HTTP Working GroupA. Barth
Internet-DraftM. West
Obsoletes: 6265 (if approved)Google, Inc
Intended status: Standards TrackAugust 7, 2017
Expires: February 8, 2018

Cookies: HTTP State Management Mechanism

draft-ietf-httpbis-rfc6265bis-latest

Abstract

This document defines the HTTP Cookie and Set-Cookie header fields. These header fields can be used by HTTP servers to store state (called cookies) at HTTP user agents, letting the servers maintain a stateful session over the mostly stateless HTTP protocol. Although cookies have many historical infelicities that degrade their security and privacy, the Cookie and Set-Cookie header fields are widely used on the Internet. This document obsoletes RFC 6265.

Note to Readers

Discussion of this draft takes place on the HTTP working group mailing list (ietf-http-wg@w3.org), which is archived at https://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/ietf-http-wg/.

Working Group information can be found at http://httpwg.github.io/; source code and issues list for this draft can be found at https://github.com/httpwg/http-extensions/labels/6265bis.

Status of this Memo

This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Note that other groups may also distribute working documents as Internet-Drafts. The list of current Internet-Drafts is at http://datatracker.ietf.org/drafts/current/.

Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any time. It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference material or to cite them other than as “work in progress”.

This Internet-Draft will expire on February 8, 2018.

Copyright Notice

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1. Introduction

This document defines the HTTP Cookie and Set-Cookie header fields. Using the Set-Cookie header field, an HTTP server can pass name/value pairs and associated metadata (called cookies) to a user agent. When the user agent makes subsequent requests to the server, the user agent uses the metadata and other information to determine whether to return the name/value pairs in the Cookie header.

Although simple on their surface, cookies have a number of complexities. For example, the server indicates a scope for each cookie when sending it to the user agent. The scope indicates the maximum amount of time in which the user agent should return the cookie, the servers to which the user agent should return the cookie, and the URI schemes for which the cookie is applicable.

For historical reasons, cookies contain a number of security and privacy infelicities. For example, a server can indicate that a given cookie is intended for “secure” connections, but the Secure attribute does not provide integrity in the presence of an active network attacker. Similarly, cookies for a given host are shared across all the ports on that host, even though the usual “same-origin policy” used by web browsers isolates content retrieved via different ports.

There are two audiences for this specification: developers of cookie-generating servers and developers of cookie-consuming user agents.

To maximize interoperability with user agents, servers SHOULD limit themselves to the well-behaved profile defined in Section 4 when generating cookies.

User agents MUST implement the more liberal processing rules defined in Section 5, in order to maximize interoperability with existing servers that do not conform to the well-behaved profile defined in Section 4.

This document specifies the syntax and semantics of these headers as they are actually used on the Internet. In particular, this document does not create new syntax or semantics beyond those in use today. The recommendations for cookie generation provided in Section 4 represent a preferred subset of current server behavior, and even the more liberal cookie processing algorithm provided in Section 5 does not recommend all of the syntactic and semantic variations in use today. Where some existing software differs from the recommended protocol in significant ways, the document contains a note explaining the difference.

This document obsoletes [RFC6265].

2. Conventions

2.1. Conformance Criteria

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 [RFC2119].

Requirements phrased in the imperative as part of algorithms (such as “strip any leading space characters” or “return false and abort these steps”) are to be interpreted with the meaning of the key word (“MUST”, “SHOULD”, “MAY”, etc.) used in introducing the algorithm.

Conformance requirements phrased as algorithms or specific steps can be implemented in any manner, so long as the end result is equivalent. In particular, the algorithms defined in this specification are intended to be easy to understand and are not intended to be performant.

2.2. Syntax Notation

This specification uses the Augmented Backus-Naur Form (ABNF) notation of [RFC5234].

The following core rules are included by reference, as defined in [RFC5234], Appendix B.1: ALPHA (letters), CR (carriage return), CRLF (CR LF), CTLs (controls), DIGIT (decimal 0-9), DQUOTE (double quote), HEXDIG (hexadecimal 0-9/A-F/a-f), LF (line feed), NUL (null octet), OCTET (any 8-bit sequence of data except NUL), SP (space), HTAB (horizontal tab), CHAR (any [USASCII] character), VCHAR (any visible [USASCII] character), and WSP (whitespace).

The OWS (optional whitespace) rule is used where zero or more linear whitespace characters MAY appear:

OWS            = *( [ obs-fold ] WSP )
                 ; "optional" whitespace
obs-fold       = CRLF

OWS SHOULD either not be produced or be produced as a single SP character.

2.3. Terminology

The terms “user agent”, “client”, “server”, “proxy”, and “origin server” have the same meaning as in the HTTP/1.1 specification ([RFC2616], Section 1.3).

The request-host is the name of the host, as known by the user agent, to which the user agent is sending an HTTP request or from which it is receiving an HTTP response (i.e., the name of the host to which it sent the corresponding HTTP request).

The term request-uri is defined in Section 5.1.2 of [RFC2616].

Two sequences of octets are said to case-insensitively match each other if and only if they are equivalent under the i;ascii-casemap collation defined in [RFC4790].

The term string means a sequence of non-NUL octets.

The terms “active document”, “ancestor browsing context”, “browsing context”, “dedicated worker”, “Document”, “WorkerGlobalScope”, “sandboxed origin browsing context flag”, “parent browsing context”, “shared worker”, “the worker’s Documents”, “nested browsing context”, and “top-level browsing context” are defined in [HTML].

“Service Workers” are defined in the Service Workers specification [SERVICE-WORKERS].

