RFC9213: Targeted HTTP Cache Control

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Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)                          S. Ludin
Request for Comments: 9213                                        Akamai
Category: Standards Track                                  M. Nottingham
ISSN: 2070-1721                                                   Fastly
                                                                   Y. Wu
                                                               June 2022

                      Targeted HTTP Cache Control


   This specification defines a convention for HTTP response header
   fields that allow cache directives to be targeted at specific caches
   or classes of caches.  It also defines one such header field, the
   CDN-Cache-Control response header field, which is targeted at content
   delivery network (CDN) caches.

Status of This Memo

   This is an Internet Standards Track document.

   This document is a product of the Internet Engineering Task Force
   (IETF).  It represents the consensus of the IETF community.  It has
   received public review and has been approved for publication by the
   Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG).  Further information on
   Internet Standards is available in Section 2 of RFC 7841.

   Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
   and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at

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   document authors.  All rights reserved.

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   in the Revised BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction
     1.1.  Notational Conventions
   2.  Targeted Cache-Control Header Fields
     2.1.  Syntax
     2.2.  Cache Behavior
     2.3.  Interaction with HTTP Freshness
     2.4.  Defining Targeted Fields
   3.  The CDN-Cache-Control Targeted Field
     3.1.  Examples
   4.  IANA Considerations
   5.  Security Considerations
   6.  References
     6.1.  Normative References
     6.2.  Informative References
   Authors' Addresses

1.  Introduction

   Modern deployments of HTTP often use multiple layers of caching.  For
   example, a website might use a cache on the origin server itself; it
   might deploy a caching layer in the same network as the origin
   server, it might use one or more CDNs that are distributed throughout
   the Internet, and it might benefit from browser caching as well.

   Because it is often desirable to control these different classes of
   caches separately, some means of targeting cache directives at them
   is necessary.  For example, if a publisher has a mechanism to
   invalidate the contents of a cache that it has a relationship with
   (such as a CDN cache), they might be more comfortable assigning a
   more generous caching policy to it while still wanting to restrict
   the behavior of other caches.

   The HTTP Cache-Control response header field (defined in Section 5.2
   of [HTTP-CACHING]) is widely used to direct caching behavior.
   However, it is relatively undifferentiated; while some cache
   directives (e.g., s-maxage) are targeted at a specific class of
   caches (for s-maxage, shared caches), targeting is not consistently
   available across all existing cache directives (e.g., stale-while-
   revalidate).  This is problematic especially as the number of caching
   extensions grows along with the number of potential targets.

   Some implementations have defined ad hoc control mechanisms to
   overcome this issue, but their interoperability is low.  Section 2
   defines a standard framework for targeted cache control using HTTP
   response headers, and Section 3 defines one such header: the CDN-
   Cache-Control response header field.

1.1.  Notational Conventions

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in
   BCP 14 [RFC2119] [RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all
   capitals, as shown here.

2.  Targeted Cache-Control Header Fields

   A Targeted Cache-Control Header Field (hereafter "targeted field") is
   an HTTP response header field that has the same semantics as the
   Cache-Control response header field ([HTTP-CACHING], Section 5.2).
   However, it has a distinct field name that indicates the target for
   its cache directives.

   For example:

   CDN-Cache-Control: max-age=60

   is a targeted field that applies to CDNs, as defined in Section 3.

2.1.  Syntax

   Targeted fields are Dictionary Structured Fields (Section 3.2 of
   [STRUCTURED-FIELDS]).  Each member of the Dictionary is an HTTP cache
   response directive (Section 5.2.2 of [HTTP-CACHING]) including
   extension response directives (as per Section 5.2.3 of
   [HTTP-CACHING]).  Note that while targeted fields often have the same
   syntax as Cache-Control fields, differences in error handling mean
   that using a Cache-Control parser rather than a Structured Fields
   parser can introduce interoperability issues.

   Because cache directives are not defined in terms of structured data
   types, it is necessary to map their values into the appropriate
   types.  Section 5.2 of [HTTP-CACHING] defines cache directive values
   to be either absent, a quoted-string, or a token.

