[hybi] Fwd: [apps-discuss] Review of draft-ietf-hybi-thewebsocketprotocol for apps-review

Peter Saint-Andre <stpeter@stpeter.im> Thu, 21 July 2011 12:20 UTC

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Subject: [hybi] Fwd: [apps-discuss] Review of draft-ietf-hybi-thewebsocketprotocol for apps-review
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FYI, another review.


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: 	[apps-discuss] Review of draft-ietf-hybi-thewebsocketprotocol
for apps-review
Date: 	Wed, 20 Jul 2011 22:09:23 -0700
From: 	Lisa Dusseault <lisa.dusseault@gmail.com>
To: 	apps-discuss@ietf.org

I have been selected as the Applications Area Review Team reviewer for
this draft (for background on apps-review, please see
Please resolve these comments along with any other Last Call comments
you may receive. Please wait for direction from your document shepherd
or AD before posting a new version of the draft.

Document: draft-ietf-hybi-thewebsocketprotocol (reviewed -10)
Title: The WebSocket protocol
Reviewer: Lisa Dusseault
Review Date: July 20, 2011

Readiness Summary: This draft is almost ready for publication on the
Standards Track, but it has a few issues that should be fixed or thought
about before publication.

Document Summary: The Websocket protocol defines a HTTP handshake to
transition from a Web context to a bi-directional connection. It also
defines framing and masking for use in the bi-directional context. It
addresses a number of security concerns involving untrusted application
code running in browsers, but assumes that browsers are trusted and
servers hosting Websockets are trusted to a greater extent.

Major Issues

1. Masking

It would be good to state what the purpose of masking is. The sentence
is "Frames sent from the client to the server are masked to avoid
confusing network intermediaries", but I didn't upon reading this, or
looking at the specification text for masking, understand why network
intermediaries would be confused. A citation or further explanation
would be good. I see later there's an explanation in page 50, so a
forward reference would also work.

2. Cookie handling

Section 5.1,
The request MAY include headers associated with sending cookies,
as defined by the appropriate specifications [RFC6265]. These
headers are referred to as _Headers to Send Appropriate


"Additionally, if any headers in the
server's handshake indicate that cookies should be set (as defined by
[RFC6265]), these cookies are referred to as _Cookies Set During the
Server's Opening Handshake_."


Section 5.2.1, point 8
8. Optionally, other headers, such as those used to send cookies to
a server. Unknown headers MUST be ignored.

First, a nit: these important underlined terms are referred to where? I
didn't see anywhere where these terms are used other than where they are
defined here.

The more substantive issue: I'm left unclear as to whether cookies are
really expected to be used, or how the client might know that it needs
to use cookies or else the application will not work. In many Web sites,
the site will not work if cookies are not used by the client, and this
is sufficiently rare that it's OK. Is that OK for a Websockets app? How
will the user know how to fix the problem? Since Websockets can't as
easily reply with a Web page to explain how to enable cookies, it would
be good to be more clear on this.

3. Failing a WebSocket Connection

Section 7.1.7 is supposed to describe how to _Fail the WebSocket
Connection_. It explains how the client does so. However, there's at
least one case in section 9.1 where the server receiving a malformed
Sec-WebSocket-Extensions header must _Fail the WebSocket Connection_.
How does the server do this?

4. Dropping with extreme prejudice

  From the Security Considerations:

"If at any time a server is faced with data that it does not
understand, or that violates some criteria by which the server
determines safety of input, or when the server sees an opening
handshake that does not correspond to the values the server is
expecting (e.g. incorrect path or origin), the server SHOULD just
disconnect. It is always safe to disconnect."

This seems pretty excessive. When the server just disconnects, the
client can't tell much about what went wrong, and whether an automated
retry would be any use at all. This is bad for deployed use, and even
worse for development/debugging. Yet we're recommending servers be that
unhelpful? Wouldn't it be better to recommend that the server reply with
an error response (some HTTP status codes defined here, too) that can
help the client diagnose an incorrect origin? An error like that is
often going to be a mis-configuration on one side or the other, rather
than an attack.

I'd also like to know what the websockets server implementations
currently do.

Minor Issues

The reservation of different ranges of error codes for use by
extensions, libraries and frameworks, and application code, seems to be
intended to avoid conflicts between those kinds of use. I don't think it
will work very well. I don't understand where a library ends and
application code begins, even in code I write where I write an
error_handler to be called by the library I'm using (which might be a
"library" only for convenience sake or might be a library that dozens of
other software programs use).

The border between code and "extensions" is not even very clear; if
somebody writes an extension intending to publish an internet-draft but
never gets around to it, they may have ended up using the wrong range
with the right intentions.

The border between extensions and "this protocol" is not very clear; if
I submit a internet-draft with a feature proposed to be a requirement
for websockets, I might prefer to use a 1000-1999 range error code but
if the feature is relegated to an optional draft it should change to
2000-2999 range.

This kind of ambiguity leads to arguments at best, unnecessary changes
to code (when specs are changed late after such arguments) at worst. I'm
not sure what to recommend; perhaps only one range reserved for "this
protocol and extensions published within the IETF process", and another
range for "libraries, frameworks and application code".

Lisa Dusseault