The term “origin”, the mechanism of deriving an origin from a URI, and the “the same” matching algorithm for origins are defined in [RFC6454].

“Safe” HTTP methods include GET, HEAD, OPTIONS, and TRACE, as defined in Section 4.2.1 of [RFC7231].

The term “public suffix” is defined in a note in Section 5.3 of [RFC6265] as “a domain that is controlled by a public registry”, and are also know as “effective top-level domains” (eTLDs). For example, example.com’s public suffix is com. User agents SHOULD use an up-to-date public suffix list, such as the one maintained by Mozilla at [PSL].

An origin’s “registered domain” is the origin’s host’s public suffix plus the label to its left. That is, for https://www.example.com, the public suffix is com, and the registered domain is example.com. This concept is defined more rigorously in [PSL], and is also know as “effective top-level domain plus one” (eTLD+1).

The term “request”, as well as a request’s “client”, “current url”, “method”, and “target browsing context”, are defined in [FETCH].

3. Overview

This section outlines a way for an origin server to send state information to a user agent and for the user agent to return the state information to the origin server.

To store state, the origin server includes a Set-Cookie header in an HTTP response. In subsequent requests, the user agent returns a Cookie request header to the origin server. The Cookie header contains cookies the user agent received in previous Set-Cookie headers. The origin server is free to ignore the Cookie header or use its contents for an application-defined purpose.

Origin servers MAY send a Set-Cookie response header with any response. User agents MAY ignore Set-Cookie headers contained in responses with 100-level status codes but MUST process Set-Cookie headers contained in other responses (including responses with 400- and 500-level status codes). An origin server can include multiple Set-Cookie header fields in a single response. The presence of a Cookie or a Set-Cookie header field does not preclude HTTP caches from storing and reusing a response.

Origin servers SHOULD NOT fold multiple Set-Cookie header fields into a single header field. The usual mechanism for folding HTTP headers fields (i.e., as defined in [RFC2616]) might change the semantics of the Set-Cookie header field because the %x2C (“,”) character is used by Set-Cookie in a way that conflicts with such folding.

3.1. Examples

Using the Set-Cookie header, a server can send the user agent a short string in an HTTP response that the user agent will return in future HTTP requests that are within the scope of the cookie. For example, the server can send the user agent a “session identifier” named SID with the value 31d4d96e407aad42. The user agent then returns the session identifier in subsequent requests.

== Server -> User Agent ==

Set-Cookie: SID=31d4d96e407aad42

== User Agent -> Server ==

Cookie: SID=31d4d96e407aad42

The server can alter the default scope of the cookie using the Path and Domain attributes. For example, the server can instruct the user agent to return the cookie to every path and every subdomain of example.com.

== Server -> User Agent ==

Set-Cookie: SID=31d4d96e407aad42; Path=/; Domain=example.com

== User Agent -> Server ==

Cookie: SID=31d4d96e407aad42

As shown in the next example, the server can store multiple cookies at the user agent. For example, the server can store a session identifier as well as the user’s preferred language by returning two Set-Cookie header fields. Notice that the server uses the Secure and HttpOnly attributes to provide additional security protections for the more sensitive session identifier (see Section 4.1.2).

== Server -> User Agent ==

Set-Cookie: SID=31d4d96e407aad42; Path=/; Secure; HttpOnly
Set-Cookie: lang=en-US; Path=/; Domain=example.com

== User Agent -> Server ==

Cookie: SID=31d4d96e407aad42; lang=en-US

Notice that the Cookie header above contains two cookies, one named SID and one named lang. If the server wishes the user agent to persist the cookie over multiple “sessions” (e.g., user agent restarts), the server can specify an expiration date in the Expires attribute. Note that the user agent might delete the cookie before the expiration date if the user agent’s cookie store exceeds its quota or if the user manually deletes the server’s cookie.

== Server -> User Agent ==

Set-Cookie: lang=en-US; Expires=Wed, 09 Jun 2021 10:18:14 GMT

== User Agent -> Server ==

Cookie: SID=31d4d96e407aad42; lang=en-US

Finally, to remove a cookie, the server returns a Set-Cookie header with an expiration date in the past. The server will be successful in removing the cookie only if the Path and the Domain attribute in the Set-Cookie header match the values used when the cookie was created.

== Server -> User Agent ==

Set-Cookie: lang=; Expires=Sun, 06 Nov 1994 08:49:37 GMT

== User Agent -> Server ==

Cookie: SID=31d4d96e407aad42

4. Server Requirements

This section describes the syntax and semantics of a well-behaved profile of the Cookie and Set-Cookie headers.

5. User Agent Requirements

This section specifies the Cookie and Set-Cookie headers in sufficient detail that a user agent implementing these requirements precisely can interoperate with existing servers (even those that do not conform to the well-behaved profile described in Section 4).

A user agent could enforce more restrictions than those specified herein (e.g., for the sake of improved security); however, experiments have shown that such strictness reduces the likelihood that a user agent will be able to interoperate with existing servers.

5.1. Subcomponent Algorithms

This section defines some algorithms used by user agents to process specific subcomponents of the Cookie and Set-Cookie headers.

5.1.2. Canonicalized Host Names

A canonicalized host name is the string generated by the following algorithm:

  1. Convert the host name to a sequence of individual domain name labels.
  2. Convert each label that is not a Non-Reserved LDH (NR-LDH) label, to an A-label (see Section 2.3.2.1 of [RFC5890] for the former and latter), or to a “punycode label” (a label resulting from the “ToASCII” conversion in Section 4 of [RFC3490]), as appropriate (see Section 6.3 of this specification).
  3. Concatenate the resulting labels, separated by a %x2E (“.”) character.

