Apache – CONNECT request to a forward HTTP proxy over an SSL connection


I am writing an HTTP proxy and I am having trouble understanding some details of making a CONNECT request over TLS. To get a better picture, I am experimenting with Apache to observe how it interacts with clients. This is from my default virtual host.

NameVirtualHost *:443
  ServerName example.com
  DocumentRoot htdocs/example.com  
  ProxyRequests On
  AllowConnect 22
  SSLEngine on
  SSLCertificateFile /root/ssl/example.com-startssl.pem
  SSLCertificateKeyFile /root/ssl/example.com-startssl.key
  SSLCertificateChainFile /root/ssl/sub.class1.server.ca.pem
  SSLStrictSNIVHostCheck off

The conversation between Apache and my client goes like this.

a. client connects to example.com:443 and sends example.com in the TLS handshake.

b. client sends HTTP request.

Host: example.com
Proxy-Connection: Keep-Alive

c. Apache says HTTP/1.1 400 Bad Request. The Apache error log says

Hostname example.com provided via SNI and hostname
provided via HTTP are different. 

It appears that Apache does not look at the Host header other than to see that it is there since HTTP/1.1 requires it. I get identical failed behavior if the client sends Host: foo. If I make the HTTP request to example.com:80 without TLS, then Apache will connect me to

I don't completely understand this behavior. Is there something wrong with the CONNECT request? I can't seem to locate the relevant parts of the RFCs that explain all this.

Best Solution

It's not clear whether you're trying to use Apache Httpd as a proxy server, this would explain the 400 status code you're getting. CONNECT is used by the client, and sent to the proxy server (possibly Apache Httpd, but usually not), not to the destination web server.

CONNECT is used between the client and the proxy server before establishing the TLS connection between the client and the end server. The client (C) connects to the proxy (P) proxy.example.com and sends this request (including blank line):

C->P: CONNECT www.example.com:443 HTTP/1.1
C->P: Host: www.example.com:443

The proxy opens a TCP connection to www.example.com:443 (P-S) and responds to the client with a 200 status code, accepting the request:

P->C: 200 OK

After this, the connection between the client and the proxy (C-P) is kept open. The proxy server relays everything on the C-P connection to and from P-S. The client upgrades its active (P-S) connection to an SSL/TLS connection, by initiating a TLS handshake on that channel. Since everything is now relayed to the server, it's as if the TLS exchange was done directly with www.example.com:443.

The proxy doesn't play any role in the handshake (and thus with SNI). The TLS handshake effectively happens directly between the client and the end server.

If you're writing a proxy server, all you need to do for allowing your clients to connect to HTTPS servers is read in the CONNECT request, make a connection from the proxy to the end server (given in the CONNECT request), send the client with a 200 OK reply and then forward everything that you read from the client to the server, and vice versa.

RFC 2616 treats CONNECT as a a way to establish a simple tunnel (which it is). There is more about it in RFC 2817, although the rest of RFC 2817 (upgrades to TLS within a non-proxy HTTP connection) is rarely used.

It looks like what you're trying to do is to have the connection between the client (C) and the proxy (P) over TLS. That's fine, but the client won't use CONNECT to connect to external web servers (unless it's a connection to an HTTPS server too).