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The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is an application-level protocol for distributed, collaborative, hypermedia information systems. HTTP has been in use by the World Wide Web global information initiative since 1990. This document is Part 4 of the seven-part specification that defines the protocol referred to as "HTTP/1.1" and, taken together, obsoletes RFC 2616. Part 4 defines request header fields for indicating conditional requests and the rules for constructing responses to those requests.
Discussion of this draft should take place on the HTTPBIS working group mailing list (firstname.lastname@example.org). The current issues list is at <http://www.tools.ietf.org/wg/httpbis/trac/report/11> and related documents (including fancy diffs) can be found at <http://www.tools.ietf.org/wg/httpbis/>.
This draft incorporates those issue resolutions that were either collected in the original RFC2616 errata list (<http://purl.org/NET/http-errata>), or which were agreed upon on the mailing list between October 2006 and November 2007 (as published in "draft-lafon-rfc2616bis-03").
This document defines HTTP/1.1 response metadata for indicating potential changes to payload content, including modification time stamps and opaque entity-tags, and the HTTP conditional request mechanisms that allow preconditions to be placed on a request method. Conditional GET requests allow for efficient cache updates. Other conditional request methods are used to protect against overwriting or misunderstanding the state of a resource that has been changed unbeknownst to the requesting client.¶
This document is currently disorganized in order to minimize the changes between drafts and enable reviewers to see the smaller errata changes. The next draft will reorganize the sections to better reflect the content. In particular, the sections on resource metadata will be discussed first and then followed by each conditional request-header, concluding with a definition of precedence and the expectation of ordering strong validator checks before weak validator checks. It is likely that more content from [Part6] will migrate to this part, where appropriate. The current mess reflects how widely dispersed these topics and associated requirements had become in [RFC2616].¶
An implementation is not compliant if it fails to satisfy one or more of the MUST or REQUIRED level requirements for the protocols it implements. An implementation that satisfies all the MUST or REQUIRED level and all the SHOULD level requirements for its protocols is said to be "unconditionally compliant"; one that satisfies all the MUST level requirements but not all the SHOULD level requirements for its protocols is said to be "conditionally compliant."¶
This specification uses the ABNF syntax defined in Section 2.1 of [Part1] and the core rules defined in Section 2.2 of [Part1]: [abnf.dep: ABNF syntax and basic rules will be adopted from RFC 5234, see <http://tools.ietf.org/wg/httpbis/trac/ticket/36>.] ¶
The ABNF rules below are defined in other parts:¶
If the client has performed a conditional GET request and access is allowed, but the document has not been modified, the server SHOULD respond with this status code. The 304 response MUST NOT contain a message-body, and thus is always terminated by the first empty line after the header fields.¶
The response MUST include the following header fields: ¶
If a clockless origin server obeys these rules, and proxies and clients add their own Date to any response received without one (as already specified by [RFC2068], Section 14.19), caches will operate correctly. ¶
If the conditional GET used a strong cache validator (see Section 5), the response SHOULD NOT include other entity-headers. Otherwise (i.e., the conditional GET used a weak validator), the response MUST NOT include other entity-headers; this prevents inconsistencies between cached entity-bodies and updated headers.¶
If a 304 response indicates an entity not currently cached, then the cache MUST disregard the response and repeat the request without the conditional.¶
If a cache uses a received 304 response to update a cache entry, the cache MUST update the entry to reflect any new field values given in the response.¶
The precondition given in one or more of the request-header fields evaluated to false when it was tested on the server. This response code allows the client to place preconditions on the current resource metainformation (header field data) and thus prevent the requested method from being applied to a resource other than the one intended.¶
Since both origin servers and caches will compare two validators to decide if they represent the same or different entities, one normally would expect that if the entity (the entity-body or any entity-headers) changes in any way, then the associated validator would change as well. If this is true, then we call this validator a "strong validator."¶
However, there might be cases when a server prefers to change the validator only on semantically significant changes, and not when insignificant aspects of the entity change. A validator that does not always change when the resource changes is a "weak validator."¶
Entity tags are normally "strong validators," but the protocol provides a mechanism to tag an entity tag as "weak." One can think of a strong validator as one that changes whenever the bits of an entity changes, while a weak value changes whenever the meaning of an entity changes. Alternatively, one can think of a strong validator as part of an identifier for a specific entity, while a weak validator is part of an identifier for a set of semantically equivalent entities. ¶
A "use" of a validator is either when a client generates a request and includes the validator in a validating header field, or when a server compares two validators.¶
Strong validators are usable in any context. Weak validators are only usable in contexts that do not depend on exact equality of an entity. For example, either kind is usable for a conditional GET of a full entity. However, only a strong validator is usable for a sub-range retrieval, since otherwise the client might end up with an internally inconsistent entity.¶
