ............................................16
           3.2.1. Example ............................................16
      3.3. Use of a "well-known" Location ............................16
           3.3.1. Examples ...........................................17
      3.4. Manual Configuration of the Client Software ...............18
      3.5. Implementation Notes and Rationale ........................18
           3.5.1. DNS SRV ............................................18
           3.5.2. "well-known" Locations .............................19
           3.5.3. Information in the Certificate .....................19
           3.5.4. Miscellaneous ......................................20
   4. Security Considerations ........................................20
   5. IANA Considerations ............................................22
   6. Acknowledgements ...............................................22
   7. References .....................................................22
      7.1. Normative References ......................................22
      7.2. Informative References ....................................23

1.  Introduction

   This specification is part of a multi-part standard for the Internet
   Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) using X.509 certificates and
   certificate revocation lists (CRLs).  This document specifies the
   conventions for using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), or
   optionally, HTTPS as an interface mechanism to obtain certificates or
   public keys, and certificate revocation lists (CRLs), from PKI
   repositories.  Throughout the remainder of this document the generic
   term HTTP will be used to cover either option.

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   Although RFC 2585 [RFC2585] covers fetching certificates via HTTP,
   this merely mentions that certificates may be fetched from a static
   URL, which doesn't provide any general-purpose interface capabilities
   to a certificate store.  The conventions described in this document
   allow HTTP to be used as a general-purpose, transparent interface to
   any type of certificate or key store including flat files, standard
   databases such as Berkeley DB and relational databases, and
   traditional X.500/LDAP directories.  Typical applications would
   include use with web-enabled relational databases (which most
   databases are) or simple {key,value} lookup mechanisms such as
   Berkeley DB and its various descendants.

   Additional mechanisms addressing PKIX operational requirements are
   specified in separate documents.

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT",
   "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be
   interpreted as described in [RFC2119].

2.  HTTP Certificate Store Interface

   The GET method is used in combination with an HTTP query URI
   [RFC2616] to retrieve certificates from the underlying certificate

   http_URL = "http:" "//" host [ ":" port ] [ abs_path [ "?" query ]]

   The parameters for the query portion of the URI are a certificate or
   key identifier consisting of an attribute type and a value that
   specifies one or more certificates or public keys to be returned from
   the query:

      query = attribute '=' value

   Certificates and public keys are retrieved from one URI (the
   certificate URI) and CRLs from another URI (the revocation URI).
   These may or may not correspond to the same certificate store and/or
   server (the exact interpretation is a local configuration issue).
   The query value MUST be encoded using the form-urlencoded media type
   [RFC2854].  Further details of URI construction, size limits, and
   other factors are given in [RFC2616].

   Responses to unsuccessful queries (for example, to indicate a non-
   match or an error condition) are handled in the standard manner as
   per [RFC2616].  Clients should in particular be aware that in some
   instances servers may return HTTP type 3xx redirection requests to
   explicitly redirect queries to another server.  Obviously, implicit
   DNS-based redirection is also possible.

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   If more than one certificate matches a query, it MUST be returned as
   a multipart/mixed response.  The returned data MUST be returned
   verbatim; it MUST NOT use any additional content- or transfer-
   encoding at the HTTP level (for example, it can't be compressed or
   encoded as base64 or quoted-printable text).  Implementations SHOULD
   NOT use chunked encoding in responses.

   The query component of the URI MAY optionally contain additional
   attribute/value pairs separated by the standard ampersand delimiter
   '&' that specify further actions to be taken by the certificate
   store.  Certificate stores SHOULD ignore any additional unrecognised
   attribute/value pairs present in the URI.

   Other information, such as naming conventions and MIME types, is
   specified in [RFC2585] (with additional MIME types for non-X.509
   content in [RFC3156] and [RFC3275]).

2.1.  Converting Binary Blobs into Search Keys

   Some fields (indicated by the "Process" column in the tables below)
   are of arbitrary length and/or contain non-textual data.  Both of
   these properties make them unsuited for direct use in HTTP queries.
   In order to make them usable, fields for which the processing option
   is "Hash" are first hashed down to a fixed-length 160-bit value.
   Fields for which the processing option is "Hash" or "Base64" are
   base64-encoded to transform the binary data into textual forms:

   Processing  Processing step

   "Hash"      Hash the key value using SHA-1 [FIPS180] to produce a
               160-bit value, then continue with the base64 encoding
               step that follows.

   "Hash"      Encode the binary value using base64 encoding to produce
   "Base64"    a 27-byte text-only value.  Base64 encoding of the 20
               byte value will produce 28 bytes, and the last byte will
               always be a '=' padding character.  The 27-byte value is
               created by dropping the trailing '=' character.

   For cases where the binary value is smaller or larger than the 20-
   byte SHA-1 output (for example, with 64-bit/8 byte PGP key IDs), the
   final value is created by removing any trailing '=' padding from the
   encoding of the binary value (this is a generalisation of the above

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   Implementations MUST verify that the base64-encoded values submitted
   in requests contain only characters in the ranges 'a'-'z', 'A'-'Z',
   '0'-'9', '+', and '/'.  Queries containing any other character MUST
   be rejected.  (See the implementation notes in Section 2.5 and the
   security considerations in Section 4 for more details on this

2.2.  Attribute Types: X.509

   Permitted attribute types and associated values for use with X.509
   certificates and CRLs are described below.  Arbitrary-length binary
   values (as indicated in the table below) are converted into a search
   key by the process described in Section 2.1.  Note that the values
   are checked for an exact match (after decoding of any form-urlencoded
   [RFC2854] portions if this is necessary) and are therefore case

