This section defines the syntax of the Strict-Transport-Security HTTP
response header field and its directives, and presents some examples.
Section 7 ("Server Processing Model") then details how hosts employ
this header field to declare their HSTS Policy, and Section 8 ("User
Agent Processing Model") details how user agents process the header
field and apply the HSTS Policy.
6.1. Strict-Transport-Security HTTP Response Header Field
The Strict-Transport-Security HTTP response header field (STS header
field) indicates to a UA that it MUST enforce the HSTS Policy in
regards to the host emitting the response message containing this
The ABNF (Augmented Backus-Naur Form) syntax for the STS header field
is given below. It is based on the Generic Grammar defined in
Section 2 of [RFC2616] (which includes a notion of "implied linear
whitespace", also known as "implied *LWS").
Strict-Transport-Security = "Strict-Transport-Security" ":"
[ directive ] *( ";" [ directive ] )
directive = directive-name [ "=" directive-value ]
directive-name = token
directive-value = token | quoted-string
token = <token, defined in [RFC2616], Section 2.2>
quoted-string = <quoted-string, defined in [RFC2616], Section 2.2>
The two directives defined in this specification are described below.
The overall requirements for directives are:
1. The order of appearance of directives is not significant.
2. All directives MUST appear only once in an STS header field.
Directives are either optional or required, as stipulated in
3. Directive names are case-insensitive.
4. UAs MUST ignore any STS header field containing directives, or
other header field value data, that does not conform to the
syntax defined in this specification.
5. If an STS header field contains directive(s) not recognized by
the UA, the UA MUST ignore the unrecognized directives, and if
the STS header field otherwise satisfies the above requirements
(1 through 4), the UA MUST process the recognized directives.
Additional directives extending the semantic functionality of the STS
header field can be defined in other specifications, with a registry
(having an IANA policy definition of IETF Review [RFC5226]) defined
for them at such time.
NOTE: Such future directives will be ignored by UAs implementing
only this specification, as well as by generally
non-conforming UAs. See Section 14.2 ("Non-Conformant User
Agent Implications") for further discussion.
6.1.1. The max-age Directive
The REQUIRED "max-age" directive specifies the number of seconds,
after the reception of the STS header field, during which the UA
regards the host (from whom the message was received) as a Known HSTS
Host. See also Section 8.1.1 ("Noting an HSTS Host - Storage
Model"). The delta-seconds production is specified in [RFC2616].
The syntax of the max-age directive's REQUIRED value (after
quoted-string unescaping, if necessary) is defined as:
max-age-value = delta-seconds
delta-seconds = <1*DIGIT, defined in [RFC2616], Section 3.3.2>
NOTE: A max-age value of zero (i.e., "max-age=0") signals the UA to
cease regarding the host as a Known HSTS Host, including the
includeSubDomains directive (if asserted for that HSTS Host).
See also Section 8.1 ("Strict-Transport-Security Response
Header Field Processing").
6.1.2. The includeSubDomains Directive
The OPTIONAL "includeSubDomains" directive is a valueless directive
which, if present (i.e., it is "asserted"), signals the UA that the
HSTS Policy applies to this HSTS Host as well as any subdomains of
the host's domain name.
The HSTS header field below stipulates that the HSTS Policy is to
remain in effect for one year (there are approximately 31536000
seconds in a year), and the policy applies only to the domain of the
HSTS Host issuing it:
The HSTS header field below stipulates that the HSTS Policy is to
remain in effect for approximately six months and that the policy
applies to the domain of the issuing HSTS Host and all of its
Strict-Transport-Security: max-age=15768000 ; includeSubDomains
The max-age directive value can optionally be quoted:
The HSTS header field below indicates that the UA must delete the
entire HSTS Policy associated with the HSTS Host that sent the header
The HSTS header field below has exactly the same effect as the one
immediately above because the includeSubDomains directive's presence
in the HSTS header field is ignored when max-age is zero:
Strict-Transport-Security: max-age=0; includeSubDomains
7. Server Processing Model
This section describes the processing model that HSTS Hosts
implement. The model comprises two facets: the first being the
processing rules for HTTP request messages received over a secure
transport (TLS [RFC5246] or SSL [RFC6101]; see also Section 14.1
("Underlying Secure Transport Considerations")), and the second being
the processing rules for HTTP request messages received over
non-secure transports, such as TCP.
