httpbis M. Thomson
Internet-Draft Mozilla
Intended status: Standards Track M. Nottingham
Expires: December 24, 2017 true
W. Tarreau
HAProxy Technologies
June 22, 2017

Using Early Data in HTTP


This document explains the risks of using early data for HTTP and describes techniques for reducing them. In particular, it defines a mechanism that enables clients to communicate with servers about early data, to assure correct operation.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

TLS 1.3 [TLS13] introduces the concept of early data (also known as zero round trip data or 0-RTT data). Early data allows a client to send data to a server in the first round trip of a connection, without waiting for the TLS handshake to complete if the client has spoken to the same server recently.

When used with HTTP [HTTP], early data allows clients to send requests immediately, avoiding the one or two round trip delay needed for the TLS handshake. This is a significant performance enhancement; however, it has significant limitations.

The primary risk of using early data is that an attacker might capture and replay the request(s) it contains. TLS [TLS13] describes techniques that can be used to reduce the likelihood that an attacker can successfully replay a request, but these techniques can be difficult to deploy, and still leave some possibility of a successful attack.

Note that this is different from automated or user-initiated retries; replays are under the control of an attacker, and are therefore malicious.

To help mitigate the risk of replays in HTTP, this document gives an overview of techniques for controlling these risks in servers, and defines requirements for clients when sending requests in early data.

The advice in this document also applies to use of 0-RTT in HTTP over QUIC [HQ].

1.1. Conventions and Definitions

The words “MUST”, “MUST NOT”, “SHOULD”, and “MAY” are used in this document. It’s not shouting; when they are capitalized, they have the special meaning defined in [RFC2119].

2. Supporting Early Data in HTTP Servers

A server decides whether or not to offer a client the ability to send early data on future connections when sending the TLS session ticket.

When a server enables early data, there are a number of techniques it can use to mitigate the risks of replay:

  1. The server can choose whether it will process early data before the TLS handshake completes. By deferring processing, it can ensure that only a successfully completed connection is used for the request(s) therein. Assuming that a replayed ClientHello will not result in additional connections being made by the client, this provides the server with some assurance that the early data was not replayed.
  2. If the server receives multiple requests in early data, it can determine whether to defer HTTP processing on a per-request basis. This may require buffering the responses to preserve ordering in HTTP/1.1.
  3. The server can cause a client to retry a request and not use early data by responding with the 4NN (Too Early) status code (Section 4.2), in cases where the risk of replay is judged too great.
  4. Finally, TLS [TLS13] describes several mitigation strategies that reduce the ability of an attacker to successfully replay early data. Servers are strongly encouraged to implement these techniques, but to also recognize that they are imperfect.

For a given request, the level of tolerance to replay risk is specific to the resource it operates upon (and therefore only known to the origin server). In general, if a request does not have state-changing side effects on a resource, the consequences of replay are not significant.

The request method’s safety ([RFC7231], Section 4.2.1) is one way to determine this. However, some resources do elect to associate side effects with safe methods, so this cannot be universally relied upon.

It is RECOMMENDED that origin servers allow resources to explicitly configure whether early data is appropriate in requests. Absent such explicit information, they SHOULD mitigate against early data in requests that have unsafe methods, using the techniques outlined above.

Intermediary servers do not have sufficient information to make this determination, so Section 4.2 describes a way for the origin to signal to them that a particular request isn’t appropriate for early data. Intermediaries that accept early data MUST implement that mechanism.

Note that a server cannot choose to selectively reject early data. TLS only permits a server to accept all early data, or none of it. Once a server has decided to accept early data, it MUST process all requests in early data, even if the server rejects the request by sending a 4NN (Too Early) response.

A server can limit the amount of early data with the max_early_data_size field of the early_data TLS extension. This can be used to avoid committing an arbitrary amount of memory for deferred requests. A server SHOULD ensure that when it accepts early data, it can defer processing of requests until after the TLS handshake completes.

3. Using Early Data in HTTP Clients

A client that wishes to use early data commences sending HTTP requests immediately after sending the TLS ClientHello.

By their nature, clients have control over whether a given request is sent in early data – thereby giving the client control over risk of replay. Absent other information, clients MAY send requests with safe HTTP methods (see [RFC7231], Section 4.2.1) in early data when it is available, and SHOULD NOT send unsafe methods (or methods whose safety is not known) in early data.

If the server rejects early data, a client MUST start sending again as though the connection was new. For HTTP/2, this means re-sending the connection preface. Any requests sent in early data MUST be sent again, unless the client decides to abandon those requests.

This automatic retry exposes the request to a potential replay attack. An attacker sends early data to one server instance that accepts and processes the early data, but allows that connection to proceed no further. The attacker then forwards the same messages from the client to another server instance that will reject early data. The client the retries the request, resulting in the request being processed twice. Replays are also possible if there are multiple server instances that will accept early data, or if the same server accepts early data multiple times (though this would be in violation of requirements in TLS).

