Aiming for correctness with types

The Nature weekly journal of science was first published in 1869. And after one and a half century, it has finally completed one cycle of carcinization, by publishing an article about the Rust programming language.

It's a really good article.

What I liked about this article is that it didn't just talk about performance, or even just memory safety - it also talked about correctness.

Well, it also talked about diversity and inclusion, which I think is also extremely important, but it's not an intrinsic quality of the language, more of a state of affairs - which we cannot take for granted, as the nature of human dynamics is that they are... dynamic.

Which is not to say that the quality of the community around Rust, those who build, use, and teach Rust, does not affect the quality of the language itself. Quite the contrary. What I am saying, is that if we are not careful, a community can rapidly degrade, especially as a language gains wider adoption.

Right! It's not quite as simple as "one bad apple spoils the bunch", it's more about eventual moderator burnout.

I mean, if you just take a look at Re-

Uhhh moving on

...fine.

With all that said - I don't feel especially qualified to discuss that topic at length right now (possibly ever), which is why for today, I'll try to remain focused on the notion of correctness.

The challenges of Rust advocacy

Whenever the topic of Rust comes up, it's usually in comparison with some other language. And quite often (to the chagrin of many in the community), the conversation devolves into a series of arguments about why some piece of software ought to be written (or rewritten) in Rust.

This pattern is so common, it has become a meme - with its own acronym: RIIR, for "Rewrite It In Rust". If you put those words in a search engine you'll find no shortage of articles explaining why you should - or shouldn't - RIIR.

But apart from their frequency and length, there is something else that's extremely common about these arguments. The "do RIIR" side, despite their best efforts, is frequently perceived by the other side as being "superior" or "elitist".

This is made worse by articles in the style of "I tried to RIIR, and it didn't work out for me", which usually leads to one of several conclusions, some of which are: "the promises made by Rust were not upheld", or "the author went about this all wrong", neither of which are particularly good press for, well, Rust.

I've tried to pinpoint what exactly about Rust "evangelism" makes it seem so unpalatable to folks who are perfectly comfortable using the languages they've been using for years (sometimes decades), and I've come to an explanation I'm reasonably happy with.

It comes in the form of a collection of statements, all of which I believe are true simultaneously:

1) Programming in Rust requires you to think differently

This has several implications: first, trying to replicate patterns that are common in other languages is often bound to fail spectacularly. This makes the learning experience quite frustrating for some, and is in itself enough to explain why a lot of the "I tried to RIIR" articles end up the way they do.

To an "outsider" (someone who has never written Rust), this statement alone also already feels superior. If you've gone through the wonderful experience of getting a new manager who feels like they need to change everything slightly just to assert their position - this is what it can feel like.

That feeling tends to dissipate after persevering for a period of time. What once appeared as petty "calls to authority", changes for changes' sake, are eventually almost all revealed to be fundamental changes, that are necessary to make the whole system work.

And sometimes they're just current limitations of the language and/or its implementations. That's something the C++ crowd runs into a lot more.

Wait, implementations, plural? I thought Rust had no spec and there was only one compiler?

Arguably, rust-analyzer is a partial reimplementation of a lot of the language. Inside rustc itself, there are several concurrent implementations of the same components.

See for example Polonius, the next-generation borrow checker, the Miri interpreter, or the Cranelift codegen backend.

This statement is equally irritating to the functional programming crowd, who are already enamored with languages that requires them to think differently, sometimes much more differently, than "traditional" languages like, C, C++, Java, Python, Go, etc.

"Traditional" is put in scare quotes here because of course, functional programming languages are not particularly recent. I'm (mis)using it in the sense "that you would find a lot of job openings for in the past decade".

"No", say the Haskellers, understandably, "Rust is not a 'fundamental' departure from '''traditional''' imperative programming languages, in fact, look at it, and its filthy, filthy side effects".

To which I say: fair. But also: the novelty is in the compromise. If you can find a way to reconcile two fundamentally different but well-established methods, you've made something new, that solves a new category of problems, or that solves more easily an old category of problems - at any rate: it's worth looking into.

2) It is harder to write any code at all in Rust

Again, there are several ways to misconstrue this statement: I don't believe Rust is particularly harder to write, than, say, x86 assembly.

Or is it?

But it is, arguably, harder to write any code at all in Rust, than in Go, or JavaScript. You can take a perfectly fine JavaScript program, and struggle for hours to rewrite it in Rust, because the compiler requires you to care about more aspects of the problem than you had to before.

Which begs the question: why would anyone submit themselves to this?

That is a completely fair question. Because in this instance, the JavaScript program was "complete" before its Rust equivalent was, and they solved the same problem. Sure, the Rust program may be faster - but is that enough of a differentiator?

We could have shipped the JavaScript program earlier, acquired customers, and increased revenue. And we could've worried about "minor bugs" and "performance difficulties" later on.

Or so I'm being told.

And as Rust is beginning to see wider adoption, not only in almost all of the major software companies, but in a lot of the smaller ones as well, this is an argument that real actual people like you and me are going over several times a day, every day of the week, because we as an industry are not good with the whole work/life balance thingy.

3) It is easier to write "correct" code in Rust

This is where things get tricky.

Because "correct" is not an end goal. "Correct", much like chaos, is a ladder.

Unless you're embarking on a mission to the moon, or you're writing software for self-driving cars, or... okay there's actually quite a few applications for which you do need to be "correct" - but say, if you're working for a company that sells a "non-essential" customer product or service (and that's most of the industry), you only need to be correct enough.

Say you're writing a music recommendation system. The correctness requirements here are extremely lax. You could totally get away with just pulling from the "most listened" titles dataset, and vaguely bucketing things by year or genres. Not that anyone would actually do that. Wink wink.

Point is: if 50% of your recommendations are only tangentially related to your customer's interests, it probably won't hurt the bottom line. And anyway: are they paying customers? Or are they just freeloaders making it up by getting some ads shoved into their ears now and then? Maybe you could only run the real recommendation system for those premium accounts.

But I digress.

There's a lot of software applications for which being correct is not all that important. Unless customers - paying customers - start to notice, and straight up threaten to leave you for a competitor if you don't fix the incorrectness, presto.

Let's talk about uptime: the percentage of the time that a service is "available", or "healthy". No one is foolish enough to promise 100% uptime. We barely have enough control over matter to achieve 99.99% uptime - and we do so by building redundant systems. If a node won't handle requests properly, just fall back to another node, or take it out of rotation, set up more load balancers, filter out the word "latency" on Slack, do something, anything!

And if you really can't achieve the promised uptime, well, you still have a way out: you can give the customer their money back, sort of, in the form of a "credit", which effectively makes their next bill a little lighter.

But does that mean you shouldn't care, or worry about correctness? No!

Today: Rhetorical questions 101, with Amos.

Every bit of incorrectness you ship has a cost. The most direct cost is giving customers "credits" - you're literally taking a chunk out of your own profits, as penance for failing to meet your own goals.

But fixing lots of "minor bugs" has an engineering cost, too. Someone has to go through the backlog, or the ice box, or wherever kids store their plums tickets nowadays, and actually ship the fix. And hope that their fix does not introduce a regression.

So you write tests. And then some more tests. And some of them are flaky, because of the law of large numbers, or something like that. So you allow them to fail. And then you find bugs in your tests, so you fix those bugs too, but not after you've "fixed" your code so it passes the tests, introducing an error because it turns out the call was coming from inside the house test was wrong all along.

And while your engineers are busy doing all this, they're not working on new features. Features that would be much faster to build originally in Go, or JavaScript, or so I'm told. And so your company falls behind, as others continue to innovate, which could eventually cost you your entire marketshare.

This is not a work of fiction - it's something that has happened in all industries, for as long as we've had industries.

Of course, the reverse nightmare scenario is also real - we all know that one colleague who, by our own estimation, spends "forever" trying to get something juuuuuuuuust right. This can also cause a company to fall behind while others continue innovating and capturing the market.

So, as with a lot of things - it's a balance.

Tonight, at 11: Platitudes, with Amos.

And if you've managed to not let yourself be distracted by the meanderings the introduction to this article has taken, you might remember that I mentioned Rust was a compromise, and so you may well have an inkling where it is that I'm trying to go with all this.

And you would be correct.

Ha!

Implicit contracts are everywhere

The world is a messy, messy place. Depending on how your brain apprehends your surroundings, and your current mental state, the world can range from "okay, I guess" to deeply upsetting.

Social interactions are a perfect way to familiarize ourselves with the notion of "implicit contracts".

It is understood, among good company, that there are certain things one ought not to discuss out loud. Or not with people you don't know well enough. Or not with your family. Or not at all.

This is part of a "social contract", that I honestly don't remember signing, which is kinda bullshit if you want my opinion, but regardless - a large number of scholars agree that it is, indeed, "a thing", so let's just go with it.

Kids in particular, tend to be frustrated by the vagueness of this social contract. Kids, and Nathan Fielder, whose videos rarely fail to make me laugh, but make others extremely uncomfortable, due to the sheer awkwardness of not behaving like others expect you to, even in fairly innocent situations.

The thing about this "social contract", apart from being poorly defined and ever-evolving, is that there exists very little in the way of enforcing it.

Ah, to be an edgy teenager again, discovering - for the first time in history, no doubt - the idea that "if we all stop going to school, there is nothing they can do about it".

I'm sure that went well.

Well, it wasn't as big a walkout as I had envisioned, but eventually the school administration and I agreed that it was probably best if I skipped certain classes for a while, so it all worked out in the end.

I'm not sure you learned the right lesson from that, but discussing incentives is probably best left for another day.

Anyway - the same "implicit contracts" apply to the tech world.

For instance, it is generally agreed-upon that hammering a server with hundreds of thousands of requests in a short period of time is "rude". But do it over it a period of ten years, and you're a "valued customer".

Confusing, I know.

And that's not all. If a service listens for TCP connections on port 80, it's generally expected to speak HTTP. That one is actually codified in an RFC, but again, there's nothing preventing you from, you know, just not.

The rule is not enforced. Thankfully, there is no IETF police.

And as you gain customers, and your product is used by a wider variety of folks, you tend to encounter more and more folks that "just" completely disregard your assumptions.

Let's take one of my favorite examples and look at the SSH protocol: when a client connects to an SSH server, one of the first thing that happens is that the server sends its version to the client.

Why that part of the protocol exists, it's hard to say. Presumably, the authors of SSH were eager to give potential attackers an easier way to test for vulnerabilities simply by parsing the version string, as is the case of the Server HTTP header.

Or maybe they didn't think of it that way. It's impossible to tell.

But wait, I lied! Before the servers sends its version, it may send "other lines of data".

Now, normally-behaved SSH servers usually send lines from a text file, and we call this their "banner message". Or it can be automatically generated, and then we call this a MOTD (for Message Of The Day).

But if you think outside the box... and you want to prevent attackers from getting inside the box...

you can send...

"lines of data"...

very slowly...

forever.

This is called an SSH Tarpit, and I think it's equal parts hilarious and brilliant.

It's also a clear violation of the implicit contract between an SSH client and an SSH server. It's not the only violation that can occur. For example, the SSH server could just take a very long time to accept the connection (ie. to complete the TCP handshake).

But this violation is so common, it has become a meme caused all clients to protect against it by default. Network applications tend to set "timeouts" on operations - in this case, the "connect timeout" would expire, and the client would simply give up, which would free it up to try again.

If the SSH server simply sent nothing, a "read timeout" might expire, and again, the client would give up on this connection and try again.

In all four of the RFCs in which the SSH protocol is documented, the word "timeout" is only mentioned once, to recommend that servers have an authentication timeout. There's no mention of connection timeouts, a testament to the fact that it's just "one of these things you should know about if you program networked applications".

Unfortunately, not all of "those things" are obvious, or even particularly well-known.

What did we learn?

If I say "you can't talk to me like that", well, there's nothing preventing you from continuing to talk to me like that. It's rude, but not impossible.

Software is rude all the time.

Let's talk about HTTP headers

Imagine we have a server that speaks exclusively HTTP/1.1.

It serves a variety of domains, such as internal.example.org, ducks.example.org, and giraffes.example.org.

The problem? You really only want to serve ducks.example.org and giraffes.example.org to everyone, while internal.example.org should only be accessible from the company VPN.

HTTP/1.1 seems like a pretty simple protocol...

...until you need to actually implement it correctly, anyway - at that point, all bets are off.

...so we may be tempted to just add a proxy that perform access control, by parsing HTTP requests.

I'm sure we can cobble something together...

JavaScript code
// This code is full of sins - but it serves its purpose. const net = require("net"); async function main() { let server = new net.Server({}, onConnection); server.on("error", (err) => { throw err; }); let port = 8124; server.listen(port, () => { console.log(`Now listening on port ${port}`); }); } function onConnection(sock) { (async () => { // Read a full HTTP/1.1 request let buf = ""; while (true) { await readable(sock); buf += sock.read(); if (buf.endsWith("\r\n\r\n")) { break; } } buf = buf.trim(); console.log(`==== incoming HTTP request ====`); console.log(buf); console.log(`===============================`); console.log(`(came from ${JSON.stringify(sock.address())})`); })().catch((err) => { throw err; }); } async function readable(r) { return new Promise((resolve, reject) => { r.once("readable", resolve); r.once("error", reject); r.once("close", reject); }); } main().catch((err) => { throw err; });

And run it:

Shell session
$ node index.js Now listening on port 8124

And then, from another shell:

Shell session
$ domain="internal.example.org"; curl --connect-to "${domain}:80:localhost:8124" "http://${domain}"
Cool bear's hot tip

This works in bash or zsh - it sets a variable named domain to the value internal.example.org, then instructs curl to not perform a DNS lookup, but instead connect directly to localhost:8124, which is the address our node.js server listens on.

And our first shell session would show:

Shell session
$ node index.js Now listening on port 8124 ==== incoming HTTP request ==== GET / HTTP/1.1 Host: internal.example.org User-Agent: curl/7.73.0 Accept: */* =============================== (came from {"address":"::ffff:127.0.0.1","family":"IPv6","port":8124})

What do we observe here?

The first line has the HTTP method, the path, and the protocol. All subsequent lines (until CRLFCRLF) are for headers. If we want to filter by host, we're going to want to parse those.

The result of socket.address() is sort of unexpected for me - I wasn't planning on supporting IPv6, so let's try and disable that:

JavaScript code
// new: we specify a hostname of `0.0.0.0` (an IPv4 address) server.listen(port, "0.0.0.0", () => { console.log(`Now listening on port ${port}`); });
Shell session
node index.js Now listening on port 8124 ==== incoming HTTP request ==== GET / HTTP/1.1 Host: internal.example.org User-Agent: curl/7.73.0 Accept: */* =============================== (came from {"address":"127.0.0.1","family":"IPv4","port":8124})

Okay, so - for the purposes of our exercise, let's assume that only the following addresses can access the internal website:

So, we'll probably want a function that lets us know, given an IP address, whether it's allowed to access the internal website or not.

JavaScript code
function isAllowed(addr) { return addr.startsWith("127.0.0.") || addr.startsWith("2.58.12."); }

Then, we shall use it from a handleRequest function:

JavaScript code
async function handleRequest(sock, payload) { let { address } = sock.address(); let status, output; if (isAllowed(address)) { status = "200 OK"; output = "Access granted!"; } else { status = "403 Forbidden"; output = "Forbidden."; } console.log(`[${address}] ${status}`); sock.write(`HTTP/1.1 ${status}\r\n\r\n`); sock.write(`${output}\n`); sock.end(); }

And finally, change onConnection to use handleRequest:

JavaScript code
function onConnection(sock) { (async () => { // Read a full HTTP/1.1 request let buf = ""; while (true) { await readable(sock); buf += sock.read(); if (buf.endsWith("\r\n\r\n")) { break; } } buf = buf.trim(); await handleRequest(sock, buf); })().catch((err) => { throw err; }); }

And, as we say in French, "le tour est joué"!

