Content Negotiation - Apache HTTP Server Version 2.4

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Apache > HTTP Server > Documentation > Version 2.4Content Negotiation

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    Apache HTTPD supports content negotiation as described in
    the HTTP/1.1 specification. It can choose the best
    representation of a resource based on the browser-supplied
    preferences for media type, languages, character set and
    encoding. It also implements a couple of features to give
    more intelligent handling of requests from browsers that send
    incomplete negotiation information.

    Content negotiation is provided by the
    mod_negotiation module, which is compiled in
    by default.

 About Content Negotiation
 Negotiation in httpd
 The Negotiation Methods
 Fiddling with Quality
 Extensions to Transparent Content
 Note on hyperlinks and naming conventions
 Note on Caching
See alsoComments

About Content Negotiation

    A resource may be available in several different
    representations. For example, it might be available in
    different languages or different media types, or a combination.
    One way of selecting the most appropriate choice is to give the
    user an index page, and let them select. However it is often
    possible for the server to choose automatically. This works
    because browsers can send, as part of each request, information
    about what representations they prefer. For example, a browser
    could indicate that it would like to see information in French,
    if possible, else English will do. Browsers indicate their
    preferences by headers in the request. To request only French
    representations, the browser would send

Accept-Language: fr

    Note that this preference will only be applied when there is
    a choice of representations and they vary by language.

    As an example of a more complex request, this browser has
    been configured to accept French and English, but prefer
    French, and to accept various media types, preferring HTML over
    plain text or other text types, and preferring GIF or JPEG over
    other media types, but also allowing any other media type as a
    last resort:

  Accept-Language: fr; q=1.0, en; q=0.5
  Accept: text/html; q=1.0, text/*; q=0.8, image/gif; q=0.6, image/jpeg; q=0.6, image/*; q=0.5, */*; q=0.1

    httpd supports 'server driven' content negotiation, as
    defined in the HTTP/1.1 specification. It fully supports the
    Accept, Accept-Language,
    Accept-Charset and Accept-Encoding
    request headers. httpd also supports 'transparent'
    content negotiation, which is an experimental negotiation
    protocol defined in RFC 2295 and RFC 2296. It does not offer
    support for 'feature negotiation' as defined in these RFCs.

    A resource is a conceptual entity
    identified by a URI (RFC 2396). An HTTP server like Apache HTTP Server
    provides access to representations of the
    resource(s) within its namespace, with each representation in
    the form of a sequence of bytes with a defined media type,
    character set, encoding, etc. Each resource may be associated
    with zero, one, or more than one representation at any given
    time. If multiple representations are available, the resource
    is referred to as negotiable and each of its
    representations is termed a variant. The ways
    in which the variants for a negotiable resource vary are called
    the dimensions of negotiation.

Negotiation in httpd

    In order to negotiate a resource, the server needs to be
    given information about each of the variants. This is done in
    one of two ways:

      Using a type map (i.e., a *.var
      file) which names the files containing the variants
      explicitly, or

      Using a 'MultiViews' search, where the server does an
      implicit filename pattern match and chooses from among the

   Using a type-map file

    A type map is a document which is associated with the handler
    named type-map (or, for backwards-compatibility with
    older httpd configurations, the MIME-type
    application/x-type-map). Note that to use this
    feature, you must have a handler set in the configuration that
    defines a file suffix as type-map; this is best done

AddHandler type-map .var

    in the server configuration file.

    Type map files should have the same name as the resource
    which they are describing, followed by the extension
    .var. In the examples shown below, the resource is
    named foo, so the type map file is named

    This file should have an entry for each available
    variant; these entries consist of contiguous HTTP-format header
    lines. Entries for different variants are separated by blank
    lines. Blank lines are illegal within an entry. It is
    conventional to begin a map file with an entry for the combined
    entity as a whole (although this is not required, and if
    present will be ignored). An example map file is shown below.

    URIs in this file are relative to the location of the type map
    file. Usually, these files will be located in the same directory as
    the type map file, but this is not required. You may provide
    absolute or relative URIs for any file located on the same server as
    the map file.