5.1.3. Domain Matching

A string domain-matches a given domain string if at least one of the following conditions hold:

  • The domain string and the string are identical. (Note that both the domain string and the string will have been canonicalized to lower case at this point.)
  • All of the following conditions hold:
    • The domain string is a suffix of the string.
    • The last character of the string that is not included in the domain string is a %x2E (“.”) character.
    • The string is a host name (i.e., not an IP address).

5.2. “Same-site” and “cross-site” Requests

A request is “same-site” if its target’s URI’s origin’s registered domain is an exact match for the request’s client’s “site for cookies”, or if the request has no client. The request is otherwise “cross-site”.

For a given request (“request”), the following algorithm returns same-site or cross-site:

  1. If request’s client is null, return same-site.

    Note that this is the case for navigation triggered by the user directly (e.g. by typing directly into a user agent’s address bar).
  2. Let site be request’s client’s “site for cookies” (as defined in the following sections).
  3. Let target be the registered domain of request’s current url.
  4. If site is an exact match for target, return same-site.
  5. Return cross-site.

The request’s client’s “site for cookies” is calculated depending upon its client’s type, as described in the following subsections:

5.2.1. Document-based requests

The URI displayed in a user agent’s address bar is the only security context directly exposed to users, and therefore the only signal users can reasonably rely upon to determine whether or not they trust a particular website. The registered domain of that URI’s origin represents the context in which a user most likely believes themselves to be interacting. We’ll label this domain the “top-level site”.

For a document displayed in a top-level browsing context, we can stop here: the document’s “site for cookies” is the top-level site.

For documents which are displayed in nested browsing contexts, we need to audit the origins of each of a document’s ancestor browsing contexts’ active documents in order to account for the “multiple-nested scenarios” described in Section 4 of [RFC7034]. These document’s “site for cookies” is the top-level site if and only if the document and each of its ancestor documents’ origins have the same registered domain as the top-level site. Otherwise its “site for cookies” is the empty string.

Given a Document (document), the following algorithm returns its “site for cookies” (either a registered domain, or the empty string):

  1. Let top-document be the active document in document’s browsing context’s top-level browsing context.
  2. Let top-origin be the origin of top-document’s URI if top-document’s sandboxed origin browsing context flag is set, and top-document’s origin otherwise.
  3. Let documents be a list containing document and each of document’s ancestor browsing contexts’ active documents.
  4. For each item in documents:
    1. Let origin be the origin of item’s URI if item’s sandboxed origin browsing context flag is set, and item’s origin otherwise.
    2. If origin’s host’s registered domain is not an exact match for top-origin’s host’s registered domain, return the empty string.
  5. Return top-origin’s host’s registered domain.

5.2.2. Worker-based requests

Worker-driven requests aren’t as clear-cut as document-driven requests, as there isn’t a clear link between a top-level browsing context and a worker. This is especially true for Service Workers [SERVICE-WORKERS], which may execute code in the background, without any document visible at all.

Note: The descriptions below assume that workers must be same-origin with the documents that instantiate them. If this invariant changes, we’ll need to take the worker’s script’s URI into account when determining their status.

5.2.2.1. Dedicated and Shared Workers

Dedicated workers are simple, as each dedicated worker is bound to one and only one document. Requests generated from a dedicated worker (via importScripts, XMLHttpRequest, fetch(), etc) define their “site for cookies” as that document’s “site for cookies”.

Shared workers may be bound to multiple documents at once. As it is quite possible for those documents to have distinct “site for cookie” values, the worker’s “site for cookies” will be the empty string in cases where the values diverge, and the shared value in cases where the values agree.

Given a WorkerGlobalScope (worker), the following algorithm returns its “site for cookies” (either a registered domain, or the empty string):

  1. Let site be worker’s origin’s host’s registered domain.
  2. For each document in worker’s Documents:
    1. Let document-site be document’s “site for cookies” (as defined in Section 5.2.1).
    2. If document-site is not an exact match for site, return the empty string.
  3. Return site.
5.2.2.2. Service Workers

Service Workers are more complicated, as they act as a completely separate execution context with only tangential relationship to the Document which registered them.

Requests which simply pass through a service worker will be handled as described above: the request’s client will be the Document or Worker which initiated the request, and its “site for cookies” will be those defined in Section 5.2.1 and Section 5.2.2.1

Requests which are initiated by the Service Worker itself (via a direct call to fetch(), for instance), on the other hand, will have a client which is a ServiceWorkerGlobalScope. Its “site for cookies” will be the registered domain of the Service Worker’s URI.

Given a ServiceWorkerGlobalScope (worker), the following algorithm returns its “site for cookies” (either a registered domain, or the empty string):

  1. Return worker’s origin’s host’s registered domain.

5.4. Storage Model

The user agent stores the following fields about each cookie: name, value, expiry-time, domain, path, creation-time, last-access-time, persistent-flag, host-only-flag, secure-only-flag, http-only-flag, and same-site-flag.