If we make a request to localhost, here 127.0.0.1 with IPv4, we get a 200 OK:

Shell session
$ domain="internal.example.org"; curl -v --connect-to "${domain}:80:localhost:8124" "http://${domain}" * Connecting to hostname: localhost * Connecting to port: 8124 * Trying 127.0.0.1:8124... * Connected to localhost (127.0.0.1) port 8124 (#0) > GET / HTTP/1.1 > Host: internal.example.org > User-Agent: curl/7.73.0 > Accept: */* > * Mark bundle as not supporting multiuse < HTTP/1.1 200 OK * no chunk, no close, no size. Assume close to signal end < Access granted! * Closing connection 0

But if we make a request to our LAN IP (which is not in the 192.168.x here, because I happen to be running all this on WSL 2), we get a 403 Forbidden:

Shell session
$ domain="internal.example.org"; curl -v --connect-to "${domain}:80:172.31.194.107:8124" "http://${domain}" * Connecting to hostname: 172.31.194.107 * Connecting to port: 8124 * Trying 172.31.194.107:8124... * Connected to 172.31.194.107 (172.31.194.107) port 8124 (#0) > GET / HTTP/1.1 > Host: internal.example.org > User-Agent: curl/7.73.0 > Accept: */* > * Mark bundle as not supporting multiuse < HTTP/1.1 403 Forbidden * no chunk, no close, no size. Assume close to signal end < Forbidden. * Closing connection 0

For completeness, here are the server logs:

Shell session
$ node index.js Now listening on port 8124 [127.0.0.1] 200 OK [172.31.194.107] 403 Forbidden

Everything matches up. Wonderful.

Well, our program isn't quite complete yet - we always apply access control, even for public domains like ducks.example.org:

Shell session
$ domain="ducks.example.org"; curl -I --connect-to "${domain}:80:172.31.194.107:8124" "http://${domain}" HTTP/1.1 403 Forbidden

So, we need to actually parse the incoming HTTP request.

Let's whip up something real quick:

JavaScript code
function parseRequest(payload) { let req = { headers: {}, }; let lines = payload.split(/[\r]?\n/); let tokens = lines.shift().split(" "); req.method = tokens[0]; req.path = tokens[1]; req.protocol = tokens[2]; for (const line of lines) { let i = line.indexOf(":"); let name = line.substring(0, i); let value = line.substring(i + 1).trim(); req.headers[name] = value; } return req; }

And use it from handleRequest:

JavaScript code
async function handleRequest(sock, payload) { // new: let req = parseRequest(payload); console.log(JSON.stringify(req, null, 2)); // old: let { address } = sock.address(); let status, output; if (isAllowed(address)) { status = "200 OK"; output = "Access granted!"; } else { status = "403 Forbidden"; output = "Forbidden."; } console.log(`[${address}] ${status}`); sock.write(`HTTP/1.1 ${status}\r\n\r\n`); sock.write(`${output}\n`); sock.end(); }

Now our server logs are a lot more informative:

Shell session
$ node index.js Now listening on port 8124 { "headers": { "Host": "ducks.example.org", "User-Agent": "curl/7.73.0", "Accept": "*/*" }, "method": "HEAD", "path": "/", "protocol": "HTTP/1.1" } [172.31.194.107] 403 Forbidden

Let's implement the rest of the logic we set out to implement:

JavaScript code
function isRestricted(req) { return req.headers.Host === "internal.example.org"; }

We can now change the condition in handleRequest to:

JavaScript code
if (!isRestricted(req) || isAllowed(address)) { status = "200 OK"; output = "Access granted!"; } else { status = "403 Forbidden"; output = "Forbidden."; }

And everything behaves as expected. Allowlisted IPs get access to everything, including the internal site:

Shell session
$ for subdomain in ducks giraffes internal; do domain="${subdomain}.example.org"; echo $domain; curl -I --connect-to "${domain}:80:localhost:8124" "http://${domain}" ; done ducks.example.org HTTP/1.1 200 OK giraffes.example.org HTTP/1.1 200 OK internal.example.org HTTP/1.1 200 OK

Whereas other IP addresses get access only to the public sites:

Shell session
$ for subdomain in ducks giraffes internal; do domain="${subdomain}.example.org"; echo $domain; curl -I --connect-to "${domain}:80:172.31.194.107:8124" "http://${domain}" ; done ducks.example.org HTTP/1.1 200 OK giraffes.example.org HTTP/1.1 200 OK internal.example.org HTTP/1.1 403 Forbidden

We're done! That was easy.

Well, except for one part. Our proxy isn't actually proxying anything at all. For it to actually proxy anything, we need to... well, we need some server to proxy to.

I know, we'll write it in Go! Because in the real world, the origin server may be written by a completely different team, with different language preferences.

Go code
package main import ( "bufio" "fmt" "io" "log" "net" "strings" ) const hostPrefix = "host: " func main() { // This server is *not* meant to be exposed to the internet, so it only // binds to localhost, not `0.0.0.0`. addr := "localhost:8125" l, err := net.Listen("tcp4", addr) must(err) log.Printf("Now listening on %v", addr) handleConn: for { conn, err := l.Accept() must(err) ip := strings.Split(conn.RemoteAddr().String(), ":")[0] log.Printf("Connection from %v", ip) buf := bufio.NewReader(conn) for { lineBytes, _, err := buf.ReadLine() line := strings.ToLower(string(lineBytes)) log.Printf("%v", line) if strings.HasPrefix(line, hostPrefix) { host := strings.TrimPrefix(line, hostPrefix) switch host { case "ducks.example.org": reply(conn, "200 OK", "Have some happy ducks!") case "giraffes.example.org": reply(conn, "200 OK", "Here's a long neck") case "internal.example.org": reply(conn, "200 OK", "[CONFIDENTIAL] The secret ingredient is love") default: reply(conn, "404 Not Found", "No such domain is hosted on this server") } continue handleConn } must(err) } } } func reply(conn io.WriteCloser, status string, payload string) { fmt.Fprintf(conn, "HTTP/1.1 %s\r\n\r\n", status) fmt.Fprintf(conn, "%s\n", payload) conn.Close() } func must(err error) { if err != nil { log.Fatalf("%#v", err) } }
$ go run main.go 2020/12/06 00:49:32 Now listening on localhost:8125

Our origin server is completely unprotected - but then again, it's not exposed to the internet, so this is fine.

It works quite well, though!

Shell session
$ for subdomain in ducks giraffes internal; do domain="${subdomain}.example.org"; echo "\n${domain}"; curl "http://${domain}" --connect-to "${domain}:80:localhost:8125" ; done ducks.example.org Have some happy ducks! giraffes.example.org Here's a long neck internal.example.org [CONFIDENTIAL] The secret ingredient is love

For the curious, here's the output from our Go server:

Shell session
$ go run main.go 2020/12/06 00:51:54 Now listening on localhost:8125 2020/12/06 00:51:55 Connection from 127.0.0.1 2020/12/06 00:51:55 get / http/1.1 2020/12/06 00:51:55 host: ducks.example.org 2020/12/06 00:51:55 Connection from 127.0.0.1 2020/12/06 00:51:55 get / http/1.1 2020/12/06 00:51:55 host: giraffes.example.org 2020/12/06 00:51:55 Connection from 127.0.0.1 2020/12/06 00:51:55 get / http/1.1 2020/12/06 00:51:55 host: internal.example.org

So, the last missing piece of the puzzle is for the node.js "access control proxy" to forward the request to the origin - and to forward the response back to the client.

And here's one way we could do it:

JavaScript code
async function proxyRequest(sock, payload) { let originSock = await new Promise((resolve, reject) => { let sock = new net.Socket(); sock.on("error", reject); sock.connect(8125, "127.0.0.1", () => { resolve(sock); }); }); originSock.write(payload); originSock.end(); forward: while (true) { try { await readable(originSock); } catch (err) { break forward; } let buf = originSock.read(); if (buf) { sock.write(buf); } } sock.end(); }

Which would seamlessly integrate with our existing server code, albeit with the conditions flipped:

JavaScript code
async function handleRequest(sock, payload) { let req = parseRequest(payload); console.log(JSON.stringify(req, null, 2)); let { address } = sock.address(); if (isRestricted(req) && !isAllowed(address)) { let status = "403 Forbidden"; let output = "Forbidden."; console.log(`[${address}] ${status}`); sock.write(`HTTP/1.1 ${status}\r\n\r\n`); sock.write(`${output}\n`); sock.end(); return; } await proxyRequest(sock, payload); }

And with that, doing requests to localhost (ie. from 127.0.0.1) gives us access to everything from the origin:

Shell session
$ for subdomain in ducks giraffes internal; do domain="${subdomain}.example.org"; echo "\n${domain}"; curl --connect-to "${domain}:80:127.0.0.1:8124" "http://${domain}" ; done ducks.example.org Have some happy ducks! giraffes.example.org Here's a long neck internal.example.org [CONFIDENTIAL] The secret ingredient is love

And doing requests to the LAN IP address would not give us access to internal.example.org - just as we intended:

Shell session
$ for subdomain in ducks giraffes internal; do domain="${subdomain}.example.org"; echo "\n${domain}"; curl --connect-to "${domain}:80:172.31.194.107:8124" "http://${domain}" ; done ducks.example.org Have some happy ducks! giraffes.example.org Here's a long neck internal.example.org Forbidden.

And there you have it. Our server infrastructure is feature complete. It does serve all three sites, and in terms of access control, it even passes our black-box test, where we use an external HTTP client to make a request and only rely on the output.

Our solution however, has several flaws which are, as we're about to see, quite problematic.

HTTP is only as real as you want it to be

curl is a well-behaved citizen of the HTTP-verse.

By default, it sets the Host header to whatever was in the URL:

Shell session
$ curl -v http://172.31.207.114:8124 * Trying 172.31.207.114:8124... * Connected to 172.31.207.114 (172.31.207.114) port 8124 (#0) > GET / HTTP/1.1 > Host: 172.31.207.114:8124 > User-Agent: curl/7.73.0 > Accept: */* > * Mark bundle as not supporting multiuse < HTTP/1.1 404 Not Found * no chunk, no close, no size. Assume close to signal end < No such domain is hosted on this server * Closing connection 0

And if you use the -H (or --header) flag to specify the Host header, well, it replace it with that value:

Shell session
$ curl -v http://172.31.207.114:8124 -H "Host: ducks.example.org" * Trying 172.31.207.114:8124... * Connected to 172.31.207.114 (172.31.207.114) port 8124 (#0) > GET / HTTP/1.1 > Host: ducks.example.org > User-Agent: curl/7.73.0 > Accept: */* > * Mark bundle as not supporting multiuse < HTTP/1.1 200 OK * no chunk, no close, no size. Assume close to signal end < Have some happy ducks! * Closing connection 0

If we use a different casing for the Host header, it normalizes it:

Shell session
$ curl -v http://172.31.207.114:8124 -H "hoST: ducks.example.org" * Trying 172.31.207.114:8124... * Connected to 172.31.207.114 (172.31.207.114) port 8124 (#0) > GET / HTTP/1.1 > Host: ducks.example.org > User-Agent: curl/7.73.0 > Accept: */* > * Mark bundle as not supporting multiuse < HTTP/1.1 200 OK * no chunk, no close, no size. Assume close to signal end < Have some happy ducks! * Closing connection 0

And if we try to pass a second Host header (even with a different casing!), it protects us from ourselves, only setting the first one:

Shell session
$ curl -v http://172.31.207.114:8124 -H "hoST: ducks.example.org" -H "HOst: giraffes.example.org" * Trying 172.31.207.114:8124... * Connected to 172.31.207.114 (172.31.207.114) port 8124 (#0) > GET / HTTP/1.1 > Host: ducks.example.org > User-Agent: curl/7.73.0 > Accept: */* > * Mark bundle as not supporting multiuse < HTTP/1.1 200 OK * no chunk, no close, no size. Assume close to signal end < Have some happy ducks! * Closing connection 0

But curl is not the only way we can make HTTP requests.

Let's handcraft an HTTP request. In the evil-request.txt file, we'll put:

GET / HTTP/1.1 Host: ducks.example.org User-Agent: netcat/0.7.1

(The blank line at the end is important)

Of course I'm doing this from Linux, so it's only using \n as a line separator, and we want \r\n in HTTP, so, with a little help from sed, we can fix that:

Shell session
$ cat evil-request.txt | sed -z 's/\n/\r\n/g' | od -c 0000000 G E T / H T T P / 1 . 1 \r \n 0000020 H o s t : d u c k s . e x a m 0000040 p l e . o r g \r \n U s e r - A g 0000060 e n t : n e t c a t / 0 . 7 . 0000100 1 \r \n \r \n 0000105

Okay, seems good! Let's use netcat to speak TCP to our node.js access control service:

Shell session
$ cat evil-request.txt | sed -z 's/\n/\r\n/g' | nc 172.31.207.114 8124 HTTP/1.1 200 OK Have some happy ducks!

Awesome. Who needs curl when you've got netcat?

And who needs netcat when you've got bash??

Our request isn't really evil yet, though. Sure, recaptcha might look at it sideways, because of the unusual user agent.

We can make it a lot more evil... if we do this:

GET / HTTP/1.1 Host: internal.example.org Host: ducks.example.org User-Agent: netcat/0.7.1
Shell session
$ cat evil-request.txt | sed -z 's/\n/\r\n/g' | nc 172.31.207.114 8124 HTTP/1.1 200 OK [CONFIDENTIAL] The secret ingredient is love

Uh oh.

We're able to access the internal site from the outside! Our access control is not controlling any access at all.

But what's actually happening here?

Well, here's what the logs for our node.js service show:

Now listening on port 8124 { "headers": { "Host": "ducks.example.org", "User-Agent": "netcat/0.7.1" }, "method": "GET", "path": "HTTP/1.1" }

And here's what the logs for our Go service show:

2020/12/07 21:22:25 Now listening on localhost:8125 2020/12/07 21:22:26 Connection from 127.0.0.1 2020/12/07 21:22:26 get http/1.1 2020/12/07 21:22:26 host: internal.example.org

The crux of the problem seems to be that they don't agree what the Host should be.

The node.js service parses all headers, and stores them in a JS object, which for non-JS folks, is more or less a hashmap, except it's highly optimized when there's a small number of keys (at least in V8 - I'm not sure what happens elsewhere).

So when we parse this request:

GET / HTTP/1.1 Host: internal.example.org Host: ducks.example.org User-Agent: netcat/0.7.1

Our object first looks like this:

json
{ "Host": "internal.example.org" }

And on the next line, it turns into this: Host is overwritten:

json
{ "Host": "ducks.example.org" }

So, the node.js service thinks we're requesting ducks.example.org and says: door's open, come on in!

Our Go service, on the other hand, stops on the first Host: header line it finds:

Go code
for { lineBytes, _, err := buf.ReadLine() line := strings.ToLower(string(lineBytes)) log.Printf("%v", line) if strings.HasPrefix(line, hostPrefix) { host := strings.TrimPrefix(line, hostPrefix) // omitted: host handling goes here continue handleConn } must(err) }

So, the first Host line has internal.example.org, and that's what it serves, not performing any further checks, since that's not its job!

But we can make an even shorter evil request.

GET / HTTP/1.1 host: internal.example.org User-Agent: netcat/0.7.1

(Again, the final blank line is significant).

Shell session
$ cat evil-request.txt | sed -z 's/\n/\r\n/g' | nc 172.31.207.114 8124 HTTP/1.1 200 OK [CONFIDENTIAL] The secret ingredient is love

Right! Since the node.js service looks up the Host header in a case-sensitive way, by doing headers["Host"], it just gets undefined, because here the Host header is, in fact, lowercase.

...whereas the Go service converts all header lines to lowercase before it processes them:

Go code
for { lineBytes, _, err := buf.ReadLine() // 👇 line := strings.ToLower(string(lineBytes)) log.Printf("%v", line) // etc. }

Where have all the good http packages gone?

And this is a good place to preempt some criticism: some of you may have paid particularly close attention to the code before I showed its flaws, and to you, I say: well done!

Code review skills are important. And if you did, you may have seen this whole thing coming, before it unfolded. Double kudos.

More importantly, you may be thinking: Amos, that's silly. Nobody just parses HTTP 1.1 like that, straight from the TCP firehose.

To which I say: bwahahahah. You sweet, sweet summer child. Yes they do. And they do it in C.