  URI: foo

  URI: foo.en.html
  Content-type: text/html
  Content-language: en

  Content-type: text/html;charset=iso-8859-2
  Content-language: fr, de

    Note also that a typemap file will take precedence over the
    filename's extension, even when Multiviews is on. If the
    variants have different source qualities, that may be indicated
    by the "qs" parameter to the media type, as in this picture
    (available as JPEG, GIF, or ASCII-art): 

  URI: foo

  URI: foo.jpeg
  Content-type: image/jpeg; qs=0.8

  URI: foo.gif
  Content-type: image/gif; qs=0.5

  URI: foo.txt
  Content-type: text/plain; qs=0.01

    qs values can vary in the range 0.000 to 1.000. Note that
    any variant with a qs value of 0.000 will never be chosen.
    Variants with no 'qs' parameter value are given a qs factor of
    1.0. The qs parameter indicates the relative 'quality' of this
    variant compared to the other available variants, independent
    of the client's capabilities. For example, a JPEG file is
    usually of higher source quality than an ASCII file if it is
    attempting to represent a photograph. However, if the resource
    being represented is an original ASCII art, then an ASCII
    representation would have a higher source quality than a JPEG
    representation. A qs value is therefore specific to a given
    variant depending on the nature of the resource it

    The full list of headers recognized is available in the mod_negotiation
    typemap documentation.


    MultiViews is a per-directory option, meaning it
    can be set with an Options
    directive within a <Directory>, <Location> or <Files> section in
    httpd.conf, or (if AllowOverride is properly set) in
    .htaccess files. Note that Options All
    does not set MultiViews; you have to ask for it by

    The effect of MultiViews is as follows: if the
    server receives a request for /some/dir/foo, if
    /some/dir has MultiViews enabled, and
    /some/dir/foo does not exist, then the
    server reads the directory looking for files named foo.*, and
    effectively fakes up a type map which names all those files,
    assigning them the same media types and content-encodings it
    would have if the client had asked for one of them by name. It
    then chooses the best match to the client's requirements.

    MultiViews may also apply to searches for the file
    named by the DirectoryIndex directive, if the
    server is trying to index a directory. If the configuration files
DirectoryIndex index

    then the server will arbitrate between index.html
    and index.html3 if both are present. If neither
    are present, and index.cgi is there, the server
    will run it.

    If one of the files found when reading the directory does not
    have an extension recognized by mod_mime to designate
    its Charset, Content-Type, Language, or Encoding, then the result
    depends on the setting of the MultiViewsMatch directive.  This
    directive determines whether handlers, filters, and other
    extension types can participate in MultiViews negotiation.

The Negotiation Methods

    After httpd has obtained a list of the variants for a given
    resource, either from a type-map file or from the filenames in
    the directory, it invokes one of two methods to decide on the
    'best' variant to return, if any. It is not necessary to know
    any of the details of how negotiation actually takes place in
    order to use httpd's content negotiation features. However the
    rest of this document explains the methods used for those

    There are two negotiation methods:

      Server driven negotiation with the httpd
      algorithm is used in the normal case. The httpd
      algorithm is explained in more detail below. When this
      algorithm is used, httpd can sometimes 'fiddle' the quality
      factor of a particular dimension to achieve a better result.
      The ways httpd can fiddle quality factors is explained in
      more detail below.

      Transparent content negotiation is used
      when the browser specifically requests this through the
      mechanism defined in RFC 2295. This negotiation method gives
      the browser full control over deciding on the 'best' variant,
      the result is therefore dependent on the specific algorithms
      used by the browser. As part of the transparent negotiation
      process, the browser can ask httpd to run the 'remote
      variant selection algorithm' defined in RFC 2296.

Dimensions of Negotiation



        Media Type

        Browser indicates preferences with the Accept
        header field. Each item can have an associated quality factor.
        Variant description can also have a quality factor (the "qs"


        Browser indicates preferences with the
        Accept-Language header field. Each item can have
        a quality factor. Variants can be associated with none, one or
        more than one language.


        Browser indicates preference with the
        Accept-Encoding header field. Each item can have
        a quality factor.


        Browser indicates preference with the
        Accept-Charset header field. Each item can have a
        quality factor. Variants can indicate a charset as a parameter
        of the media type.

httpd Negotiation Algorithm

    httpd can use the following algorithm to select the 'best'
    variant (if any) to return to the browser. This algorithm is
    not further configurable. It operates as follows:

      First, for each dimension of the negotiation, check the
      appropriate Accept* header field and assign a
      quality to each variant. If the Accept* header for
      any dimension implies that this variant is not acceptable,
      eliminate it. If no variants remain, go to step 4.

