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HTTP: The Definitive Guide

Cover of HTTP: The Definitive Guide by David Gourley... Published by O'Reilly Media, Inc.

Content-Length: The Entity's Size

The Content-Length header indicates the size of the entity body in the message, in bytes. The size includes any content encodings (the Content-Length of a gzip-compressed text file will be the compressed size, not the original size).

The Content-Length header is mandatory for messages with entity bodies, unless the message is transported using chunked encoding. Content-Length is needed to detect premature message truncation when servers crash and to properly segment messages that share a persistent connection.

Detecting Truncation

Older versions of HTTP used connection close to delimit the end of a message. But, without Content-Length, clients cannot distinguish between successful connection close at the end of a message and connection close due to a server crash in the middle of a message. Clients need Content-Length to detect message truncation.

Message truncation is especially severe for caching proxy servers. If a cache receives a truncated message and doesn't recognize the truncation, it may store the defective content and serve it many times. Caching proxy servers generally do not cache HTTP bodies that don't have an explicit Content-Length header, to reduce the risk of caching truncated messages.

Incorrect Content-Length

An incorrect Content-Length can cause even more damage than a missing Content-Length. Because some early clients and servers had well-known bugs with respect to Content-Length calculations, some clients, servers, and proxies ...

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