It's quite awful.

But more to the point - both node.js and Go come with http packages, which I carefully avoided... until now.

We're going to switch to using them, and hopefully fix that terrible, no good security hole in the process. But here's the thing: I'm much less interested in fixing that particular bug, than I am in preventing that whole category of bugs in the first place.

That, to me, is the real prize. But we'll come back to that.

Let's start with Go. If we rewrite our origin server with Go, it might look a little something like this:

Go code
package main import ( "log" "net/http" ) func main() { server := http.Server{ Addr: "localhost:8125", Handler: http.HandlerFunc(func(rw http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) { switch r.Host { case "ducks.example.org": rw.Write([]byte("Have some happy ducks!\n")) case "giraffes.example.org": rw.Write([]byte("Here's a long neck\n")) case "internal.example.org": rw.Write([]byte("[CONFIDENTIAL] The secret ingredient is love\n")) default: rw.WriteHeader(404) rw.Write([]byte("No such domain is hosted on this server\n")) } }), } log.Printf("Will listen on %v", server.Addr) log.Fatalf("%+v", server.ListenAndServe()) } func must(err error) { if err != nil { log.Fatalf("%#v", err) } }

There's a lot of implicit behavior happening here. For example, if we look up the documentation for http.ResponseWriter.Write, we learn the following:

Write writes the data to the connection as part of an HTTP reply.

So far so good.

If WriteHeader has not yet been called, Write calls WriteHeader(http.StatusOK) before writing the data.

I guess that is the happy path.

If the Header does not contain a Content-Type line, Write adds a Content-Type set to the result of passing the initial 512 bytes of written data to DetectContentType.

That's... opinionated.

Let's take a quick look at DetectContentType:

Go code
// DetectContentType implements the algorithm described // at https://mimesniff.spec.whatwg.org/ to determine the // Content-Type of the given data. It considers at most the // first 512 bytes of data. DetectContentType always returns // a valid MIME type: if it cannot determine a more specific one, it // returns "application/octet-stream". func DetectContentType(data []byte) string { if len(data) > sniffLen { data = data[:sniffLen] } // Index of the first non-whitespace byte in data. firstNonWS := 0 for ; firstNonWS < len(data) && isWS(data[firstNonWS]); firstNonWS++ { } for _, sig := range sniffSignatures { if ct := sig.match(data, firstNonWS); ct != "" { return ct } } return "application/octet-stream" // fallback }

All the magic happens in the definition of sniffSignatures itself:

Go code
// Data matching the table in section 6. var sniffSignatures = []sniffSig{ htmlSig("<!DOCTYPE HTML"), htmlSig("<HTML"), htmlSig("<HEAD"), htmlSig("<SCRIPT"), htmlSig("<IFRAME"), htmlSig("<H1"), htmlSig("<DIV"), htmlSig("<FONT"), htmlSig("<TABLE"), htmlSig("<A"), htmlSig("<STYLE"), htmlSig("<TITLE"), htmlSig("<B"), htmlSig("<BODY"), htmlSig("<BR"), htmlSig("<P"), htmlSig("<!--"), &maskedSig{ mask: []byte("\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF"), pat: []byte("<?xml"), skipWS: true, ct: "text/xml; charset=utf-8"}, &exactSig{[]byte("%PDF-"), "application/pdf"}, &exactSig{[]byte("%!PS-Adobe-"), "application/postscript"}, // UTF BOMs. &maskedSig{ mask: []byte("\xFF\xFF\x00\x00"), pat: []byte("\xFE\xFF\x00\x00"), ct: "text/plain; charset=utf-16be", }, &maskedSig{ mask: []byte("\xFF\xFF\x00\x00"), pat: []byte("\xFF\xFE\x00\x00"), ct: "text/plain; charset=utf-16le", }, &maskedSig{ mask: []byte("\xFF\xFF\xFF\x00"), pat: []byte("\xEF\xBB\xBF\x00"), ct: "text/plain; charset=utf-8", }, // Image types // For posterity, we originally returned "image/vnd.microsoft.icon" from // https://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-ietf-websec-mime-sniff-03#section-7 // https://codereview.appspot.com/4746042 // but that has since been replaced with "image/x-icon" in Section 6.2 // of https://mimesniff.spec.whatwg.org/#matching-an-image-type-pattern &exactSig{[]byte("\x00\x00\x01\x00"), "image/x-icon"}, &exactSig{[]byte("\x00\x00\x02\x00"), "image/x-icon"}, &exactSig{[]byte("BM"), "image/bmp"}, &exactSig{[]byte("GIF87a"), "image/gif"}, &exactSig{[]byte("GIF89a"), "image/gif"}, &maskedSig{ mask: []byte("\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF\x00\x00\x00\x00\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF"), pat: []byte("RIFF\x00\x00\x00\x00WEBPVP"), ct: "image/webp", }, &exactSig{[]byte("\x89PNG\x0D\x0A\x1A\x0A"), "image/png"}, &exactSig{[]byte("\xFF\xD8\xFF"), "image/jpeg"}, // Audio and Video types // Enforce the pattern match ordering as prescribed in // https://mimesniff.spec.whatwg.org/#matching-an-audio-or-video-type-pattern &maskedSig{ mask: []byte("\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF"), pat: []byte(".snd"), ct: "audio/basic", }, &maskedSig{ mask: []byte("\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF\x00\x00\x00\x00\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF"), pat: []byte("FORM\x00\x00\x00\x00AIFF"), ct: "audio/aiff", }, &maskedSig{ mask: []byte("\xFF\xFF\xFF"), pat: []byte("ID3"), ct: "audio/mpeg", }, &maskedSig{ mask: []byte("\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF"), pat: []byte("OggS\x00"), ct: "application/ogg", }, &maskedSig{ mask: []byte("\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF"), pat: []byte("MThd\x00\x00\x00\x06"), ct: "audio/midi", }, &maskedSig{ mask: []byte("\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF\x00\x00\x00\x00\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF"), pat: []byte("RIFF\x00\x00\x00\x00AVI "), ct: "video/avi", }, &maskedSig{ mask: []byte("\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF\x00\x00\x00\x00\xFF\xFF\xFF\xFF"), pat: []byte("RIFF\x00\x00\x00\x00WAVE"), ct: "audio/wave", }, // 6.2.0.2. video/mp4 mp4Sig{}, // 6.2.0.3. video/webm &exactSig{[]byte("\x1A\x45\xDF\xA3"), "video/webm"}, // Font types &maskedSig{ // 34 NULL bytes followed by the string "LP" pat: []byte("\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00LP"), // 34 NULL bytes followed by \xF\xF mask: []byte("\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\xFF\xFF"), ct: "application/vnd.ms-fontobject", }, &exactSig{[]byte("\x00\x01\x00\x00"), "font/ttf"}, &exactSig{[]byte("OTTO"), "font/otf"}, &exactSig{[]byte("ttcf"), "font/collection"}, &exactSig{[]byte("wOFF"), "font/woff"}, &exactSig{[]byte("wOF2"), "font/woff2"}, // Archive types &exactSig{[]byte("\x1F\x8B\x08"), "application/x-gzip"}, &exactSig{[]byte("PK\x03\x04"), "application/zip"}, // RAR's signatures are incorrectly defined by the MIME spec as per // https://github.com/whatwg/mimesniff/issues/63 // However, RAR Labs correctly defines it at: // https://www.rarlab.com/technote.htm#rarsign // so we use the definition from RAR Labs. // TODO: do whatever the spec ends up doing. &exactSig{[]byte("Rar!\x1A\x07\x00"), "application/x-rar-compressed"}, // RAR v1.5-v4.0 &exactSig{[]byte("Rar!\x1A\x07\x01\x00"), "application/x-rar-compressed"}, // RAR v5+ &exactSig{[]byte("\x00\x61\x73\x6D"), "application/wasm"}, textSig{}, // should be last }

Well. At least it's standard!

Except if we look at the standard, we learn what it's for:

The HTTP Content-Type header field is intended to indicate the MIME type of an HTTP response. However, many HTTP servers supply a Content-Type header field value that does not match the actual contents of the response. Historically, web browsers have tolerated these servers by examining the content of HTTP responses in addition to the Content-Type header field in order to determine the effective MIME type of the response.

Without a clear specification for how to "sniff" the MIME type, each user agent has been forced to reverse-engineer the algorithms of other user agents in order to maintain interoperability. Inevitably, these efforts have not been entirely successful, resulting in divergent behaviors among user agents. In some cases, these divergent behaviors have had security implications, as a user agent could interpret an HTTP response as a different MIME type than the server intended.

These security issues are most severe when an "honest" server allows potentially malicious users to upload their own files and then serves the contents of those files with a low-privilege MIME type. For example, if a server believes that the client will treat a contributed file as an image (and thus treat it as benign), but a user agent believes the content to be HTML (and thus privileged to execute any scripts contained therein), an attacker might be able to steal the user's authentication credentials and mount other cross-site scripting attacks. (Malicious servers, of course, can specify an arbitrary MIME type in the Content-Type header field.)

This document describes a content sniffing algorithm that carefully balances the compatibility needs of user agent with the security constraints imposed by existing web content. The algorithm originated from research conducted by Adam Barth, Juan Caballero, and Dawn Song, based on content sniffing algorithms present in popular user agents, an extensive database of existing web content, and metrics collected from implementations deployed to a sizable number of users.

A surprisingly readable introduction, for a standard. My understanding is that this is a standard for user agents to follow, ie., HTTP clients. Why is an HTTP server implementing this?

Well, because Go is opinionated, of course! This saves us one entire line of code! Conciseness, yay! Mr Graham would be so proud.

Unfortunately, this means that, much like everything in Go, simple cases "usually work", until they don't anymore, and then you better strap in because you're in for a wild ride.

What if you need to support a mime type that's not in sniffSignatures? Is that system extensible? Of course not!

sniffSignatures is private ("unexported", to be technical), so you can't add anything to it. It's also a global, so it wouldn't be wise to, anyway.

In that case, you should probably have your own mechanism to tag assets with their proper Content-Type, and set it explicitly, and at this point, you're paying for the whole "automatic buffering" for no added benefit.

It's worth noting that the detection itself is skipped in that case.

That's not the last bit of implicitness going on. The last paragraph for http.ResponseWriter.Write reads:

Additionally, if the total size of all written data is under a few KB and there are no Flush calls, the Content-Length header is added automatically.

If we read between the lines, that means an http.ResponseWriter has an internal buffer, of "some size that's less than a few kilobytes", which it uses to sniff the content-type.

Well - actually that's not true. An http.ResponseWriter does not have any internal buffer, because it's an interface! Only the implementation given to you by the http package has a buffer. One could totally implement http.ResponseWriter for another type that has completely different semantics, and then the comments would be completely wrong.

Unless you decide the interface's comments are part of the interface itself, and then you have, you guessed it - an implicit contract.

Which nothing enforces.

And then we find ourselves in the interesting position where this code is unsafe:

Go code
func doSomething(rw http.ResponseWriter) { // 🙅‍♀️ woops, we're casting to a completely different type writeStuff(rw) } func writeStuff(w io.Writer) { w.Write([]byte("stuff")) }

The comments for the Write method of io.Write do not mention any content-type sniffing, buffering, or implicit header-writing:

Writer is the interface that wraps the basic Write method.

Write writes len(p) bytes from p to the underlying data stream. It returns the number of bytes written from p (0 <= n <= len(p)) and any error encountered that caused the write to stop early. Write must return a non-nil error if it returns n < len(p). Write must not modify the slice data, even temporarily.

Implementations must not retain p.

But hey, whatever. It works most of the time. And indeed if we do try the new version of our origin server, it appears to work fine:

Shell session
$ for subdomain in ducks giraffes internal; do domain="${subdomain}.example.org"; echo "\n${domain}"; curl --connect-to "${domain}:80:localhost:8125" "http://${domain}" ; done ducks.example.org Have some happy ducks! giraffes.example.org Here's a long neck internal.example.org [CONFIDENTIAL] The secret ingredient is love

What are we V8ing for? Onwards!

Now onto node.js.

It too, has an http package. Heck, it even has an https package! And an http2 package! Which makes it rather annoying to support all of these! But not to worry - there's numerous takes on this available today from your local npm retailer.

Instead of creating a net.Server, we now create an http.Server:

JavaScript code
const http = require("http"); async function main() { let server = new http.Server({}); server.on("request", (req, res) => { handleRequest(req, res).catch((err) => { throw err; }); }); server.on("error", (err) => { throw err; }); let port = 8124; server.listen(port, "0.0.0.0", () => { console.log(`Now listening on port ${port}`); }); }

handleRequest now uses fields on the objects that the http package parsed for us:

JavaScript code
async function handleRequest(req, res) { console.log( `[${req.socket.address().address}] ${JSON.stringify(req.headers, null, 2)}` ); if (isRestricted(req) && !isAllowed(req.socket.address())) { res.statusCode = 403; res.end("Forbidden.\n"); return; } await proxyRequest(req, res); }

The isAllowed and isRestricted methods are just as before:

JavaScript code
function isAllowed(addr) { return addr.startsWith("127.0.0.") || addr.startsWith("2.58.12."); } function isRestricted(req) { return req.headers.Host === "internal.example.org"; }

And finally, proxyRequest does a bunch of field-copying and piping:

JavaScript code
async function proxyRequest(req, res) { let originReq = new http.ClientRequest(`http://127.00.1:8125${req.url}`); // how convenient! originReq.headers = req.headers; req.pipe(originReq); originReq.on("response", (originRes) => { res.statusCode = originRes.statusCode; res.statusMessage = originRes.statusMessage; res.headers = originRes.headers; originRes.pipe(res); }); }

Let's check that our proxy still works. The response from upstream (the Go service) was:

Shell session
$ curl -v http://ducks.example.org --connect-to ducks.example.org:80:localhost:8125 * Connecting to hostname: localhost * Connecting to port: 8125 * Trying 127.0.0.1:8125... * Connected to localhost (127.0.0.1) port 8125 (#0) > GET / HTTP/1.1 > Host: ducks.example.org > User-Agent: curl/7.73.0 > Accept: */* > * Mark bundle as not supporting multiuse < HTTP/1.1 200 OK < Date: Tue, 08 Dec 2020 14:31:47 GMT < Content-Length: 23 < Content-Type: text/plain; charset=utf-8 < Have some happy ducks! * Connection #0 to host localhost left intact

And the response from our node.js service is:

Shell session
$ curl -v http://ducks.example.org --connect-to ducks.example.org:80:localhost:8124 * Connecting to hostname: localhost * Connecting to port: 8124 * Trying 127.0.0.1:8124... * Connected to localhost (127.0.0.1) port 8124 (#0) > GET / HTTP/1.1 > Host: ducks.example.org > User-Agent: curl/7.73.0 > Accept: */* > * Mark bundle as not supporting multiuse < HTTP/1.1 404 Not Found < Date: Tue, 08 Dec 2020 14:50:48 GMT < Connection: keep-alive < Keep-Alive: timeout=5 < Transfer-Encoding: chunked < No such domain is hosted on this server * Connection #0 to host localhost left intact

Well... it's getting a 404. But that's not all.

Our upstream service is making use of all the implicitness we talked about. Even though we never specify it, our response has a Content-Type, and a Content-Length:

< Content-Length: 23 < Content-Type: text/plain; charset=utf-8

Yet our node.js service replies does not set a Content-Length. Instead it uses chunked transfer encoding.

Let's look at the raw (as raw as curl will let us) answer from node.js:

Shell session
$ curl --raw -i http://ducks.example.org --connect-to ducks.example.org:80:localhost:8124 HTTP/1.1 404 Not Found Date: Tue, 08 Dec 2020 14:54:50 GMT Connection: keep-alive Keep-Alive: timeout=5 Transfer-Encoding: chunked 28 No such domain is hosted on this server 0

Sure enough, those are chunks. One 28-byte chunk, and a "terminating" 0-byte chunk. This is peculiar: our upstream response has a Content-Length, so there's no need for chunking.

Maybe in proxyRequest?

