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HTTP Protocol: Headers vs. Body

As part of putting together a request to a Web Service, I'm perfectly willing to modify the headers in the request to carry some data rather than put that data in the body of the request. There is a risk here because some proxy servers will strip out any headers they don't recognize. However, in an SSL request, headers are encrypted and, as a result, not visible to proxy services. To ensure that my custom headers aren't stripped out I only use this technique where all requests are traveling over SSL.

My rule for deciding whether data should go into the header vs. the body is driven by the way the data is being used. If this is information that's independent of the request (that is, something used in a variety of requests) and is used to control the processing of the request, then I'm more likely to put the data in the request header. Security-related information is a good example.

But I also recognize that adding custom headers also reduces interoperability. I obviously can't include a custom header of my own when sending a request to someone else's service. Even when designing a request to be sent to my own service, I have to recognize that there are toolsets that make it difficult/impossible to alter headers (at least, I'm told that such toolsets exist). If I do create a header, I need to make it clear what will happen to clients that don't provide that header.

Posted by Peter Vogel on 04/16/2018 at 9:03 AM


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