7.1. HTTP-over-Secure-Transport Request Type
When replying to an HTTP request that was conveyed over a secure
transport, an HSTS Host SHOULD include in its response message an STS
header field that MUST satisfy the grammar specified above in
Section 6.1 ("Strict-Transport-Security HTTP Response Header Field").
If an STS header field is included, the HSTS Host MUST include only
one such header field.
Establishing a given host as a Known HSTS Host, in the context of a
given UA, MAY be accomplished over HTTP, which is in turn running
over secure transport, by correctly returning (per this
specification) at least one valid STS header field to the UA. Other
mechanisms, such as a client-side pre-loaded Known HSTS Host list,
MAY also be used; e.g., see Section 12 ("User Agent Implementation
NOTE: Including the STS header field is stipulated as a "SHOULD" in
order to accommodate various server- and network-side caches
and load-balancing configurations where it may be difficult to
uniformly emit STS header fields on behalf of a given HSTS
7.2. HTTP Request Type
If an HSTS Host receives an HTTP request message over a non-secure
transport, it SHOULD send an HTTP response message containing a
status code indicating a permanent redirect, such as status code 301
(Section 10.3.2 of [RFC2616]), and a Location header field value
containing either the HTTP request's original Effective Request URI
(see Section 9 ("Constructing an Effective Request URI")) altered as
necessary to have a URI scheme of "https", or a URI generated
according to local policy with a URI scheme of "https".
NOTE: The above behavior is a "SHOULD" rather than a "MUST" due to:
* Risks in server-side non-secure-to-secure redirects
* Site deployment characteristics. For example, a site that
incorporates third-party components may not behave correctly
when doing server-side non-secure-to-secure redirects in the
case of being accessed over non-secure transport but does
behave correctly when accessed uniformly over secure transport.
The latter is the case given an HSTS-capable UA that has
already noted the site as a Known HSTS Host (by whatever means,
e.g., prior interaction or UA configuration).
An HSTS Host MUST NOT include the STS header field in HTTP responses
conveyed over non-secure transport.
8. User Agent Processing Model
This section describes the HTTP Strict Transport Security processing
model for UAs. There are several facets to the model, enumerated by
the following subsections.
This processing model assumes that the UA implements IDNA2008
[RFC5890], or possibly IDNA2003 [RFC3490], as noted in Section 13
("Internationalized Domain Names for Applications (IDNA): Dependency
and Migration"). It also assumes that all domain names manipulated
in this specification's context are already IDNA-canonicalized as
outlined in Section 10 ("Domain Name IDNA-Canonicalization") prior to
the processing specified in this section.
NOTE: [RFC3490] is referenced due to its ongoing relevance to
actual deployments for the foreseeable future.
The above assumptions mean that this processing model also
specifically assumes that appropriate IDNA and Unicode validations
and character list testing have occurred on the domain names, in
conjunction with their IDNA-canonicalization, prior to the processing
specified in this section. See the IDNA-specific security
considerations in Section 14.10 ("Internationalized Domain Names")
for rationale and further details.
8.1. Strict-Transport-Security Response Header Field Processing
If an HTTP response, received over a secure transport, includes an
STS header field, conforming to the grammar specified in Section 6.1
("Strict-Transport-Security HTTP Response Header Field"), and there
are no underlying secure transport errors or warnings (see
Section 8.4), the UA MUST either:
o Note the host as a Known HSTS Host if it is not already so noted
(see Section 8.1.1 ("Noting an HSTS Host - Storage Model")),
o Update the UA's cached information for the Known HSTS Host if
either or both of the max-age and includeSubDomains header field
value tokens are conveying information different than that already
maintained by the UA.
The max-age value is essentially a "time to live" value relative
to the reception time of the STS header field.