   This means that cache directives that have no value will be mapped to
   a Boolean (Section 3.3.6 of [STRUCTURED-FIELDS]).  When the value is
   a quoted-string, it will be mapped to a String (Section 3.3.3 of
   [STRUCTURED-FIELDS]), and when it is a token, it will map to a Token
   (Section 3.3.4 of [STRUCTURED-FIELDS]), an Integer (Section 3.3.1 of
   [STRUCTURED-FIELDS]), or a Decimal (Section 3.3.2 of
   [STRUCTURED-FIELDS]), depending on the content of the value.

   For example, the max-age directive (Section of
   [HTTP-CACHING]) has an integer value; no-store (Section of
   [HTTP-CACHING]) always has a Boolean true value, and no-cache
   (Section of [HTTP-CACHING]) has a value that can be either
   Boolean true or a string containing a comma-delimited list of field

   Implementations MUST NOT generate values that violate these inferred
   constraints on the cache directive's value.  In particular, string
   values whose first character is not alphabetic or "*" MUST be
   generated as Strings so that they are not mistaken for other types.

   Implementations SHOULD NOT consume values that violate these inferred
   constraints.  For example, a consuming implementation that coerces a
   max-age with a decimal value into an integer would behave differently
   than other implementations, potentially causing interoperability

   Parameters received on cache directives are to be ignored, unless
   other handling is explicitly specified.

   If a targeted field in a given response is empty, or a parsing error
   is encountered, that field MUST be ignored by the cache (i.e., it
   behaves as if the field were not present, likely falling back to
   other cache-control mechanisms present).

2.2.  Cache Behavior

   A cache that implements this specification maintains a target list.
   A target list is an ordered list of the targeted field names that it
   uses for caching policy, with the order reflecting priority from most
   applicable to least.  The target list might be fixed, user
   configurable, or generated per request, depending upon the

   For example, a CDN cache might support both CDN-Cache-Control and a
   header specific to that CDN, ExampleCDN-Cache-Control, with the
   latter overriding the former.  Its target list would be:

     [ExampleCDN-Cache-Control, CDN-Cache-Control]

   When a cache that implements this specification receives a response
   with one or more of the header field names on its target list, the
   cache MUST select the first (in target-list order) field with a
   valid, non-empty value and use its value to determine the caching
   policy for the response, and it MUST ignore the Cache-Control and
   Expires header fields in that response, unless no valid, non-empty
   value is available from the listed header fields.

   Note that this occurs on a response-by-response basis; if no member
   of the cache's target list is present, valid, and non-empty, a cache
   falls back to other cache control mechanisms as required by HTTP

   Targeted fields that are not on a cache's target list MUST NOT change
   that cache's behavior and MUST be passed through.

   Caches that use a targeted field MUST implement the semantics of the
   following cache directives:

   *  max-age

   *  must-revalidate

   *  no-store

   *  no-cache

   *  private

   Furthermore, they SHOULD implement other cache directives (including
   extension cache directives) that they support in the Cache-Control
   response header field.

   The semantics and precedence of cache directives in a targeted field
   are the same as those in Cache-Control.  In particular, no-store and
   no-cache make max-age inoperative, and unrecognized extension
   directives are ignored.

2.3.  Interaction with HTTP Freshness

   HTTP caching has a single, end-to-end freshness model defined in
   Section 4.2 of [HTTP-CACHING].  When additional freshness mechanisms
   are only available to some caches along a request path (for example,
   using targeted fields), their interactions need to be carefully
   considered.  In particular, a targeted cache might have longer
   freshness lifetimes available to it than other caches, causing it to
   serve responses that appear to be prematurely (or even immediately)
   stale to those other caches, negatively impacting cache efficiency.

   For example, a response stored by a CDN cache might be served with
   the following headers:

   Age: 1800
   Cache-Control: max-age=600
   CDN-Cache-Control: max-age=3600

   From the CDN's perspective, this response is still fresh after being
   cached for 30 minutes, while from the standpoint of other caches,
   this response is already stale.  See [AGE-PENALTY] for more

   When the targeted cache has a strong coherence mechanism (e.g., the
   origin server has the ability to proactively invalidate cached
   responses), it is often desirable to mitigate these effects.  Some
   techniques seen in deployments include:

   *  Removing the Age header field

   *  Updating the Date header field value to the current time

   *  Updating the Expires header field value to the current time, plus
      any Cache-Control: max-age value

   This specification does not place any specific requirements on
   implementations to mitigate these effects, but definitions of
   targeted fields can do so.

