HTTP Working GroupJ. Reschke
Updates: 5323 (if approved)A. Malhotra
Intended status: Standards TrackJ. Snell
Expires: December 10, 2021June 8, 2021



This specification updates the definition and semantics of the HTTP SEARCH request method originally defined by RFC 5323.

Editorial Note

This note is to be removed before publishing as an RFC.

Discussion of this draft takes place on the HTTP 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

The changes in this draft are summarized in Appendix A.1.

Status of This Memo

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This Internet-Draft will expire on December 10, 2021.

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1. Introduction

This specification updates the HTTP SEARCH method originally defined in [RFC5323].

Many existing HTTP-based applications use the HTTP GET and POST methods in various ways to implement the functionality provided by SEARCH.

Using a GET request with some combination of query parameters included within the request URI (as illustrated in the example below) is arguably the most common mechanism for implementing search in web applications. With this approach, implementations are required to parse the request URI into distinct path (everything before the '?') and query elements (everything after the '?'). The path identifies the resource processing the query (in this case '') while the query identifies the specific parameters of the search operation.

A typical use of HTTP GET for requesting a search

GET /feed?q=foo&limit=10&sort=-published HTTP/1.1

While there are definite advantages to using GET requests in this manner, the disadvantages should not be overlooked. Specifically:

As an alternative to using GET, many implementations make use of the HTTP POST method to perform queries, as illustrated in the example below. In this case, the input parameters to the search operation are passed along within the request payload as opposed to using the request URI.

A typical use of HTTP POST for requesting a search

POST /feed HTTP/1.1
Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded


This variation, however, suffers from the same basic limitation as GET in that it is not readily apparent -- absent specific knowledge of the resource and server to which the request is being sent -- that a search operation is what is being requested. Web applications use the POST method for a wide variety of uses including the creation or modification of existing resources. Sending the request above to a different server, or even repeatedly sending the request to the same server could have dramatically different effects.

The SEARCH method provides a solution that spans the gap between the use of GET and POST. As with POST, the input to the query operation is passed along within the payload of the request rather than as part of the request URI. Unlike POST, however the semantics of the SEARCH method are specifically defined.

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "NOT RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in BCP 14 [RFC2119] [RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all capitals, as shown here.

4. Examples

The non-normative examples in this section make use of a simple, hypothetical plain-text based query syntax based on SQL with results returned as comma-separated values. This is done for illustration purposes only. Implementations are free to use any format they wish on both the request and response.

4.1. Simple SEARCH with a Direct Response

A simple query with a direct response:

SEARCH /contacts HTTP/1.1
Content-Type: example/query
Accept: text/csv

select surname, givenname, email limit 10


HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Type: text/csv

surname, givenname, email
Smith, John,
Jones, Sally,
Dubois, Camille,

4.2. Simple SEARCH with indirect response (303 See Other)

A simple query with an Indirect Response (303 See Other):

SEARCH /contacts HTTP/1.1
Content-Type: example/query
Accept: text/csv

select surname, givenname, email limit 10


HTTP/1.1 303 See Other

Fetch Query Response:

GET /contacts/query123 HTTP/1.1


HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Type: text/csv

surname, givenname, email
Smith, John,
Jones, Sally,
Dubois, Camille,

5. Security Considerations

The SEARCH method is subject to the same general security considerations as all HTTP methods as described in [RFCHTTP].

6. IANA Considerations

IANA is requested to update the registration of the SEARCH method in the permanent registry at <> (see Section 16.1.1 of [RFCHTTP]).

Table 1
Method NameSafeIdempotentSpecification
SEARCHYesYesSection 2

7. Normative References

Bradner, S., “Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels”, BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997, <>.
Reschke, J., Ed., Reddy, S., Davis, J., and A. Babich, “Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV) SEARCH”, RFC 5323, DOI 10.17487/RFC5323, November 2008, <>.
Leiba, B., “Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC 2119 Key Words”, BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174, May 2017, <>.
Fielding, R., Ed., Nottingham, M., Ed., and J. Reschke, Ed., “HTTP Semantics”, Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-httpbis-semantics-16, May 2021.
Bray, T., Paoli, J., Sperberg-McQueen, M., Maler, E., and F. Yergeau, “Extensible Markup Language (XML) 1.0 (Fifth Edition)”, W3C Recommendation REC-xml-20081126, November 2008, <>.
Latest version available at
Bray, T., Hollander, D., Layman, A., Tobin, R., and H. Thompson, “Namespaces in XML 1.0 (Third Edition)”, W3C Recommendation REC-xml-names-20091208, December 2009, <>.
Latest version available at

Appendix A. Change Log

This section is to be removed before publishing as an RFC.


A.1. Since draft-ietf-httpbis-safe-method-w-body-00 📄 🔍

Authors' Addresses

Julian Reschke
greenbytes GmbH
Hafenweg 16
48155 Münster
Ashok Malhotra
James M Snell