JavaScript code
let originReq = new http.ClientRequest(`http://127.00.1:8125${req.url}`);

This is correct. req.url is a relative URL, it needs to be concatenated to a "base" URL, which...

Hold on a minute... 127.00.1?

Whoops. I actually did write that. And it actually did work.

Oh whoa, RFC 3779 talks about that - it's an "abbreviated prefix".

So 127.1 should work?

Shell session
$ ping 127.1 PING 127.1 (127.0.0.1) 56(84) bytes of data. 64 bytes from 127.0.0.1: icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=0.018 ms 64 bytes from 127.0.0.1: icmp_seq=2 ttl=64 time=0.022 ms

Whoa.

How nice! I guess we all learned something today.

Let's fully embrace the typo. So this line, now two bytes shorter:

JavaScript code
let originReq = new http.ClientRequest(`http://127.1:8125${req.url}`);

...seems okay.

What about the next line?

JavaScript code
originReq.headers = req.headers;

I don't know, seems okay.

Is it? It's true that we do the reverse a couple lines down:

JavaScript code
originReq.on("response", (originRes) => { res.statusCode = originRes.statusCode; res.statusMessage = originRes.statusMessage; // 👇 here res.headers = originRes.headers; originRes.pipe(res); });

...and there it seems to work just fine.

But maybe that's where things go wrong? What is the type of IncomingMessage.headers anyway?

The.. type? In JS?

Ah, you know what I mean - whatever's on nodejs.org/docs.

Let's take a look:

message.headers

Added in: v0.1.5

The request/response headers object.

Key-value pairs of header names and values. Header names are lower-cased.

JavaScript code
// Prints something like: // // { 'user-agent': 'curl/7.22.0', // host: '127.0.0.1:8000', // accept: '*/*' } console.log(request.headers);

Looks like a regular object to me.

Does it say what happens if you specify some headers multiple times?

As a matter of fact, it does:

Duplicates in raw headers are handled in the following ways, depending on the header name:

  • Duplicates of ageauthorizationcontent-lengthcontent-typeetagexpiresfromhostif-modified-sinceif-unmodified-sincelast-modifiedlocationmax-forwardsproxy-authorizationrefererretry-afterserver, or user-agent are discarded.
  • set-cookie is always an array. Duplicates are added to the array.
  • For duplicate cookie headers, the values are joined together with '; '.
  • For all other headers, the values are joined together with ', '.

Whew. That's not a regular object at all.

It does seem to do a fair amount of transformation.

Note that this logic would clarify how our first "evil request" should be handled. Only the first Host header counts, the other one is discarded.

Just out of curiosity, what's the type of ClientRequest.headers?

Well, let's see... ah.

What?

There's no ClientRequest.headers field.

There's none? Well how come we can assign to it?

Well bear, we can assign to it because this is JavaScript, and "fields" on "objects" are a social construct. The only truth is hashmap (or hash table, or dictionary, or associative array, or whatever you want to call it).

TypeScript could save us from that one, and that's why I swear by it.

So, let's take a look at how we're actually supposed to set headers.

The header is still mutable using the setHeader(name, value), getHeader(name), removeHeader(name)

Interesting! So we have to iterate through all the headers from our incoming request, and set them one by one on the outgoing request.

Something like that:

JavaScript code
for (const k of Object.keys(req.headers)) { originReq.setHeader(k, req.headers[k]); }

With that change, things appear to work:

JavaScript code
$ curl --raw -i http://ducks.example.org --connect-to ducks.example.org:80:localhost:8124 HTTP/1.1 200 OK Date: Tue, 08 Dec 2020 15:18:06 GMT Connection: keep-alive Keep-Alive: timeout=5 Transfer-Encoding: chunked 17 Have some happy ducks! 0

Unfortunately, it's still using transfer-encoding: chunked.

Also, what about multiple headers?

How do you mean?

Sure, it's not meaningful to have more than one Host, unless you're trying some funny business. But for some other headers, it makes perfect sense.

Try sending multiple set-cookie for example?

Alrighty, let's make a request with two Set-Cookie headers - which is how you set multiple cookies. It can't be concatenated with ;, or ,, because those both already have meanings in Set-Cookie header values.

Shell session
$ curl --raw -i http://ducks.example.org --connect-to ducks.example.org:80:localhost:8124 -H "Set-Cookie: one=1" -H "Set-Cookie: two=2" HTTP/1.1 200 OK Date: Tue, 08 Dec 2020 15:22:31 GMT Connection: keep-alive Keep-Alive: timeout=5 Transfer-Encoding: chunked 17 Have some happy ducks! 0

Here's the log output from the node.js service:

Shell session
[127.0.0.1] { "host": "ducks.example.org", "user-agent": "curl/7.73.0", "accept": "*/*", "set-cookie": [ "one=1", "two=2" ] }

Innnnteresting. It's an array?

It's an array! Remember from the docs:

set-cookie is always an array. Duplicates are added to the array.

And that works with ClientRequest.setHeader?

Well, let's take a look:

request.setHeader(name, value)

Added in: v1.6.0

Sets a single header value for headers object. If this header already exists in the to-be-sent headers, its value will be replaced. Use an array of strings here to send multiple headers with the same name. Non-string values will be stored without modification. Therefore, request.getHeader() may return non-string values. However, the non-string values will be converted to strings for network transmission.

JavaScript code
request.setHeader('Content-Type', 'application/json');

or

JavaScript code
request.setHeader('Cookie', ['type=ninja', 'language=javascript']);

What a sweet, sweet bag of semantics.

The method sets "a single header value", unless you pass a non-string, in which case it can be multiple values.

Non-string values are "converted to strings for network transmission", except for set-cookie, which is converted to multiple header lines - if we replace our Go service with netcat, this time in -l (listen) mode:

Shell session
$ nc -vvv -l localhost -p 8125 Listening on any address 8125 Connection from 127.0.0.1:46986 GET / HTTP/1.1 host: ducks.example.org user-agent: curl/7.73.0 accept: */* set-cookie: one=1 set-cookie: two=2 Connection: close

And just to finish with the node.js side, turns out this bit of code was incorrect as well, and was causing the chunking:

JavaScript code
originReq.on("response", (originRes) => { res.statusCode = originRes.statusCode; res.statusMessage = originRes.statusMessage; // this bit right here: res.headers = originRes.headers; originRes.pipe(res); });

That's right! An http.ServerResponse doesn't have a headers field either!

It has: flushHeaders(), getHeader(name), getHeaderNames(), getHeaders(), hasHeader(name), removeHeader(name), setHeader(name, value), and of course, writeHead(statusCode[, statusMessage][, headers]), all of which have something to do with headers.

What we probably want here is setHeader(name, value). Or do we? Let's see... if there's multiple values for the same header name, we get an array... wait, that's only for set-cookie. What about the other ones?

Oh they get concatenated, with either ; or , . Okay. And how does setHeader work? Let's read the docs:

response.setHeader(name, value)

Added in: v0.4.0

Sets a single header value for implicit headers. If this header already exists in the to-be-sent headers, its value will be replaced. Use an array of strings here to send multiple headers with the same name. Non-string values will be stored without modification. Therefore, response.getHeader() may return non-string values. However, the non-string values will be converted to strings for network transmission.

JavaScript code
response.setHeader('Content-Type', 'text/html');

or

JavaScript code
response.setHeader('Set-Cookie', ['type=ninja', 'language=javascript']);

I'm getting déjà vu.

But wait, there's more!

Attempting to set a header field name or value that contains invalid characters will result in a TypeError being thrown.

That's defensible.

It goes on!

When headers have been set with response.setHeader(), they will be merged with any headers passed to response.writeHead(), with the headers passed to response.writeHead() given precedence.

JavaScript code
// Returns content-type = text/plain const server = http.createServer((req, res) => { res.setHeader('Content-Type', 'text/html'); res.setHeader('X-Foo', 'bar'); res.writeHead(200, { 'Content-Type': 'text/plain' }); res.end('ok'); });

Right, that still makes sense.

If response.writeHead() method is called and this method has not been called, it will directly write the supplied header values onto the network channel without caching internally, and the response.getHeader() on the header will not yield the expected result. If progressive population of headers is desired with potential future retrieval and modification, use response.setHeader() instead of response.writeHead().

Seems like a little bit of a gotcha, but also, who would do such a thing?

It's nice that it's mentioned in the docs at least.

It is nice for sure, but you know what would be even nicer?

If one didn't need to read the docs to divine the behavior of those functions.

So you're lazy? You're a lazy programmer? You can't be arsed to read docs, is that it?

That's certainly a popular opinion, yes - and simultaneously, that the articles I write are too long. But I'm sure there are harder truths to reconcile.

Don't deflect - what's wrong with reading docs?

Well, we've been over this with Go before.

Every time you rely on documentation to enforce correct behavior, you're exposing the users of your API to potential bugs. Your API is no longer misuse-resistant.

And you don't need a fancy type checker to do it, either.

If the ClientRequest or ServerResponse objects were sealed, and we were using strict mode, a TypeError could have been thrown when we tried to assign to res.headers.

Of course if you do have a fancy type checker, you could catch that error before it happens, which as far as I'm concerned, is the absolute dream.

So that's a "yes" on the lazy thing?

Not quite - I wouldn't say I'm "lazy", but I am a "realist".

Oh boy, there he goes.

Ideally, everyone reads all the docs all the time, including whenever upgrading dependencies, and nobody ever breaks semantic versioning, and we're all smart enough to write C code that isn't a trash fire waiting to happen.

But in actuality, semver breakage happens all the dang time, we're all exhausted and occasionally tell dependabot to just "rebase and push" at the end of a long workday, and the CVE database is not going out of business any time soon.

From what we've seen so far, here are some of the things we could do in node.js, that would look totally normal and innocent in code review, but are actually way broken:

  1. Assign to request.headers or response.headers - those fields don't exist
  2. Call request.setHeader("set-cookie", "a=b"), then call request.setHeader("set-cookie", "c=d") (the second value would overwrite the first one)
  3. Treat message.headers["some-key"] like a string (not true for set-cookie)
  4. Try to forward all headers by using response.setHeader on all the key-value pairs from a request.

Wait, how is that last one wrong?

I'm so glad you asked! You see, node.js does quite a bit of transformation before populating, say, message.headers.

So if there were multiples of a header it didn't know about, it would join them together with ,. But what if that's not what you wanted?

If you're writing a proxy, you may want to forward the headers more or less untouched, minus maybe some headers that are protected/sensitive, and maybe adding one or two headers which are internal.

Can't you do that in node.js?

You totally can do that in node.js, thanks to rawHeaders:

message.rawHeaders

Added in: v0.11.6

The raw request/response headers list exactly as they were received.

The keys and values are in the same list. It is not a list of tuples. So, the even-numbered offsets are key values, and the odd-numbered offsets are the associated values.

Header names are not lowercased, and duplicates are not merged.

JavaScript code
// Prints something like: // // [ 'user-agent', // 'this is invalid because there can be only one', // 'User-Agent', // 'curl/7.22.0', // 'Host', // '127.0.0.1:8000', // 'ACCEPT', // '*/*' ] console.log(request.rawHeaders);

So technically, all we need to do is this:

JavaScript code
for (let i = 0; i < req.rawHeaders.length; i += 2) { let k = req.rawHeaders[i]; let v = req.rawHeaders[i + 1]; originReq.setHeader(k, v); }

And everything should work out

Let's use netcat as a listener again:

Shell session
$ curl --raw -i http://ducks.example.org --connect-to ducks.example.org:80:localhost:8124 -H "Set-Cookie: one=1" -H "Set-Cookie: two=2"
Shell session
$ nc -vvv -l localhost -p 8125 Listening on any address 8125 Connection from 127.0.0.1:47416 GET / HTTP/1.1 Host: ducks.example.org User-Agent: curl/7.73.0 Accept: */* Set-Cookie: two=2 Connection: close

Wait, where did one=1 go?

Uhhh if you call setHeader with the same name twice, it overwrites...

Oh right! Haha. That's number 2 on the list. We were warned, and we stepped right in it anyway.

So what's the correct way do to it? Well... there's no method of ClientRequest that lets us pass "raw headers", unlike ServerResponse, which has writeHead.

Sure, we could do something like this:

JavaScript code
// First, collect all raw headers into a Map<String, Array<String>> let headers = {}; for (let i = 0; i < req.rawHeaders.length; i += 2) { let k = req.rawHeaders[i]; let v = req.rawHeaders[i + 1]; headers[k] = [...(headers[k] || []), v]; } for (const k of Object.keys(headers)) { let vv = headers[k]; // `vv` is a non-string, so node.js should "leave them alone" // and only "transform them to strings" when sending them over // the network. originReq.setHeader(k, vv); }

This would let our two Set-Cookie lines pass:

Shell session
$ nc -vvv -l localhost -p 8125 Listening on any address 8125 Connection from 127.0.0.1:47522 GET / HTTP/1.1 Host: ducks.example.org User-Agent: curl/7.73.0 Accept: */* Set-Cookie: one=1 Set-Cookie: two=2 Connection: close

Unless one of them had a slightly different casing...

Shell session
$ curl --raw -i http://ducks.example.org --connect-to ducks.example.org:80:localhost:8124 -H "Set-Cookie: one=1" -H "set-Cookie: two=2"

(The second is set-Cookie, with a lowercase s)

...and then only one of them would pass:

Shell session
$ nc -vvv -l localhost -p 8125 Listening on any address 8125 Connection from 127.0.0.1:47538 GET / HTTP/1.1 Host: ducks.example.org User-Agent: curl/7.73.0 Accept: */* set-Cookie: two=2 Connection: close

We could of course normalize the casing ourselves to all-lowercase - or something else - but then we're back to transforming headers and we're not being a very transparent proxy.

As far as I'm concerned, I don't see a way to make a node.js ClientRequest send multiple headers, some of which only differ from the others by their casing.

Amos, that's silly.

Amos, that's silly who?

Amos, that's silly: no application would actually depend on header casing.

It's right there in RFC 2616, section 4.2:

Field names are case-insensitive.

You'd be surprised.

Speaking of being surprised... we made pretty significant changes when we ported our node.js access control service to the node.js http module.

Does it even still work?

Shell session
$ curl -i http://internal.example.org --connect-to internal.example.org:80:172.30.84.116:8124 HTTP/1.1 200 OK Date: Tue, 08 Dec 2020 16:36:45 GMT Connection: keep-alive Keep-Alive: timeout=5 Transfer-Encoding: chunked [CONFIDENTIAL] The secret ingredient is love

Oh.

Oh no.

It does not work at all.

Let's look at the access control code:

JavaScript code
function isRestricted(req) { return req.headers.Host === "internal.example.org"; }

It's been so long since we wrote this code, I had completely forgotten about it.

That's a LIE! You've planned EVERYTHING!

...just like in the real world. Code is written, shipped, and forgotten. It is only remembered when it misbehaves, which is pretty sad if you think about it.

So let's not think about it.

As it turns out, node.js normalizes header names to lower cases. We've read that before, in the middle of all the docs we read (who's lazy now?), it was spelled out:

Header names are lower-cased.

So we can use our knowledge of the implementation and just access the host field, all lowercase:

JavaScript code
function isRestricted(req) { return req.headers.host === "internal.example.org"; }

And then, everything works fin-

Shell session
$ node index.js Now listening on port 8124 [172.30.84.116] { "host": "internal.example.org", "user-agent": "curl/7.73.0", "accept": "*/*" } /home/amos/ftl/correctness/http/acl-js/index.js:63 return addr.startsWith("127.0.0.") || addr.startsWith("2.58.12."); ^ TypeError: addr.startsWith is not a function at isAllowed (/home/amos/ftl/correctness/http/acl-js/index.js:63:15) at handleRequest (/home/amos/ftl/correctness/http/acl-js/index.js:24:29) at Server.<anonymous> (/home/amos/ftl/correctness/http/acl-js/index.js:6:5) at Server.emit (node:events:376:20) at parserOnIncoming (node:_http_server:919:12) at HTTPParser.parserOnHeadersComplete (node:_http_common:126:17)

Oh no. Our isAllowed function is wrong too! Or maybe we're just calling it wrong! Who knows? We don't have a fancy type checker! We read docs 😎

So the documentation for isAllowed is... we didn't write any.