2.4.  Defining Targeted Fields

   A targeted field for a particular class of cache can be defined by
   requesting registration in the "Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)
   Field Name Registry" (<https://www.iana.org/assignments/http-

   Registration requests can use this document as the specification
   document; in which case, the Comments field should clearly define the
   class of caches that the targeted field applies to.  Alternatively,
   if other documentation for the field has been created, it can be used
   as the specification document.

   By convention, targeted fields have the suffix "-Cache-Control",
   e.g., "ExampleCDN-Cache-Control".  However, this suffix MUST NOT be
   used on its own to identify targeted fields; it is only a convention.

3.  The CDN-Cache-Control Targeted Field

   The CDN-Cache-Control response header field is a targeted field
   (Section 2) that allows origin servers to control the behavior of CDN
   caches interposed between them and clients separately from other
   caches that might handle the response.

   It applies to caches that are part of a distributed network that
   operate on behalf of an origin server (commonly called a CDN).

   CDN caches that use CDN-Cache-Control will typically forward this
   header so that downstream CDN caches can use it as well.  However,
   they MAY remove it when this is undesirable (for example, when
   configured to do so because it is known not to be used downstream).

3.1.  Examples

   For example, the following header fields would instruct a CDN cache
   (i.e., a cache with a target list of [CDN-Cache-Control]) to consider
   the response fresh for 600 seconds, other shared caches to consider
   the response fresh for 120 seconds, and any remaining caches to
   consider the response fresh for 60 seconds:

   Cache-Control: max-age=60, s-maxage=120
   CDN-Cache-Control: max-age=600

   These header fields would instruct a CDN cache to consider the
   response fresh for 600 seconds, while all other caches would be
   prevented from storing it:

   CDN-Cache-Control: max-age=600
   Cache-Control: no-store

   Because CDN-Cache-Control is not present, this header field would
   prevent all caches from storing the response:

   Cache-Control: no-store

   Whereas these would prevent all caches except for CDN caches from
   storing the response:

   Cache-Control: no-store
   CDN-Cache-Control: none

   (Note that 'none' is not a registered cache directive; it is here to
   avoid sending a header field with an empty value, which would be

4.  IANA Considerations

   IANA has registered the following entry in the "Hypertext Transfer
   Protocol (HTTP) Field Name Registry" defined by [HTTP]:

   Field Name:  CDN-Cache-Control
   Status:  permanent
   Specification Document:  RFC 9213
   Comments:  Cache directives targeted at content delivery networks

5.  Security Considerations

   The security considerations of HTTP caching [HTTP-CACHING] apply.

   The ability to carry multiple caching policies on a response can
   result in confusion about how a response will be cached in different
   systems, potentially resulting in unintentional reuse of responses
   with sensitive information.  For this reason, care must be exercised.

6.  References

6.1.  Normative References

   [HTTP]     Fielding, R., Ed., Nottingham, M., Ed., and J. Reschke,
              Ed., "HTTP Semantics", STD 97, RFC 9110,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC9110, June 2022,

              Fielding, R., Ed., Nottingham, M., Ed., and J. Reschke,
              Ed., "HTTP Caching", STD 98, RFC 9111,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC9111, June 2022,

   [RFC2119]  Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
              Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997,

   [RFC8174]  Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC
              2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174,
              May 2017, <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8174>.

              Nottingham, M. and P-H. Kamp, "Structured Field Values for
              HTTP", RFC 8941, DOI 10.17487/RFC8941, February 2021,

6.2.  Informative References

              Cohen, E. and H. Kaplan, "The age penalty and its effect
              on cache performance", March 2001,

Authors' Addresses

   Stephen Ludin
   Email: sludin@ludin.org

   Mark Nottingham
   Email: mnot@mnot.net
   URI:   https://www.mnot.net/

   Yuchen Wu
   Email: me@yuchenwu.net