Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) L. Dusseault
Request for Comments: 5789 Linden Lab
Category: Standards Track J. Snell
ISSN: 2070-1721 March 2010 PATCH Method for HTTP
Several applications extending the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)
require a feature to do partial resource modification. The existing
HTTP PUT method only allows a complete replacement of a document.
This proposal adds a new HTTP method, PATCH, to modify an existing
Status of This Memo
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Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG). Further information on
Internet Standards is available in Section 2 of RFC 5741.
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Table of Contents
1. Introduction ....................................................22. The PATCH Method ................................................22.1. A Simple PATCH Example .....................................42.2. Error Handling .............................................53. Advertising Support in OPTIONS ..................................73.1. The Accept-Patch Header ....................................73.2. Example OPTIONS Request and Response .......................74. IANA Considerations .............................................84.1. The Accept-Patch Response Header ...........................85. Security Considerations .........................................86. References ......................................................96.1. Normative References .......................................96.2. Informative References .....................................9Appendix A. Acknowledgements .....................................101. Introduction
This specification defines the new HTTP/1.1 [RFC2616] method, PATCH,
which is used to apply partial modifications to a resource.
A new method is necessary to improve interoperability and prevent
errors. The PUT method is already defined to overwrite a resource
with a complete new body, and cannot be reused to do partial changes.
Otherwise, proxies and caches, and even clients and servers, may get
confused as to the result of the operation. POST is already used but
without broad interoperability (for one, there is no standard way to
discover patch format support). PATCH was mentioned in earlier HTTP
specifications, but not completely defined.
In this document, the key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED",
"SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY",
and "OPTIONAL" are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119].
Furthermore, this document uses the ABNF syntax defined in Section
2.1 of [RFC2616].
2. The PATCH Method
The PATCH method requests that a set of changes described in the
request entity be applied to the resource identified by the Request-
URI. The set of changes is represented in a format called a "patch
document" identified by a media type. If the Request-URI does not
point to an existing resource, the server MAY create a new resource,
depending on the patch document type (whether it can logically modify
a null resource) and permissions, etc.
The difference between the PUT and PATCH requests is reflected in the
way the server processes the enclosed entity to modify the resource
identified by the Request-URI. In a PUT request, the enclosed entity
is considered to be a modified version of the resource stored on the
origin server, and the client is requesting that the stored version
be replaced. With PATCH, however, the enclosed entity contains a set
of instructions describing how a resource currently residing on the
origin server should be modified to produce a new version. The PATCH
method affects the resource identified by the Request-URI, and it
also MAY have side effects on other resources; i.e., new resources
may be created, or existing ones modified, by the application of a
PATCH is neither safe nor idempotent as defined by [RFC2616], Section
A PATCH request can be issued in such a way as to be idempotent,
which also helps prevent bad outcomes from collisions between two
PATCH requests on the same resource in a similar time frame.
Collisions from multiple PATCH requests may be more dangerous than
PUT collisions because some patch formats need to operate from a
known base-point or else they will corrupt the resource. Clients
using this kind of patch application SHOULD use a conditional request
such that the request will fail if the resource has been updated
since the client last accessed the resource. For example, the client
can use a strong ETag [RFC2616] in an If-Match header on the PATCH
There are also cases where patch formats do not need to operate from
a known base-point (e.g., appending text lines to log files, or non-
colliding rows to database tables), in which case the same care in
client requests is not needed.
The server MUST apply the entire set of changes atomically and never
provide (e.g., in response to a GET during this operation) a
partially modified representation. If the entire patch document
cannot be successfully applied, then the server MUST NOT apply any of
the changes. The determination of what constitutes a successful
PATCH can vary depending on the patch document and the type of
resource(s) being modified. For example, the common 'diff' utility
can generate a patch document that applies to multiple files in a
directory hierarchy. The atomicity requirement holds for all
directly affected files. See "Error Handling", Section 2.2, for
details on status codes and possible error conditions.
If the request passes through a cache and the Request-URI identifies
one or more currently cached entities, those entries SHOULD be
treated as stale. A response to this method is only cacheable if it
contains explicit freshness information (such as an Expires header or
"Cache-Control: max-age" directive) as well as the Content-Location
header matching the Request-URI, indicating that the PATCH response
body is a resource representation. A cached PATCH response can only
be used to respond to subsequent GET and HEAD requests; it MUST NOT
be used to respond to other methods (in particular, PATCH).