When the user agent “receives a cookie” from a request-uri with name cookie-name, value cookie-value, and attributes cookie-attribute-list, the user agent MUST process the cookie as follows:

  1. A user agent MAY ignore a received cookie in its entirety. For example, the user agent might wish to block receiving cookies from “third-party” responses or the user agent might not wish to store cookies that exceed some size.
  2. Create a new cookie with name cookie-name, value cookie-value. Set the creation-time and the last-access-time to the current date and time.
  3. If the cookie-attribute-list contains an attribute with an attribute-name of “Max-Age”:
    1. Set the cookie’s persistent-flag to true.
    2. Set the cookie’s expiry-time to attribute-value of the last attribute in the cookie-attribute-list with an attribute-name of “Max-Age”.
    Otherwise, if the cookie-attribute-list contains an attribute with an attribute-name of “Expires” (and does not contain an attribute with an attribute-name of “Max-Age”):
    1. Set the cookie’s persistent-flag to true.
    2. Set the cookie’s expiry-time to attribute-value of the last attribute in the cookie-attribute-list with an attribute-name of “Expires”.
    Otherwise:
    1. Set the cookie’s persistent-flag to false.
    2. Set the cookie’s expiry-time to the latest representable date.
  4. If the cookie-attribute-list contains an attribute with an attribute-name of “Domain”:
    1. Let the domain-attribute be the attribute-value of the last attribute in the cookie-attribute-list with an attribute-name of “Domain”.
    Otherwise:
    1. Let the domain-attribute be the empty string.
  5. If the user agent is configured to reject “public suffixes” and the domain-attribute is a public suffix:
    1. If the domain-attribute is identical to the canonicalized request-host:
      1. Let the domain-attribute be the empty string.
      Otherwise:
      1. Ignore the cookie entirely and abort these steps.
    NOTE: A “public suffix” is a domain that is controlled by a public registry, such as “com”, “co.uk”, and “pvt.k12.wy.us”. This step is essential for preventing attacker.com from disrupting the integrity of example.com by setting a cookie with a Domain attribute of “com”. Unfortunately, the set of public suffixes (also known as “registry controlled domains”) changes over time. If feasible, user agents SHOULD use an up-to-date public suffix list, such as the one maintained by the Mozilla project at http://publicsuffix.org/.
  6. If the domain-attribute is non-empty:
    1. If the canonicalized request-host does not domain-match the domain-attribute:
      1. Ignore the cookie entirely and abort these steps.
      Otherwise:
      1. Set the cookie’s host-only-flag to false.
      2. Set the cookie’s domain to the domain-attribute.
    Otherwise:
    1. Set the cookie’s host-only-flag to true.
    2. Set the cookie’s domain to the canonicalized request-host.
  7. If the cookie-attribute-list contains an attribute with an attribute-name of “Path”, set the cookie’s path to attribute-value of the last attribute in the cookie-attribute-list with an attribute-name of “Path”. Otherwise, set the cookie’s path to the default-path of the request-uri.
  8. If the cookie-attribute-list contains an attribute with an attribute-name of “Secure”, set the cookie’s secure-only-flag to true. Otherwise, set the cookie’s secure-only-flag to false.
  9. If the scheme component of the request-uri does not denote a “secure” protocol (as defined by the user agent), and the cookie’s secure-only-flag is true, then abort these steps and ignore the cookie entirely.
  10. If the cookie-attribute-list contains an attribute with an attribute-name of “HttpOnly”, set the cookie’s http-only-flag to true. Otherwise, set the cookie’s http-only-flag to false.
  11. If the cookie was received from a “non-HTTP” API and the cookie’s http-only-flag is true, abort these steps and ignore the cookie entirely.
  12. If the cookie’s secure-only-flag is not set, and the scheme component of request-uri does not denote a “secure” protocol, then abort these steps and ignore the cookie entirely if the cookie store contains one or more cookies that meet all of the following criteria:
    1. Their name matches the name of the newly-created cookie.
    2. Their secure-only-flag is true.
    3. Their domain domain-matches the domain of the newly-created cookie, or vice-versa.
    4. The path of the newly-created cookie path-matches the path of the existing cookie.
    Note: The path comparison is not symmetric, ensuring only that a newly-created, non-secure cookie does not overlay an existing secure cookie, providing some mitigation against cookie-fixing attacks. That is, given an existing secure cookie named ‘a’ with a path of ‘/login’, a non-secure cookie named ‘a’ could be set for a path of ‘/’ or ‘/foo’, but not for a path of ‘/login’ or ‘/login/en’.
  13. If the cookie-attribute-list contains an attribute with an attribute-name of “SameSite”, set the cookie’s same-site-flag to attribute-value (i.e. either “Strict” or “Lax”). Otherwise, set the cookie’s same-site-flag to “None”.
  14. If the cookie’s same-site-flag is not “None”, and the cookie is being set from a context whose “site for cookies” is not an exact match for request-uri’s host’s registered domain, then abort these steps and ignore the newly created cookie entirely.
  15. If the cookie-name begins with a case-sensitive match for the string “__Secure-“, abort these steps and ignore the cookie entirely unless the cookie’s secure-only-flag is true.
  16. If the cookie-name begins with a case-sensitive match for the string “__Host-“, abort these steps and ignore the cookie entirely unless the cookie meets all the following criteria:
    1. The cookie’s secure-only-flag is true.
    2. The cookie’s host-only-flag is true.
    3. The cookie-attribute-list contains an attribute with an attribute-name of “Path”, and the cookie’s path is /.
  17. If the cookie store contains a cookie with the same name, domain, and path as the newly-created cookie:
    1. Let old-cookie be the existing cookie with the same name, domain, and path as the newly-created cookie. (Notice that this algorithm maintains the invariant that there is at most one such cookie.)
    2. If the newly-created cookie was received from a “non-HTTP” API and the old-cookie’s http-only-flag is true, abort these steps and ignore the newly created cookie entirely.
    3. Update the creation-time of the newly-created cookie to match the creation-time of the old-cookie.
    4. Remove the old-cookie from the cookie store.
  18. Insert the newly-created cookie into the cookie store.