If the max-age header field value token has a value of zero, the
UA MUST remove its cached HSTS Policy information (including the
includeSubDomains directive, if asserted) if the HSTS Host is
known, or the UA MUST NOT note this HSTS Host if it is not yet
If a UA receives more than one STS header field in an HTTP
response message over secure transport, then the UA MUST process
only the first such header field.
o If an HTTP response is received over insecure transport, the UA
MUST ignore any present STS header field(s).
o The UA MUST ignore any STS header fields not conforming to the
grammar specified in Section 6.1 ("Strict-Transport-Security HTTP
Response Header Field").
8.1.1. Noting an HSTS Host - Storage Model
If the substring matching the host production from the Request-URI
(of the message to which the host responded) syntactically matches
the IP-literal or IPv4address productions from Section 3.2.2 of
[RFC3986], then the UA MUST NOT note this host as a Known HSTS Host.
Otherwise, if the substring does not congruently match a Known HSTS
Host's domain name, per the matching procedure specified in
Section 8.2 ("Known HSTS Host Domain Name Matching"), then the UA
MUST note this host as a Known HSTS Host, caching the HSTS Host's
domain name and noting along with it the expiry time of this
information, as effectively stipulated per the given max-age value,
as well as whether the includeSubDomains directive is asserted or
not. See also Section 11.2 ("HSTS Policy Expiration Time
The UA MUST NOT modify the expiry time or the includeSubDomains
directive of any superdomain matched Known HSTS Host.
A Known HSTS Host is "expired" if its cache entry has an expiry date
in the past. The UA MUST evict all expired Known HSTS Hosts from its
cache if, at any time, an expired Known HSTS Host exists in the
8.2. Known HSTS Host Domain Name Matching
A given domain name may match a Known HSTS Host's domain name in one
or both of two fashions: a congruent match, or a superdomain match.
Alternatively, there may be no match.
The steps below determine whether there are any matches, and if so,
of which fashion:
Compare the given domain name with the domain name of each of the
UA's unexpired Known HSTS Hosts. For each Known HSTS Host's
domain name, the comparison is done with the given domain name
label-by-label (comparing only labels) using an ASCII case-
insensitive comparison beginning with the rightmost label, and
continuing right-to-left. See also Section 18.104.22.168 of [RFC5890].
* Superdomain Match
If a label-for-label match between an entire Known HSTS Host's
domain name and a right-hand portion of the given domain name
is found, then this Known HSTS Host's domain name is a
superdomain match for the given domain name. There could be
multiple superdomain matches for a given domain name.
Given domain name (DN): qaz.bar.foo.example.com
Known HSTS Host DN: bar.foo.example.com
Known HSTS Host DN: foo.example.com
* Congruent Match
If a label-for-label match between a Known HSTS Host's domain
name and the given domain name is found -- i.e., there are no
further labels to compare -- then the given domain name
congruently matches this Known HSTS Host.
Given domain name: foo.example.com
Known HSTS Host DN: foo.example.com
* Otherwise, if no matches are found, the given domain name does
not represent a Known HSTS Host.
8.3. URI Loading and Port Mapping
Whenever the UA prepares to "load" (also known as "dereference") any
"http" URI [RFC3986] (including when following HTTP redirects
[RFC2616]), the UA MUST first determine whether a domain name is
given in the URI and whether it matches a Known HSTS Host, using
1. Extract from the URI any substring described by the host
component of the authority component of the URI.
2. If the substring is null, then there is no match with any Known
3. Else, if the substring is non-null and syntactically matches the
IP-literal or IPv4address productions from Section 3.2.2 of
[RFC3986], then there is no match with any Known HSTS Host.
4. Otherwise, the substring is a given domain name, which MUST be
matched against the UA's Known HSTS Hosts using the procedure in
Section 8.2 ("Known HSTS Host Domain Name Matching").
5. If, when performing domain name matching any superdomain match
with an asserted includeSubDomains directive is found, or, if no
superdomain matches with asserted includeSubDomains directives
are found and a congruent match is found (with or without an
asserted includeSubDomains directive), then before proceeding
with the load:
The UA MUST replace the URI scheme with "https" [RFC2818], and
if the URI contains an explicit port component of "80", then
the UA MUST convert the port component to be "443", or
if the URI contains an explicit port component that is not
equal to "80", the port component value MUST be preserved;
if the URI does not contain an explicit port component, the UA
MUST NOT add one.