Note that entity-headers contained in the request apply only to the
contained patch document and MUST NOT be applied to the resource
being modified. Thus, a Content-Language header could be present on
the request, but it would only mean (for whatever that's worth) that
the patch document had a language. Servers SHOULD NOT store such
headers except as trace information, and SHOULD NOT use such header
values the same way they might be used on PUT requests. Therefore,
this document does not specify a way to modify a document's Content-
Type or Content-Language value through headers, though a mechanism
could well be designed to achieve this goal through a patch document.
There is no guarantee that a resource can be modified with PATCH.
Further, it is expected that different patch document formats will be
appropriate for different types of resources and that no single
format will be appropriate for all types of resources. Therefore,
there is no single default patch document format that implementations
are required to support. Servers MUST ensure that a received patch
document is appropriate for the type of resource identified by the
Clients need to choose when to use PATCH rather than PUT. For
example, if the patch document size is larger than the size of the
new resource data that would be used in a PUT, then it might make
sense to use PUT instead of PATCH. A comparison to POST is even more
difficult, because POST is used in widely varying ways and can
encompass PUT and PATCH-like operations if the server chooses. If
the operation does not modify the resource identified by the Request-
URI in a predictable way, POST should be considered instead of PATCH
2.1. A Simple PATCH Example
PATCH /file.txt HTTP/1.1
[description of changes]
This example illustrates use of a hypothetical patch document on an
Successful PATCH response to existing text file:
HTTP/1.1 204 No Content
The 204 response code is used because the response does not carry a
message body (which a response with the 200 code would have). Note
that other success codes could be used as well.
Furthermore, the ETag response header field contains the ETag for the
entity created by applying the PATCH, available at
http://www.example.com/file.txt, as indicated by the Content-Location
response header field.
2.2. Error Handling
There are several known conditions under which a PATCH request can
Malformed patch document: When the server determines that the patch
document provided by the client is not properly formatted, it
SHOULD return a 400 (Bad Request) response. The definition of
badly formatted depends on the patch document chosen.
Unsupported patch document: Can be specified using a 415
(Unsupported Media Type) response when the client sends a patch
document format that the server does not support for the resource
identified by the Request-URI. Such a response SHOULD include an
Accept-Patch response header as described in Section 3.1 to notify
the client what patch document media types are supported.
Unprocessable request: Can be specified with a 422 (Unprocessable
Entity) response ([RFC4918], Section 11.2) when the server
understands the patch document and the syntax of the patch
document appears to be valid, but the server is incapable of
processing the request. This might include attempts to modify a
resource in a way that would cause the resource to become invalid;
for instance, a modification to a well-formed XML document that
would cause it to no longer be well-formed. There may also be
more specific errors like "Conflicting State" that could be
signaled with this status code, but the more specific error would
generally be more helpful.
Resource not found: Can be specified with a 404 (Not Found) status
code when the client attempted to apply a patch document to a non-
existent resource, but the patch document chosen cannot be applied
to a non-existent resource.
Conflicting state: Can be specified with a 409 (Conflict) status
code when the request cannot be applied given the state of the
resource. For example, if the client attempted to apply a
structural modification and the structures assumed to exist did
not exist (with XML, a patch might specify changing element 'foo'
to element 'bar' but element 'foo' might not exist).
Conflicting modification: When a client uses either the If-Match or
If-Unmodified-Since header to define a precondition, and that
precondition failed, then the 412 (Precondition Failed) error is
most helpful to the client. However, that response makes no sense
if there was no precondition on the request. In cases when the
server detects a possible conflicting modification and no
precondition was defined in the request, the server can return a
409 (Conflict) response.
Concurrent modification: Some applications of PATCH might require
the server to process requests in the order in which they are
received. If a server is operating under those restrictions, and
it receives concurrent requests to modify the same resource, but
is unable to queue those requests, the server can usefully
indicate this error by using a 409 (Conflict) response.
Note that the 409 Conflict response gives reasonably consistent
information to clients. Depending on the application and the nature
of the patch format, the client might be able to reissue the request
as is (e.g., an instruction to append a line to a log file), have to
retrieve the resource content to recalculate a patch, or have to fail
Other HTTP status codes can also be used under the appropriate
The entity body of error responses SHOULD contain enough information
to communicate the nature of the error to the client. The content-
type of the response entity can vary across implementations.