A cookie is “expired” if the cookie has an expiry date in the past.

The user agent MUST evict all expired cookies from the cookie store if, at any time, an expired cookie exists in the cookie store.

At any time, the user agent MAY “remove excess cookies” from the cookie store if the number of cookies sharing a domain field exceeds some implementation-defined upper bound (such as 50 cookies).

At any time, the user agent MAY “remove excess cookies” from the cookie store if the cookie store exceeds some predetermined upper bound (such as 3000 cookies).

When the user agent removes excess cookies from the cookie store, the user agent MUST evict cookies in the following priority order:

  1. Expired cookies.
  2. Cookies whose secure-only-flag is not set, and which share a domain field with more than a predetermined number of other cookies.
  3. Cookies that share a domain field with more than a predetermined number of other cookies.
  4. All cookies.

If two cookies have the same removal priority, the user agent MUST evict the cookie with the earliest last-access date first.

When “the current session is over” (as defined by the user agent), the user agent MUST remove from the cookie store all cookies with the persistent-flag set to false.

6. Implementation Considerations

6.1. Limits

Practical user agent implementations have limits on the number and size of cookies that they can store. General-use user agents SHOULD provide each of the following minimum capabilities:

  • At least 4096 bytes per cookie (as measured by the sum of the length of the cookie’s name, value, and attributes).
  • At least 50 cookies per domain.
  • At least 3000 cookies total.

Servers SHOULD use as few and as small cookies as possible to avoid reaching these implementation limits and to minimize network bandwidth due to the Cookie header being included in every request.

Servers SHOULD gracefully degrade if the user agent fails to return one or more cookies in the Cookie header because the user agent might evict any cookie at any time on orders from the user.

6.2. Application Programming Interfaces

One reason the Cookie and Set-Cookie headers use such esoteric syntax is that many platforms (both in servers and user agents) provide a string-based application programming interface (API) to cookies, requiring application-layer programmers to generate and parse the syntax used by the Cookie and Set-Cookie headers, which many programmers have done incorrectly, resulting in interoperability problems.

Instead of providing string-based APIs to cookies, platforms would be well-served by providing more semantic APIs. It is beyond the scope of this document to recommend specific API designs, but there are clear benefits to accepting an abstract “Date” object instead of a serialized date string.

6.3. IDNA Dependency and Migration

IDNA2008 [RFC5890] supersedes IDNA2003 [RFC3490]. However, there are differences between the two specifications, and thus there can be differences in processing (e.g., converting) domain name labels that have been registered under one from those registered under the other. There will be a transition period of some time during which IDNA2003-based domain name labels will exist in the wild. User agents SHOULD implement IDNA2008 [RFC5890] and MAY implement [UTS46] or [RFC5895] in order to facilitate their IDNA transition. If a user agent does not implement IDNA2008, the user agent MUST implement IDNA2003 [RFC3490].

7. Privacy Considerations

Cookies are often criticized for letting servers track users. For example, a number of “web analytics” companies use cookies to recognize when a user returns to a web site or visits another web site. Although cookies are not the only mechanism servers can use to track users across HTTP requests, cookies facilitate tracking because they are persistent across user agent sessions and can be shared between hosts.

7.1. Third-Party Cookies

Particularly worrisome are so-called “third-party” cookies. In rendering an HTML document, a user agent often requests resources from other servers (such as advertising networks). These third-party servers can use cookies to track the user even if the user never visits the server directly. For example, if a user visits a site that contains content from a third party and then later visits another site that contains content from the same third party, the third party can track the user between the two sites.

Given this risk to user privacy, some user agents restrict how third-party cookies behave, and those restrictions vary widly. For instance, user agents might block third-party cookies entirely by refusing to send Cookie headers or process Set-Cookie headers during third-party requests. They might take a less draconian approach by partitioning cookies based on the first-party context, sending one set of cookies to a given third party in one first-party context, and another to the same third party in another.

This document grants user agents wide latitude to experiment with third-party cookie policies that balance the privacy and compatibility needs of their users. However, this document does not endorse any particular third-party cookie policy.

Third-party cookie blocking policies are often ineffective at achieving their privacy goals if servers attempt to work around their restrictions to track users. In particular, two collaborating servers can often track users without using cookies at all by injecting identifying information into dynamic URLs.

7.2. User Controls

User agents SHOULD provide users with a mechanism for managing the cookies stored in the cookie store. For example, a user agent might let users delete all cookies received during a specified time period or all the cookies related to a particular domain. In addition, many user agents include a user interface element that lets users examine the cookies stored in their cookie store.

User agents SHOULD provide users with a mechanism for disabling cookies. When cookies are disabled, the user agent MUST NOT include a Cookie header in outbound HTTP requests and the user agent MUST NOT process Set-Cookie headers in inbound HTTP responses.

Some user agents provide users the option of preventing persistent storage of cookies across sessions. When configured thusly, user agents MUST treat all received cookies as if the persistent-flag were set to false. Some popular user agents expose this functionality via “private browsing” mode [Aggarwal2010].

Some user agents provide users with the ability to approve individual writes to the cookie store. In many common usage scenarios, these controls generate a large number of prompts. However, some privacy-conscious users find these controls useful nonetheless.

7.3. Expiration Dates

Although servers can set the expiration date for cookies to the distant future, most user agents do not actually retain cookies for multiple decades. Rather than choosing gratuitously long expiration periods, servers SHOULD promote user privacy by selecting reasonable cookie expiration periods based on the purpose of the cookie. For example, a typical session identifier might reasonably be set to expire in two weeks.

