Thorsten Schöning Thorsten Schöning - 1 month ago 8
HTTP Question

How to tell a proxy a connection is still used using HTTP communication?

I have a client side GUI app for human usage that consumes some SOAP web services and uses cURL as the underlying HTTP communication lib. Depending on the input, processing a request can take some large amount of time, even one hour. Neither the client nor server time out for that reason on their own and that's tested and works. Most of the requests get processed in some minutes anyway, so this is an edge case.

One of my users is forced to use a proxy between my client app and my server and for various reasons has no control over it. That proxy has a time out configured and closes the connection to my client after 4 minutes of no data transfer. So the user can (and did) upload data for e.g. 30 minutes, afterwards the server starts to process the data and after 4 minutes the proxy closes the connection, the server will silently continue to process the request, but the user is left with some error message AND won't get the processing result. My app already uses TCP Keep Alive, so that shouldn't be the problem, but instead the time out seems to be defined for higher level data. It works the same like the option read_timeout for squid, which I used to reproduce the behaviour in our internal setup.

What I would like to do now is start a background thread in my web service which simply outputs some garbage data to my client over all the time the request is processed, which is ignored by the client and tells the proxy that the connection is still active. I can recognize my client using the user agent and can configure if to ouput that data or not server side and such, so other clients consuming the web service wouldn't get a problem.

What I'm asking for is, if there's any HTTP compliant method to output such garbage data before the actual HTTP response? So e.g. would it be enough to simply output

\r\n
without any additional content over and over again to be HTTP compliant with all requesting libs? Or maybe even binary
0
? Or some full fledged HTTP headers stating something like "real answer about to come, please be patient"? From my investigation this pretty much sounds like chunked HTTP encoding, but I'm not sure yet if this is applicable.

I would like to have the following, where all those "Wait" stuff is simply ignored in the end and the real HTTP response at the end contains Content-Length and such.

Wait...\r\n
Wait...\r\n
Wait...\r\n
[...]
HTTP/1.1 200 OK\r\n
Server: Apache/2.4.23 (Win64) mod_jk/1.2.41\r\n
[...]
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?><soap:Envelope[...]


Is that possible in some standard HTTP way and if so, what's the approach I need to take? Thanks!

HTTP Status 102



Isn't HTTP Status 102 exactly what I need? As I understand the spec, I can simply print that response line over and over again until the final response is available?

Answer

HTTP Status 102 was a dead-end, two things might work, depending on the proxy used: A NPH script can be used to regularly print headers directly to the client. The important thing is that NPH scripts normally bypass header buffers from the web server and can therefore be transferred over the wire as needed. They "only" need be correct HTTP headers and depending on the web server and proxy and such it might be a good idea to create incrementing, unique headers. Simply by adding some counter in the header name.

The second thing is chunked transfer-encoding, in which case small chunks of dummy data can be printed to the client in the response body. The good thing is that such small amount of data can be transferred over the wire as needed using server side flush and such, the bad thing is that the client receives this data and by default behaves as if it was part of the expected response body. That might break the application of course, but most HTTP libs provide callbacks for processing received data and if you print some unique one, the client should be able to filter the garbage out.

In my case the web service is spawning some background thread and depending on the entry point of the service requested it either prints headers using NPH or chunks of data. In both cases the data can be the same, so a NPH-header can be used for chunked transfer-encoding as well.

My NPH solution doesn't work with Squid, but the chunked one does. The problem with Squid is that its read_timeout setting is not low level for the connection to receiver data at all, but instead some logical HTTP thing. This means that Squid does receive my headers, but it expects a complete HTTP header within the period of time defined using read_timeout. With my NPH approach this isn't the case, simply because by design I only want to send some garbage headers to ignore until the real headers arrive.

Additionally, one has to be careful about NPH in Apache httpd, but in my use case it works. I can see the individual headers in Squid's log and without any garbage after the response body or such. Avoid the Action directive.

Apache2 sends two HTTP headers with a mapped "nph-" CGI