HYBI M. Thomson
Internet-Draft Skype
Intended status: Standards Track S. Loreto
Expires: August 31, 2012 Ericsson
G. Wilkins
March 2012

Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) Keep-Alive Header


A Keep-Alive header is defined for HTTP. This hop-by-hop header informs hosts about connection management policies. Parameters are defined for idle connection timeout and maximum request count.

Status of this Memo

This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Note that other groups may also distribute working documents as Internet-Drafts. The list of current Internet- Drafts is at http://datatracker.ietf.org/drafts/current/.

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This Internet-Draft will expire on August 31, 2012.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

This document describes the Keep-Alive header. The Keep-Alive header provides Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) [I-D.ietf-httpbis-p1-messaging] clients, servers and intermediaries with information about the connection use policies of their peers.

The timeout header parameter indicates the time that a connection will be allowed to remain idle before it is closed.

The max header parameter indicates the maximum number of requests that will be permitted before the connection is closed.

Some HTTP implementations already provide an implementation for this header. Not all of those implementations are interoperable due to significant differences in the header format. This draft defines a single format for the header and ascribes specific semantics to the header parameters.

1.1. Idle Connection Timeouts and Connection Reuse

Management of idle HTTP connections has an impact on long-lived communications between hosts. Hosts are able to close idle connections in order to reduce resource consumption.

Many clients choose not to send non-idempotent requests on idle connections. If the intermediary or server holding the other end of the connection chooses to close the connection while a non-idempotent request is in transit, the client has no way to tell if the request has succeeded. For this reason, many clients establish a new connection for every non-idempotent request. This is inefficient if the existing connection is a usable connection: establishing a new connection adds significantly to the latency of the request.

Connection resources can be more efficiently used when an idle connection timeout is known. A client that only periodically sends request can learn about the possibility of a connection timeout and can act to create a new connection for requests or send requests that keep the connection from timing out. Alternatively, a client that knows that more requests on a connection are unlikely within the discovered timeout interval can close the connection immediately after a poll, releasing resources.

1.2. Terminology

In this document, the key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "NOT RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" are to be interpreted as described in BCP 14, RFC 2119 [RFC2119] and indicate requirement levels for compliant implementations.

2. Keep-Alive Header

The Keep-Alive header is a hop-by-hop header that provides information about a persistent connection. Both client and server are able to provide information independently.

Keep-Alive           = "Keep-Alive" ":" 1#keep-alive-info
keep-alive-info      =   "timeout" "=" delta-seconds
                       / "max" "=" 1*DIGIT
                       / keep-alive-extension
keep-alive-extension = token [ "=" ( token / quoted-string ) ]

This header is sent by either host participating in a persistent connection. The values might be set based on policy implemented by servers, clients and intermediaries. Values might also be set based on knowledge that a host has about lower layer intermediaries in the path of the request, such as a TCP middlebox. Such middleboxes, in particular network address translators (NATs), frequently discard mappings for idle connections, causing the connection to fail after a certain duration of inactivity.

The value of Keep-Alive parameters can change on each request or response sent on a connection. Absence of the header or any parameter implies that any previously provided value still applies.

As a hop-by-hop header, this header only applies to a single transport-level connection. If a Keep-Alive header is added to a request or response, the Connection header MUST include the tag Keep-Alive. This ensures that compliant intermediaries that do not recognize this header remove it before forwarding a request.

2.1. 'timeout' Parameter

A host sets the value of the timeout parameter to the time that the host will allows an idle connection to remain open before it is closed. A connection is idle if no data is sent or received by a host.

The value of the timeout parameter is a single integer in seconds.

A host MAY keep an idle connection open for longer than the time that it indicates, but it SHOULD attempt to retain a connection for at least as long as indicated.

The perception of idleness for a connection can be affected by buffering in network stacks and other local considerations. Clients and servers can also have different views of idleness. In particular, network transit adds delays that skew the subjective perception of whether a connection is idle. Clients are advised to make allowances for delays in determining whether to reuse an idle connection.

2.2. 'max' Parameter

The max parameter indicates the maximum number of requests that a client will make, or that a server will allow to be made on the persistent connection. Once the specified number of requests and responses have been sent, the host that included the parameter could close the connection.

The value of the max parameter counts the number of requests since the connection was created.

For clients, receiving this parameter in a response allows the client to limit the number of requests that it sends. A client that pipelines request can use this information to constrain the length of a pipeline.

For servers, receiving this parameter in a request allows the server to close the connection after the final response has been sent.

2.3. Keep-Alive Extensions

The Keep-Alive header can be extended by adding any number of keep-alive-extension values to the header. Any extension that is not understood MUST be ignored.

The HTTP Keep-Alive Information Registry defines the namespace for Keep-Alive extensions. Section 7.2 describes this registry.

3. Existing Intermediaries

The exact impact of an intermediary on an HTTP request with a Keep-Alive header depends on the type of intermediary.

An intermediary that is compliant with HTTP/1.1 ignores and discards this header before forwarding a request. Since it is unaware of the semantics of the header it could drop an idle connection at any time (see Section 7.1.4 of [I-D.ietf-httpbis-p1-messaging]).

A non-compliant "transparent" intermediary could pass this header on to the next hop. This results in errors of the sort that are described in Section 19.7.1 of [RFC2068].

A network address translation (NAT) device or other middlebox might cause a connection to become unavailable prior to the advertised timeout.

A client or intermediary might revise the Keep-Alive header that it sends in subsequent requests to the same resource or origin server if it detects non-compliant intermediaries or middleboxes that have shorter timeout periods.

4. Upgraded HTTP Connections

A connection timeout can apply to a connection that is subsequently upgraded to another protocol [RFC2817], such as the websocket protocol [RFC6455].

