HTTP Working Group                                                            C. Pratt
Intended status: Experimental                                 D. Thakore
Expires: September 21, 2018 7, 2019                                     CableLabs
                                                                B. Stark
                                                           March 20, 2018 6, 2019

                  HTTP Random Access and Live Content


   To accommodate byte range requests for content that has data appended
   over time, this document defines semantics that allow a HTTP client
   and server to perform byte-range GET and HEAD requests that start at
   an arbitrary byte offset within the representation and ends at an
   indeterminate offset.

Editorial Note (To be removed by RFC Editor before publication)

   Discussion of this draft takes place on the HTTPBIS working group
   mailing list (, which is archived at

   Working Group information can be found at <>;
   source code and issues list for this draft can be found at

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   This Internet-Draft will expire on September 21, 2018. 7, 2019.

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Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
     1.1.  Requirements Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     1.2.  Notational Conventions  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
   2.  Performing Range requests on Random-Access Aggregating
       ("live") Content  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3   4
     2.1.  Establishing the Randomly Accessible Byte Range . . . . .   4
     2.2.  Byte-Range Requests Beyond the Randomly Accessible Byte
           Range . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
   3.  Other Applications of Random-Access Aggregating Content . . .   7
     3.1.  Requests Starting at the Aggregation ("Live") Point . . .   7
     3.2.  Shift Buffer Representations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   4.  Recommendations for Very Large Values . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   5.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   5.  10
   6.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   6.  10
   7.  References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
     6.1.  11
     7.1.  Normative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
     6.2.  11
     7.2.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10  11
   Appendix A.  Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   Authors' Addresses  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11  12

1.  Introduction

   Some Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) clients use byte-range
   requests (Range requests using the "bytes" Range Unit) to transfer
   select portions of large representations ([RFC7233]).  And in some
   cases large representations require content to be continuously or
   periodically appended - such as representations consisting of live
   audio or video sources, blockchain databases, and log files.  Clients
   cannot access the appended/live content using a Range request with
   the bytes range unit using the currently defined byte-range semantics
   without accepting performance or behavior sacrifices which are not
   acceptable for many applications.

   For instance, HTTP clients have the ability to access appended
   content on an indeterminate-length resource by transferring the
   entire representation from the beginning and continuing to read the
   appended content as it's made available.  Obviously, this is highly
   inefficient for cases where the representation is large and only the
   most recently appended content is needed by the client.

   Alternatively, clients can also access appended content by sending
   periodic open-ended bytes Range requests using the last-known end
   byte position as the range start.  Performing low-frequency periodic
   bytes Range requests in this fashion (polling) introduces latency
   since the client will necessarily be somewhat behind the aggregated
   content - mimicking the behavior (and latency) of segmented content
   representations such as "HTTP Live Streaming" (HLS, [RFC8216]) or
   "Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP" (MPEG-DASH, [DASH]).  And
   while performing these Range requests at higher frequency can reduce
   this latency, it also incurs more processing overhead and HTTP
   exchanges as many of the requests will return no content - since
   content is usually aggregated in groups of bytes (e.g. a video frame,
   audio sample, block, or log entry).

   This document describes a usage model for range requests which
   enables efficient retrieval of representations that are appended to
   over time by using large values and associated semantics for
   communicating range end positions.  This model allows representations
   to be progressively delivered by servers as new content is added.  It
   also ensures compatibility with servers and intermediaries that don't
   support this technique.

1.1.  Requirements Language

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119 [RFC2119].

1.2.  Notational Conventions

   This document cites productions in Augmented Backus-Naur Form (ABNF)
   productions from [RFC7233], using the notation defined in [RFC5234].

2.  Performing Range requests on Random-Access Aggregating ("live")

   This document recommends a two-step process for accessing resources
   that have indeterminate length representations.

   Two steps are necessary because of limitations with the Range request
   header fields and the Content-Range response header fields.  A server
   cannot know from a range request that a client wishes to receive a
   response that does not have a definite end.  More critically, the
   header fields do not allow the server to signal that a resource has
   indeterminate length without also providing a fixed portion of the

   A client first learns that the resource has a representation of
   indeterminate length by requesting a range of the resource.  The
   server responds with the range that is available, but indicates that
   the length of the representation is unknown using the existing
   Content-Range syntax.  See Section 2.1 for details and examples.