   Attribute  Process Value
   ---------  ------- -----
   certHash    Hash   Search key derived from the SHA-1 hash of the
                      certificate (sometimes called the certificate
                      fingerprint or thumbprint).

   uri         None   Subject URI associated with the certificate,
                      without the (optional) scheme specifier.  The URI
                      type depends on the certificate.  For S/MIME
                      certificates, it would be an email address; for
                      SSL/TLS certificates, it would be the server's DNS
                      name (this is usually also specified as the
                      CommonName); for IPsec certificates, it would be
                      the DNS name/IP address; and so on.

   iHash       Hash   Search key derived from the DER-encoded issuer DN
                      as it appears in the certificate, CRL, or other

   iAndSHash   Hash   Search key derived from the certificate's
                      DER-encoded issuerAndSerialNumber [RFC3852].

   name        None   Subject CommonName contained in the certificate.

   sHash       Hash   Search key derived from the DER-encoded subject
                      DN as it appears in the certificate or other

   sKIDHash    Hash   Search key derived from the certificate's
                      subjectKeyIdentifier (specifically the contents
                      octets of the KeyIdentifier OCTET STRING).

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   Certificate URIs MUST support retrieval by all the above attribute

   CRL URIs MUST support retrieval by the iHash and sKIDHash attribute
   types, which identify the issuer of the CRL.  In addition, CRL URIs
   MAY support retrieval by certHash and iAndSHash attribute types, for
   cases where this is required by the use of the
   issuingDistributionPoint extension.  A CRL query MUST return the
   matching CRL with the greatest thisUpdate value (in other words, the
   most recent CRL).

2.3.  Attribute Types: PGP

   Permitted attribute types and associated values for use with PGP
   public keys and key revocation information are described below.
   Binary values (as indicated in the table below) are converted into a
   search key by the process described in Section 2.1.

   Attribute   Process  Value
   ---------   -------  -----
   email       None     email address associated with the key.

   fingerprint Base64   160-bit PGP key fingerprint [RFC2440].

   keyID       Base64   64-bit PGP key ID [RFC2440].

   name        None     User name associated with the key.

   Key URIs MUST support retrieval by all of the above attribute types.

   Revocation URIs MUST support retrieval by the fingerprint and keyID
   attribute types, which identify the issuer of the key revocation.

2.4.  Attribute Types: XML

   Permitted attribute types and associated values for use with XML are
   as specified in sections 2.2 and 2.3.  Since XML allows arbitrary
   attributes to be associated with the <RetrievalMethod> child element
   of <KeyInfo> [RFC3275], there are no additional special requirements
   for use with XML.

2.5.  Implementation Notes and Rationale

   This informative section documents the rationale behind the design in
   Section 2 and provides guidance for implementors.

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2.5.1.  Identification

   The identifiers are taken from PKCS #15 [PKCS15], a standard that
   covers (among other things) a transparent interface to a
   certificate/public key store.  These identifiers have been field
   proven, as they have been in common use for a number of years,
   typically via PKCS #11 [PKCS11].  Certificate stores and the
   identifiers that are required for typical certificate lookup
   operations are analysed in some detail in [Gutmann].

   The URI identifier type specifies the identifier associated with the
   certificate's intended usage with a given Internet security protocol.
   For example, an SSL/TLS server certificate would contain the server's
   DNS name (this is traditionally also specified as the CommonName or
   CN) an S/MIME certificate would contain the subject's email address;
   an IPsec certificate would contain a DNS name or IP address; and a
   SIP certificate would contain a SIP URI.  A modicum of common sense
   is assumed when deciding upon an appropriate URI field value.

   For historical reasons going back to its primary use as a means of
   looking up users' S/MIME email certificates, some clients may specify
   the URI attribute name as "email" rather than "uri".  Although not
   required by this specification, servers may choose to allow the use
   of "email" as an alias for "uri".

   In addition, it is common practice to use the Internet identifier
   associated with the certificate's intended field of application as
   the CN for the certificate when this is the most sensible name for
   the certificate subject.  For example, an SSL/TLS server certificate
   will contain the server's DNS name in the CN field.  In web-enabled
   devices, this may indeed be the only name that exists for the device.
   It is therefore quite possible that the URI will duplicate the CN,
   and that it may be the only identifier present (that is, there's no
   full DN but only a single CN field).

   By long-standing convention, URIs in certificates are given without a
   scheme specifier.  For example, an SSL/TLS server certificate would
   contain rather than, and an
   S/MIME certificate would contain rather than  This convention is extended to other URI
   types as well, so that a certificate containing the (effective) URIs and would be queried using
   the single URI  The certificate store would then
   return all certificates containing this URI, leaving it to the client
   to determine which one is most appropriate for its use.  This
   approach is taken both because for the most common URI types there's
   no schema specifier (see the paragraphs above) and no easy way to
   determine what the intended use is (an SSL/TLS server certificate is

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   simply one presented by an SSL/TLS server), and because the relying
   party/client is in a better position to judge the certificate's most
   appropriate use than the certificate store server.

   Another possible identifier that has been suggested is an IP address
   or DNS name, which will be required for web-enabled embedded devices.
   This is necessary to allow for example a home automation controller
   to be queried for certificates for the devices that it controls.
   Since this value is regarded as the CN for the device, common
   practice is to use this value for the CN in the same way that web
   server certificates set the CN to the server's DNS name, so this
   option is already covered in a widely-accepted manner.