But the documentation for request.socket.address() is:

socket.address()

Added in: v0.1.90

Returns the bound address, the address family name and port of the socket as reported by the operating system: { port: 12346, family: 'IPv4', address: '127.0.0.1' }

Which returns... an Object, so far so good, with fields port, family, and address. Ah, there it is! What we want is request.socket.address().address.

It somehow got lost in the port (no pun intended). And this time I swear I didn't do a mistake on purpose, just to illustrate this article.

Yeah right.

While we're fixing this bug, let's do a pass over the whole code. We'll give up on proxying the headers as-is. Apparently that's just not something the node.js http package is meant for - which is fine! Not everything needs to be general-purpose.

So let's just use setHeader for the ClientRequest, and let's use writeHead for the ServerResponse, which is the closest we can reasonably get today.

Cool bear's hot tip

Note that writeHead accepts either raw headers or normalized headers, which means it must be able to distinguish between an "object" (or hash map, or hash table, or dictionary, or associative array) and an "array".

I wonder what it does when you pass an array with an odd number of fields. So much delicious undefined behavior! But there's only so much that's fit to print. You try it and report back!

So, without further ado, here's the final version of our node.js code:

JavaScript code
const http = require("http"); // an IIFE (immediately-invoked function expression), just for fun (function () { let server = new http.Server({}); server.on("request", handleRequest); server.on("error", (err) => { throw err; }); let port = 8124; server.listen(port, "0.0.0.0", () => { console.log(`Now listening on port ${port}`); }); })(); // none of what we were doing was async, so it's all // old-style node.js callbacks now function handleRequest(req, res) { console.log( `[${req.socket.address().address}] ${JSON.stringify(req.headers, null, 2)}` ); if (isRestricted(req) && !isAllowed(req.socket.address().address)) { res.statusCode = 403; res.end("Forbidden.\n"); return; } let originReq = new http.ClientRequest(`http://127.1:8125${req.url}`); // forward client request headers to origin for (const k of Object.keys(req.headers)) { originReq.setHeader(k, req.headers[k]); } // forward client request body to origin req.pipe(originReq); originReq.on("response", (originRes) => { // forward origin response headers to client res.writeHead( originRes.statusCode, originRes.statusMessage, originRes.rawHeaders ); // forward origin response body to client originRes.pipe(res); }); } function isAllowed(addr) { return addr.startsWith("127.0.0.") || addr.startsWith("2.58.12."); } function isRestricted(req) { return req.headers.host === "internal.example.org"; }

And just like that, our access control service is, again, controlling access:

Shell session
$ curl -i http://internal.example.org --connect-to internal.example.org:80:172.30.84.116:8124 HTTP/1.1 403 Forbidden Date: Tue, 08 Dec 2020 17:03:27 GMT Connection: keep-alive Keep-Alive: timeout=5 Content-Length: 11 Forbidden.
Shell session
$ curl -i http://internal.example.org --connect-to internal.example.org:80:localhost:8124 HTTP/1.1 200 OK Date: Tue, 08 Dec 2020 17:03:33 GMT Content-Length: 45 Content-Type: text/plain; charset=utf-8 Connection: close [CONFIDENTIAL] The secret ingredient is love

And as a bonus - it's not chunking anymore! Because we're setting the content-length we get from origin on the ServerResponse, node.js knows that chunking is not necessary because we know the length of the full response.

What did we learn?

There are many, many ways to misuse the node.js APIs. Even when reading docs, those mistakes do happen. Some of them result in runtime errors, and some of them just silently do the wrong thing.

And this is where we stop looking at node.js.

Well... no. We should take our final code and let TypeScript check it.

A bit of TypeScript, as a treat

I don't feel like setting up the whole compilation pipeline, but we can get TypeScript to only do type checking of our .js file. If we just slap //@ts-check at the top of our file, VS Code has us covered.

First off, it's unhappy about our handleRequest function:

Parameter req implicitly has an any type, but a better type may be inferred from usage.

Actually inferring it from usage results in a pretty lengthy type, based on, well, usage - so after it does that, there's no longer any errors, but it also doesn't match the node.js API, just "how we use it":

JavaScript code
/** * @param {{ socket: { address: () => { (): any; new (): any; address: any; }; }; headers: { [x: string]: string | number | readonly string[]; }; url: any; pipe: (arg0: import("http").ClientRequest) => void; }} req * @param {{ statusCode: number; end: (arg0: string) => void; writeHead: (arg0: number, arg1: string, arg2: string[]) => void; }} res */ function handleRequest(req, res) { // etc. }

Instead, what we want is this:

JavaScript code
/** * @param {http.IncomingMessage} req * @param {http.ServerResponse} res */ function handleRequest(req, res) { // etc. }

And if we do this, it finds two errors!

Shell session
$ tsc --noEmit --allowJs ./index.js index.js:23:30 - error TS2339: Property 'address' does not exist on type '{} | AddressInfo'. Property 'address' does not exist on type '{}'. 23 `[${req.socket.address().address}] ${JSON.stringify(req.headers, null, 2)}` ~~~~~~~ index.js:26:60 - error TS2339: Property 'address' does not exist on type '{} | AddressInfo'. Property 'address' does not exist on type '{}'. 26 if (isRestricted(req) && !isAllowed(req.socket.address().address)) { ~~~~~~~ Found 2 errors.

Well. That's rather unhelpful. I can see a net.Socket returning an empty object (although, why not null?) if we call address() before it's connected, like so:

Shell session
$ node -i Welcome to Node.js v15.3.0. Type ".help" for more information. > let sock = new require("net").Socket(); undefined > sock.address() {} >

...but in this case, that can never happen: handleRequest is only ever passed to server.on("request", ...), and so it only ever gets instances of http.IncomingMessage, whose sockets are always connected, so address() never returns {}.

So, that's a false positive: the type checker is reporting an error where there is none. I can see that it's just trying to be cautious - things may be fine now, but what if we called handleRequest for somewhere else, with a carefully-crafted http.IncomingMessage whose socket was not connected?

Then who would be the wiser? tsc, no doubt.

But in the meantime, let's use the escape hatch TypeScript gives us and just add a ! after accessing the field:

JavaScript code
console.log( `[${req.socket.address().address!}] ${JSON.stringify(req.headers, null, 2)}` ); if (isRestricted(req) && !isAllowed(req.socket.address().address!)) { res.statusCode = 403; res.end("Forbidden.\n"); return; }
Shell session
$ tsc --noEmit --allowJs ./index.js index.js:23:9 - error TS8013: Non-null assertions can only be used in TypeScript files. 23 `[${req.socket.address().address!}] ${JSON.stringify(req.headers, null, 2)}` ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ index.js:26:39 - error TS8013: Non-null assertions can only be used in TypeScript files. 26 if (isRestricted(req) && !isAllowed(req.socket.address().address!)) { ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Found 2 errors.

Wait, nope, we're still writing vanilla JavaScript, just with JSDoc annotations. I guess we'll just have to uh... be creative:

JavaScript code
// safety: the `net.Socket` from `http.IncomingMessage` are always connected, // so the address is never `{}` /** @type {import("net").AddressInfo} */ // @ts-ignore let address = req.socket.address().address; console.log(`[${address}] ${JSON.stringify(req.headers, null, 2)}`); if (isRestricted(req) && !isAllowed(address)) { res.statusCode = 403; res.end("Forbidden.\n"); return; }

There! Now we no longer have errors.

Thankfully, TypeScript has a secret reserve of errors called "strict mode", which enables a bunch more checks, and since we want our code to be really high-quality, we might as opt into it:

Shell session
$ tsc --noEmit --allowJs --strict ./index.js index.js:39:28 - error TS2345: Argument of type 'string | string[] | undefined' is not assignable to parameter of type 'string | number | readonly string[]'. Type 'undefined' is not assignable to type 'string | number | readonly string[]'. 39 originReq.setHeader(k, req.headers[k]); ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ index.js:47:7 - error TS2345: Argument of type 'number | undefined' is not assignable to parameter of type 'number'. Type 'undefined' is not assignable to type 'number'. 47 originRes.statusCode, ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ index.js:56:20 - error TS7006: Parameter 'addr' implicitly has an 'any' type. 56 function isAllowed(addr) { ~~~~ index.js:60:23 - error TS7006: Parameter 'req' implicitly has an 'any' type. 60 function isRestricted(req) { ~~~ Found 4 errors.

Let's tackle the bottom two, since they're easy. We know isAllowed takes a string, and isRestricted takes a http.IncomingMessage.

JavaScript code
/** * @param {string} addr */ function isAllowed(addr) { return addr.startsWith("127.0.0.") || addr.startsWith("2.58.12."); } /** * @param {http.IncomingMessage} req */ function isRestricted(req) { return req.headers.host === "internal.example.org"; }

Ahhh. Better.

Cool bear's hot tip

Note that this wouldn't have caught our little req.headers.Host mishap.

As neat as it is, TypeScript does not let you define a type that "only has lower-cased keys"...

Correct! in fact, here's the type of IncomingHttpHeaders:

TypeScript code
// incoming headers will never contain number interface IncomingHttpHeaders extends NodeJS.Dict<string | string[]> { 'accept'?: string; 'accept-language'?: string; 'accept-patch'?: string; 'accept-ranges'?: string; 'access-control-allow-credentials'?: string; 'access-control-allow-headers'?: string; 'access-control-allow-methods'?: string; 'access-control-allow-origin'?: string; 'access-control-expose-headers'?: string; 'access-control-max-age'?: string; 'access-control-request-headers'?: string; 'access-control-request-method'?: string; 'age'?: string; 'allow'?: string; 'alt-svc'?: string; 'authorization'?: string; 'cache-control'?: string; 'connection'?: string; 'content-disposition'?: string; 'content-encoding'?: string; 'content-language'?: string; 'content-length'?: string; 'content-location'?: string; 'content-range'?: string; 'content-type'?: string; 'cookie'?: string; 'date'?: string; 'expect'?: string; 'expires'?: string; 'forwarded'?: string; 'from'?: string; 'host'?: string; 'if-match'?: string; 'if-modified-since'?: string; 'if-none-match'?: string; 'if-unmodified-since'?: string; 'last-modified'?: string; 'location'?: string; 'origin'?: string; 'pragma'?: string; 'proxy-authenticate'?: string; 'proxy-authorization'?: string; 'public-key-pins'?: string; 'range'?: string; 'referer'?: string; 'retry-after'?: string; 'sec-websocket-accept'?: string; 'sec-websocket-extensions'?: string; 'sec-websocket-key'?: string; 'sec-websocket-protocol'?: string; 'sec-websocket-version'?: string; 'set-cookie'?: string[]; 'strict-transport-security'?: string; 'tk'?: string; 'trailer'?: string; 'transfer-encoding'?: string; 'upgrade'?: string; 'user-agent'?: string; 'vary'?: string; 'via'?: string; 'warning'?: string; 'www-authenticate'?: string; }

Which is straight-up hilarious.

Mostly, it's done that way so that:

But it also extends NodeJS.Dict<string | string[]>, which means that any other header can be either a string or a string[] (or undefined).

At any rate, the following code isn't an error at all:

JavaScript code
/** * @param {http.IncomingMessage} req */ function isRestricted(req) { return req.headers.Host === "internal.example.org"; }

But this code is:

JavaScript code
/** * @param {http.IncomingMessage} req */ function isRestricted(req) { return req.headers["set-cookie"] === "internal.example.org"; }
Shell session
index.js:67:10 - error TS2367: This condition will always return 'false' since the types 'string[] | undefined' and 'string' have no overlap. 67 return req.headers["set-cookie"] === "internal.example.org"; ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Good for set-cookie.

Let's look at our remaining errors:

Shell session
index.js:30:39 - error TS2345: Argument of type 'AddressInfo' is not assignable to parameter of type 'string'. 30 if (isRestricted(req) && !isAllowed(address)) { ~~~~~~~

Woops, this one is legit! We accidentally declared let address as an AddressInfo, when it's really a string, because we're accessing socket.address().address, remember?

Let's fix it:

JavaScript code
// safety: the `net.Socket` from `http.IncomingMessage` are always connected, // so the address is never `{}` /** @type {string} */ // @ts-ignore let address = req.socket.address().address;

Next up:

Shell session
index.js:47:7 - error TS2345: Argument of type 'number | undefined' is not assignable to parameter of type 'number'. Type 'undefined' is not assignable to type 'number'. 47 originRes.statusCode, ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

That one's a bit annoying. If the server does not respond with a status code, well... wouldn't parsing fail way before then? We wouldn't even get headers!

But sure, let's be "correct":

JavaScript code
originReq.on("response", (originRes) => { if (!originRes.statusCode) { res.writeHead(502, "Oh hey y'all are back early"); res.end("Origin's haunted."); return; } // forward origin response headers to client res.writeHead( originRes.statusCode, originRes.statusMessage, originRes.rawHeaders ); // forward origin response body to client originRes.pipe(res); });

Amazingly, this is enough for tsc to figure out that if we reach the second res.writeHead, then originRes.statusCode cannot be falsy, so this took care of that error.

(This is not sarcastic btw, I genuinely like TypeScript a lot. It's the best of a very messy situation).

Finally, we're left with this error:

Shell session
$ index.js:39:28 - error TS2345: Argument of type 'string | string[] | undefined' is not assignable to parameter of type 'string | number | readonly string[]'. Type 'undefined' is not assignable to type 'string | number | readonly string[]'. 39 originReq.setHeader(k, req.headers[k]); ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

That one's annoying - but illuminating. Much easier than reading the docs.

Okay I'm halfway onboard the lazy train now - this is nicer than opening the docs. You can even keep your browser closed.

I could get used to this.

So, according to the types we're seeing here, requests[k] could be undefined.

I'm not sure I agree, but maybe it's confused by our usage of Object.keys?

JavaScript code
for (const k of Object.keys(req.headers)) { originReq.setHeader(k, req.headers[k]); }

If I hover the k in const k, it just says string, which - okay, yeah, if we look up arbitrary header names, we might get undefined. Otherwise, we won't.

We can fix it like this:

JavaScript code
// forward client request headers to origin for (const k of Object.keys(req.headers)) { // this is solely to make the type checker happy let v = req.headers[k]; if (v) { originReq.setHeader(k, v); } }

Which is... not great, because we're adding an if branch solely for type-checking purposes, and I don't think it'll be eliminated. It might be deemed "unlikely" by the JIT and the "it's never undefined" path may become the fast path, but that's for me to ignore and you to profile.

The other option is to use //@ts-ignore, but it's a bit too much of a shotgun blast for my taste, since it disables checking for the whole line. What if that line was doing something else wrong? Uncaught errors! The horror!

What did we learn?

TypeScript can help catch some misuses of the node.js APIs, but not all of them!

Sometimes, it thinks it's caught errors, but really, it's only just getting in the way.

This is not really TypeScript's fault. Typings for a package can only be as good as the original package. If a function returns string | number | readonly string[], well, all bets are off.

Just gopher it

It is time... to look at Go again. If anything, we've learn that accurately modelling HTTP, even just HTTP headers, is harder than it appears at first glance.

Do you remember, ages ago, when someone confidently said that?

HTTP/1.1 seems like a pretty simple protocol...

How foolish it seems now! Utter hogwash.

Sometimes things are just complicated!

And it's not like you can convince everyone to speak a particular flavor of HTTP; those services are meant to be user-facing, handling requests from a variety of user agents, some of which are malicious, while the rest are merely misguided (which is programmer for "opinionated, but in a way that's not to my advantage").

So, let's take a look at how Go tackles this problem. But be warned: I'm going to say nice things about it.

Whaaaaaaaat? But that goes against the preconceived notion that so many people have of you, you can't just-

Hate to interrupt you bear, but I think we've blown past our quota for "meta banter" several pages ago, we better get on with it.

So, we've looked at some of the types that node.js uses to represent headers, and so far we've had:

And then:

The documentation takes special care to note that:

The keys and values are in the same list. It is not a list of tuples. So, the even-numbered offsets are key values, and the odd-numbered offsets are the associated values.