8. Security Considerations

8.1. Overview

Cookies have a number of security pitfalls. This section overviews a few of the more salient issues.

In particular, cookies encourage developers to rely on ambient authority for authentication, often becoming vulnerable to attacks such as cross-site request forgery [CSRF]. Also, when storing session identifiers in cookies, developers often create session fixation vulnerabilities.

Transport-layer encryption, such as that employed in HTTPS, is insufficient to prevent a network attacker from obtaining or altering a victim’s cookies because the cookie protocol itself has various vulnerabilities (see “Weak Confidentiality” and “Weak Integrity”, below). In addition, by default, cookies do not provide confidentiality or integrity from network attackers, even when used in conjunction with HTTPS.

8.2. Ambient Authority

A server that uses cookies to authenticate users can suffer security vulnerabilities because some user agents let remote parties issue HTTP requests from the user agent (e.g., via HTTP redirects or HTML forms). When issuing those requests, user agents attach cookies even if the remote party does not know the contents of the cookies, potentially letting the remote party exercise authority at an unwary server.

Although this security concern goes by a number of names (e.g., cross-site request forgery, confused deputy), the issue stems from cookies being a form of ambient authority. Cookies encourage server operators to separate designation (in the form of URLs) from authorization (in the form of cookies). Consequently, the user agent might supply the authorization for a resource designated by the attacker, possibly causing the server or its clients to undertake actions designated by the attacker as though they were authorized by the user.

Instead of using cookies for authorization, server operators might wish to consider entangling designation and authorization by treating URLs as capabilities. Instead of storing secrets in cookies, this approach stores secrets in URLs, requiring the remote entity to supply the secret itself. Although this approach is not a panacea, judicious application of these principles can lead to more robust security.

8.3. Clear Text

Unless sent over a secure channel (such as TLS), the information in the Cookie and Set-Cookie headers is transmitted in the clear.

  1. All sensitive information conveyed in these headers is exposed to an eavesdropper.
  2. A malicious intermediary could alter the headers as they travel in either direction, with unpredictable results.
  3. A malicious client could alter the Cookie header before transmission, with unpredictable results.

Servers SHOULD encrypt and sign the contents of cookies (using whatever format the server desires) when transmitting them to the user agent (even when sending the cookies over a secure channel). However, encrypting and signing cookie contents does not prevent an attacker from transplanting a cookie from one user agent to another or from replaying the cookie at a later time.

In addition to encrypting and signing the contents of every cookie, servers that require a higher level of security SHOULD use the Cookie and Set-Cookie headers only over a secure channel. When using cookies over a secure channel, servers SHOULD set the Secure attribute (see Section 4.1.2.5) for every cookie. If a server does not set the Secure attribute, the protection provided by the secure channel will be largely moot.

For example, consider a webmail server that stores a session identifier in a cookie and is typically accessed over HTTPS. If the server does not set the Secure attribute on its cookies, an active network attacker can intercept any outbound HTTP request from the user agent and redirect that request to the webmail server over HTTP. Even if the webmail server is not listening for HTTP connections, the user agent will still include cookies in the request. The active network attacker can intercept these cookies, replay them against the server, and learn the contents of the user’s email. If, instead, the server had set the Secure attribute on its cookies, the user agent would not have included the cookies in the clear-text request.

8.4. Session Identifiers

Instead of storing session information directly in a cookie (where it might be exposed to or replayed by an attacker), servers commonly store a nonce (or “session identifier”) in a cookie. When the server receives an HTTP request with a nonce, the server can look up state information associated with the cookie using the nonce as a key.

Using session identifier cookies limits the damage an attacker can cause if the attacker learns the contents of a cookie because the nonce is useful only for interacting with the server (unlike non-nonce cookie content, which might itself be sensitive). Furthermore, using a single nonce prevents an attacker from “splicing” together cookie content from two interactions with the server, which could cause the server to behave unexpectedly.

Using session identifiers is not without risk. For example, the server SHOULD take care to avoid “session fixation” vulnerabilities. A session fixation attack proceeds in three steps. First, the attacker transplants a session identifier from his or her user agent to the victim’s user agent. Second, the victim uses that session identifier to interact with the server, possibly imbuing the session identifier with the user’s credentials or confidential information. Third, the attacker uses the session identifier to interact with server directly, possibly obtaining the user’s authority or confidential information.

8.5. Weak Confidentiality

Cookies do not provide isolation by port. If a cookie is readable by a service running on one port, the cookie is also readable by a service running on another port of the same server. If a cookie is writable by a service on one port, the cookie is also writable by a service running on another port of the same server. For this reason, servers SHOULD NOT both run mutually distrusting services on different ports of the same host and use cookies to store security-sensitive information.

Cookies do not provide isolation by scheme. Although most commonly used with the http and https schemes, the cookies for a given host might also be available to other schemes, such as ftp and gopher. Although this lack of isolation by scheme is most apparent in non-HTTP APIs that permit access to cookies (e.g., HTML’s document.cookie API), the lack of isolation by scheme is actually present in requirements for processing cookies themselves (e.g., consider retrieving a URI with the gopher scheme via HTTP).

Cookies do not always provide isolation by path. Although the network-level protocol does not send cookies stored for one path to another, some user agents expose cookies via non-HTTP APIs, such as HTML’s document.cookie API. Because some of these user agents (e.g., web browsers) do not isolate resources received from different paths, a resource retrieved from one path might be able to access cookies stored for another path.