   The name and email address are an exact copy of what is present in
   the certificate, without any canonicalisation or rewriting (other
   than the transport encoding required by HTTP).  This follows standard
   implementation practice, which transfers an exact copy of these data
   items in order to avoid problems due to character set translation,
   handling of whitespace, and other issues.

   Hashes are used for arbitrary-length fields such as ones containing
   DNs in place of the full field to keep the length manageable.  In
   addition, the use of the hashed form emphasizes that searching for
   structured name data isn't a supported feature, since this is a
   simple interface to a {key,value} certificate store rather than an
   HTTP interface to an X.500 directory.  Users specifically requiring
   an HTTP interface to X.500 may use technology such as HTTP LDAP
   gateways for this purpose.

   Although clients will always submit a fixed 160-bit value, servers
   are free to use as many bits of this value as they require.  For
   example, a server may choose to use only the first 40, 64, 80, or 128
   bits for efficiency in searching and maintaining indices.

   PGP has traditionally encoded IDs using a C-style 0xABCDEF notation
   based on the display format used for IDs in PGP 2.0.  Unfortunately,
   strings in this format are also valid strings in the base64 format,
   complicated further by the fact that near-misses such as 0xABCDRF
   could be either a mistyped attempt at a hex ID or a valid base64 ID.
   For this reason, and to ensure consistency, base64 IDs are used
   throughout this specification.  The search keys used internally will
   be binary values, so whether these are converted from ASCII-hex or
   base64 is immaterial in the long run.

   The attributes are given shortened name forms (for example, iAndSHash
   in place of issuerAndSerialNumberHash) in order to keep the lengths
   reasonable, or common name forms (for example, email in place of

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   rfc822Name, rfc822Mailbox, emailAddress, mail, or email) where
   multiple name forms exist.

   In some cases, users may require additional, application-specific
   attribute types.  For example, a healthcare application that uses a
   healthcare ID as the primary key for its databases may require the
   ability to perform certificate lookups based on this healthcare ID.
   The formatting and use of such application-specific identifiers is
   beyond the scope of this document.  However, they should begin with
   'x-' to ensure that they don't conflict with identifiers that may be
   defined in future versions of this specification.

2.5.2.  Checking of Input Values

   The attribute value portion of the identifier should be carefully
   checked for invalid characters since allowing raw data presents a
   security risk.  Consider, for example, a certificate/public key store
   implemented using an RDBMS in which the SQL query is built up as
   "SELECT certificate FROM certificates WHERE iHash = " + <search key>.
   If <search key> is set to "ABCD;DELETE FROM certificates", the
   results of the query will be quite different from what was expected
   by the certificate store administrators.  Even a read-only query can
   be problematic; for example, setting <search key> to "UNION SELECT
   password FROM master.sysxlogins" will list all passwords in an SQL
   Server database (in an easily-decrypted format) if the user is
   running under the sa (DBA) account.  For this reason, only valid
   base64 encodings should be allowed.  The same checking applies to
   queries by name or email address.

   Straightforward sanitisation of queries may not be sufficient to
   prevent all attacks; for example, a filter that removes the SQL query
   string "DELETE" can be bypassed by submitting the string embedded in
   another instance of the string.  Removing "DELETE" from
   "DELDELETEETE" leaves the outer "DELETE" in place.  Abusing the
   truncation of over-long strings by filters can also be used as a
   means of attack, with the attacker ensuring that the truncation
   occurs in the middle of an escape sequence, bypassing the filtering.
   Although in theory recursive filtering may help here, the use of
   parameterised queries (often called placeholders) that aren't
   vulnerable to SQL injection should be used to avoid these attacks.
   More information on securing database back-ends may be found in
   [Birkholz], and more comments on sanitisation and safety concerns may
   be found in the security considerations section.

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2.5.3.  URI Notes

   Pre-constructed URIs that fetch a certificate/public key matching a
   fixed search criterion may be useful for items such as web pages or
   business cards, or even for technical support/helpdesk staff who want
   to mail to users but can't find the certificate themselves.  These
   URIs may also be used to enforce privacy measures when distributing
   certificates by perturbing the search key in a manner known only to
   the certificate/public key store, or to the certificate store and
   users (in other words, by converting the URI into a capability).  For
   example, a user with a newly-issued certificate could be instructed
   to fetch it with a key of "x-encrCertHash=...", which is decrypted by
   the certificate store to fetch the appropriate certificate, ensuring
   that only the certificate owner can fetch their certificate
   immediately after issue.  Similarly, an organisation that doesn't
   want to make its certificates available for public query might
   require a MAC on search keys (e.g., "x-macCertHash=...") to ensure
   that only authorised users can search for certificates (although a
   more logical place for access control, if a true web server is being
   used to access the store, would obviously be at the HTTP level).

   The query types have been specifically chosen to be not just an HTTP
   interface to LDAP but a general-purpose retrieval mechanism that
   allows arbitrary certificate/public key storage mechanisms (with a
   bias towards simple {key,value} stores, which are deployed almost
   universally, whether as ISAM, Berkeley DB, or an RDBMS) to be
   employed as back-ends.  This specification has been deliberately
   written to be technology neutral, allowing any {key,value} lookup
   mechanism to be used.  It doesn't matter if you choose to have
   trained chimpanzees look up certificates in books of tables, as long
   as your method can provide the correct response with reasonable

   Certificate/public key and CRL stores are allocated separate URIs
   because they may be implemented using different mechanisms.  A
   certificate store typically contains large numbers of small items,
   while a CRL store contains a very small number of potentially large
   items.  By providing independent URIs, it's possible to implement the
   two stores using mechanisms tailored to the data they contain.