Clients that use early data MUST retry requests upon receipt of a 4NN (Too Early) status code; see Section 4.2.

An intermediary MUST NOT use early data when forwarding a request unless early data was used on a previous hop, or it knows that the request can be retried safely without consequences (typically, using out-of-band configuration). Absent better information, that means that an intermediary can only use early data if the request that either arrived in early data or arrived with the Early-Data header field set to “1”.

4. Extensions for Early Data in HTTP

Because HTTP requests can span multiple “hops”, it is necessary to explicitly communicate whether a request has been sent in early data on a previous connection. Likewise, some means of explicitly triggering a retry when early data is not desirable is necessary. Finally, it is necessary to know whether the client will actually perform such a retry.

To meet these needs, two signalling mechanisms are defined:

They are designed to enable better coordination of the use of early data between the user agent and origin server, and also when a gateway (also “reverse proxy”, “Content Delivery Network”, or “surrogate”) is present.

Gateways typically don’t have specific information about whether a given request can be processed safely when it is sent in early data. In many cases, only the origin server has the necessary information to decide whether the risk of replay is acceptable. These extensions allow coordination between a gateway and its origin server.

4.1. The Early-Data Header Field

The Early-Data request header field indicates that the request has been conveyed in early data, and additionally indicates that a client understands the 4NN (Too Early) status code.

It has just one valid value: “1”. Its syntax is defined by the following ABNF [ABNF]:

Early-Data = "1"

For example:

GET /resource HTTP/1.0
Early-Data: 1

An intermediary that forwards a request received in TLS early data MUST send it with the Early-Data header field set to “1” (i.e., it adds it if not present in the request).

An intermediary MUST NOT remove this header field if it is present in a request.

The Early-Data header field is not intended for use by user agents (that is, the original initiator of a request). Sending a request in early data implies that the client understands this specification and is willing to retry a request in response to a 4NN (Too Early) status code. A user agent that sends a request in early data does not need to include the Early-Data header field.

4.2. The 4NN (Too Early) Status Code

A 4NN (Too Early) status code indicates that the server is unwilling to risk processing a request that might be (or has been) replayed.

Clients (user-agents and intermediaries) that sent the request in early data MUST automatically retry the request when receiving a 4NN (Too Early) response status code. Such retries MUST NOT be sent in early data, and SHOULD NOT be sent if the TLS handshake on the original connection does not successfully complete.

Intermediaries that receive the 4NN (Too Early) status code MUST NOT automatically retry requests when the original request already contained the Early-Data header field with a value of “1” or the request arrived at the intermediary in early data; instead, they MUST forward the 4NN (Too Early) response to the client.

The server cannot assume that a client is able to retry a request unless the request is received in early data or the Early-Data header field is set to “1”. A server SHOULD NOT emit the 4NN status code unless one of these conditions is met.

The 4NN (Too Early) status code is not cacheable by default. Its payload is not the representation of any identified resource.

5. Security Considerations

Using early data exposes a client to the risk that their request is replayed. A retried or replayed request can produce different side effects on the server. That might be used for traffic analysis to recover information about requests or the resources those requests target.

A gateway that forwards requests that were received in early data MUST only do so if it knows that the server that receives those requests understands the Early-Data header field and will correctly generate a 4NN (Too Early) status code. A gateway that isn’t certain about server support SHOULD either delay forwarding the request until the TLS handshake completes, or send a 4NN (Too Early) status code in response.

6. IANA Considerations

This document registers the Early-Data header field in the “Message Headers” registry [HEADERS].

Header field name:
Applicable protocol:
Author/Change controller:
Specification document(s):
This document
Related information:

This document registers the 4NN (Too Early) status code in the “Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) Status Code” registry established in [RFC7231].

Too Early
This document

7. References

7.1. Normative References

[ABNF] Crocker, D. and P. Overell, "Augmented BNF for Syntax Specifications: ABNF", STD 68, RFC 5234, DOI 10.17487/RFC5234, January 2008.
[HEADERS] Klyne, G., Nottingham, M. and J. Mogul, "Registration Procedures for Message Header Fields", BCP 90, RFC 3864, DOI 10.17487/RFC3864, September 2004.
[HTTP] Fielding, R. and J. Reschke, "Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP/1.1): Message Syntax and Routing", RFC 7230, DOI 10.17487/RFC7230, June 2014.
[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997.
[RFC7231] Fielding, R. and J. Reschke, "Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP/1.1): Semantics and Content", RFC 7231, DOI 10.17487/RFC7231, June 2014.
[TLS13] Rescorla, E., "The Transport Layer Security (TLS) Protocol Version 1.3", Internet-Draft draft-ietf-tls-tls13-20, April 2017.

7.2. Informative References

[HQ] Bishop, M., "Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) over QUIC", Internet-Draft draft-ietf-quic-http-04, June 2017.

Authors' Addresses

Martin Thomson Mozilla EMail:
Mark Nottingham true EMail:
Willy Tarreau HAProxy Technologies EMail: