nghttpx - HTTP/2 proxy - HOW-TO

nghttpx(1) is a proxy translating protocols between HTTP/2 and other protocols (e.g., HTTP/1, SPDY). It operates in several modes and each mode may require additional programs to work with. This article describes each operation mode and explains the intended use-cases. It also covers some useful options later.

Default mode

If nghttpx is invoked without --http2-proxy, it operates in default mode. In this mode, it works as reverse proxy (gateway) for both HTTP/2 and HTTP/1 clients to backend servers. This is also known as "HTTP/2 router". If nghttpx is linked with spdylay library and frontend connection is SSL/TLS, the frontend also supports SPDY protocol.

By default, frontend connection is encrypted using SSL/TLS. So server's private key and certificate must be supplied to the command line (or through configuration file). In this case, the frontend protocol selection will be done via ALPN or NPN.

To turn off encryption on frontend connection, use no-tls keyword in --frontend option. In this case, SPDY protocol is not available even if spdylay library is liked to nghttpx. HTTP/2 and HTTP/1 are available on the frontend, and an HTTP/1 connection can be upgraded to HTTP/2 using HTTP Upgrade. Starting HTTP/2 connection by sending HTTP/2 connection preface is also supported.

nghttpx can listen on multiple frontend addresses. This is achieved by using multiple --frontend options. For each frontend address, TLS can be enabled or disabled.

By default, backend connections are not encrypted. To enable TLS encryption on backend connections, use tls keyword in --backend option. Using patterns and proto keyword in --backend option, backend application protocol can be specified per host/request path pattern. It means that you can use both HTTP/2 and HTTP/1 in backend connections at the same time. Note that default backend protocol is HTTP/1.1. To use HTTP/2 in backend, you have to specify h2 in proto keyword in --backend explicitly.

The backend is supposed to be Web server. For example, to make nghttpx listen to encrypted HTTP/2 requests at port 8443, and a backend Web server is configured to listen to HTTP request at port 8080 in the same host, run nghttpx command-line like this:

$ nghttpx -f0.0.0.0,8443 -b127.0.0.1,8080 /path/to/server.key /path/to/server.crt

Then HTTP/2 enabled client can access to the nghttpx in HTTP/2. For example, you can send GET request to the server using nghttp:

$ nghttp -nv https://localhost:8443/

HTTP/2 proxy mode

If nghttpx is invoked with --http2-proxy (or its shorthand -s) option, it operates in HTTP/2 proxy mode. The supported protocols in frontend and backend connections are the same in default mode. The difference is that this mode acts like forward proxy and assumes the backend is HTTP proxy server (e.g., Squid, Apache Traffic Server). HTTP/1 request must include absolute URI in request line.

By default, frontend connection is encrypted. So this mode is also called secure proxy. If nghttpx is linked with spdylay, it supports SPDY protocols and it works as so called SPDY proxy.

To turn off encryption on frontend connection, use no-tls keyword in --frontend option.

The backend must be HTTP proxy server. nghttpx supports multiple backend server addresses. It translates incoming requests to HTTP request to backend server. The backend server performs real proxy work for each request, for example, dispatching requests to the origin server and caching contents.

The backend connection is not encrypted by default. To enable encryption, use tls keyword in --backend option. The default backend protocol is HTTP/1.1. To use HTTP/2 in backend connection, use --backend option, and specify h2 in proto keyword explicitly.

For example, to make nghttpx listen to encrypted HTTP/2 requests at port 8443, and a backend HTTP proxy server is configured to listen to HTTP/1 request at port 8080 in the same host, run nghttpx command-line like this:

$ nghttpx -s -f'*,8443' -b127.0.0.1,8080 /path/to/server.key /path/to/server.crt

At the time of this writing, Firefox 41 and Chromium v46 can use nghttpx as HTTP/2 proxy.

To make Firefox or Chromium use nghttpx as HTTP/2 or SPDY proxy, user has to create proxy.pac script file like this:

function FindProxyForURL(url, host) {
    return "HTTPS SERVERADDR:PORT";
}

SERVERADDR and PORT is the hostname/address and port of the machine nghttpx is running. Please note that both Firefox and Chromium require valid certificate for secure proxy.

For Firefox, open Preference window and select Advanced then click Network tab. Clicking Connection Settings button will show the dialog. Select "Automatic proxy configuration URL" and enter the path to proxy.pac file, something like this:

file:///path/to/proxy.pac

For Chromium, use following command-line:

$ google-chrome --proxy-pac-url=file:///path/to/proxy.pac --use-npn

As HTTP/1 proxy server, Squid may work as out-of-box. Traffic server requires to be configured as forward proxy. Here is the minimum configuration items to edit:

CONFIG proxy.config.reverse_proxy.enabled INT 0
CONFIG proxy.config.url_remap.remap_required INT 0

Consult Traffic server documentation to know how to configure traffic server as forward proxy and its security implications.

ALPN support

ALPN support requires OpenSSL >= 1.0.2.