   PGP combines key and revocation information into a single data object
   so that it's possible to return both public keys and revocation
   information from the same URI.  If distinct key and revocation
   servers are available, these can provide a slight performance gain
   since fetching revocation information doesn't require fetching the
   key that it applies to.  If no separate servers are available, a

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   single server can be used to satisfy both types of queries with a
   slight performance loss, since fetching revocation information will
   also fetch the public key data associated with the revocation data.

2.5.4.  Responses

   The disallowance of exotic encoding forms reflects the fact that most
   clients (and many servers, particularly for embedded devices) are not
   general-purpose web browsers or servers capable of handling an
   arbitrary range of encoding forms and types, but simply basic HTTP
   engines attached to key management applications.  In other words, the
   HTTP interface is a rudimentary add-on to a key management
   application, rather than key-management being an add-on to a
   general-purpose web client or server.  Eliminating unnecessary
   choices simplifies the implementation task and reduces code size and
   complexity, with an accompanying decrease in the probability of
   security issues arising from the added complexity.

   The use of an "Accept-encoding: identity" header would achieve the
   same effect as disallowing any additional encodings and may indeed be
   useful since section 14.3 of [RFC2616] indicates that the absence of
   this header may be taken to mean that any encoding is permitted.
   However, this unnecessarily bloats the HTTP header in a potentially
   performance-affecting manner (see Section 2.5.5), whereas
   establishing a requirement that the response be returned without any
   additional decoration avoids the need to specify this in each
   request.  Implementations should therefore omit the Accept-encoding
   header entirely or if it has to be included, include "identity" or
   the wildcard "*" as an accepted content-encoding type.

   Use of chunked encoding is given as a SHOULD NOT rather than a MUST
   NOT because support for it is required by [RFC2616].  Nevertheless,
   this form of encoding is strongly discouraged, as the data quantities
   being transferred (1-2kB) make it entirely unnecessary, and support
   for this encoding form is vulnerable to various implementation bugs,
   some of which may affect security.  However, implementors should be
   aware that many versions of the Apache web server will unnecessarily
   use chunked encoding when returning responses.  Although it would be
   better to make this a MUST NOT, this would render clients that
   rejected it incompatible with the world's most widely used web
   server.  For this reason, support for chunked encoding is strongly
   discouraged but is nevertheless permitted.  Clients that choose not
   to support it should be aware that they may run into problems when
   communicating with Apache-based HTTP certificate stores.

   Multiple responses are returned as multipart/mixed rather than an
   ASN.1 SEQUENCE OF Certificate or PKCS #7/CMS certificate chain
   (degenerate signed data containing only certificates) because this is

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   more straightforward to implement with standard web-enabled tools.
   An additional advantage is that it doesn't restrict this access
   mechanism to DER-based data, allowing it to be extended to other
   certificate types, such as XML, PGP, and SPKI.

2.5.5.  Performance Issues

   Where high throughput/performance under load is a critical issue, a
   main-memory database that acts as a form of content cache may be
   interposed between the on-disk database and the HTTP interface
   [Garcia-Molina].  A main-memory database provides the same
   functionality as an on-disk database and is fully transparent to the
   HTTP front-end, but offers buffer management and retrieval facilities
   optimised for memory-resident data.  Where further scalability is
   required, the content-caching system could be implemented as a
   cluster of main-memory databases [Ji].

   Various network efficiency considerations need to be taken into
   account when implementing this certificate/public key distribution
   mechanism.  For example, a simplistic implementation that performs
   two writes (the HTTP header and the certificate, written separately)
   followed by a read will interact badly with TCP delayed-ACK and
   slow-start.  This occurs because the TCP MSS is typically 1460 bytes
   on a LAN (Ethernet) or 512/536 bytes on a WAN, while HTTP headers are
   ~200-300 bytes, far less than the MSS.  When an HTTP message is first
   sent, the TCP congestion window begins at one segment, with the TCP
   slow-start then doubling its size for each ACK.  Sending the headers
   separately will send one short segment and a second MSS-size segment,
   whereupon the TCP stack will wait for the responder's ACK before
   continuing.  The responder gets both segments, then delays its ACK
   for 200ms in the hopes of piggybacking it on responder data, which is
   never sent, since it's still waiting for the rest of the HTTP body
   from the initiator.  As a result, there is a 200ms (+assorted RTT)
   delay in each message sent.

   There are various other considerations that need to be taken into
   account to provide maximum efficiency.  These are covered in depth
   elsewhere [Spero] [Heidemann] [Nielsen].  In addition, modifications
   to TCP's behaviour, such as the use of 4K initial windows [RFC3390]
   (designed to reduce small HTTP transfer times to a single RTT),
   should also ameliorate some of these issues.

   A rule of thumb for optimal performance is to combine the HTTP header
   and data payload into a single write (any reasonable HTTP
   implementation will do this anyway, thanks to the considerable body
   of experience that exists for HTTP server performance tuning), and to
   keep the HTTP headers to a minimum to try to fit data within the TCP
   MSS.  For example, since this protocol doesn't involve a web browser,

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   there's no need to include various common browser-related headers
   such as ones detailing software versions or acceptable languages.

2.5.6.  Miscellaneous

   The interface specified in this document is a basic read-only type
   that will be used by the majority of clients.  The handling of
   updates (both insertion and deletion) is a complex issue involving
   both technological issues (a variety of fields used for indexing and
   information retrieval need to be specified in a technology-neutral
   manner, or the certificate store needs to perform its own parsing of
   the item being added, moving it from a near-universal key=value
   lookup mechanism to a full public-key/certificate processing system)
   and political ones (who can perform updates to the certificate store,
   and under what conditions?).  Because of this complexity, the details
   of any potential update mechanism are left as a local configuration
   issue, although they may at some point be covered in a future
   document if there is sufficient demand.