   Once the client knows the resource has indeterminate length, it can
   request a range with a very large end position from the resource.
   The client chooses an explicit end value larger than can be
   transferred in the foreseeable term.  A server which supports range
   requests of indeterminate length signals its understanding of the
   client's indeterminate range request by indicating that the range it
   is providing has a range end that exactly matches the client's
   requested range end rather than a range that is bounded by what is
   currently available.  See Section 2.2 for details.

2.1.  Establishing the Randomly Accessible Byte Range

   Establishing if a representation is continuously aggregating ("live")
   and determining the randomly-accessible byte range can both be
   determined using the existing definition for an open-ended byte-range
   request.  Specifically, Section 2.1 of [RFC7233] defines a byte-range request of the

      byte-range-spec = first-byte-pos "-" [ last-byte-pos ]

   which allows a client to send a HEAD request with a first-byte-pos
   and leave last-byte-pos absent.  A server that receives a satisfiable
   byte-range request (with first-byte-pos smaller than the current
   representation length) may respond with a 206 status code (Partial
   Content) with a Content-Range header field indicating the currently
   satisfiable byte range.  For example:

   HEAD /resource HTTP/1.1
   Range: bytes=0-

   returns a response of the form:

   HTTP/1.1 206 Partial Content
   Content-Range: bytes 0-1234567/*

   from the server indicating that (1) the complete representation
   length is unknown (via the "*" in place of the complete-length field)
   and (2) that only bytes 0-1234567 were accessable accessible at the time the
   request was processed by the server.  The client can infer from this
   response that bytes 0-1234567 of the representation can be requested
   and returned in a timely fashion (the bytes are immediately

2.2.  Byte-Range Requests Beyond the Randomly Accessible Byte Range

   Once a client has determined that a representation has an
   indeterminate length and established the byte range that can be
   accessed, it may want to perform a request with a start position
   within the randomly-accessible content range and an end position at
   an indefinite "live" point - a point where the byte-range GET request
   is fulfilled on-demand as the content is aggregated.

   For example, for a large video asset, a client may wish to start a
   content transfer from the video "key" frame immediately before the
   point of aggregation and continue the content transfer indefinitely
   as content is aggregated - in order to support low-latency startup of
   a live video stream.

   Unlike a byte-range Range request, a byte-range Content-Range
   response header field cannot be "open ended", per Section 4.2 of [RFC7233]:

      byte-content-range  = bytes-unit SP
                           ( byte-range-resp / unsatisfied-range )

      byte-range-resp     = byte-range "/" ( complete-length / "*" )
      byte-range          = first-byte-pos "-" last-byte-pos
      unsatisfied-range   = "*/" complete-length

      complete-length     = 1*DIGIT

   Specifically, last-byte-pos is required in byte-range.  So in order
   to preserve interoperability with existing HTTP clients, servers,
   proxies, and caches, this document proposes a mechanism for a client
   to indicate support for handling an indeterminate-length byte-range
   response, and a mechanism for a server to indicate if/when it's
   providing a an indeterminate-length response.

   A client can indicate support for handling indeterminate-length byte-
   range responses by providing a Very Large Value very large value for the last-byte-pos
   in the byte-range request.  For example, a client can perform a byte-
   range GET request of the form:

   GET /resource HTTP/1.1
   Range: bytes=1230000-999999999999

   where the last-byte-pos in the Request is much larger than the last-
   byte-pos returned in response to an open-ended byte-range HEAD
   request, as described above. above, and much larger than the expected
   maximum size of the representation.  See Section 6 for range value

   In response, a server may indicate that it is supplying a
   continuously aggregating ("live") response by supplying the client
   request's last-byte-pos in the Content-Range response header field.

   For example:

   GET /resource HTTP/1.1
   Range: bytes=1230000-999999999999


   HTTP/1.1 206 Partial Content
   Content-Range: bytes 1230000-999999999999/*

   from the server to indicate that the response will start at byte
   1230000 and continues indefinitely to include all aggregated content,
   as it becomes available.

   A server that doesn't support or supply a continuously aggregating
   ("live") response will supply the currently satisfiable byte range,
   as it would with an open-ended byte request.