The idle connection timeout applies to the upgraded connection, unless the upgraded protocol provides another method for indicating idle timeouts. The maximum request count does not apply to the upgraded connection; the upgrade request and subsequent exchange are regarded as a single HTTP request.

A server, client or intermediary might apply different policies to an upgraded protocol.

5. Examples

The following example shows how a Keep-Alive header could be used. All connections are independently negotiated. In this example, the client indicates a timeout of 600 seconds (10 minutes), but the proxy is only prepared to retain the connection for at least 120 seconds (2 minutes). On the link between proxy and server, the proxy requests a timeout of 1200 seconds and the server reduces this to 300 seconds.

 Client                        Proxy                         Server
   |                             |                              |
   +- Keep-Alive: timeout=600 -->|                              |
   |  Connection: Keep-Alive     |                              |
   |                             +- Keep-Alive: timeout=1200 -->|
   |                             |  Connection: Keep-Alive      |
   |                             |                              |
   |                             |<-- Keep-Alive: timeout=300 --+
   |                             |    Connection: Keep-Alive    |
   |<- Keep-Alive: timeout=5000 -+                              |
   |    Connection: Keep-Alive   |                              |
   |                             |                              |

As this example shows, the timeout policies maintained by the proxy are different for each connection. Each connection hop is independent.

The following example shows the headers included in an upgrade from HTTP/1.1 to WebSocket [RFC6455]. With a websocket upgrade, the connections on each hop cannot have independent lifecycles on either side of an intermediary. After the upgrade, timeout policies cannot be independent for each connection. The proxy adjusts the timeout value to reflect the lower of the values set by client and the proxy policies so that the server is aware of the connection characteristics; similarly, the value from the server is provided to the client.

 Client                        Proxy                         Server
   |                             |                              |
   |  Upgrade: websocket         |                              |
   +- Keep-Alive: timeout=600 -->|                              |
   |  Connection: Keep-Alive,    |                              |
   |              Upgrade        |                              |
   |                             |  Upgrade: websocket          |
   |                             +- Keep-Alive: timeout=600 --->|
   |                             |  Connection: Keep-Alive,     |
   |                             |              Upgrade         |
   |                             |                              |
   |                             |    Upgrade: websocket        |
   |                             |<-- Keep-Alive: timeout=3000 -+
   |                             |    Connection: Keep-Alive,   |
   |                             |                Upgrade       |
   |   Upgrade: websocket        |                              |
   |<- Keep-Alive: timeout=3000 -+                              |
   |   Connection: Keep-Alive,   |                              |
   |               Upgrade       |                              |
   |                             |                              |

6. Security Considerations

Establishing a persistent connection requires a commitment of resources at a host. The Keep-Alive header are used to express host policy that could alter the way that a host allocates connection resources. Since these policies can be enacted without this feedback, these indicates have little effect on security.

A host can close a non-idle connection sooner than the indicated time if necessary or as dictated by local policy (see Section 7.1.4 of [I-D.ietf-httpbis-p1-messaging]).

7. IANA Considerations

[[Note to IANA/RFC Editor: Please replace instance of RFCXXXX with the number of the published RFC and remove this note.]]

7.1. Registration for Keep-Alive Header

This document registers the HTTP Keep-Alive header in the "Permanent Message Header Fields" registry established by [RFC3864]

Header field:
Applicable protocol:
Author/change controller:
Internet Engineering Task Force, IETF (iesg@ietf.org)
Specification document(s):
RFCXXXX (this document)

7.2. Registry for Keep-Alive Information

This document establishes a registry for Keep-Alive Information.

Each registration MUST include a name that conforms to the HTTP 'token' grammar and a reference to a specification. Registrations are subject to IETF review [RFC5226].

The registry includes the following initial values:

See Section 2.1 of this document.
See Section 2.2 of this document.

8. Acknowledgments

Jamie Lokier provided valuable contributions of experience, insight and text suggestions to this document. Roy Fielding provided information on the poorly documented Keep-Alive header.

9. Change Log

Since draft-thomson-hybi-http-timeout:

Since draft-loreto-http-timeout:

10. References

10.1. Normative References

[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
[RFC3864] Klyne, G., Nottingham, M. and J. Mogul, "Registration Procedures for Message Header Fields", BCP 90, RFC 3864, September 2004.
[RFC5226] Narten, T. and H. Alvestrand, "Guidelines for Writing an IANA Considerations Section in RFCs", BCP 26, RFC 5226, May 2008.
[I-D.ietf-httpbis-p1-messaging] Fielding, R, Gettys, J, Mogul, J, Nielsen, H, Masinter, L, Leach, P, Berners-Lee, T, Reschke, J and Y Lafon, "HTTP/1.1, part 1: URIs, Connections, and Message Parsing", Internet-Draft draft-ietf-httpbis-p1-messaging-16, August 2011.

10.2. Informative References

[RFC2068] Fielding, R., Gettys, J., Mogul, J., Nielsen, H. and T. Berners-Lee, "Hypertext Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1", RFC 2068, January 1997.
[RFC2817] Khare, R. and S. Lawrence, "Upgrading to TLS Within HTTP/1.1", RFC 2817, May 2000.
[RFC6455] Fette, I. and A. Melnikov, "The WebSocket Protocol", RFC 6455, December 2011.

Authors' Addresses

Martin Thomson Skype 3210 Porter Drive Palo Alto, CA 94304 US Phone: +1 650-353-1925 EMail: martin.thomson@gmail.com
Salvatore Loreto Ericsson Hirsalantie 11 Jorvas, 02420 Finland EMail: salvatore.loreto@ericsson.com
Greg Wilkins Intalio 644 Emerson Street, Suite 200 Palo Alto, 94301 USA EMail: gregw@intalio.com