   Concerns have been raised over the use of HTTP as a substrate
   [RFC3205].  The mechanism described here, which implements a
   straightforward request/response protocol with the same semantics as
   traditional HTTP requests, is unaffected by these issues.
   Specifically, it does not implement any form of complex RPC
   mechanism, does not require HTTP security measures, is not affected
   by firewalls (since it uses only a basic HTTP GET rather than
   layering a new protocol on top of HTTP), and has well-defined MIME
   media types specified in standards documents.  As such, the concerns
   expressed in [RFC3205] do not apply here.  In addition, although a
   number of servers still don't fully support some of the more advanced
   features of HTTP 1.1 [Krishnamurthy], the minimal subset used here is
   well supported by the majority of servers and HTTP implementations.

   This access mechanism is similar to the PGP HKP protocol [HKP];
   however, the latter is almost entirely undocumented and requires that
   implementors reverse-engineer other implementations.  Because of this
   lack of standardisation, no attempt has been made to ensure
   interoperability or compatibility with HKP-based servers, although
   PGP developers provided much valuable input for this document.  One
   benefit that HKP does bring is extensive implementation experience,
   which indicates that this is a very workable solution to the problem
   of a simple certificate/public key retrieval mechanism.  HKP servers
   have been implemented using flat files, Berkeley DB, and various
   databases, such as Postgres and MySQL.

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2.6.  Examples

   To convert the subject DN C=NZ, O=... CN=Fred Dagg into a search key:

      Hash the DN, in the DER-encoded form it appears in the
      certificate, to obtain

         96 4C 70 C4 1E C9 08 E5 CA 45 25 10 D6 C8 28 3A 1A C1 DF E2

      Base-64 encode this to obtain:


   (Note the absence of trailing '=' padding.)  This is the search key
   to use in the query URI.

   To fetch all certificates useful for sending encrypted email to

      GET /search.cgi? HTTP/1.1

   (For simplicity, the additional Host: header required by [RFC2616] is
   omitted here and in the following examples.)  In this case,
   "/search.cgi" is the abs_path portion of the query URI, and the
   request is submitted to the server located at the net_loc portion of
   the query URI.  Note the encoding of the '@' symbol as per [RFC2854].
   Remaining required headers, such as the "Host" header required by
   HTTP 1.1, have been omitted for the sake of clarity.

   To fetch the CA certificate that issued the email certificate:

      <Convert the issuer DN to a search key>
      GET /search.cgi?sHash=<search key> HTTP/1.1

   Alternatively, if chaining is by key identifier:

      <Extract the keyIdentifier from the authorityKeyIdentifier>
      GET /search.cgi?sKIDHash=<search key> HTTP/1.1

   To fetch other certificates belonging to the same user as the email

      <Convert the subject DN to a search key>
      GET /search.cgi?sHash=<search key> HTTP/1.1

Top      ToC       Page 15 
   To fetch the CRL for the certificate:

      <Convert the issuer DN to a search key>
      GET /search.cgi?iHash=<search key> HTTP/1.1

   Note that since the differentiator is the URI base, the above two
   queries appear identical (since the URI base isn't shown) but are in
   fact distinct.

   To retrieve a key using XML methods, the <KeyName> (which contains
   the string identifier for the key), used with the subject DN hash
   above, would be:

      <KeyName KeyID="sHash">lkxwxB7JCOXKRSUQ1sgoOhrB3+I</KeyName>.

3.  Locating HTTP Certificate Stores

   In order to locate servers from which certificates may be retrieved,
   relying parties can employ one or more of the following strategies:

      - Information contained in the certificate
      - Use of DNS SRV
      - Use of a "well-known" location
      - Manual configuration of the client software

   The intent of the various options provided here is to make the
   certificate store access as transparent as possible, only requiring
   manual user configuration as a last resort.

3.1.  Information in the Certificate

   In order to convey a well-known point of information access to
   relying parties, CAs SHOULD use the SubjectInfoAccess (SIA) and
   AuthorityInfoAccess (AIA) extension [RFC3280] in certificates.  The
   OID value for the accessMethod is one of:

    id-ad-http-certs     OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { id-ad 6 }
    id-ad-http-crls      OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { id-ad 7 }


    id-ad                OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { iso(1)
                                   identified-organization(3) dod(6)
                                   internet(1) security(5) mechanisms(5)
                                   pkix(7) 48 }

Top      ToC       Page 16 
   The corresponding accessLocation is the query URI.  The use of this
   facility provides a CA with a convenient, standard location to
   indicate where further certificates may be found, for example, for
   certification path construction purposes.  Note that it doesn't mean
   that the provision of certificate store access services is limited to
   CAs only.

3.2.  Use of DNS SRV

   DNS SRV is a facility for specifying the location of the server(s)
   for a specific protocol and domain [RFC2782].  For the certificate
   store interface, the DNS SRV symbolic name for the certificate store
   interface SHALL be "certificates".  The name for the CRL store
   interface SHALL be "crls".  The name for the PGP public key store
   SHALL be "pgpkeys".  The name for the PGP revocation store SHALL be
   "pgprevocations".  Handling of additional DNS SRV facilities, such as
   the priority and weight fields, is as per [RFC2782].