Disable frontend SSL/TLS

The frontend connections are encrypted with SSL/TLS by default. To turn off SSL/TLS, use no-tls keyword in --frontend option. If this option is used, the private key and certificate are not required to run nghttpx.

Enable backend SSL/TLS

The backend connections are not encrypted by default. To enable SSL/TLS encryption, use tls keyword in --backend option.

Enable SSL/TLS on memcached connection

By default, memcached connection is not encrypted. To enable encryption, use tls keyword in --tls-ticket-key-memcached for TLS ticket key, and --tls-session-cache-memcached for TLS session cache.

Specifying additional server certificates

nghttpx accepts additional server private key and certificate pairs using --subcert option. It can be used multiple times.

Specifying additional CA certificate

By default, nghttpx tries to read CA certificate from system. But depending on the system you use, this may fail or is not supported. To specify CA certificate manually, use --cacert option. The specified file must be PEM format and can contain multiple certificates.

By default, nghttpx validates server's certificate. If you want to turn off this validation, knowing this is really insecure and what you are doing, you can use --insecure option to disable certificate validation.

Read/write rate limit

nghttpx supports transfer rate limiting on frontend connections. You can do rate limit per frontend connection for reading and writing individually.

To perform rate limit for reading, use --read-rate and --read-burst options. For writing, use --write-rate and --write-burst.

Please note that rate limit is performed on top of TCP and nothing to do with HTTP/2 flow control.

Rewriting location header field

nghttpx automatically rewrites location response header field if the following all conditions satisfy:

  • In the default mode (--http2-proxy is not used)
  • --no-location-rewrite is not used
  • URI in location header field is an absolute URI
  • URI in location header field includes non empty host component.
  • host (without port) in URI in location header field must match the host appearing in :authority or host header field.

When rewrite happens, URI scheme is replaced with the ones used in frontend, and authority is replaced with which appears in :authority, or host request header field. :authority header field has precedence over host.

Hot swapping

nghttpx supports hot swapping using signals. The hot swapping in nghttpx is multi step process. First send USR2 signal to nghttpx process. It will do fork and execute new executable, using same command-line arguments and environment variables.

As of nghttpx version 1.20.0, that is all you have to do. The new master process sends QUIT signal to the original process, when it is ready to serve requests, to shut it down gracefully.

For earlier versions of nghttpx, you have to do one more thing. At this point, both current and new processes can accept requests. To gracefully shutdown current process, send QUIT signal to current nghttpx process. When all existing frontend connections are done, the current process will exit. At this point, only new nghttpx process exists and serves incoming requests.

If you want to just reload configuration file without executing new binary, send SIGHUP to nghttpx master process.

Re-opening log files

When rotating log files, it is desirable to re-open log files after log rotation daemon renamed existing log files. To tell nghttpx to re-open log files, send USR1 signal to nghttpx process. It will re-open files specified by --accesslog-file and --errorlog-file options.

Multiple frontend addresses

nghttpx can listen on multiple frontend addresses. To specify them, just use --frontend (or its shorthand -f) option repeatedly. TLS can be enabled or disabled per frontend address basis. For example, to listen on port 443 with TLS enabled, and on port 80 without TLS:

frontend=*,443
frontend=*,80;no-tls

Multiple backend addresses

nghttpx supports multiple backend addresses. To specify them, just use --backend (or its shorthand -b) option repeatedly. For example, to use 192.168.0.10:8080 and 192.168.0.11:8080, use command-line like this: -b192.168.0.10,8080 -b192.168.0.11,8080. In configuration file, this looks like:

backend=192.168.0.10,8080
backend=192.168.0.11,8008

nghttpx can route request to different backend according to request host and path. For example, to route request destined to host doc.example.com to backend server docserv:3000, you can write like so:

backend=docserv,3000;doc.example.com/

When you write this option in command-line, you should enclose argument with single or double quotes, since the character ; has a special meaning in shell.

To route, request to request path whose prefix is /foo to backend server [::1]:8080, you can write like so:

backend=::1,8080;/foo

Of course, you can specify both host and request path at the same time:

backend=192.168.0.10,8080;example.com/foo

We can use * in the left most position of host to achieve wildcard suffix match. If * is the left most character, then the remaining string should match the request host suffix. * must match at least one character. For example, *.example.com matches www.example.com and dev.example.com, and does not match example.com and nghttp2.org. The exact match (without *) always takes precedence over wildcard match.

One important thing you have to remember is that we have to specify default routing pattern for so called "catch all" pattern. To write "catch all" pattern, just specify backend server address, without pattern.

Usually, host is the value of Host header field. In HTTP/2, the value of :authority pseudo header field is used.