Clients MAY issue simple (non-subrange) GET requests with either weak validators or strong validators. Clients MUST NOT use weak validators in other forms of request.¶
The only function that HTTP/1.1 defines on validators is comparison. There are two validator comparison functions, depending on whether the comparison context allows the use of weak validators or not: ¶
A Last-Modified time, when used as a validator in a request, is implicitly weak unless it is possible to deduce that it is strong, using the following rules: ¶
This method relies on the fact that if two different responses were sent by the origin server during the same second, but both had the same Last-Modified time, then at least one of those responses would have a Date value equal to its Last-Modified time. The arbitrary 60-second limit guards against the possibility that the Date and Last-Modified values are generated from different clocks, or at somewhat different times during the preparation of the response. An implementation MAY use a value larger than 60 seconds, if it is believed that 60 seconds is too short.¶
If a client wishes to perform a sub-range retrieval on a value for which it has only a Last-Modified time and no opaque validator, it MAY do this only if the Last-Modified time is strong in the sense described here.¶
A cache or origin server receiving a conditional request, other than a full-body GET request, MUST use the strong comparison function to evaluate the condition.¶
These rules allow HTTP/1.1 caches and clients to safely perform sub-range retrievals on values that have been obtained from HTTP/1.0 servers.¶
This section defines the syntax and semantics of HTTP/1.1 header fields related to conditional requests.¶
For entity-header fields, both sender and recipient refer to either the client or the server, depending on who sends and who receives the entity.¶
The ETag response-header field provides the current value of the entity tag for the requested variant. The headers used with entity tags are described in Sections 7.2 and 7.4 of this document, and in Section 6.3 of [Part5]. The entity tag MAY be used for comparison with other entities from the same resource (see Section 5).¶
ETag = "ETag" ":" entity-tag
ETag: "xyzzy" ETag: W/"xyzzy" ETag: ""
The ETag response-header field value, an entity tag, provides for an "opaque" cache validator. This might allow more reliable validation in situations where it is inconvenient to store modification dates, where the one-second resolution of HTTP date values is not sufficient, or where the origin server wishes to avoid certain paradoxes that might arise from the use of modification dates.¶
The principle behind entity tags is that only the service author knows the semantics of a resource well enough to select an appropriate cache validation mechanism, and the specification of any validator comparison function more complex than byte-equality would open up a can of worms. Thus, comparisons of any other headers (except Last-Modified, for compatibility with HTTP/1.0) are never used for purposes of validating a cache entry.¶
The If-Match request-header field is used with a method to make it conditional. A client that has one or more entities previously obtained from the resource can verify that one of those entities is current by including a list of their associated entity tags in the If-Match header field. Entity tags are defined in Section 3. The purpose of this feature is to allow efficient updates of cached information with a minimum amount of transaction overhead. It is also used, on updating requests, to prevent inadvertent modification of the wrong version of a resource. As a special case, the value "*" matches any current entity of the resource.¶
If-Match = "If-Match" ":" ( "*" | 1#entity-tag )
If any of the entity tags match the entity tag of the entity that would have been returned in the response to a similar GET request (without the If-Match header) on that resource, or if "*" is given and any current entity exists for that resource, then the server MAY perform the requested method as if the If-Match header field did not exist.¶
If none of the entity tags match, or if "*" is given and no current entity exists, the server MUST NOT perform the requested method, and MUST return a 412 (Precondition Failed) response. This behavior is most useful when the client wants to prevent an updating method, such as PUT, from modifying a resource that has changed since the client last retrieved it.¶
If the request would, without the If-Match header field, result in anything other than a 2xx or 412 status, then the If-Match header MUST be ignored.¶
The meaning of "If-Match: *" is that the method SHOULD be performed if the representation selected by the origin server (or by a cache, possibly using the Vary mechanism, see Section 16.5 of [Part6]) exists, and MUST NOT be performed if the representation does not exist.¶
A request intended to update a resource (e.g., a PUT) MAY include an If-Match header field to signal that the request method MUST NOT be applied if the entity corresponding to the If-Match value (a single entity tag) is no longer a representation of that resource. This allows the user to indicate that they do not wish the request to be successful if the resource has been changed without their knowledge. Examples:¶
If-Match: "xyzzy" If-Match: "xyzzy", "r2d2xxxx", "c3piozzzz" If-Match: *
The result of a request having both an If-Match header field and either an If-None-Match or an If-Modified-Since header fields is undefined by this specification.¶
The If-Modified-Since request-header field is used with a method to make it conditional: if the requested variant has not been modified since the time specified in this field, an entity will not be returned from the server; instead, a 304 (Not Modified) response will be returned without any message-body.¶
If-Modified-Since = "If-Modified-Since" ":" HTTP-date
An example of the field is:¶
If-Modified-Since: Sat, 29 Oct 1994 19:43:31 GMT