        Select the 'best' variant by a process of elimination. Each
        of the following tests is applied in order. Any variants
        not selected at each test are eliminated. After each test,
        if only one variant remains, select it as the best match
        and proceed to step 3. If more than one variant remains,
        move on to the next test.

          Multiply the quality factor from the Accept
          header with the quality-of-source factor for this variants
          media type, and select the variants with the highest

          Select the variants with the highest language quality

          Select the variants with the best language match,
          using either the order of languages in the
          Accept-Language header (if present), or else
          the order of languages in the LanguagePriority
          directive (if present).

          Select the variants with the highest 'level' media
          parameter (used to give the version of text/html media

          Select variants with the best charset media
          parameters, as given on the Accept-Charset
          header line.  Charset ISO-8859-1 is acceptable unless
          explicitly excluded. Variants with a text/*
          media type but not explicitly associated with a particular
          charset are assumed to be in ISO-8859-1.

          Select those variants which have associated charset
          media parameters that are not ISO-8859-1. If
          there are no such variants, select all variants

          Select the variants with the best encoding. If there
          are variants with an encoding that is acceptable to the
          user-agent, select only these variants. Otherwise if
          there is a mix of encoded and non-encoded variants,
          select only the unencoded variants. If either all
          variants are encoded or all variants are not encoded,
          select all variants.

          Select the variants with the smallest content

          Select the first variant of those remaining. This
          will be either the first listed in the type-map file, or
          when variants are read from the directory, the one whose
          file name comes first when sorted using ASCII code

      The algorithm has now selected one 'best' variant, so
      return it as the response. The HTTP response header
      Vary is set to indicate the dimensions of
      negotiation (browsers and caches can use this information when
      caching the resource).  End.

      To get here means no variant was selected (because none
      are acceptable to the browser). Return a 406 status (meaning
      "No acceptable representation") with a response body
      consisting of an HTML document listing the available
      variants. Also set the HTTP Vary header to
      indicate the dimensions of variance.

Fiddling with Quality

    httpd sometimes changes the quality values from what would
    be expected by a strict interpretation of the httpd
    negotiation algorithm above. This is to get a better result
    from the algorithm for browsers which do not send full or
    accurate information. Some of the most popular browsers send
    Accept header information which would otherwise
    result in the selection of the wrong variant in many cases. If a
    browser sends full and correct information these fiddles will not
    be applied.

Media Types and Wildcards

    The Accept: request header indicates preferences
    for media types. It can also include 'wildcard' media types, such
    as "image/*" or "*/*" where the * matches any string. So a request

Accept: image/*, */*

    would indicate that any type starting "image/" is acceptable,
    as is any other type.
    Some browsers routinely send wildcards in addition to explicit
    types they can handle. For example:

  Accept: text/html, text/plain, image/gif, image/jpeg, */*

    The intention of this is to indicate that the explicitly listed
    types are preferred, but if a different representation is
    available, that is ok too.  Using explicit quality values,
    what the browser really wants is something like:

  Accept: text/html, text/plain, image/gif, image/jpeg, */*; q=0.01

    The explicit types have no quality factor, so they default to a
    preference of 1.0 (the highest). The wildcard */* is given a
    low preference of 0.01, so other types will only be returned if
    no variant matches an explicitly listed type.

    If the Accept: header contains no q
    factors at all, httpd sets the q value of "*/*", if present, to
    0.01 to emulate the desired behavior. It also sets the q value of
    wildcards of the format "type/*" to 0.02 (so these are preferred
    over matches against "*/*". If any media type on the
    Accept: header contains a q factor, these special
    values are not applied, so requests from browsers which
    send the explicit information to start with work as expected.

Language Negotiation Exceptions

    New in httpd 2.0, some exceptions have been added to the
    negotiation algorithm to allow graceful fallback when language
    negotiation fails to find a match.