This sounds a little funky at first, until you realize that, well, JavaScript does not have tuples, so it would have to be an array of arrays, and that ends up being a lot of allocations, and even more importantly, a lot of GC bookkeeping.

So, enough with the suspense - what does Go do?

Well first off, Go actually takes the host header and extracts it to a separate field:

Go code
type Request struct { // (other fields are omitted) // For server requests, Host specifies the host on which the // URL is sought. For HTTP/1 (per RFC 7230, section 5.4), this // is either the value of the "Host" header or the host name // given in the URL itself. For HTTP/2, it is the value of the // ":authority" pseudo-header field. // It may be of the form "host:port". For international domain // names, Host may be in Punycode or Unicode form. Use // golang.org/x/net/idna to convert it to either format if // needed. // To prevent DNS rebinding attacks, server Handlers should // validate that the Host header has a value for which the // Handler considers itself authoritative. The included // ServeMux supports patterns registered to particular host // names and thus protects its registered Handlers. // // For client requests, Host optionally overrides the Host // header to send. If empty, the Request.Write method uses // the value of URL.Host. Host may contain an international // domain name. Host string }

What the comment omits is that, for HTTP/1, only the first Host header is taken into account - which sounds reasonable, and matches what node.js does.

What the comment does point out, is that this struct also works for HTTP/2 - it simply jams the :authority pseudo-header in there (as per RFC 7540).

...do you think linking RFCs will make commenters easier on you? Because that's not going to work.

Look,

Similarly, Content-Length has its own field:

Go code
// ContentLength records the length of the associated content. // The value -1 indicates that the length is unknown. // Values >= 0 indicate that the given number of bytes may // be read from Body. // // For client requests, a value of 0 with a non-nil Body is // also treated as unknown. ContentLength int64

There's also fields for TransferEncoding, and Connection: Close.

As for the other headers, well, there's Header:

Go code
// Header contains the request header fields either received // by the server or to be sent by the client. // // If a server received a request with header lines, // // Host: example.com // accept-encoding: gzip, deflate // Accept-Language: en-us // fOO: Bar // foo: two // // then // // Header = map[string][]string{ // "Accept-Encoding": {"gzip, deflate"}, // "Accept-Language": {"en-us"}, // "Foo": {"Bar", "two"}, // } // // For incoming requests, the Host header is promoted to the // Request.Host field and removed from the Header map. // // HTTP defines that header names are case-insensitive. The // request parser implements this by using CanonicalHeaderKey, // making the first character and any characters following a // hyphen uppercase and the rest lowercase. // // For client requests, certain headers such as Content-Length // and Connection are automatically written when needed and // values in Header may be ignored. See the documentation // for the Request.Write method. Header Header

There's a lot to unpack here, so let's go paragraph by paragraph:

Go code
// Header contains the request header fields either received // by the server or to be sent by the client.

Go uses the same types for sending and receiving requests, which is occasionally convenient, and often a very large footgun since some fields may only make sense when sending, and others while receiving.

Go code
// If a server received a request with header lines, // // Host: example.com // accept-encoding: gzip, deflate // Accept-Language: en-us // fOO: Bar // foo: two // // then // // Header = map[string][]string{ // "Accept-Encoding": {"gzip, deflate"}, // "Accept-Language": {"en-us"}, // "Foo": {"Bar", "two"}, // }

Here we can see the actual underlying type of Header: a map[string][]string. Or, as we've spelled it before, in TypeScript parlance, a Map<String, Array<String>>.

...which was not quite accurate, as an ES6 Map is not the same as an Object.

Basically, it means that for every header name, we have an array (well, a Go slice) of potential values.

Which leaves us with the problem of the header names, which should be case-insensitive.

As we can see from the example, and unlike node.js, Go's http package does not just lower-case everything. It takes the surprising approach of... making everything Title-Case:

Go code
// HTTP defines that header names are case-insensitive. The // request parser implements this by using CanonicalHeaderKey, // making the first character and any characters following a // hyphen uppercase and the rest lowercase.

Here's the actual implementation of CanonicalHeaderKey:

Go code
// CanonicalHeaderKey returns the canonical format of the // header key s. The canonicalization converts the first // letter and any letter following a hyphen to upper case; // the rest are converted to lowercase. For example, the // canonical key for "accept-encoding" is "Accept-Encoding". // If s contains a space or invalid header field bytes, it is // returned without modifications. func CanonicalHeaderKey(s string) string { return textproto.CanonicalMIMEHeaderKey(s) }

...fine, here's the actual implementation of CanonicalMimeHeaderKey:

Go code
// CanonicalMIMEHeaderKey returns the canonical format of the // MIME header key s. The canonicalization converts the first // letter and any letter following a hyphen to upper case; // the rest are converted to lowercase. For example, the // canonical key for "accept-encoding" is "Accept-Encoding". // MIME header keys are assumed to be ASCII only. // If s contains a space or invalid header field bytes, it is // returned without modifications. func CanonicalMIMEHeaderKey(s string) string { commonHeaderOnce.Do(initCommonHeader) // Quick check for canonical encoding. upper := true for i := 0; i < len(s); i++ { c := s[i] if !validHeaderFieldByte(c) { return s } if upper && 'a' <= c && c <= 'z' { return canonicalMIMEHeaderKey([]byte(s)) } if !upper && 'A' <= c && c <= 'Z' { return canonicalMIMEHeaderKey([]byte(s)) } upper = c == '-' } return s }

Hey! That's not utf-8 safe!

Doesn't matter. As per RFC 2616, header names are "tokens", and a "token" is "at least 1 of: any CHAR except CTLs or separators", and a "CHAR" is "any US-ASCII character (octets 0 - 127)".

This is actually only the checking code - the fast path. That's right, Go servers are slower if you send them lower-case headers. Maybe we shouldn't have written our access control service in node.js!

Here's where the actual mutation happens:

Go code
// canonicalMIMEHeaderKey is like CanonicalMIMEHeaderKey but is // allowed to mutate the provided byte slice before returning the // string. // // For invalid inputs (if a contains spaces or non-token bytes), a // is unchanged and a string copy is returned. func canonicalMIMEHeaderKey(a []byte) string { // See if a looks like a header key. If not, return it unchanged. for _, c := range a { if validHeaderFieldByte(c) { continue } // Don't canonicalize. return string(a) } upper := true for i, c := range a { // Canonicalize: first letter upper case // and upper case after each dash. // (Host, User-Agent, If-Modified-Since). // MIME headers are ASCII only, so no Unicode issues. if upper && 'a' <= c && c <= 'z' { c -= toLower } else if !upper && 'A' <= c && c <= 'Z' { c += toLower } a[i] = c upper = c == '-' // for next time } // The compiler recognizes m[string(byteSlice)] as a special // case, so a copy of a's bytes into a new string does not // happen in this map lookup: if v := commonHeader[string(a)]; v != "" { return v } return string(a) }

This code actually mentions that "MIME headers are ASCII only". That's genuinely nice.

This part is not so nice:

Go code
// The compiler recognizes m[string(byteSlice)] as a special // case, so a copy of a's bytes into a new string does not // happen in this map lookup: if v := commonHeader[string(a)]; v != "" {

But I guess strings are hard.

So, in Go:

And indeed, the Header type (which really should be called HeaderMap, or Headers or something, but conciseness above all!!) comes with a collection of handy methods.

It has Add(key, value string), it has Clone(), Del(key string), Get(key string), Set(key, value string), and Values(key string) []string.

It also has Write(w io.Writer) error and WriteSubset(w io.Writer, exclude map[string]bool) error - the latter feels like a strange addition, but maybe there's a good reason for it.

Here's the thing though - Header is not a struct.

It's just a type definition. (Not a type alias - those are different!).

Here it is:

Go code
type Header map[string][]string

Which means that any function that can operate on a map[k]v, can also operate on a Header.

So... you could totally still have the same bug we had in node.js:

Go code
package main import ( "log" "net/http" ) func main() { // This is constructed properly, according to the "contract" written // in `http.Header`'s documentation: headers := http.Header{ "Host": []string{"internal.example.org"}, } // but it is parsed incorrectly: log.Printf("Is this endpoint restricted? %v", isRestricted(headers)) } func isRestricted(headers http.Header) bool { // nothing is preventing us from doing this for _, v := range headers["host"] { if v == "internal.example.org" { return true } } return false }

This prints:

Shell session
2009/11/10 23:00:00 Is this endpoint restricted? false

Similarly, there's nothing that prevents us from constructing an instance of http.Header that contradicts its documentation:

Go code
package main import ( "net/http" "os" ) func main() { headers := http.Header{ "Host": []string{"internal.example.org"}, "host": []string{"ducks.example.org"}, } headers.Write(os.Stdout) }

Also, and this one is completely gratuitous, you can construct this, which makes no sense whatsoever:

Go code
package main import ( "net/http" "os" ) func main() { headers := http.Header{ "secure": []string{}, } headers.Write(os.Stdout) }

This just doesn't write anything.

But if someone were to check whether the key's in the map...

Go code
package main import ( "log" "net/http" "os" ) func main() { headers := http.Header{ "secure": []string{}, } if _, ok := headers["secure"]; ok { log.Println("This request is secure!") } headers.Write(os.Stdout) }
Shell session
2009/11/10 23:00:00 This request is secure!

And this all stems from one of the aspects of Go I've discussed before, which is that the shortcuts that were taken when designing its type system makes it a language that's both very confusing (in lieu of being "simple") and that consistently resists modelling reality.

A good example of this is zero values.

Go fields cannot be uninitialized, because every type has a zero value.

Go code
package main import "log" // A Foobarist can foobar. This comment brought to you by `go-lint`. type Foobarist interface { Foobar() } func main() { var x int var s string var fb Foobarist var sl []string log.Printf("x = %#v", x) log.Printf("s = %#v", s) log.Printf("fb = %#v", fb) log.Printf("sl = %#v", sl) }
Shell session
$ go run main.go 2020/12/11 21:50:32 x = 0 2020/12/11 21:50:32 s = "" 2020/12/11 21:50:32 fb = <nil> 2020/12/11 21:50:32 sl = []string(nil)

And yes, there's a well-known gotcha around nil and interfaces, but that's not what we're discussing here.

So, if we make a struct, it too will have a zero value.

Go code
package main import "log" // A Profile is a Profile. This comment brought to you by big tautology. type Profile struct { Name string Bio string } func main() { var pf Profile log.Printf("pf = %#v", pf) }

Now imagine that Profile is being persisted to a database somewhere.

Let's make a quick in-memory database for demonstration purposes. We'll need a go.mod:

module go-musings go 1.15
Go code
// in `go-musings/database/database.go` package database // A Profile is a Profile. type Profile struct { Name string Bio string } type DB struct { seed int64 records map[int64]Profile } func NewDB() DB { return DB{ seed: 0, records: make(map[int64]Profile), } } func (db *DB) Insert(profile Profile) int64 { id := db.seed db.seed++ db.records[id] = profile return id } func (db *DB) Get(id int64) Profile { return db.records[id] } func (db *DB) Update(id int64, profile Profile) { db.records[id] = profile }

Such an API lets us do many things! We can insert a profile into the database, then get it, update one field, and get it again:

Go code
// in `go-musings/main.go` package main import ( "log" "go-musings/database" ) func main() { db := database.NewDB() pf := database.Profile{ Name: "Lilibet", Bio: "I don't want even *want* to be queen and yet my sister is jealous.", } id := db.Insert(pf) // Update the name { pf := db.Get(id) pf.Name = "Elizabeth" db.Update(id, pf) } log.Printf("%#v", db.Get(id)) }

But what if we wanted to update a record without retrieving it?

Something like this:

Go code
func main() { db := database.NewDB() pf := database.Profile{ Name: "Lilibet", Bio: "I don't want even *want* to be queen and yet my sister is jealous.", } id := db.Insert(pf) // Update the name - without getting first! db.Update(id, database.Profile{Name: "Elizabeth"}) log.Printf("%#v", db.Get(id)) }

In terms of performance, this can make a big difference. We no longer have to read and deserialize all the fields from the database only to put them back again. Writes can be batched transparently so they can be executed very rapidly, instead of constantly blocking because we're waiting for reads to be done.

But with our current design, it does not work, because it resets Profile.Bio to its zero value:

Shell session
$ go run main.go 2020/12/11 22:18:41 database.Profile{Name:"Elizabeth", Bio:""}

So, when I say "Go fields cannot be uninitialized", it doesn't mean "the compiler will make sure you initialize everything to some meaningful value". It means "if you don't, the compiler will insert zero values, which may or may not make sense for your application".

Of course, not all hope is lost - we can adjust our database implementation to only update fields that have non-zero values set:

Go code
// in `go-musings/database/database.go` func (db *DB) Update(id int64, profile Profile) { // pretend this isn't just a dumb `map[k]v` and // we can actually update things in-place, otherwise // none of this makes any sense. pf := db.records[id] changed := false if profile.Name != "" { pf.Name = profile.Name changed = true } if profile.Bio != "" { pf.Bio = profile.Bio changed = true } if changed { db.records[id] = pf } }

Now our program actually works! We can update the Name while leaving the Bio alone.

Shell session
$ go run main.go 2020/12/11 22:23:43 database.Profile{Name:"Elizabeth", Bio:"I don't want even *want* to be queen and yet my sister is jealous."}

...but now there's something we can no longer do. If we try to just clear the Bio:

Go code
func main() { db := database.NewDB() pf := database.Profile{ Name: "Lilibet", Bio: "I don't want even *want* to be queen and yet my sister is jealous.", } id := db.Insert(pf) // Remove the bio db.Update(id, database.Profile{Bio: ""}) log.Printf("%#v", db.Get(id)) }

...then nothing happens:

Shell session
$ go run main.go 2020/12/11 22:26:48 database.Profile{Name:"Lilibet", Bio:"I don't want even *want* to be queen and yet my sister is jealous."}

Because, thanks to zero values, there's no difference between any of these:

Go code
db.Update(id, database.Profile{}) db.Update(id, database.Profile{Name: ""}) db.Update(id, database.Profile{Bio: ""}) db.Update(id, database.Profile{Name: "", Bio: ""})

So, let's think of a way to address this. We could replace our string with *string - pointers to a string.

Go code
// A Profile is a Profile. type Profile struct { Name *string Bio *string }

And then... well then we have a bunch of things to worry about.

First off, when we insert a Profile, we want to default to "" for all fields, because that's still our zero value:

Go code
func (db *DB) Insert(profile Profile) int64 { id := db.seed db.seed++ if profile.Name == nil { var s = "" profile.Name = &s } if profile.Bio == nil { var s = "" profile.Bio = &s } db.records[id] = profile return id }

And then in Update, we only update if non-nil:

Go code
func (db *DB) Update(id int64, profile Profile) { // again, pretend this isn't a `map[k]v` and we can update things in-place pf := db.records[id] changed := false if profile.Name != nil { pf.Name = profile.Name changed = true } if profile.Bio != nil { pf.Bio = profile.Bio changed = true } if changed { db.records[id] = pf } }

So, where do we stand now?

Well, everything is terribly unergonomic:

Go code
// in `go-musings/main.go` package main import ( "log" "go-musings/database" ) func main() { db := database.NewDB() name := "Lilibet" bio := "I don't want even *want* to be queen and yet my sister is jealous." pf := database.Profile{ Name: &name, Bio: &bio, } id := db.Insert(pf) // Remove the bio newBio := "" db.Update(id, database.Profile{Bio: &newBio}) log.Printf("%#v", db.Get(id)) }

But we can make a little stringptr function to help a little:

Go code
// in `go-musings/main.go` package main import ( "log" "go-musings/database" ) func stringptr(s string) *string { return &s } func main() { db := database.NewDB() pf := database.Profile{ Name: stringptr("Lilibet"), Bio: stringptr("I don't want even *want* to be queen and yet my sister is jealous."), } id := db.Insert(pf) // Remove the bio db.Update(id, database.Profile{Bio: stringptr("")}) log.Printf("%#v", db.Get(id)) }

And it does work:

Go code
$ go run main.go 2020/12/11 22:36:37 database.Profile{Name:(*string)(0xc0000961e0), Bio:(*string)(0xc000096200)}

Well.. it's hard to tell that it works, because the default debug formatter will not show you what a *string points to, but if we use something slightly friendlier, like spew:

Go code
package main import ( "go-musings/database" "github.com/davecgh/go-spew/spew" ) func stringptr(s string) *string { return &s } func main() { db := database.NewDB() pf := database.Profile{ Name: stringptr("Lilibet"), Bio: stringptr("I don't want even *want* to be queen and yet my sister is jealous."), } id := db.Insert(pf) // Remove the bio db.Update(id, database.Profile{Bio: stringptr("")}) spew.Dump(db.Get(id)) }
Shell session
$ go run main.go (database.Profile) { Name: (*string)(0xc0001102b0)((len=7) "Lilibet"), Bio: (*string)(0xc0001102d0)("") }

There! We did it!