NOTE: These steps ensure that the HSTS Policy applies to HTTP
over any TCP port of an HSTS Host.
NOTE: In the case where an explicit port is provided (and to a
lesser extent with subdomains), it is reasonably likely that
there is actually an HTTP (i.e., non-secure) server running on
the specified port and that an HTTPS request will thus fail
(see item 6 in Appendix A ("Design Decision Notes")).
8.4. Errors in Secure Transport Establishment
When connecting to a Known HSTS Host, the UA MUST terminate the
connection (see also Section 12 ("User Agent Implementation Advice"))
if there are any errors, whether "warning" or "fatal" or any other
error level, with the underlying secure transport. For example, this
includes any errors found in certificate validity checking that UAs
employ, such as via Certificate Revocation Lists (CRLs) [RFC5280], or
via the Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) [RFC2560], as well
as via TLS server identity checking [RFC6125].
8.5. HTTP-Equiv <Meta> Element Attribute
UAs MUST NOT heed http-equiv="Strict-Transport-Security" attribute
settings on <meta> elements [W3C.REC-html401-19991224] in received
8.6. Missing Strict-Transport-Security Response Header Field
If a UA receives HTTP responses from a Known HSTS Host over a secure
channel but the responses are missing the STS header field, the UA
MUST continue to treat the host as a Known HSTS Host until the
max-age value for the knowledge of that Known HSTS Host is reached.
Note that the max-age value could be effectively infinite for a given
Known HSTS Host. For example, this would be the case if the Known
HSTS Host is part of a pre-configured list that is implemented such
that the list entries never "age out".
9. Constructing an Effective Request URI
This section specifies how an HSTS Host must construct the Effective
Request URI for a received HTTP request.
HTTP requests often do not carry an absoluteURI for the target
resource; instead, the URI needs to be inferred from the Request-URI,
Host header field, and connection context ([RFC2616], Sections 3.2.1,
5.1.2, and 5.2). The result of this process is called the "effective
request URI (ERU)". The "target resource" is the resource identified
by the effective request URI.
9.1. ERU Fundamental Definitions
The first line of an HTTP request message, Request-Line, is specified
by the following ABNF from [RFC2616], Section 5.1:
Request-Line = Method SP Request-URI SP HTTP-Version CRLF
The Request-URI, within the Request-Line, is specified by the
following ABNF from [RFC2616], Section 5.1.2:
Request-URI = "*" | absoluteURI | abs_path | authority
The Host request header field is specified by the following ABNF from
[RFC2616], Section 14.23:
Host = "Host" ":" host [ ":" port ]
9.2. Determining the Effective Request URI
If the Request-URI is an absoluteURI, then the effective request URI
is the Request-URI.
If the Request-URI uses the abs_path form or the asterisk form, and
the Host header field is present, then the effective request URI is
constructed by concatenating:
o the scheme name: "http" if the request was received over an
insecure TCP connection, or "https" when received over a TLS/
SSL-secured TCP connection, and
o the octet sequence "://", and
o the host, and the port (if present), from the Host header field,
o the Request-URI obtained from the Request-Line, unless the
Request-URI is just the asterisk "*".
If the Request-URI uses the abs_path form or the asterisk form, and
the Host header field is not present, then the effective request URI
Otherwise, when Request-URI uses the authority form, the effective
request URI is undefined.
Effective request URIs are compared using the rules described in
[RFC2616] Section 3.2.3, except that empty path components MUST NOT
be treated as equivalent to an absolute path of "/".