A GET method with an If-Modified-Since header and no Range header requests that the identified entity be transferred only if it has been modified since the date given by the If-Modified-Since header. The algorithm for determining this includes the following cases: ¶
The purpose of this feature is to allow efficient updates of cached information with a minimum amount of transaction overhead. ¶
The result of a request having both an If-Modified-Since header field and either an If-Match or an If-Unmodified-Since header fields is undefined by this specification.¶
The If-None-Match request-header field is used with a method to make it conditional. A client that has one or more entities previously obtained from the resource can verify that none of those entities is current by including a list of their associated entity tags in the If-None-Match header field. The purpose of this feature is to allow efficient updates of cached information with a minimum amount of transaction overhead. It is also used to prevent a method (e.g. PUT) from inadvertently modifying an existing resource when the client believes that the resource does not exist.¶
As a special case, the value "*" matches any current entity of the resource.¶
If-None-Match = "If-None-Match" ":" ( "*" | 1#entity-tag )
If any of the entity tags match the entity tag of the entity that would have been returned in the response to a similar GET request (without the If-None-Match header) on that resource, or if "*" is given and any current entity exists for that resource, then the server MUST NOT perform the requested method, unless required to do so because the resource's modification date fails to match that supplied in an If-Modified-Since header field in the request. Instead, if the request method was GET or HEAD, the server SHOULD respond with a 304 (Not Modified) response, including the cache-related header fields (particularly ETag) of one of the entities that matched. For all other request methods, the server MUST respond with a status of 412 (Precondition Failed).¶
If none of the entity tags match, then the server MAY perform the requested method as if the If-None-Match header field did not exist, but MUST also ignore any If-Modified-Since header field(s) in the request. That is, if no entity tags match, then the server MUST NOT return a 304 (Not Modified) response.¶
If the request would, without the If-None-Match header field, result in anything other than a 2xx or 304 status, then the If-None-Match header MUST be ignored. (See Section 6 for a discussion of server behavior when both If-Modified-Since and If-None-Match appear in the same request.)¶
The meaning of "If-None-Match: *" is that the method MUST NOT be performed if the representation selected by the origin server (or by a cache, possibly using the Vary mechanism, see Section 16.5 of [Part6]) exists, and SHOULD be performed if the representation does not exist. This feature is intended to be useful in preventing races between PUT operations.¶
If-None-Match: "xyzzy" If-None-Match: W/"xyzzy" If-None-Match: "xyzzy", "r2d2xxxx", "c3piozzzz" If-None-Match: W/"xyzzy", W/"r2d2xxxx", W/"c3piozzzz" If-None-Match: *
The result of a request having both an If-None-Match header field and either an If-Match or an If-Unmodified-Since header fields is undefined by this specification.¶
The If-Unmodified-Since request-header field is used with a method to make it conditional. If the requested resource has not been modified since the time specified in this field, the server SHOULD perform the requested operation as if the If-Unmodified-Since header were not present.¶
If the requested variant has been modified since the specified time, the server MUST NOT perform the requested operation, and MUST return a 412 (Precondition Failed).¶
If-Unmodified-Since = "If-Unmodified-Since" ":" HTTP-date
An example of the field is:¶
If-Unmodified-Since: Sat, 29 Oct 1994 19:43:31 GMT
If the request normally (i.e., without the If-Unmodified-Since header) would result in anything other than a 2xx or 412 status, the If-Unmodified-Since header SHOULD be ignored.¶
If the specified date is invalid, the header is ignored.¶
The result of a request having both an If-Unmodified-Since header field and either an If-None-Match or an If-Modified-Since header fields is undefined by this specification.¶
The Last-Modified entity-header field indicates the date and time at which the origin server believes the variant was last modified.¶
Last-Modified = "Last-Modified" ":" HTTP-date
An example of its use is¶
Last-Modified: Tue, 15 Nov 1994 12:45:26 GMT
The exact meaning of this header field depends on the implementation of the origin server and the nature of the original resource. For files, it may be just the file system last-modified time. For entities with dynamically included parts, it may be the most recent of the set of last-modify times for its component parts. For database gateways, it may be the last-update time stamp of the record. For virtual objects, it may be the last time the internal state changed.¶
An origin server MUST NOT send a Last-Modified date which is later than the server's time of message origination. In such cases, where the resource's last modification would indicate some time in the future, the server MUST replace that date with the message origination date.¶
An origin server SHOULD obtain the Last-Modified value of the entity as close as possible to the time that it generates the Date value of its response. This allows a recipient to make an accurate assessment of the entity's modification time, especially if the entity changes near the time that the response is generated.¶
HTTP/1.1 servers SHOULD send Last-Modified whenever feasible.¶
The Last-Modified entity-header field value is often used as a cache validator. In simple terms, a cache entry is considered to be valid if the entity has not been modified since the Last-Modified value.¶
Closed issues: ¶
Other changes: ¶
Ongoing work on ABNF conversion (<http://www3.tools.ietf.org/wg/httpbis/trac/ticket/36>): ¶
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