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. The first version of HTTP, referred to as HTTP/0.9, was a simple protocol for raw data transfer across the Internet. HTTP/1.0, as defined by RFC 1945 , improved the protocol by allowing messages to be in the format of MIME-like messages, containing metainformation about the data transferred and modifiers on the request/response semantics. However, HTTP/1.0 does not sufficiently take into consideration the effects of hierarchical proxies, caching, the need for persistent connections, or virtual hosts. In addition, the proliferation of incompletely-implemented applications calling themselves "HTTP/1.0" has necessitated a protocol version change in order for two communicating applications to determine each other's true capabilities.
This specification defines the protocol referred to as "HTTP/1.1". This protocol includes more stringent requirements than HTTP/1.0 in order to ensure reliable implementation of its features.
Practical information systems require more functionality than simple retrieval, including search, front-end update, and annotation. HTTP allows an open-ended set of methods and headers that indicate the purpose of a request . It builds on the discipline of reference provided by the Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) , as a location (URL)  or name (URN) , for indicating the resource to which a method is to be applied. Messages are passed in a format similar to that used by Internet mail  as defined by the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) .
HTTP is also used as a generic protocol for communication between user agents and proxies/gateways to other Internet systems, including those supported by the SMTP , NNTP , FTP , Gopher , and WAIS  protocols. In this way, HTTP allows basic hypermedia access to resources available from diverse applications.
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 RFC 2119 .
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 a number of terms to refer to the roles played by participants in, and objects of, the HTTP communication.
The HTTP protocol is a request/response protocol. A client sends a request to the server in the form of a request method, URI, and protocol version, followed by a MIME-like message containing request modifiers, client information, and possible body content over a connection with a server. The server responds with a status line, including the message's protocol version and a success or error code, followed by a MIME-like message containing server information, entity metainformation, and possible entity-body content. The relationship between HTTP and MIME is described in appendix 19.4.
Most HTTP communication is initiated by a user agent and consists of a request to be applied to a resource on some origin server. In the simplest case, this may be accomplished via a single connection (v) between the user agent (UA) and the origin server (O).
request chain ------------------------> UA -------------------v------------------- O <----------------------- response chain
A more complicated situation occurs when one or more intermediaries are present in the request/response chain. There are three common forms of intermediary: proxy, gateway, and tunnel. A proxy is a forwarding agent, receiving requests for a URI in its absolute form, rewriting all or part of the message, and forwarding the reformatted request toward the server identified by the URI. A gateway is a receiving agent, acting as a layer above some other server(s) and, if necessary, translating the requests to the underlying server's protocol. A tunnel acts as a relay point between two connections without changing the messages; tunnels are used when the communication needs to pass through an intermediary (such as a firewall) even when the intermediary cannot understand the contents of the messages.
request chain --------------------------------------> UA -----v----- A -----v----- B -----v----- C -----v----- O <------------------------------------- response chain
The figure above shows three intermediaries (A, B, and C) between the user agent and origin server. A request or response message that travels the whole chain will pass through four separate connections. This distinction is important because some HTTP communication options may apply only to the connection with the nearest, non-tunnel neighbor, only to the end-points of the chain, or to all connections along the chain. Although the diagram is linear, each participant may be engaged in multiple, simultaneous communications. For example, B may be receiving requests from many clients other than A, and/or forwarding requests to servers other than C, at the same time that it is handling A's request.
Any party to the communication which is not acting as a tunnel may employ an internal cache for handling requests. The effect of a cache is that the request/response chain is shortened if one of the participants along the chain has a cached response applicable to that request. The following illustrates the resulting chain if B has a cached copy of an earlier response from O (via C) for a request which has not been cached by UA or A.
request chain ----------> UA -----v----- A -----v----- B - - - - - - C - - - - - - O <--------- response chain
Not all responses are usefully cacheable, and some requests may contain modifiers which place special requirements on cache behavior. HTTP requirements for cache behavior and cacheable responses are defined in section 13.
In fact, there are a wide variety of architectures and configurations of caches and proxies currently being experimented with or deployed across the World Wide Web. These systems include national hierarchies of proxy caches to save transoceanic bandwidth, systems that broadcast or multicast cache entries, organizations that distribute subsets of cached data via CD-ROM, and so on. HTTP systems are used in corporate intranets over high-bandwidth links, and for access via PDAs with low-power radio links and intermittent connectivity. The goal of HTTP/1.1 is to support the wide diversity of configurations already deployed while introducing protocol constructs that meet the needs of those who build web applications that require high reliability and, failing that, at least reliable indications of failure.
HTTP communication usually takes place over TCP/IP connections. The default port is TCP 80 , but other ports can be used. This does not preclude HTTP from being implemented on top of any other protocol on the Internet, or on other networks. HTTP only presumes a reliable transport; any protocol that provides such guarantees can be used; the mapping of the HTTP/1.1 request and response structures onto the transport data units of the protocol in question is outside the scope of this specification.
In HTTP/1.0, most implementations used a new connection for each request/response exchange. In HTTP/1.1, a connection may be used for one or more request/response exchanges, although connections may be closed for a variety of reasons (see section 8.1).
Top of RFC 2616
Formatted by Gray Watson