9.2.1. Effective Request URI Examples
Example 1: the effective request URI for the message
GET /pub/WWW/TheProject.html HTTP/1.1
(received over an insecure TCP connection) is "http", plus "://",
plus the authority component "www.example.org:8080", plus the
request-target "/pub/WWW/TheProject.html". Thus, it is
Example 2: the effective request URI for the message
OPTIONS * HTTP/1.1
(received over an SSL/TLS secured TCP connection) is "https", plus
"://", plus the authority component "www.example.org". Thus, it is
10. Domain Name IDNA-Canonicalization
An IDNA-canonicalized domain name is the output string generated by
the following steps. The input is a putative domain name string
ostensibly composed of any combination of "A-labels", "U-labels", and
"NR-LDH labels" (see Section 2 of [RFC5890]) concatenated using some
separator character (typically ".").
1. Convert the input putative domain name string to an order-
preserving sequence of individual label strings.
2. When implementing IDNA2008, convert, validate, and test each
A-label and U-label found among the sequence of individual label
strings, using the procedures defined in Sections 5.3 through 5.5
Otherwise, when implementing IDNA2003, convert each label using
the "ToASCII" conversion in Section 4 of [RFC3490] (see also the
definition of "equivalence of labels" in Section 2 of [RFC3490]).
3. If no errors occurred during the foregoing step, concatenate all
the labels in the sequence, in order, into a string, separating
each label from the next with a %x2E (".") character. The
resulting string, known as an IDNA-canonicalized domain name, is
appropriate for use in the context of Section 8 ("User Agent
Otherwise, errors occurred. The input putative domain name
string was not successfully IDNA-canonicalized. Invokers of this
procedure should attempt appropriate error recovery.
See also Sections 13 ("Internationalized Domain Names for
Applications (IDNA): Dependency and Migration") and 14.10
("Internationalized Domain Names") of this specification for further
details and considerations.
11. Server Implementation and Deployment Advice
This section is non-normative.
11.1. Non-Conformant User Agent Considerations
Non-conformant UAs ignore the Strict-Transport-Security header field;
thus, non-conformant user agents do not address the threats described
in Section 2.3.1 ("Threats Addressed"). Please refer to Section 14.2
("Non-Conformant User Agent Implications") for further discussion.
11.2. HSTS Policy Expiration Time Considerations
Server implementations and deploying web sites need to consider
whether they are setting an expiry time that is a constant value into
the future, or whether they are setting an expiry time that is a
fixed point in time.
The "constant value into the future" approach can be accomplished by
constantly sending the same max-age value to UAs.
For example, a max-age value of 7776000 seconds is 90 days:
Note that each receipt of this header by a UA will require the UA to
update its notion of when it must delete its knowledge of this Known
The "fixed point in time" approach can be accomplished by sending
max-age values that represent the remaining time until the desired
expiry time. This would require the HSTS Host to send a newly
calculated max-age value in each HTTP response.
A consideration here is whether a deployer wishes to have the
signaled HSTS Policy expiry time match that for the web site's domain
Additionally, server implementers should consider employing a default
max-age value of zero in their deployment configuration systems.
This will require deployers to willfully set max-age in order to have
UAs enforce the HSTS Policy for their host and will protect them from
inadvertently enabling HSTS with some arbitrary non-zero duration.
11.3. Using HSTS in Conjunction with Self-Signed Public-Key
If all four of the following conditions are true...
o a web site/organization/enterprise is generating its own secure
transport public-key certificates for web sites, and
o that organization's root certification authority (CA) certificate
is not typically embedded by default in browser and/or operating
system CA certificate stores, and
o HSTS Policy is enabled on a host identifying itself using a
certificate signed by the organization's CA (i.e., a "self-signed
o this certificate does not match a usable TLS certificate
association (as defined by Section 4 of the TLSA protocol
...then secure connections to that site will fail, per the HSTS
design. This is to protect against various active attacks, as
However, if said organization wishes to employ its own CA, and self-
signed certificates, in concert with HSTS, it can do so by deploying
its root CA certificate to its users' browsers or operating system CA
root certificate stores. It can also, in addition or instead,
distribute to its users' browsers the end-entity certificate(s) for
specific hosts. There are various ways in which this can be
accomplished (details are out of scope for this specification). Once
its root CA certificate is installed in the browsers, it may employ
HSTS Policy on its site(s).
