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Tunnels

We've discussed different ways that HTTP can be used to enable access to various kinds of resources (through gateways) and to enable application-to-application communication. In this section, we'll take a look at another use of HTTP, web tunnels, which enable access to applications that speak non-HTTP protocols through HTTP applications.

Web tunnels let you send non-HTTP traffic through HTTP connections, allowing other protocols to piggyback on top of HTTP. The most common reason to use web tunnels is to embed non-HTTP traffic inside an HTTP connection, so it can be sent through firewalls that allow only web traffic.

Establishing HTTP Tunnels with CONNECT

Web tunnels are established using HTTP's CONNECT method. The CONNECT protocol is not part of the core HTTP/1.1 specification,[4] but it is a widely implemented extension. Technical specifications can be found in Ari Luotonen's expired Internet draft specification, "Tunneling TCP based protocols through Web proxy servers," or in his book Web Proxy Servers, both of which are cited at the end of this chapter.

The CONNECT method asks a tunnel gateway to create a TCP connection to an arbitrary destination server and port and to blindly relay subsequent data between client and server.

Figure 8-10 shows how the CONNECT method works to establish a tunnel to a gateway:

  • In Figure 8-10a, the client sends a CONNECT request to the tunnel gateway. The client's CONNECT method asks the tunnel gateway to open a TCP connection (here, to the ...

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