3. Advertising Support in OPTIONS
A server can advertise its support for the PATCH method by adding it
to the listing of allowed methods in the "Allow" OPTIONS response
header defined in HTTP/1.1. The PATCH method MAY appear in the
"Allow" header even if the Accept-Patch header is absent, in which
case the list of allowed patch documents is not advertised.
3.1. The Accept-Patch Header
This specification introduces a new response header Accept-Patch used
to specify the patch document formats accepted by the server.
Accept-Patch SHOULD appear in the OPTIONS response for any resource
that supports the use of the PATCH method. The presence of the
Accept-Patch header in response to any method is an implicit
indication that PATCH is allowed on the resource identified by the
Request-URI. The presence of a specific patch document format in
this header indicates that that specific format is allowed on the
resource identified by the Request-URI.
Accept-Patch = "Accept-Patch" ":" 1#media-type
The Accept-Patch header specifies a comma-separated listing of media-
types (with optional parameters) as defined by [RFC2616], Section
3.2. Example OPTIONS Request and Response
OPTIONS /example/buddies.xml HTTP/1.1
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Allow: GET, PUT, POST, OPTIONS, HEAD, DELETE, PATCH
Accept-Patch: application/example, text/example
The examples show a server that supports PATCH generally using two
hypothetical patch document formats.
4. IANA Considerations
4.1. The Accept-Patch Response Header
The Accept-Patch response header has been added to the permanent
registry (see [RFC3864]).
Header field name: Accept-Patch
Applicable Protocol: HTTP
Author/Change controller: IETF
Specification document: this specification
5. Security Considerations
The security considerations for PATCH are nearly identical to the
security considerations for PUT ([RFC2616], Section 9.6). These
include authorizing requests (possibly through access control and/or
authentication) and ensuring that data is not corrupted through
transport errors or through accidental overwrites. Whatever
mechanisms are used for PUT can be used for PATCH as well. The
following considerations apply especially to PATCH.
A document that is patched might be more likely to be corrupted than
a document that is overridden in entirety, but that concern can be
addressed through the use of mechanisms such as conditional requests
using ETags and the If-Match request header as described in
Section 2. If a PATCH request fails, the client can issue a GET
request to the resource to see what state it is in. In some cases,
the client might be able to check the contents of the resource to see
if the PATCH request can be resent, but in other cases, the attempt
will just fail and/or a user will have to verify intent. In the case
of a failure of the underlying transport channel, where a PATCH
response is not received before the channel fails or some other
timeout happens, the client might have to issue a GET request to see
whether the request was applied. The client might want to ensure
that the GET request bypasses caches using mechanisms described in
HTTP specifications (see, for example, Section 13.1.6 of [RFC2616]).
Sometimes an HTTP intermediary might try to detect viruses being sent
via HTTP by checking the body of the PUT/POST request or GET
response. The PATCH method complicates such watch-keeping because
neither the source document nor the patch document might be a virus,
yet the result could be. This security consideration is not
materially different from those already introduced by byte-range
downloads, downloading patch documents, uploading zipped (compressed)
files, and so on.
Individual patch documents will have their own specific security
considerations that will likely vary depending on the types of
resources being patched. The considerations for patched binary
resources, for instance, will be different than those for patched XML
documents. Servers MUST take adequate precautions to ensure that
malicious clients cannot consume excessive server resources (e.g.,
CPU, disk I/O) through the client's use of PATCH.
6.1. Normative References
[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
[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.
[RFC3864] Klyne, G., Nottingham, M., and J. Mogul, "Registration
Procedures for Message Header Fields", BCP 90, RFC 3864,
6.2. Informative References
[RFC4918] Dusseault, L., "HTTP Extensions for Web Distributed
Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV)", RFC 4918, June 2007.
Appendix A. Acknowledgements
PATCH is not a new concept, it first appeared in HTTP in drafts of
version 1.1 written by Roy Fielding and Henrik Frystyk and also
appears in Section 18.104.22.168 of RFC 2068.
Thanks to Adam Roach, Chris Sharp, Julian Reschke, Geoff Clemm, Scott
Lawrence, Jeffrey Mogul, Roy Fielding, Greg Stein, Jim Luther, Alex
Rousskov, Jamie Lokier, Joe Hildebrand, Mark Nottingham, Michael
Balloni, Cyrus Daboo, Brian Carpenter, John Klensin, Eliot Lear, SM,
and Bernie Hoeneisen for review and advice on this document. In
particular, Julian Reschke did repeated reviews, made many useful
suggestions, and was critical to the publication of this document.
945 Battery Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
James M. Snell