    When a client requests a page on your server, but the server
    cannot find a single page that matches the
    Accept-language sent by
    the browser, the server will return either a "No Acceptable
    Variant" or "Multiple Choices" response to the client.  To avoid
    these error messages, it is possible to configure httpd to ignore
    the Accept-language in these cases and provide a
    document that does not explicitly match the client's request.  The
    directive can be used to override one or both of these error
    messages and substitute the servers judgement in the form of the

    The server will also attempt to match language-subsets when no
    other match can be found.  For example, if a client requests
    documents with the language en-GB for British
    English, the server is not normally allowed by the HTTP/1.1
    standard to match that against a document that is marked as simply
    en.  (Note that it is almost surely a configuration
    error to include en-GB and not en in the
    Accept-Language header, since it is very unlikely
    that a reader understands British English, but doesn't understand
    English in general.  Unfortunately, many current clients have
    default configurations that resemble this.)  However, if no other
    language match is possible and the server is about to return a "No
    Acceptable Variants" error or fallback to the LanguagePriority, the server
    will ignore the subset specification and match en-GB
    against en documents.  Implicitly, httpd will add
    the parent language to the client's acceptable language list with
    a very low quality value.  But note that if the client requests
    "en-GB; q=0.9, fr; q=0.8", and the server has documents
    designated "en" and "fr", then the "fr" document will be returned.
    This is necessary to maintain compliance with the HTTP/1.1
    specification and to work effectively with properly configured

    In order to support advanced techniques (such as cookies or
    special URL-paths) to determine the user's preferred language,
    since httpd 2.0.47 mod_negotiation recognizes
    the environment variable
    prefer-language. If it exists and contains an
    appropriate language tag, mod_negotiation will
    try to select a matching variant. If there's no such variant,
    the normal negotiation process applies.

    ExampleSetEnvIf Cookie "language=(.+)" prefer-language=$1
Header append Vary cookie

Extensions to Transparent Content

httpd extends the transparent content negotiation protocol (RFC
2295) as follows. A new {encoding ..} element is used in
variant lists to label variants which are available with a specific
content-encoding only. The implementation of the RVSA/1.0 algorithm
(RFC 2296) is extended to recognize encoded variants in the list, and
to use them as candidate variants whenever their encodings are
acceptable according to the Accept-Encoding request
header. The RVSA/1.0 implementation does not round computed quality
factors to 5 decimal places before choosing the best variant.

Note on hyperlinks and naming conventions

    If you are using language negotiation you can choose between
    different naming conventions, because files can have more than
    one extension, and the order of the extensions is normally
    irrelevant (see the mod_mime documentation
    for details).

    A typical file has a MIME-type extension (e.g.,
    html), maybe an encoding extension (e.g.,
    gz), and of course a language extension
    (e.g., en) when we have different
    language variants of this file.





    Here some more examples of filenames together with valid and
    invalid hyperlinks:


        Valid hyperlink

        Invalid hyperlink



















    Looking at the table above, you will notice that it is always
    possible to use the name without any extensions in a hyperlink
    (e.g., foo). The advantage is that you
    can hide the actual type of a document rsp. file and can change
    it later, e.g., from html to
    shtml or cgi without changing any
    hyperlink references.

    If you want to continue to use a MIME-type in your
    hyperlinks (e.g. foo.html) the language
    extension (including an encoding extension if there is one)
    must be on the right hand side of the MIME-type extension
    (e.g., foo.html.en).

Note on Caching

    When a cache stores a representation, it associates it with
    the request URL. The next time that URL is requested, the cache
    can use the stored representation. But, if the resource is
    negotiable at the server, this might result in only the first
    requested variant being cached and subsequent cache hits might
    return the wrong response. To prevent this, httpd normally
    marks all responses that are returned after content negotiation
    as non-cacheable by HTTP/1.0 clients. httpd also supports the
    HTTP/1.1 protocol features to allow caching of negotiated

    For requests which come from a HTTP/1.0 compliant client
    (either a browser or a cache), the directive CacheNegotiatedDocs can be
    used to allow caching of responses which were subject to
    negotiation. This directive can be given in the server config or
    virtual host, and takes no arguments. It has no effect on requests
    from HTTP/1.1 clients.

    For HTTP/1.1 clients, httpd sends a Vary HTTP
    response header to indicate the negotiation dimensions for the
    response.  Caches can use this information to determine whether a
    subsequent request can be served from the local copy.  To
    encourage a cache to use the local copy regardless of the
    negotiation dimensions, set the force-no-vary environment variable.

Available Languages:  en  |
 fr  |
 ja  |
 ko  |
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