🎉!

Of course, all of that is only an option if you have the luxury of defining the struct yourself.

Which you don't, if, for example, you use a code generator like the protobuf compiler for Go, which always generates string fields, even though in proto3 all fields are optional.

So, in that scenario, you have absolutely no way to tell between an "unset field" and "the empty string". Which, sure, doesn't matter most of the time.

Until it does, and well... what do you do then?

Well, you signal whether a field is set or not out-of-band, of course!

With something like:

Go code
type Profile struct { Name string HasName bool Bio string HasBio bool }

Sounds ridiculous? Well, that's exactly how Go maps work.

If you have a map[string]string, and you try to get an entry that does not exist you get... the zero value for a string, ie. "":

Go code
package main import "log" func main() { m := make(map[string]string) m["i-do-exist"] = "" log.Printf("%#v", m["i-do-exist"]) log.Printf("%#v", m["i-do-not-exist"]) }
Shell session
$ go run main.go 2020/12/11 23:03:27 "" 2020/12/11 23:03:27 ""

How do you know if it's actually in the map? Well, indexing a map actually returns two values, so if you assign both of them, you can get that info - as I mentioned, out of band:

Go code
package main import "log" func main() { m := make(map[string]string) m["i-do-exist"] = "" { v, ok := m["i-do-exist"] log.Printf("%#v, %#v", v, ok) } { v, ok := m["i-do-not-exist"] log.Printf("%#v, %#v", v, ok) } }
Shell session
$ go run main.go 2020/12/11 23:05:03 "", true 2020/12/11 23:05:03 "", false

If you have a string and a bool, you have four possible combinations:

  1. the string is empty and the bool is false
  2. the string is empty and the bool is true
  3. the string is non-empty and the bool is false
  4. the string is non-empty and the bool is true

Combination 3 is never returned when indexing a map in Go, but it's... there. It's expressible. If we were able to implement our own data structures that supported indexing, and the standard interface was something like:

Go code
// as of Go 1.15, generics are not a thing (*also* not the topic of this post) // anyway, use your imagination: type K string type V string type Index interface { Get(k K) (V, bool) }

...then nothing at all would prevent us from returning "lol", false.

Even without combination 3 being constructed, multi-return and out-of-band "setness" signalling are the source of so many application bugs.

Of course, it never segfaults. So it's better than C, right? Because memory safety, yay! It just silently does the wrong thing. So now vulnerabilities are caused by logic errors instead of corrupted memory.

This does sound better, though.

Yeah. Then again, that's a pretty low bar. Bash is memory-safe too!

Right... so is Excel. Hopefully?

Hopefully.

One of the big selling point of Go is "we removed the footguns!" but... did you? Seems like we just traded weapons. We're very much still in "just be careful" territory.

Just don't write bugs!

And this leads me to one of the central points of this... looks at time estimate this essay I guess.

I made three claims about Rust earlier:

  1. Programming in Rust requires you to think differently
  2. It is harder to write any code at all in Rust
  3. It is easier to write "correct" code in Rust

The first two claims are easy to accept for anyone trying out Rust for the first time. The third one is another affair entirely.

See, if all you have are the first two claims, it's pretty easy to conclude that Rustaceans are either masochists (which... who's asking?) or that they just like things that are hard because they're hard and that makes them feel clever.

But here's the thing: Rust is not specifically designed for clever people.

Quite the contrary in fact. Look at me! Trying to make those subtle points online! What a stupid, stupid idea. Only grief can come out of this. Clearly "clever" is not a good descriptor here.

The corollary of claim 3 is: it is harder to write "correct" code in other languages. And by other languages, I'm again thinking in particular of JavaScript, Ruby, Lua, Go, C, C#, Java, etc. - not Haskell.

Here's one thing that's often said and sounds superior, but isn't: Learning Rust made me a better programmer.

Mostly because, after many rounds of, uh, friendly negotiation with the compiler, it's made me so much more aware of the sheer amount of things that can go wrong in a program.

And it's not like Rust made me paranoid. I was aware of most of these failure conditions before picking up Rust. But the Rust compiler forces you to address these upfront.

The whole language encourages you to model your program in such a way that you don't leave anything to chance. That things that should not happen are either not modelled at all, handled explicitly, or halt the program safely.

In Rust, if you have a "string" field that must be set, you just say this:

Rust code
struct Person { name: String, }

It has to be initialized. It doesn't just default to the empty string.

This is a compile error:

Rust code
fn main() { let p = Person {}; }
Shell session
$ cargo check Checking rust-musings v0.1.0 (/home/amos/ftl/correctness/rust-musings) error[E0063]: missing field `name` in initializer of `Person` --> src/main.rs:6:13 | 6 | let p = Person {}; | ^^^^^^ missing `name`

If you want it to default to the empty string, you can implement the Default trait for your struct, and explicitly say that it should use the default values for any unspecified fields:

Rust code
#[derive(Default, Debug)] struct Person { name: String, } fn main() { let p = Person { ..Default::default() }; dbg!(p); }
Shell session
$ cargo run -q [src/main.rs:10] p = Person { name: "", }

And if that field is optional... well you explicitly make it optional:

Rust code
#[derive(Default, Debug)] struct Person { name: Option<String>, } fn main() { let p = Person { name: Some("Elizabeth".into()), }; dbg!(p); let p = Person { ..Default::default() }; dbg!(p); }

In which case the field is either Some("some string"), or None:

Shell session
$ cargo run -q [src/main.rs:10] p = Person { name: Some( "Elizabeth", ), } [src/main.rs:14] p = Person { name: None, }

And that's also the way a HashMap works. When indexing a HashMap, you either get a Some(value), or a None. It only returns "one thing".

Rust code
use std::collections::HashMap; fn main() { let mut map: HashMap<String, String> = Default::default(); map.insert("i-exist".into(), "yay".into()); dbg!(map.get("i-exist")); dbg!(map.get("i-do-not-exist")); }
Shell session
$ cargo run -q [src/main.rs:7] map.get("i-exist") = Some( "yay", ) [src/main.rs:8] map.get("i-do-not-exist") = None

And you can't accidentally pretend you got a value when you really didn't - you need to handle both cases, one way or the other:

Rust code
use std::collections::HashMap; fn main() { let mut map: HashMap<String, String> = Default::default(); map.insert("foo".into(), "bar".into()); // stops program with a generic error message if value isn't `Some` print_str(map.get("foo").unwrap()); // stops program with a custom error message if value isn't `Some` print_str(map.get("foo").expect("we wanted foo to be set")); // only executed if return value is `Some` if let Some(s) = map.get("foo") { print_str(s); } // handles both cases explicitly match map.get("foo") { Some(s) => { print_str(s); } None => { // do nothing } } } fn print_str(s: &str) { dbg!(s); }
Shell session
$ cargo run -q [src/main.rs:27] s = "bar" [src/main.rs:27] s = "bar" [src/main.rs:27] s = "bar" [src/main.rs:27] s = "bar"

All this isn't at the expense of performance, either. An Option<&T> is the same size as a *const T - it's just None if the pointer is null.

Cool bear's hot tip

You normally wouldn't experience raw pointers unless you're writing unsafe code on purpose, when doing FFI for example.

This is just one of the many ways Rust lets you model what actually happens in your program. And once you're past the initial frustration, and you really see the value proposition, everything else feels terribly uncomfortable.

Writing JavaScript and Go is terrifying to me now. All the pitfalls I already knew about before picking up Rust still exist, but now it's all the more obvious that there's no systemic way to avoid them.

You "just have to be careful".

Which of course never actually works.

Proponents of the "just be careful" mantra (C advocates in particular) will tell you that anyone who wrote a bug just isn't an experienced enough programmer - as if we were all engaged in some permanent game of battle royale.

This is, to put it mildly, self-aggrandizing horseshit.

Engineering is not about "not doing mistakes". Engineering is about designing systems that ensure fewer mistakes occur.

Rust is such a system.

I think we were talking about HTTP?

Right! HTTP.

Let's take another look at some of the data structures used to represent HTTP requests and responses in Go.

We've already discussed Request.Header, which is a map[string][]string in disguise. But it doesn't end there.

For incoming requests, the protocol version is stored in no less than three fields!

Go code
// The protocol version for incoming server requests. // // For client requests, these fields are ignored. The HTTP // client code always uses either HTTP/1.1 or HTTP/2. // See the docs on Transport for details. Proto string // "HTTP/1.0" ProtoMajor int // 1 ProtoMinor int // 0

Again, that means we can construct nonsensical inputs, like:

Go code
req := Request { Proto: "HTTP/1.1", ProtoMajor: 2, ProtoMinor: 0, }

One slightly more correct way to do it would be to have a separate struct type, HTTPVersion, that only stores the Major and Minor version:

Go code
type HTTPVersion struct { Major int Minor int }

...and have it implement String(), so you can have a String representation whenever needed:

Go code
func (hv HTTPVersion) String() string { return fmt.Sprintf("HTTP/%v.%v", hv.Major, hv.Minor) }

Although that would still leave several issues: you could still build non-existent (definitely non-supported) versions of HTTP, like 4.-7.

You could also still mutate Major and Minor, since they're public (exported) fields, so in Go, you'd have no choice but to unexport them and add getters - and then you'd need a constructor, too:

Go code
type HTTPVersion struct { major int minor int } func NewHTTPVersion(major int, minor int) HTTPVersion { return HTTPVersion { major, minor } } func (hv HTTPVersion) Major() int { return hv.major } func (hv HTTPVersion) Minor() int { return hv.minor }

Let's look at other fields, like... ContentLength:

Go code
// ContentLength records the length of the associated content. // The value -1 indicates that the length is unknown. // Values >= 0 indicate that the given number of bytes may // be read from Body. // // For client requests, a value of 0 with a non-nil Body is // also treated as unknown. ContentLength int64

Mhhh, using -1 to signal that the length is unknown. Sounds familiar?

We're using in-band signalling now! Reserving some values to indicate specific conditions. What does a value of -2 through -9223372036854775808 mean?

It goes on:

Go code
// URL specifies either the URI being requested (for server // requests) or the URL to access (for client requests). // // For server requests, the URL is parsed from the URI // supplied on the Request-Line as stored in RequestURI. For // most requests, fields other than Path and RawQuery will be // empty. (See RFC 7230, Section 5.3) // // For client requests, the URL's Host specifies the server to // connect to, while the Request's Host field optionally // specifies the Host header value to send in the HTTP // request. URL *url.URL

More dual-purpose fields! For client requests, URL is the full, absolute URL you want to request, and so the Host is set.

But for server requests, URL is just a relative URL, and it's the Host field that counts.

Why? I don't know! You tell me! All the pieces were there!

Speaking of URL, here's its definition:

Go code
type URL struct { Scheme string Opaque string // encoded opaque data User *Userinfo // username and password information Host string // host or host:port Path string // path (relative paths may omit leading slash) RawPath string // encoded path hint (see EscapedPath method) ForceQuery bool // append a query ('?') even if RawQuery is empty RawQuery string // encoded query values, without '?' Fragment string // fragment for references, without '#' RawFragment string // encoded fragment hint (see EscapedFragment method) }

At a glance, just looking at this definition, try to guess - how should you build a fragment?

As as reminder, a "fragment" is the part of the URL that is not sent to the server, it's only accessible to the user agent:

https://example.org?query#fragment ^^^^^^^^^

So, when building a URL to be formatted, should we set Fragment or RawFragment?

Well, we can look at the documentation for URL.String(). As usual with Go APIs that "look simple", it's not:

String reassembles the URL into a valid URL string.

The general form of the result is one of:

scheme:opaque?query#fragment scheme://userinfo@host/path?query#fragment

If u.Opaque is non-empty, String uses the first form; otherwise it uses the second form. Any non-ASCII characters in host are escaped. To obtain the path, String uses u.EscapedPath().

In the second form, the following rules apply:

  • if u.Scheme is empty, scheme: is omitted.
  • if u.User is nil, userinfo@ is omitted.
  • if u.Host is empty, host/ is omitted.
  • if u.Scheme and u.Host are empty and u.User is nil, the entire scheme://userinfo@host/ is omitted.
  • if u.Host is non-empty and u.Path begins with a /, the form host/path does not add its own /.
  • if u.RawQuery is empty, ?query is omitted.
  • if u.Fragment is empty, #fragment is omitted.

The answer was u.Fragment, because URL escapes it, via... EscapedFragment(), which has this documentation:

EscapedFragment returns the escaped form of u.Fragment.

In general there are multiple possible escaped forms of any fragment.

EscapedFragment returns u.RawFragment when it is a valid escaping of u.Fragment.

Otherwise EscapedFragment ignores u.RawFragment and computes an escaped form on its own.

The String method uses EscapedFragment to construct its result. In general, code should call EscapedFragment instead of reading u.RawFragment directly.

So, to get the full picture, we had to look at the definition of the URL struct, its String() method, and, to further understand what String() does, its EscapedFragment() method. That's assuming the documentation is up-to-date.

Maintaining both the escaped and non-escaped fragment might make sense from a performance standpoint - if you parse an incoming request and forward it somewhere else, there's no need to re-escape the fragment, you can just forward the "raw fragment" you got in the first place.

But by storing both as exported fields and letting the user manipulate either, the designers of this bit of the Go API have drawn themselves into a corner, where they had to add complicated semantics to all functions that touch either variant of the fragment so that it "makes sense most of the time".

I'm going to stop showing you Go APIs now because I've used up my sigh reserve, but if you're brave enough to keep looking at them, you'll see those patterns used all over.

Reading those and thinking, really thinking about the implications of their design is going to be more convincing than any amount of material I can personally write, so, by all means, go and do it.

But before you do - let's look at how some of these problems are modelled by popular Rust crates for HTTP.

A look at hyper

hyper is one of my favorite crates. But I could say that about a lot of crates.

It's a low-level HTTP library, consisting of quality building blocks.

Let's look at the definition of a Request in hyper:

Rust code
pub struct Request<T> { head: Parts, body: T, }

Okay, so a Request is generic over its body type. Why? Because the body can be anything. It can be a string in memory, or it can be a bunch of bytes (a Vec<u8> or equivalent), also in memory, or it can be a File, from which you can read, or it can be another thing that can be streamed.

The only requirement for a body is that you can poll it for data and trailers (because yes, trailing HTTP headers are a thing which we will not discuss).

Then there's the head, a Parts:

Rust code
/// Component parts of an HTTP `Request` /// /// The HTTP request head consists of a method, uri, version, and a set of /// header fields. pub struct Parts { /// The request's method pub method: Method, /// The request's URI pub uri: Uri, /// The request's version pub version: Version, /// The request's headers pub headers: HeaderMap<HeaderValue>, /// The request's extensions pub extensions: Extensions, _priv: (), }

Interesting! There's no host field here. Only a uri.

The method field is an opaque type:

Rust code
#[derive(Clone, PartialEq, Eq, Hash)] pub struct Method(Inner);

...that wraps a private enum, which accommodates well-known HTTP methods and extensions:

Rust code
#[derive(Clone, PartialEq, Eq, Hash)] enum Inner { Options, Get, Post, Put, Delete, Head, Trace, Connect, Patch, // If the extension is short enough, store it inline ExtensionInline([u8; MAX_INLINE], u8), // Otherwise, allocate it ExtensionAllocated(Box<[u8]>), }
Cool bear's hot tip

A trick similar to the smartstring crate is used here.