3.2.1.  Example

   If a CA with the domain were to make its certificates
   available via an HTTP certificate store interface, the server details
   could be obtained by a lookup on:


   This would return the server(s) and port(s) for the service as
   specified in [RFC2782].

3.3.  Use of a "well-known" Location

   If no other location information is available, the certificate store
   interface may be located at a "well-known" location constructed from
   the service provider's domain name.  In the usual case, the URI is
   constructed by prepending the type of information to be retrieved
   ("certificates.", "crls.", "pgpkeys.", or "pgprevocations.") to the
   domain name to obtain the net_loc portion of the URI, and by
   appending a fixed abs_path portion "search.cgi".  The URI form of the
   "well-known" location is therefore:


Top      ToC       Page 17 
   Certificate store service providers SHOULD use these URIs in
   preference to other alternatives.  Note that the use of "search.cgi"
   does not imply the use of CGI scripts [RFC3875].  This would be the
   exception rather than the rule, since it would lead to a rather
   inefficient implementation; it merely provides one possible (and
   relatively simple to set up) implementation alternative (see the
   rationale for more on this).

   A second case occurs when the certificate access service is being
   provided by web-enabled embedded devices, such as Universal Plug and
   Play devices [UPNP].  These devices have a single, fixed net_loc
   (either an IP address or a DNS name) and make services available via
   an HTTP interface.  In this case, the URI is constructed by appending
   a fixed abs_path portion "certificates/search.cgi" for certificates,
   "crls/search.cgi" for CRLs, "pgpkeys/search.cgi" for PGP public keys,
   and "pgprevocations/search.cgi" for PGP revocation information to the
   net_loc.  The URI form of the "well-known" location is therefore:


   If certificate access as described in this document is implemented by
   the device, then it SHOULD use these URIs in preference to other
   alternatives (see the rationale for more on this requirement).

3.3.1.  Examples

   If a CA with the domain were to make its certificates
   available via an HTTP certificate store interface, the "well-known"
   query URIs for certificates and CRLs would be:

   A home automation controller with the IP address (a control
   point in UPnP terminology) would make certificates for devices such
   as HVAC controllers, lighting and appliance controllers, and fire and
   physical intrusion detection devices available as:

Top      ToC       Page 18 
   A print server with DNS name "printspooler" would make certificates
   for web-enabled printers that it communicates with available as:


3.4.  Manual Configuration of the Client Software

   The accessLocation for the HTTP certificate/public key/CRL store MAY
   be configured locally at the client.  This can be used if no other
   information is available, or if it is necessary to override other

3.5.  Implementation Notes and Rationale

   This informative section documents the rationale behind the design in
   Section 3 and provides guidance for implementors.

3.5.1.  DNS SRV

   The optimal solution for the problem of service location would be DNS
   SRV.  Unfortunately, the operating system used by the user group most
   desperately in need of this type of handholding has no support for
   anything beyond the most basic DNS address lookups, making it
   impossible to use DNS SRV with anything but very recent Win2K and XP
   systems.  To make things even more entertaining, several of the
   function names and some of the function parameters changed at various
   times during the Win2K phase of development, and the behaviour of
   portions of the Windows sockets API changed in undocumented ways to
   match.  This leads to an unfortunate situation in which a Unix
   sysadmin can make use of DNS SRV to avoid having to deal with
   technical configuration issues, but a Windows'95 user can't.  Because
   of these problems, an alternative to DNS SRV is provided for
   situations where it's not possible to use this.

   The SRV or "well-known" location option can frequently be
   automatically derived by user software from currently-known
   parameters.  For example, if the recipient's email address is, the user software would query or go to and
   request the certificate.  In addition, user software may maintain a
   list of known certificate sources in the way that known CA lists are
   maintained by web browsers.  The specific mention of support for
   redirection in Section 2 emphasises that many sites will outsource
   the certificate-storage task.  At worst, all that will be required is
   the addition of a single static web page pointing to the real server.
   Alternatives such as DNS CNAME RRs are also possible but may not be
   as easy to set up as HTTP redirects (corporate policies tend to be

Top      ToC       Page 19 
   more flexible in regard to web page contents than modifying DNS
   configurations would be).

3.5.2.  "well-known" Locations

   The "well-known" location URI is designed to make hosting options as
   flexible as possible.  Locating the service at www.<domain name>
   would generally require that it be handled by the provider's main web
   server, while using a distinct server URI allows for it be handled as
   desired by the provider.  Although there will no doubt be servers
   that implement the interface using Apache and Perl scripts, a more
   logical implementation would consist of a simple network interface to
   a key-and-value lookup mechanism, such as Berkeley DB.  The URI form
   presented in Section 3.3 allows for maximum flexibility, since it
   will work with both web servers/CGI scripts and non-web-server-based
   network front-ends for certificate stores.

3.5.3.  Information in the Certificate

   Implementations that require the use of nonstandard locations, ports,
   or HTTPS rather than HTTP in combination with "well-known" locations
   should use an HTTP redirect at the "well-known" location to point to
   the nonstandard location.  For example, if the print spooler in
   Section 3.3 used an SSL-protected server named printspooler-server
   with an abs_path portion of cert_access, it would use an HTTP 302
   redirect to https://printspooler-server/cert_access.  This combines
   the plug-and-play capability of "well-known" locations with the
   ability to use nonstandard locations and ports.