When you write multiple backend addresses sharing the same routing pattern, they are used as load balancing. For example, to use 2 servers serv1:3000 and serv2:3000 for request host example.com and path /myservice, you can write like so:

backend=serv1,3000;example.com/myservice
backend=serv2,3000;example.com/myservice

You can also specify backend application protocol in --backend option using proto keyword after pattern. Utilizing this allows ngttpx to route certain request to HTTP/2, other requests to HTTP/1. For example, to route requests to /ws/ in backend HTTP/1.1 connection, and use backend HTTP/2 for other requests, do this:

backend=serv1,3000;/;proto=h2
backend=serv1,3000;/ws/;proto=http/1.1

The default backend protocol is HTTP/1.1.

TLS can be enabled per pattern basis:

backend=serv1,8443;/;proto=h2;tls
backend=serv2,8080;/ws/;proto=http/1.1

In the above case, connection to serv1 will be encrypted by TLS. On the other hand, connection to serv2 will not be encrypted by TLS.

Dynamic hostname lookup

By default, nghttpx performs backend hostname lookup at start up, or configuration reload, and keeps using them in its entire session. To make nghttpx perform hostname lookup dynamically, use dns parameter in --backend option, like so:

backend=foo.example.com;;dns

nghttpx will cache resolved addresses for certain period of time. To change this cache period, use --dns-cache-timeout.

Enable PROXY protocol

PROXY protocol can be enabled per frontend. In order to enable PROXY protocol, use proxyproto parameter in --frontend option, like so:

frontend=*,443;proxyproto

PSK cipher suites

nghttpx supports pre-shared key (PSK) cipher suites for both frontend and backend TLS connections. For frontend connection, use --psk-secrets option to specify a file which contains PSK identity and secrets. The format of the file is <identity>:<hex-secret>, where <identity> is PSK identity, and <hex-secret> is PSK secret in hex, like so:

client1:9567800e065e078085c241d54a01c6c3f24b3bab71a606600f4c6ad2c134f3b9
client2:b1376c3f8f6dcf7c886c5bdcceecd1e6f1d708622b6ddd21bda26ebd0c0bca99

nghttpx server accepts any of the identity and secret pairs in the file. The default cipher suite list does not contain PSK cipher suites. In order to use PSK, PSK cipher suite must be enabled by using --ciphers option. The desired PSK cipher suite may be listed in HTTP/2 cipher black list. In order to use such PSK cipher suite with HTTP/2, disable HTTP/2 cipher black list by using --no-http2-cipher-black-list option. But you should understand its implications.

At the time of writing, even if only PSK cipher suites are specified in --ciphers option, certificate and private key are still required.

For backend connection, use --client-psk-secrets option to specify a file which contains single PSK identity and secret. The format is the same as the file used by --psk-secrets described above, but only first identity and secret pair is solely used, like so:

client2:b1376c3f8f6dcf7c886c5bdcceecd1e6f1d708622b6ddd21bda26ebd0c0bca99

The default cipher suite list does not contain PSK cipher suites. In order to use PSK, PSK cipher suite must be enabled by using --client-ciphers option. The desired PSK cipher suite may be listed in HTTP/2 cipher black list. In order to use such PSK cipher suite with HTTP/2, disable HTTP/2 cipher black list by using --client-no-http2-cipher-black-list option. But you should understand its implications.

Migration from nghttpx v1.18.x or earlier

As of nghttpx v1.19.0, --ciphers option only changes cipher list for frontend TLS connection. In order to change cipher list for backend connection, use --client-ciphers option.

Similarly, --no-http2-cipher-black-list option only disables HTTP/2 cipher black list for frontend connection. In order to disable HTTP/2 cipher black list for backend connection, use --client-no-http2-cipher-black-list option.

--accept-proxy-protocol option was deprecated. Instead, use proxyproto parameter in --frontend option to enable PROXY protocol support per frontend.

Migration from nghttpx v1.8.0 or earlier

As of nghttpx 1.9.0, --frontend-no-tls and --backend-no-tls have been removed.

To disable encryption on frontend connection, use no-tls keyword in --frontend potion:

frontend=*,3000;no-tls

The TLS encryption is now disabled on backend connection in all modes by default. To enable encryption on backend connection, use tls keyword in --backend option:

backend=127.0.0.1,8080;tls

As of nghttpx 1.9.0, --http2-bridge, --client and --client-proxy options have been removed. These functionality can be used using combinations of options.

Use following option instead of --http2-bridge:

backend=<ADDR>,<PORT>;;proto=h2;tls

Use following options instead of --client:

frontend=<ADDR>,<PORT>;no-tls
backend=<ADDR>,<PORT>;;proto=h2;tls

Use following options instead of --client-proxy:

http2-proxy=yes
frontend=<ADDR>,<PORT>;no-tls
backend=<ADDR>,<PORT>;;proto=h2;tls

We also removed --backend-http2-connections-per-worker option. It was present because previously the number of backend h2 connection was statically configured, and defaulted to 1. Now the number of backend h2 connection is increased on demand. We know the maximum number of concurrent streams per connection. When we push as many request as the maximum concurrency to the one connection, we create another new connection so that we can distribute load and avoid delay the request processing. This is done automatically without any configuration.