   For example:

   GET /resource HTTP/1.1
   Range: bytes=1230000-999999999999

   will return

   HTTP/1.1 206 Partial Content
   Content-Range: bytes 1230000-1234567/*

   from the server to indicate that the response will start at byte
   1230000 and end at byte 1234567 and will not include any aggregated
   content.  This is the response expected from a typical HTTP server -
   one that doesn't support byte-range requests on aggregating content.

   A client that doesn't receive a response indicating it is
   continuously aggregating must use other means to access aggregated
   content (e.g. periodic byte-range polling).

   A server that does return a continuously aggregating ("live")
   response should return data using chunked transfer coding and not
   provide a Content-Length header field.  A 0-length chunk indicates
   the end of the transfer, per Section 4.1 of [RFC7230].

3.  Other Applications of Random-Access Aggregating Content

3.1.  Requests Starting at the Aggregation ("Live") Point

   A client that wishes to only receive newly-aggregated portions of a
   resource (i.e., start at the "live" point), can use a HEAD request to
   learn what range the server has currently available and initiate an
   indeterminate-length transfer.  For example:

   HEAD /resource HTTP/1.1
   Range: bytes=0-

   With the Content-Range response header field indicating the range (or
   ranges) available.  For example:

   206 Partial Content
   Content-Range: bytes 0-1234567/*

   The client can then issue a request for a range starting at the end
   value (using a very large value for the end of a range) and receive
   only new content.

   GET /resource HTTP/1.1
   Range: bytes=1234567-999999999999

   with a server returning a Content-Range response indicating that an
   indeterminate-length response body will be provided

   206 Partial Content
   Content-Range: bytes 1234567-999999999999/*

3.2.  Shift Buffer Representations

   Some representations lend themselves to front-end content removal in
   addition to aggregation.  While still supporting random access,
   representations of this type have a portion at the beginning (the "0"
   end) of the randomly-accessible region that become inaccessible over
   time.  Examples of this kind of representation would be an audio-
   video time-shift buffer or a rolling log file.

   For example a Range request containing:

   HEAD /resource HTTP/1.1
   Range: bytes=0-


   206 Partial Content
   Content-Range: bytes 1000000-1234567/*

   indicating that the first 1000000 bytes were not accessible at the
   time the HEAD request was processed.  Subsequent HEAD requests could

   Content-Range: bytes 1000000-1234567/*

   Content-Range: bytes 1010000-1244567/*

   Content-Range: bytes 1020000-1254567/*

   Note though that the difference between the first-byte-pos and last-
   byte-pos need not be constant.

   The client could then follow-up with a GET Range request containing
   GET /resource HTTP/1.1
   Range: bytes=1020000-999999999999

   with the server returning

   206 Partial Content
   Content-Range: bytes 1020000-999999999999/*

   with the response body returning bytes 1020000-1254567 immediately
   and aggregated ("live") data being returned as the content is

   A server that doesn't support or supply a continuously aggregating
   ("live") response will supply the currently satisfiable byte range,
   as it would with an open-ended byte request.

   For example:

   GET /resource HTTP/1.1
   Range: bytes=0-999999999999

   will return

   HTTP/1.1 206 Partial Content
   Content-Range: bytes 1020000-1254567/*

   from the server to indicate that the response will start at byte
   1020000, end at byte 1254567, and will not include any aggregated
   content.  This is the response expected from a typical HTTP server -
   one that doesn't support byte-range requests on aggregating content.

   Note that responses to GET requests against shift-buffer
   representations using Range can be cached by intermediaries, since
   the Content-Range response header indicates which portion of the
   representation is being returned in the response body.  However GET
   requests without a Range header cannot be cached since the first byte
   of the response body can vary from request to request.  To ensure
   Range-less GET requests against shift-buffer representations are not
   cached, servers hosting a shift-buffer representation should either
   not return a 200-level response (e.g. sending a 300-level redirect
   response with a URI that represents the current start of the shift-
   buffer) or indicate the response is non-cacheable.  See HTTP Caching
   ([RFC7234]) for details on HTTP cache control.

4.  IANA Considerations

   This document has no actions  Recommendations for IANA.