   The SIA and AIA extensions are used to indicate the location for the
   CRL store interface rather than the CRLDistributionPoint (CRLDP)
   extension, since the two perform entirely different functions.  A
   CRLDP contains "a pointer to the current CRL", a fixed location
   containing a CRL for the current certificate, while the SIA/AIA
   extension indicates "how to access CA information and services for
   the subject/issuer of the certificate in which the extension
   appears", in this case, the CRL store interface that provides CRLs
   for any certificates issued by the CA.  In addition, CRLDP associates
   other attribute information with a query that is incompatible with
   the simple query mechanisms presented in this document.

   A single server can be used to handle both CRLDP and AIA/SIA queries
   provided that the CRLDP form uses an HTTP URI.  Since CRLDP points to
   a single static location for a CRL, a query can be pre-constructed
   and stored in the CRLDP extension.  Software that uses the CRLDP will
   retrieve the single CRL that applies to the certificate from the
   server, and software that uses the AIA/SIA can retrieve any CRL from
   the server.  Similar pre-constructed URIs may also be useful in other

Top      ToC       Page 20 
   circumstances (for example, for links on web pages) to place in
   appropriate locations like the issuerAltName, or even for technical
   support/helpdesk staff to email to users who can't find the
   certificate themselves, as described in Section 2.5.  The resulting
   certstore URL, when clicked on by the user, will directly access the
   certificate when used in conjunction with any certificate-aware
   application, such as a browser or mail program.

3.5.4.  Miscellaneous

   Web-enabled (or, more strictly, HTTP-enabled) devices are intended to
   be plug-and-play, with minimal (or no) user configuration necessary.
   The "well-known" URI allows any known device (for example, one
   discovered via UPNP's Simple Service Discovery Protocol, SSDP) to be
   queried for certificates without requiring further user
   configuration.  Note that in practice no embedded device would ever
   use the address given in the example (the de facto standard address
   for web-enabled embedded devices is 192.168.1.x and not 192.0.2.x);
   however, IETF policy requires the use of this non-address for

   Protocols such as UPnP have their own means of disseminating device
   and protocol information.  For example, UPnP uses SOAP, which
   provides a GetPublicKeys action for pulling device keys and a
   PresentKeys action for pushing control point keys.  The text in
   Section 3.3 is not meant to imply that this document overrides the
   existing UPnP mechanism, but merely that, if a device implements the
   mechanism described here, it should use the naming scheme in Section
   3.3 rather than use arbitrary names.

4.  Security Considerations

   HTTP caching proxies are common on the Internet, and some proxies may
   not check for the latest version of an object correctly.  [RFC2616]
   specifies that responses to query URLs should not be cached, and most
   proxies and servers correctly implement the "Cache-Control: no-cache"
   mechanism, which can be used to override caching ("Pragma: no-cache"
   for HTTP 1.0).  However, in the rare instance in which an HTTP
   request for a certificate or CRL goes through a misconfigured or
   otherwise broken proxy, the proxy may return an out-of-date response.

   Care should be taken to ensure that only valid queries are fed
   through to the back-end used to retrieve certificates.  Allowing
   attackers to submit arbitrary queries may allow them to manipulate
   the certificate store in unexpected ways if the back-end tries to
   interpret the query contents.  For example, if a certificate store is
   implemented using an RDBMS for which the calling application
   assembles a complete SQL string to perform the query, and the SQL

Top      ToC       Page 21 
   query is built up as "SELECT certificate FROM certificates WHERE
   iHash = " + <search key>, and <search key> is set to "X;DELETE FROM
   certificates", the results of the query will be quite different from
   what was expected by the certificate store administrator.  The same
   applies to queries by name and email address.  Even a read-only query
   can be problematic; for example, setting <search key> to "UNION
   SELECT password FROM master.sysxlogins" will list all passwords in an
   SQL Server database (in an easily decrypted format) if the user is
   running under the sa (DBA) account.  Straightforward sanitisation of
   queries may not be sufficient to prevent all attacks; for example, a
   filter that removes the SQL query string "DELETE" can be bypassed by
   submitting the string embedded in another instance of the string.
   Removing "DELETE" from "DELDELETEETE" leaves the outer "DELETE" in
   place.  Abusing the truncation of over-long strings by filters can
   also be used as a means of attack, in which the attacker ensures that
   the truncation occurs in the middle of an escape sequence, bypassing
   the filtering.  The use of parameterised queries (often called
   placeholders) that aren't vulnerable to SQL injection should be used
   to avoid these attacks.

   In addition, since some query data may be encoded/decoded before
   being sent to the back-end, applications should check both the
   encoded and decoded form for valid data.  A simple means of avoiding
   these problems is to use parameterised commands rather than hand-
   assembling SQL strings for use in queries (this is also more
   efficient for most database interfaces).  The use of parameterised
   commands means that the query value is never present in any position
   where it could be interpreted as a portion of the query command.

   Alongside filtering of queries, the back-end should be configured to
   disable any form of update access via the web interface.  For
   Berkeley DB, this restriction can be imposed by opening the
   certificate store in read-only mode from the web interface.  For
   relational databases, it can be imposed through the SQL GRANT/REVOKE
   mechanism, for example, "REVOKE ALL ON certificates FROM webuser.
   GRANT SELECT ON certificates TO webuser" will allow read-only access
   of the appropriate kind for the web interface.  Server-specific
   security measures may also be employed; for example, the SQL Server
   provides the built-in db_datareader account that only allows read
   access to tables (but see the note above about what can be done even
   with read-only access) and the ability to run the server under a
   dedicated low-privilege account (a standard feature of Unix systems).