8.6. Weak Integrity

Cookies do not provide integrity guarantees for sibling domains (and their subdomains). For example, consider foo.example.com and bar.example.com. The foo.example.com server can set a cookie with a Domain attribute of “example.com” (possibly overwriting an existing “example.com” cookie set by bar.example.com), and the user agent will include that cookie in HTTP requests to bar.example.com. In the worst case, bar.example.com will be unable to distinguish this cookie from a cookie it set itself. The foo.example.com server might be able to leverage this ability to mount an attack against bar.example.com.

Even though the Set-Cookie header supports the Path attribute, the Path attribute does not provide any integrity protection because the user agent will accept an arbitrary Path attribute in a Set-Cookie header. For example, an HTTP response to a request for http://example.com/foo/bar can set a cookie with a Path attribute of “/qux”. Consequently, servers SHOULD NOT both run mutually distrusting services on different paths of the same host and use cookies to store security-sensitive information.

An active network attacker can also inject cookies into the Cookie header sent to https://example.com/ by impersonating a response from http://example.com/ and injecting a Set-Cookie header. The HTTPS server at example.com will be unable to distinguish these cookies from cookies that it set itself in an HTTPS response. An active network attacker might be able to leverage this ability to mount an attack against example.com even if example.com uses HTTPS exclusively.

Servers can partially mitigate these attacks by encrypting and signing the contents of their cookies. However, using cryptography does not mitigate the issue completely because an attacker can replay a cookie he or she received from the authentic example.com server in the user’s session, with unpredictable results.

Finally, an attacker might be able to force the user agent to delete cookies by storing a large number of cookies. Once the user agent reaches its storage limit, the user agent will be forced to evict some cookies. Servers SHOULD NOT rely upon user agents retaining cookies.

8.7. Reliance on DNS

Cookies rely upon the Domain Name System (DNS) for security. If the DNS is partially or fully compromised, the cookie protocol might fail to provide the security properties required by applications.

8.8. SameSite Cookies

8.8.1. Defense in depth

“SameSite” cookies offer a robust defense against CSRF attack when deployed in strict mode, and when supported by the client. It is, however, prudent to ensure that this designation is not the extent of a site’s defense against CSRF, as same-site navigations and submissions can certainly be executed in conjunction with other attack vectors such as cross-site scripting.

Developers are strongly encouraged to deploy the usual server-side defenses (CSRF tokens, ensuring that “safe” HTTP methods are idempotent, etc) to mitigate the risk more fully.

Additionally, client-side techniques such as those described in [app-isolation] may also prove effective against CSRF, and are certainly worth exploring in combination with “SameSite” cookies.

8.8.2. Top-level Navigations

Setting the SameSite attribute in “strict” mode provides robust defense in depth against CSRF attacks, but has the potential to confuse users unless sites’ developers carefully ensure that their cookie-based session management systems deal reasonably well with top-level navigations.

Consider the scenario in which a user reads their email at MegaCorp Inc’s webmail provider https://example.com/. They might expect that clicking on an emailed link to https://projects.com/secret/project would show them the secret project that they’re authorized to see, but if projects.com has marked their session cookies as SameSite, then this cross-site navigation won’t send them along with the request. projects.com will render a 404 error to avoid leaking secret information, and the user will be quite confused.

Developers can avoid this confusion by adopting a session management system that relies on not one, but two cookies: one conceptually granting “read” access, another granting “write” access. The latter could be marked as SameSite, and its absence would prompt a reauthentication step before executing any non-idempotent action. The former could drop the SameSite attribute entirely, or choose the “Lax” version of enforcement, in order to allow users access to data via top-level navigation.

8.8.3. Mashups and Widgets

The SameSite attribute is inappropriate for some important use-cases. In particular, note that content intended for embedding in a cross-site contexts (social networking widgets or commenting services, for instance) will not have access to same-site cookies. Cookies may be required for requests triggered in these cross-site contexts in order to provide seamless functionality that relies on a user’s state.

Likewise, some forms of Single-Sign-On might require cookie-based authentication in a cross-site context; these mechanisms will not function as intended with same-site cookies.

8.8.4. Server-controlled

SameSite cookies in and of themselves don’t do anything to address the general privacy concerns outlined in Section 7.1 of [RFC6265]. The “SameSite” attribute is set by the server, and serves to mitigate the risk of certain kinds of attacks that the server is worried about. The user is not involved in this decision. Moreover, a number of side-channels exist which could allow a server to link distinct requests even in the absence of cookies. Connection and/or socket pooling, Token Binding, and Channel ID all offer explicit methods of identification that servers could take advantage of.

9. IANA Considerations

The permanent message header field registry (see [RFC3864]) needs to be updated with the following registrations.

