Network Working GroupK. Oku
Internet-DraftDeNA Co, Ltd.
Intended status: Standards TrackM. Nottingham
Expires: May 4, 2017October 31, 2016

Cache Digests for HTTP/2


This specification defines a HTTP/2 frame type to allow clients to inform the server of their cache’s contents. Servers can then use this to inform their choices of what to push to clients.

Note to Readers

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

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1. Introduction

HTTP/2 [RFC7540] allows a server to “push” synthetic request/response pairs into a client’s cache optimistically. While there is strong interest in using this facility to improve perceived Web browsing performance, it is sometimes counterproductive because the client might already have cached the “pushed” response.

When this is the case, the bandwidth used to “push” the response is effectively wasted, and represents opportunity cost, because it could be used by other, more relevant responses. HTTP/2 allows a stream to be cancelled by a client using a RST_STREAM frame in this situation, but there is still at least one round trip of potentially wasted capacity even then.

This specification defines a HTTP/2 frame type to allow clients to inform the server of their cache’s contents using a Golumb-Rice Coded Set [Rice]. Servers can then use this to inform their choices of what to push to clients.

1.1. Notational Conventions

The key words “MUST”, “MUST NOT”, “REQUIRED”, “SHALL”, “SHALL NOT”, “SHOULD”, “SHOULD NOT”, “RECOMMENDED”, “MAY”, and “OPTIONAL” in this document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119].


The CACHE_DIGEST frame type is 0xf1. NOTE: This is an experimental value; if standardised, a permanent value will be assigned.

|         Origin-Len (16)       | Origin? (\*)                ...
|                   Digest-Value? (\*)                        ...

The CACHE_DIGEST frame payload has the following fields:

An unsigned, 16-bit integer indicating the length, in octets, of the Origin field.
A sequence of characters containing the ASCII serialization of an origin ([RFC6454], Section 6.2) that the Digest-Value applies to.
A sequence of octets containing the digest as computed in Section 2.1.1.

The CACHE_DIGEST frame defines the following flags:

2.1. Client Behavior

A CACHE_DIGEST frame MUST be sent from a client to a server on stream 0, and conveys a digest of the contents of the client’s cache for the indicated origin.

In typical use, a client will send one or more CACHE_DIGESTs immediately after the first request on a connection for a given origin, on the same stream, because there is usually a short period of inactivity then, and servers can benefit most when they understand the state of the cache before they begin pushing associated assets (e.g., CSS, JavaScript and images). Clients MAY send CACHE_DIGEST at other times.

If the cache’s state is cleared, lost, or the client otherwise wishes the server to stop using previously sent CACHE_DIGESTs, it can send a CACHE_DIGEST with the RESET flag set.

When generating CACHE_DIGEST, a client MUST NOT include cached responses whose URLs do not share origins [RFC6454] with the indicated origin. Clients MUST NOT send CACHE_DIGEST frames on connections that are not authoritative (as defined in [RFC7540], 10.1) for the indicated origin.

CACHE_DIGEST allows the client to indicate whether the set of URLs used to compute the digest represent fresh or stale stored responses, using the STALE flag. Clients MAY decide whether to only sent CACHE_DIGEST frames representing their fresh stored responses, their stale stored responses, or both.

Clients can choose to only send a subset of the suitable stored responses of each type (fresh or stale). However, when the CACHE_DIGEST frames sent represent the complete set of stored responses of a given type, the last such frame SHOULD have a COMPLETE flag set, to indicate to the server that it has all relevant state of that type. Note that for the purposes of COMPLETE, responses cached since the beginning of the connection or the last RESET flag on a CACHE_DIGEST frame need not be included.

CACHE_DIGEST can be computed to include cached responses’ ETags, as indicated by the VALIDATORS flag. This information can be used by servers to decide what kinds of responses to push to clients; for example, a stale response that hasn’t changed could be refreshed with a 304 (Not Modified) response; one that has changed can be replaced with a 200 (OK) response, whether the cached response was fresh or stale.

CACHE_DIGEST has no defined meaning when sent from servers, and SHOULD be ignored by clients.

2.1.1. Computing the Digest-Value

Given the following inputs:

  • validators, a boolean indicating whether validators ([RFC7232]) are to be included in the digest;
  • URLs', an array of (string URL, string ETag) tuples, each corresponding to the Effective Request URI ([RFC7230], Section 5.5) of a cached response [RFC7234] and its entity-tag [RFC7232] (if validators is true and if the ETag is available; otherwise, null);
  • P, an integer that MUST be a power of 2 smaller than 2**32, that indicates the probability of a false positive that is acceptable, expressed as 1/P.

digest-value can be computed using the following algorithm:

  1. Let N be the count of URLs’ members, rounded to the nearest power of 2 smaller than 2**32.
  2. Let hash-values be an empty array of integers.
  3. For each (URL, ETag) in URLs, compute a hash value (Section 2.1.2) and append the result to hash-values.
  4. Sort hash-values in ascending order.
  5. Let digest-value be an empty array of bits.
  6. Write log base 2 of N to digest-value using 5 bits.
  7. Write log base 2 of P to digest-value using 5 bits.
  8. Let C be -1.
  9. For each V in hash-values:
    1. If V is equal to C, continue to the next V.
    2. Let D be the result of V - C - 1.
    3. Let Q be the integer result of D / P.
    4. Let R be the result of D modulo P.
    5. Write Q ‘0’ bits to digest-value.
    6. Write 1 ‘1’ bit to digest-value.
    7. Write R to digest-value as binary, using log2(P) bits.
    8. Let C be V
  10. If the length of digest-value is not a multiple of 8, pad it with 0s until it is.