   The mechanism described in this document is not intended to function
   as a trusted directory/database.  In particular, users should not
   assume that just because they fetched a public key or certificate
   from an entity claiming to be X, that X has made any statement about
   the veracity of the public key or certificate.  The use of a signed

Top      ToC       Page 22 
   representation of the items stored removes the need to depend on the
   certificate store for any security service other than availability.
   Although it's possible to implement a trusted directory/database
   using HTTPS or some other form of secured/trusted link, this is a
   local policy/configuration issue, and in the absence of such
   additional security measures users should apply appropriate levels of
   verification to any keys or certificates fetched before they take
   them into use.

5.  IANA Considerations

   No action by IANA is needed.  The AIA/SIA accessMethod types are
   identified by object identifiers (OIDs) from an arc managed by the
   PKIX working group.  Should additional accessMethods be introduced
   (for example, for attribute certificates or non-X.509 certificate
   types), the advocates for such accessMethods are expected to assign
   the necessary OIDs from their own arcs.

6.  Acknowledgements

   Anders Rundgren, Blake Ramsdell, Jeff Jacoby, David Shaw, and members
   of the ietf-pkix working group provided useful input and feedback on
   this document.

7.  References

7.1.  Normative References

   [FIPS180]       Federal Information Processing Standards Publication
                   (FIPS PUB) 180-1, Secure Hash Standard, 17 April

   [RFC2119]       Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
                   Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.

   [RFC2440]       Callas, J., Donnerhacke, L., Finney, H., and R.
                   Thayer, "OpenPGP Message Format", RFC 2440, November

   [RFC2585]       Housley, R. and P. Hoffman, "Internet X.509 Public
                   Key Infrastructure Operational Protocols: FTP and
                   HTTP", RFC 2585, May 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.

Top      ToC       Page 23 
   [RFC2782]       Gulbrandsen, A., Vixie, P., and L. Esibov, "A DNS RR
                   for specifying the location of services (DNS SRV)",
                   RFC 2782, February 2000.

   [RFC2854]       Connolly, D. and L. Masinter, "The 'text/html' Media
                   Type", RFC 2854, June 2000.

   [RFC3156]       Elkins, M., Del Torto, D., Levien, R., and T.
                   Roessler, "MIME Security with OpenPGP", RFC 3156,
                   August 2001.

   [RFC3275]       Eastlake 3rd, D., Reagle, J., and D. Solo,
                   "(Extensible Markup Language) XML-Signature Syntax
                   and Processing", RFC 3275, March 2002.

   [RFC3280]       Housley, R., Polk, W., Ford, W., and D. Solo,
                   "Internet X.509 Public Key Infrastructure Certificate
                   and Certificate Revocation List (CRL) Profile", RFC
                   3280, April 2002.

   [RFC3852]       Housley, R., "Cryptographic Message Syntax (CMS)",
                   RFC 3852, July 2004.

7.2.  Informative References

   [Birkholz]      "Special Ops: Host and Network Security for
                   Microsoft, Unix, and Oracle", Erik Birkholz et al,
                   Syngress Publishing, November 2002.

   [Garcia-Molina] "Main Memory Database Systems", Hector Garcia-Molina
                   and Kenneth Salem, IEEE Transactions on Knowledge and
                   Data Engineering, Vol.4, No.6 (December 1992), p.509.

   [Gutmann]       "A Reliable, Scalable General-purpose Certificate
                   Store", P.  Gutmann, Proceedings of the 16th Annual
                   Computer Security Applications Conference, December

   [Heidemann]     "Performance Interactions Between P-HTTP and TCP
                   Implementations", J. Heidemann, ACM Computer
                   Communications Review, April 1997.

   [HKP]           "A PGP Public Key Server", Marc Horowitz, 2000,
                   thesis/paper/thesis.html.  A more complete and up-
                   to-date overview of HKP may be obtained from the
                   source code of an open-source OpenPGP implementation
                   such as GPG.

Top      ToC       Page 24 
   [Ji]            "Affinity-based Management of Main Memory Database
                   Clusters", Minwen Ji, ACM Transactions on Internet
                   Technology, Vol.2, No.4 (November 2002), p.307.

   [Krishnamurthy] "PRO-COW: Protocol Compliance on the Web - A
                   Longitudinal Survey", Balachander Krishnamurthy and
                   Martin Arlitt, Proceedings of the 3rd Usenix
                   Symposium on Internet Technologies and Systems
                   (USITS'01), March 2001, p.109.

   [Nielsen]       "Network Performance Effects of HTTP/1.1, CSS1, and
                   PNG", H.Nielsen, J.Gettys, A.Baird-Smith,
                   E.Prud'hommeaux, H.Wium Lie, and C.Lilley, 24 June

   [PKCS11]        PKCS #11 Cryptographic Token Interface Standard, RSA
                   Laboratories, December 1999.

   [PKCS15]        PKCS #15 Cryptographic Token Information Syntax
                   Standard, RSA Laboratories, June 2000.

   [RFC3205]       Moore, K., "On the use of HTTP as a Substrate", BCP
                   56, RFC 3205, February 2002.

   [RFC3390]       Allman, M., Floyd, S., and C. Partridge, "Increasing
                   TCP's Initial Window", RFC 3390, October 2002.

   [RFC3875]       Robinson, D. and K. Coar, "The Common Gateway
                   Interface (CGI) Version 1.1", RFC 3875, October 2004.

   [Spero]         "Analysis of HTTP Performance Problems", S.Spero,
                   July 1994,

   [UPNP]          "Universal Plug and Play Device Architecture, Version
                   1.0", UPnP Forum, 8 June 2000.

Author's Address

   Peter Gutmann
   University of Auckland
   Private Bag 92019
   Auckland, New Zealand


Top      ToC       Page 25 
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