10. References

10.1. Normative References

[FETCH]
van Kesteren, A., “Fetch”, n.d., <https://fetch.spec.whatwg.org/>.
[HTML]
Hickson, I., Pieters, S., van Kesteren, A., Jägenstedt, P., and D. Denicola, “HTML”, n.d., <https://html.spec.whatwg.org/>.
[PSL]
Public Suffix List”, n.d., <https://publicsuffix.org/list/>.
[RFC1034]
Mockapetris, P., “Domain names - concepts and facilities”, STD 13, RFC 1034, DOI 10.17487/RFC1034, November 1987, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc1034>.
[RFC1123]
Braden, R., Ed., “Requirements for Internet Hosts - Application and Support”, STD 3, RFC 1123, DOI 10.17487/RFC1123, October 1989, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc1123>.
[RFC2119]
Bradner, S., “Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels”, BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc2119>.
[RFC2616]
Fielding, R., Gettys, J., Mogul, J., Frystyk, H., Masinter, L., Leach, P., and T. Berners-Lee, “Hypertext Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1”, RFC 2616, DOI 10.17487/RFC2616, June 1999, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc2616>.
[RFC3490]
Costello, A., “Internationalizing Domain Names in Applications (IDNA)”, RFC 3490, DOI 10.17487/RFC3490, March 2003, <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc3490>.
See Section 6.3 for an explanation why the normative reference to an obsoleted specification is needed.
[RFC4790]
Newman, C., Duerst, M., and A. Gulbrandsen, “Internet Application Protocol Collation Registry”, RFC 4790, DOI 10.17487/RFC4790, March 2007, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc4790>.
[RFC5234]
Crocker, D., Ed. and P. Overell, “Augmented BNF for Syntax Specifications: ABNF”, STD 68, RFC 5234, DOI 10.17487/RFC5234, January 2008, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc5234>.
[RFC5890]
Klensin, J., “Internationalized Domain Names for Applications (IDNA): Definitions and Document Framework”, RFC 5890, DOI 10.17487/RFC5890, August 2010, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc5890>.
[RFC6454]
Barth, A., “The Web Origin Concept”, RFC 6454, DOI 10.17487/RFC6454, December 2011, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc6454>.
[RFC7231]
Fielding, R., Ed. and J. Reschke, Ed., “Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP/1.1): Semantics and Content”, RFC 7231, DOI 10.17487/RFC7231, June 2014, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc7231>.
[SERVICE-WORKERS]
Russell, A., Song, J., and J. Archibald, “Service Workers”, n.d., <http://www.w3.org/TR/service-workers/>.
[USASCII]
American National Standards Institute, “Coded Character Set -- 7-bit American Standard Code for Information Interchange”, ANSI X3.4, 1986.

10.2. Informative References

[Aggarwal2010]
Aggarwal, G., Burzstein, E., Jackson, C., and D. Boneh, “An Analysis of Private Browsing Modes in Modern Browsers”, 2010, <http://www.usenix.org/events/sec10/tech/full_papers/Aggarwal.pdf>.
[app-isolation]
Chen, E., Bau, J., Reis, C., Barth, A., and C. Jackson, “App Isolation - Get the Security of Multiple Browsers with Just One”, 2011, <http://www.collinjackson.com/research/papers/appisolation.pdf>.
[CSRF]
Barth, A., Jackson, C., and J. Mitchell, “Robust Defenses for Cross-Site Request Forgery”, DOI 10.1145/1455770.1455782, ISBN 978-1-59593-810-7, ACM CCS '08: Proceedings of the 15th ACM conference on Computer and communications security (pages 75-88), October 2008, <http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1455770.1455782>.
West, M., “Deprecate modification of 'secure' cookies from non-secure origins”, Internet-Draft draft-ietf-httpbis-cookie-alone-01 (work in progress), September 2016.
West, M., “Cookie Prefixes”, Internet-Draft draft-ietf-httpbis-cookie-prefixes-00 (work in progress), February 2016.
West, M. and M. Goodwin, “Same-Site Cookies”, Internet-Draft draft-ietf-httpbis-cookie-same-site-00 (work in progress), June 2016.
[prerendering]
Bentzel, C., “Chrome Prerendering”, n.d., <https://www.chromium.org/developers/design-documents/prerender>.
[RFC2818]
Rescorla, E., “HTTP Over TLS”, RFC 2818, DOI 10.17487/RFC2818, May 2000, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc2818>.
[RFC3629]
Yergeau, F., “UTF-8, a transformation format of ISO 10646”, STD 63, RFC 3629, DOI 10.17487/RFC3629, November 2003, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc3629>.
[RFC3864]
Klyne, G., Nottingham, M., and J. Mogul, “Registration Procedures for Message Header Fields”, BCP 90, RFC 3864, DOI 10.17487/RFC3864, September 2004, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc3864>.
[RFC3986]
Berners-Lee, T., Fielding, R., and L. Masinter, “Uniform Resource Identifier (URI): Generic Syntax”, STD 66, RFC 3986, DOI 10.17487/RFC3986, January 2005, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc3986>.
[RFC4648]
Josefsson, S., “The Base16, Base32, and Base64 Data Encodings”, RFC 4648, DOI 10.17487/RFC4648, October 2006, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc4648>.
[RFC5895]
Resnick, P. and P. Hoffman, “Mapping Characters for Internationalized Domain Names in Applications (IDNA) 2008”, RFC 5895, DOI 10.17487/RFC5895, September 2010, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc5895>.
[RFC6265]
Barth, A., “HTTP State Management Mechanism”, RFC 6265, DOI 10.17487/RFC6265, April 2011, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc6265>.
[RFC7034]
Ross, D. and T. Gondrom, “HTTP Header Field X-Frame-Options”, RFC 7034, DOI 10.17487/RFC7034, October 2013, <http://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc7034>.
[UTS46]
Davis, M. and M. Suignard, “Unicode IDNA Compatibility Processing”, UNICODE Unicode Technical Standards # 46, June 2016, <http://unicode.org/reports/tr46/>.

A. Changes

A.1. draft-ietf-httpbis-rfc6265bis-00

  • Port [RFC6265] to Markdown. No (intentional) normative changes.

A.2. draft-ietf-httpbis-rfc6265bis-01

A.3. draft-ietf-httpbis-rfc6265bis-02

B. Acknowledgements

This document is a minor update of RFC 6265, adding small features, and aligning the specification with the reality of today’s deployments. Here, we’re standing upon the shoulders of giants.

Authors' Addresses

Adam Barth
Google, Inc
URI: https://www.adambarth.com/
Mike West
Google, Inc
EMail: mkwst@google.com
URI: https://mikewest.org/