5.  Security Considerations

   One potential issue with this recommendation is related Very Large Values

   While it would be ideal to the use of
   very-large last-byte-pos values.  Some client define a single numerical Very Large
   Value, there's no single value that would work for all applications
   and server
   implementations platforms. e.g.  JavaScript numbers cannot represent all integer
   values above 2^^53, so a JavaScript application may want to use
   2^^53-1 for a Very Large Value.  This value, however, would not be prepared to deal with byte position values
   of 2^^63 and beyond.
   sufficient for all applications, such as continuously-streaming high-
   bitrate streams.  So in applications where there's no expectation the value 2^^53-1 (9007199254740991) is
   recommended as a Very Large Value unless an application has a good
   justification to use a smaller or larger value. e.g.  If it's always
   known that the representation will ever resource won't exceed 2^^63, a value smaller than
   this the
   recommended Very Large Value for an application, a smaller value should can
   be used as used.  And if it's likely that an application will utilize
   resources larger than the recommended Very Large last-byte-pos in Value - such as a byte-
   continuously aggregating high-bitrate media stream - a larger value
   should be used.

   Note that, in accordance with the semantics defined above, servers
   that support random-access live content will need to return the last-
   byte-pos provided in the Range request or content-range response.  Also, in some implementations
   (e.g.  JavaScript-based clients and servers) are not able to
   represent all values beyond 2^^53.  So similarly, cases - even if there's no
   expectation that the
   last-byte-pos cannot be represented as a numerical value internally
   by the server.  As is the case with any live/continuously aggregating
   resource, the server should terminate the content transfer when the
   end of the resource is reached - whether the end is due to
   termination of the content source or the content length exceeds the
   server's maximum representation will ever exceed 2^^53 bytes, length.

5.  IANA Considerations

   This document has no actions for IANA.

6.  Security Considerations

   As described above, servers need to be prepared to receive last-byte-
   pos values smaller in Range requests that are numerically larger than this limit the
   server implementation supports - and return these values in Content-
   Range response header fields.  Servers should be used for check the last-byte-pos
   value before converting and storing them into numeric form to ensure
   the value doesn't cause an overflow or index incorrect data.  The
   simplest way to satisfy the live-range semantics defined in this
   document without potential overflow issues is to store the last-byte-
   pos as a string value and return it in the byte-range requests.

6. Content-Range
   response header's last-byte-pos field.

7.  References


7.1.  Normative References

   [RFC2119]  Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
              Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997,
              <>. <https://www.rfc-

   [RFC7230]  Fielding, R., Ed. and J. Reschke, Ed., "Hypertext Transfer
              Protocol (HTTP/1.1): Message Syntax and Routing",
              RFC 7230, DOI 10.17487/RFC7230, June 2014,

   [RFC7233]  Fielding, R., Ed., Lafon, Y., Ed., and J. Reschke, Ed.,
              "Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP/1.1): Range Requests",
              RFC 7233, DOI 10.17487/RFC7233, June 2014,

   [RFC7234]  Fielding, R., Ed., Nottingham, M., Ed., and J. Reschke,
              Ed., "Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP/1.1): Caching",
              RFC 7234, DOI 10.17487/RFC7234, June 2014,


7.2.  Informative References

   [DASH]     ISO, "Information technology -- Dynamic adaptive streaming
              over HTTP (DASH) -- Part 1: Media presentation description
              and segment formats", ISO/IEC 23009-1:2014, May 2014,

   [RFC5234]  Crocker, D., Ed. and P. Overell, "Augmented BNF for Syntax
              Specifications: ABNF", STD 68, RFC 5234,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC5234, January 2008,
              <>. <https://www.rfc-

   [RFC8216]  Pantos, R., Ed. and W. May, "HTTP Live Streaming",
              RFC 8216, DOI 10.17487/RFC8216, August 2017,

Appendix A.  Acknowledgements

   Mark Nottingham, Patrick McManus, Julian Reschke, Remy Lebeau, Rodger
   Combs, Thorsten Lohmar, Martin Thompson, Adrien de Croy, K.  Morgan,
   Roy T.  Fielding, Jeremy Poulter.

Authors' Addresses

   Craig Pratt
   Portland, OR  97229


   Darshak Thakore
   858 Coal Creek Circle
   Louisville, CO  80027


   Barbara Stark
   Atlanta, GA