2.1.2. Computing a Hash Value


  • URL, an array of characters
  • ETag, an array of characters
  • validators, a boolean
  • N, an integer
  • P, an integer

hash-value can be computed using the following algorithm:

  1. Let key be URL converted to an ASCII string by percent-encoding as appropriate [RFC3986].
  2. If validators is true and ETag is not null:
    1. Append ETag to key as an ASCII string, including both the weak indicator (if present) and double quotes, as per [RFC7232] Section 2.3.
  3. Let hash-value be the SHA-256 message digest [RFC6234] of key, expressed as an integer.
  4. Truncate hash-value to log2( N * P ) bits.

2.2. Server Behavior

In typical use, a server will query (as per Section 2.2.1) the CACHE_DIGESTs received on a given connection to inform what it pushes to that client;

  • If a given URL has a match in a current CACHE_DIGEST with the STALE flag unset, it need not be pushed, because it is fresh in cache;
  • If a given URL and ETag combination has a match in a current CACHE_DIGEST with the STALE flag set, the client has a stale copy in cache, and a validating response can be pushed;
  • If a given URL has no match in any current CACHE_DIGEST, the client does not have a cached copy, and a complete response can be pushed.

Servers MAY use all CACHE_DIGESTs received for a given origin as current, as long as they do not have the RESET flag set; a CACHE_DIGEST frame with the RESET flag set MUST clear any previously stored CACHE_DIGESTs for its origin. Servers MUST treat an empty Digest-Value with a RESET flag set as effectively clearing all stored digests for that origin.

Clients are not likely to send updates to CACHE_DIGEST over the lifetime of a connection; it is expected that servers will separately track what cacheable responses have been sent previously on the same connection, using that knowledge in conjunction with that provided by CACHE_DIGEST.

Servers MUST ignore CACHE_DIGEST frames sent on a stream other than 0.

2.2.1. Querying the Digest for a Value


  • digest-value, an array of bits
  • URL, an array of characters
  • ETag, an array of characters
  • validators, a boolean

we can determine whether there is a match in the digest using the following algorithm:

  1. Read the first 5 bits of digest-value as an integer; let N be two raised to the power of that value.
  2. Read the next 5 bits of digest-value as an integer; let P be two raised to the power of that value.
  3. Let hash-value be the result of computing a hash value (Section 2.1.2).
  4. Let C be -1.
  5. Read ‘0’ bits from digest-value until a ‘1’ bit is found; let Q bit the number of ‘0’ bits. Discard the ‘1’.
  6. Read log2(P) bits from digest-value after the ‘1’ as an integer; let R be its value.
  7. Let D be Q * P + R.
  8. Increment C by D + 1.
  9. If C is equal to hash-value, return ‘true’.
  10. Otherwise, return to step 5 and continue processing; if no match is found before digest-value is exhausted, return ‘false’.

3. IANA Considerations

This draft currently has no requirements for IANA. If the CACHE_DIGEST frame is standardised, it will need to be assigned a frame type.

4. Security Considerations

The contents of a User Agent’s cache can be used to re-identify or “fingerprint” the user over time, even when other identifiers (e.g., Cookies [RFC6265]) are cleared.

CACHE_DIGEST allows such cache-based fingerprinting to become passive, since it allows the server to discover the state of the client’s cache without any visible change in server behaviour.

As a result, clients MUST mitigate for this threat when the user attempts to remove identifiers (e.g., “clearing cookies”). This could be achieved in a number of ways; for example: by clearing the cache, by changing one or both of N and P, or by adding new, synthetic entries to the digest to change its contents.

TODO: discuss how effective the suggested mitigations actually would be.

Additionally, User Agents SHOULD NOT send CACHE_DIGEST when in “privacy mode.”

5. References

5.1. Normative References

Bradner, S., “Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels”, BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997, <>.
Berners-Lee, T., Fielding, R., and L. Masinter, “Uniform Resource Identifier (URI): Generic Syntax”, STD 66, RFC 3986, DOI 10.17487/RFC3986, January 2005, <>.
Eastlake 3rd, D. and T. Hansen, “US Secure Hash Algorithms (SHA and SHA-based HMAC and HKDF)”, RFC 6234, DOI 10.17487/RFC6234, May 2011, <>.
Barth, A., “The Web Origin Concept”, RFC 6454, DOI 10.17487/RFC6454, December 2011, <>.
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, <>.
Fielding, R., Ed. and J. Reschke, Ed., “Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP/1.1): Conditional Requests”, RFC 7232, DOI 10.17487/RFC7232, June 2014, <>.
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, <>.
Belshe, M., Peon, R., and M. Thomson, Ed., “Hypertext Transfer Protocol Version 2 (HTTP/2)”, RFC 7540, DOI 10.17487/RFC7540, May 2015, <>.

5.2. Informative References

Barth, A., “HTTP State Management Mechanism”, RFC 6265, DOI 10.17487/RFC6265, April 2011, <>.
Rice, R. and J. Plaunt, “Adaptive variable-length coding for efficient compression of spacecraft television data”, IEEE Transactions on Communication Technology 19.6, 1971.

Appendix A. Acknowledgements

Thanks to Adam Langley and Giovanni Bajo for their explorations of Golumb-coded sets. In particular, see, which refers to sample code.

Thanks to Stefan Eissing for his suggestions.

Authors' Addresses

Kazuho Oku
DeNA Co, Ltd.
Mark Nottingham