You can read more about it in Peeking inside a Rust enum.

The version field is an opaque type:

Rust code
pub struct Version(Http); impl Version { /// `HTTP/0.9` pub const HTTP_09: Version = Version(Http::Http09); /// `HTTP/1.0` pub const HTTP_10: Version = Version(Http::Http10); /// `HTTP/1.1` pub const HTTP_11: Version = Version(Http::Http11); /// `HTTP/2.0` pub const HTTP_2: Version = Version(Http::H2); /// `HTTP/3.0` pub const HTTP_3: Version = Version(Http::H3); }

..which wraps a private enum, containing all the supported versions of HTTP:

Rust code
#[derive(PartialEq, PartialOrd, Copy, Clone, Eq, Ord, Hash)] enum Http { Http09, Http10, Http11, H2, H3, __NonExhaustive, }

...and provides a Debug implementation to format it as a string:

Rust code
impl fmt::Debug for Version { fn fmt(&self, f: &mut fmt::Formatter<'_>) -> fmt::Result { use self::Http::*; f.write_str(match self.0 { Http09 => "HTTP/0.9", Http10 => "HTTP/1.0", Http11 => "HTTP/1.1", H2 => "HTTP/2.0", H3 => "HTTP/3.0", __NonExhaustive => unreachable!(), }) } }

Note that there is absolutely no way (in safe code) to construct an HTTP version that's meaningless.

But what's particularly interesting is how HTTP headers are represented.

The headers field is of type HeaderMap which is defined as follows:

Rust code
pub struct HeaderMap<T = HeaderValue> { // Used to mask values to get an index mask: Size, indices: Box<[Pos]>, entries: Vec<Bucket<T>>, extra_values: Vec<ExtraValue<T>>, danger: Danger, }

Well.. it's not a Vec<(String, String)>. And it's not a HashMap<String, String>.

It's not a HashMap<String, Vec<String>> either.

It's a multimap (like a hashmap, but each key can have multiple values), of HeaderName to HeaderValue.

All through hyper, we're following the principle of "you can only build something that's meaningful".

So for example, in Go you can do this:

Go code
package main import ( "fmt" "net/http" "strings" ) func main() { headers := make(http.Header) headers.Add("Host", "example.org") headers.Add("Née", "élégante") sb := new(strings.Builder) headers.Write(sb) fmt.Printf("%s\n", sb) }

And generate non-compliant HTTP headers:

Shell session
$ go run main.go Host: example.org Née: élégante

But when using hyper in Rust, you can't build it.

The following is a compile-time error:

Rust code
use hyper::HeaderMap; fn main() { let mut headers = HeaderMap::new(); headers.insert("Née", "élégante"); }
Shell session
$ cargo check --quiet error[E0308]: mismatched types --> src/main.rs:5:27 | 5 | headers.insert("Née", "élégante"); | ^^^^^^^^^^ expected struct `HeaderValue`, found `&str` error: aborting due to previous error

It wants a HeaderValue. And you can only build a HeaderValue if you pass.. a valid header value, which this is not, so this is a runtime error:

Rust code
use hyper::{header::HeaderValue, HeaderMap}; fn main() { let mut headers = HeaderMap::new(); headers.insert("Née", HeaderValue::from_static("élégante")); }
Shell session
$ RUST_BACKTRACE=1 cargo run --quiet thread 'main' panicked at 'invalid header value', /home/amos/.cargo/registry/src/github.com-1ecc6299db9ec823/http-0.2.1/src/header/value.rs:64:17 stack backtrace: 0: std::panicking::begin_panic at /home/amos/.rustup/toolchains/stable-x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/lib/rustlib/src/rust/library/std/src/panicking.rs:505 1: http::header::value::HeaderValue::from_static at /home/amos/.cargo/registry/src/github.com-1ecc6299db9ec823/http-0.2.1/src/header/value.rs:64 2: rust_musings::main at ./src/main.rs:5 3: core::ops::function::FnOnce::call_once at /home/amos/.rustup/toolchains/stable-x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/lib/rustlib/src/rust/library/core/src/ops/function.rs:227 note: Some details are omitted, run with `RUST_BACKTRACE=full` for a verbose backtrace.

Similarly, if we "fix" our header value, but keep an invalid header name, we'll also panic (ie. the program will safely stop):

Rust code
use hyper::{header::HeaderValue, HeaderMap}; fn main() { let mut headers = HeaderMap::new(); headers.insert("Née", HeaderValue::from_static("elegant")); }
Shell session
$ RUST_BACKTRACE=1 cargo run --quiet thread 'main' panicked at 'static str is invalid name: InvalidHeaderName', /home/amos/.cargo/registry/src/github.com-1ecc6299db9ec823/http-0.2.1/src/header/name.rs:2042:64 stack backtrace: 0: rust_begin_unwind at /rustc/7eac88abb2e57e752f3302f02be5f3ce3d7adfb4/library/std/src/panicking.rs:483 1: core::panicking::panic_fmt at /rustc/7eac88abb2e57e752f3302f02be5f3ce3d7adfb4/library/core/src/panicking.rs:85 2: core::option::expect_none_failed at /rustc/7eac88abb2e57e752f3302f02be5f3ce3d7adfb4/library/core/src/option.rs:1234 3: core::result::Result<T,E>::expect at /home/amos/.rustup/toolchains/stable-x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/lib/rustlib/src/rust/library/core/src/result.rs:933 4: http::header::name::HdrName::from_static at /home/amos/.cargo/registry/src/github.com-1ecc6299db9ec823/http-0.2.1/src/header/name.rs:2042 5: <&str as http::header::map::into_header_name::Sealed>::insert at /home/amos/.cargo/registry/src/github.com-1ecc6299db9ec823/http-0.2.1/src/header/map.rs:3312 6: http::header::map::HeaderMap<T>::insert at /home/amos/.cargo/registry/src/github.com-1ecc6299db9ec823/http-0.2.1/src/header/map.rs:1137 7: rust_musings::main at ./src/main.rs:5 8: core::ops::function::FnOnce::call_once at /home/amos/.rustup/toolchains/stable-x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/lib/rustlib/src/rust/library/core/src/ops/function.rs:227 note: Some details are omitted, run with `RUST_BACKTRACE=full` for a verbose backtrace.

Only if we fix both, can we actually add it to our HeaderMap:

Rust code
use hyper::{header::HeaderValue, HeaderMap}; fn main() { let mut headers = HeaderMap::new(); headers.insert("Born", HeaderValue::from_static("elegant")); dbg!(headers); }
Shell session
$ cargo run --quiet [src/main.rs:6] headers = { "born": "elegant", }

Note also that HeaderMap normalizes header names - since the RFC says that header names are case insensitive.

What if we don't want to panic? Say, if our header names and values come from user input?

We can just use the non-panicking variants!

Let's give it a shot:

Rust code
use hyper::{ header::{HeaderName, HeaderValue}, HeaderMap, }; fn main() { let mut args = std::env::args().skip(1); let mut headers = HeaderMap::new(); while let (Some(k), Some(v)) = (args.next(), args.next()) { if let Ok(k) = HeaderName::from_bytes(k.as_bytes()) { if let Ok(v) = HeaderValue::from_bytes(v.as_bytes()) { headers.insert(k, v); } else { println!("Skipping invalid header value {}", v); } } else { println!("Skipping invalid header name {}", k); } } dbg!(headers); }
Shell session
$ cargo run --quiet -- host example.org née élégante born élégante born elegant Skipping invalid header name née [src/main.rs:20] headers = { "host": "example.org", "born": "elegant", }

Super neat! But wait... where's the message that says "Skipping invalid header value élégante"?

A fair question - since that message wasn't printed it's safe to assume that "élégante" is not in fact, an invalid header value. Let's check the documentation of HeaderValue to see what's up:

/// Represents an HTTP header field value. /// /// In practice, HTTP header field values are usually valid ASCII. However, the /// HTTP spec allows for a header value to contain opaque bytes as well. In this /// case, the header field value is not able to be represented as a string. /// /// To handle this, the `HeaderValue` is useable as a type and can be compared /// with strings and implements `Debug`. A `to_str` fn is provided that returns /// an `Err` if the header value contains non visible ascii characters.

AhAH! So HTTP does allow non-ASCII headers, but they're not "strings", so HeaderValue::from_static disallows them.

However, if we switch from HeaderMap::insert to HeaderMap::append, we can see that both our born headers were accepted:

Rust code
while let (Some(k), Some(v)) = (args.next(), args.next()) { if let Ok(k) = HeaderName::from_bytes(k.as_bytes()) { if let Ok(v) = HeaderValue::from_bytes(v.as_bytes()) { // NEW! (was headers.insert) headers.append(k, v); } else { println!("Skipping invalid header value {}", v); } } else { println!("Skipping invalid header name {}", k); } }
Shell session
$ cargo run --quiet -- host example.org née élégante born élégante born elegant Skipping invalid header name née [src/main.rs:21] headers = { "host": "example.org", "born": "\xc3\xa9l\xc3\xa9gante", "born": "elegant", }

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm impressed. I didn't even know that hyper did that. But when you have a language that lets you model a problem properly, it's not exactly a surprise when people do.

And that's an important point as well - you could have a Rust HTTP implementation that just uses HashMap<String, Vec<String>> - but why do that when you can have a high-performance multimap, which is fast in the 90% case and still correct the rest of the time?

Cool bear's hot tip

hyper even goes so far as to have enum values for common headers, so there's no allocation required to store the name of headers like "accept-charset", "host", or "www-authenticate".

And you could have a Go HTTP library that has a slightly better structure than the official one... and in fact people have done exactly that - but then you lose out on a huge part of the ecosystem because this is not a thing Go encourages. At all.

In Go, we just want most things to work out most of the time. And if they really don't, well... we can probably just patch it. And if we can't, well, we're in deep trouble but we could always just write a code generator.

Enough with the comparisons already

As I've mentioned before, a lot of discussions around programming languages quickly becomes heated - it's as if we're cheering for sports teams instead of discussing systems.

I'm wholly uninterested in cheering for a team. I am very interested in systems that prevent mistakes, or even better, entire classes of mistakes.

When you hear someone talk about how much they love Rust, once they've really started loving it, it's hard to take it at face value - especially if you've already practiced different programming languages before.

If you've been following industry trends (because, well, of the job market), you've probably experienced Ruby, Python, JavaScript, Java, Go, C, etc.

And while there are significant differences between these languages, in terms of how effective they are at letting you model a problem "correctly"... it's not night and day.

You might have to write a lot more assertions in C, boilerplate in Java, and write a lot more tests in dynamic languages, but they're more or less all equally permissive in terms of letting you "construct impossible values", which cannot be processed meaningfully and end up polluting your whole codebase with unending validation - if you care enough to do it, anyway.

In terms of modelling a problem, Rust really is several steps above those languages. But it's not alien technology - it's not completely removed from existing systems, in an ivory tower. It exists as a compromise, that significantly improves the status quo and integrates well.

This is what makes Rust unique to me. Of course Rust was strongly influenced by languages that came before it. Again: the value is in the compromise.

Memory management is a particularly big hurdle for folks moving from the languages I mentioned - I've argued before that it's not manual memory management, it's more declarative memory management.

But much like most of what Rust provides, you can opt into it over time.

It's fine to prototype something with String and clone whenever you need to. Or use an Arc. And later you can figure out if it's worth replacing with some borrowed types, for performance. You don't have to come up with the most performance design upfront (even though it's real tempting!).

Over time, though, if you commit to writing Rust and trying to really go all the way into what it encourages you to do (write safe, correct code), you'll find yourself thinking differently: writing types and function signatures first, implementations later.

But also, restructuring your program so that state is neatly separated, so you don't get into heated discussion with the borrow checker. Fields will start being grouped by "mutation affinity" rather than by "theme", as you may have done in other languages previously. You'll end up naming quite a few structs State.

It really is a wonderful journey, and even if you still have to write other languages for your day job, the experience you'll acquire learning Rust is applicable in other languages too - even C++!

Hopefully this article doesn't just add to the pile - it's hard to advocate for a solution without pointing how other solutions fail to address specific problems, so a bit of comparison was unavoidable.

If you want to learn Rust, there are many excellent resources online, like the official Rust book.

If you enjoyed my writing, there's a lot more of it specific to Rust. I even have entire series.

No matter your path to Rust, I guarantee you'll at least learn something that is applicable to your trade elsewhere. And if you don't, well, you can always contribute to it!

This article was made possible thanks to my patrons: Christian Oudard, Ronen Cohen, Matt Welke, Ivan Towlson, Nathan Lincoln, Daniel Wagner-Hall, Felix Weis, Henrik Sylvester Pedersen, Thor Kamphefner, VALENTIN MARIETTE, Kamran Khan, Cole Kurkowski, Arjen Laarhoven, Jeremy Kaplan, Jon Reynolds, Vicente Bosch, Chirag Jain, Ville Mattila, Marie Janssen, Vladyslav Batyrenko, Cameron Clausen, Pierre Guillaume Herveou, Agam Brahma, spike grobstein, Daniel Franklin, Jon Gjengset, Tex, Nick Thomas, Blaž Tomažič, Johan, Paul Marques Mota, Jakub Fijałkowski, Mitchell Hamilton, Ruben Duque, Brad Luyster, Max von Forell, Jake S, Justin, Dimitri Merejkowsky, Chris Biscardi, mrcowsy, René Ribaud, Alex Doroshenko, Julian, Vincent, Steven McGuire, Jack DeNeut, Chad Birch, Martin-Louis Bright, Chris Emery, Bob Ippolito, Jomer, John Van Enk, metabaron, Isak Sunde Singh, DaVince, Philipp Gniewosz, Richard Hill, Simon Rüegg, Roman Levin, V, Max Fermor, Mads Johansen, lukvol, Ives van Hoorne, Greg Stoll, Jan De Landtsheer, Scott Munro, Михаил Захаркин, Daniel Strittmatter, Evgeniy Dubovskoy, Sandro, Alex Rudy, Jake Rodkin, Shane Lillie, Romet Tagobert, Geekingfrog, Douglas Creager, Corey Alexander, Molly Howell, Jeff Crocker, knutwalker, Zachary Dremann, Olivier Peyrusse, Sebastian Ziebell, Julien Roncaglia, eigentourist, Amber Kowalski, Charlton Eivind Rodda, Jan Schiefer, Edil Kratskih, Chris Emerson, Matthew Campbell, Krasimir Slavkov, Juniper Wilde, Paul Kline, Pascal Hartig, Samir Talwar, TD, Kristoffer Ström, Henning Schmick, Ryan Levick, Antoine Boegli, Astrid Bek, Ryan, Yoh Deadfall, Justin Ossevoort, Jeremy, Tomáš Duda, playest, Meghana Gupta, Sebastian Dröge, Adam, Nick Gerace, Jeremy Banks, Rasmus Larsen, exelotl, Ramnivas Laddad, Yury Mikhaylov, Torben Clasen, Sam Rose, Nickolas Fotopoulos, C J Silverio, Walther, Pete Bevin, Shane Sveller, Marcel Jackwerth, Brian Dawn, Clara Schultz, Robert Cobb, jer, Wonwoo Choi, Hawken Rives, João Veiga, Dave Gauer, David Cornu, Richard Pringle, Adam Perry, Yann Schwartz, Jaseem Abid, Zinahe Asnake, Ryan Blecher, Benjamin Röjder Delnavaz, Grégoire Hubert, Matt Jadczak, Nazar Mokrynskyi, Julian Hofer, Mara Bos, Brandon, Jonathan Knapp, Maximilian, Seth Stadick, brianloveswords, Sean Bryant, Ember, Sebastian Zimmer, Makoto Nakashima, Geert Depuydt, Geoff Cant, Geoffroy Couprie, Michael Alyn Miller, Vengarioth, o0Ignition0o, Zaki, Raphael Gaschignard, Romain Ruetschi, Ignacio Vergara, Pascal, Cassie Jones, Pat Monaghan, Jane Lusby, Nicolas Goy, Suhib Sam Kiswani, Henry Goffin, Ted Mielczarek, Random832, Ryszard Sommefeldt, Jesús Higueras, Aurora.

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