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HTTP: The Definitive Guide

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

Look back at Figure 15-8. The client does not initially have a copy of the resource, so it sends a request to the server asking for it. The server responds with Version 1 of the resource. The client can now cache this copy, but for how long?

Once the document has "expired" at the client (i.e., once the client can no longer consider its copy a valid copy), it must request a fresh copy from the server. If the document has not changed at the server, however, the client does not need to receive it again—it can just continue to use its cached copy.

This special request, called a conditional request, requires that the client tell the server which version it currently has, using a validator, and ask for a copy to be sent only if its current copy is no longer valid. Let's look at the three key concepts—freshness, validators, and conditionals—in more detail.


Servers are expected to give clients information about how long clients can cache their content and consider it fresh. Servers can provide this information using one of two headers: Expires and Cache-Control.

The Expires header specifies the exact date and time when the document "expires"—when it can no longer be considered fresh. The syntax for the Expires header is:

Expires: Sun Mar 18 23:59:59 GMT 2001

For a client and server to use the Expires header correctly, their clocks must be synchronized. This is not always easy, because neither may run a clock synchronization protocol such as the Network Time ...

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