Alternatively, that organization can deploy the TLSA protocol; all
browsers that also use TLSA will then be able to trust the
certificates identified by usable TLS certificate associations as
denoted via TLSA.
NOTE: Interactively distributing root CA certificates to users,
e.g., via email, and having the users install them, is
arguably training the users to be susceptible to a possible
form of phishing attack. See Section 14.8 ("Bogus Root CA
Certificate Phish plus DNS Cache Poisoning Attack"). Thus,
care should be taken in the manner in which such certificates
are distributed and installed on users' systems and browsers.
11.4. Implications of includeSubDomains
The includeSubDomains directive has practical implications meriting
careful consideration; two example scenarios are:
o An HSTS Host offers unsecured HTTP-based services on alternate
ports or at various subdomains of its HSTS Host domain name.
o Distinct web applications are offered at distinct subdomains of an
HSTS Host, such that UAs often interact directly with these
subdomain web applications without having necessarily interacted
with a web application offered at the HSTS Host's domain name (if
The sections below discuss each of these scenarios in turn.
11.4.1. Considerations for Offering Unsecured HTTP Services at
Alternate Ports or Subdomains of an HSTS Host
For example, certification authorities often offer their CRL
distribution and OCSP services [RFC2560] over plain HTTP, and
sometimes at a subdomain of a publicly available web application that
may be secured by TLS/SSL. For example, <https://ca.example.com/> is
a publicly available web application for "Example CA", a
certification authority. Customers use this web application to
register their public keys and obtain certificates. "Example CA"
generates certificates for customers containing
<http://crl-and-ocsp.ca.example.com/> as the value for the "CRL
Distribution Points" and "Authority Information Access:OCSP"
If ca.example.com were to issue an HSTS Policy with the
includeSubDomains directive, then HTTP-based user agents implementing
HSTS that have interacted with the ca.example.com web application
would fail to retrieve CRLs and fail to check OCSP for certificates,
because these services are offered over plain HTTP.
In this case, Example CA can either:
o not use the includeSubDomains directive, or
o ensure that HTTP-based services offered at subdomains of
ca.example.com are also uniformly offered over TLS/SSL, or
o offer plain HTTP-based services at a different domain name, e.g.,
o utilize an alternative approach to distributing certificate status
information, obviating the need to offer CRL distribution and OCSP
services over plain HTTP (e.g., the "Certificate Status Request"
TLS extension [RFC6066], often colloquially referred to as "OCSP
NOTE: The above points are expressly only an example and do not
purport to address all the involved complexities. For
instance, there are many considerations -- on the part of CAs,
certificate deployers, and applications (e.g., browsers) --
involved in deploying an approach such as "OCSP Stapling".
Such issues are out of scope for this specification.
11.4.2. Considerations for Offering Web Applications at Subdomains of
an HSTS Host
In this scenario, an HSTS Host declares an HSTS Policy with an
includeSubDomains directive, and there also exist distinct web
applications offered at distinct subdomains of the HSTS Host such
that UAs often interact directly with these subdomain web
applications without having necessarily interacted with the HSTS
Host. In such a case, the UAs will not receive or enforce the HSTS
For example, the HSTS Host is "example.com", and it is configured to
emit the STS header field with the includeSubDomains directive.
However, example.com's actual web application is addressed at
"www.example.com", and example.com simply redirects user agents to
If the STS header field is only emitted by "example.com" but UAs
typically bookmark -- and links (from anywhere on the web) are
typically established to -- "www.example.com", and "example.com" is
not contacted directly by all user agents in some non-zero percentage
of interactions, then some number of UAs will not note "example.com"
as an HSTS Host, and some number of users of "www.example.com" will
be unprotected by HSTS Policy.
To address this, HSTS Hosts should be configured such that the STS
header field is emitted directly at each HSTS Host domain or
subdomain name that constitutes a well-known "entry point" to one's
web application(s), whether or not the includeSubDomains directive is
Thus, in our example, if the STS header field is emitted from both
"example.com" and "www.example.com", this issue will be addressed.
Also, if there are any other well-known entry points to web
applications offered by "example.com", such as "foo.example.com",
they should also be configured to emit the STS header field.