Communicating with HTTP Servers

This chapter explains how to create, send, and receive HTTP requests and responses.

Creating a CFHTTP Request

An HTTP request is a message consisting of a method for the remote server to execute, the object to operate on (the URL), message headers, and a message body. The methods are usually one of the following: GET, HEAD, PUT, POST, DELETE, TRACE, CONNECT or OPTIONS. Creating an HTTP request with CFHTTP requires four steps:

  1. Generate a CFHTTP message object using the CFHTTPMessageCreateRequest function.

  2. Set the body of the message using the function CFHTTPMessageSetBody.

  3. Set the message's headers using the CFHTTPMessageSetHeaderFieldValue function.

  4. Serialize the message by calling the function CFHTTPMessageCopySerializedMessage.

Sample code would look like the code in Listing 3-1.

Listing 3-1  Creating an HTTP request

CFStringRef bodyString = CFSTR(""); // Usually used for POST data
CFDataRef bodyData = CFStringCreateExternalRepresentation(kCFAllocatorDefault,
                                        bodyString, kCFStringEncodingUTF8, 0);
CFStringRef headerFieldName = CFSTR("X-My-Favorite-Field");
CFStringRef headerFieldValue = CFSTR("Dreams");
CFStringRef url = CFSTR("");
CFURLRef myURL = CFURLCreateWithString(kCFAllocatorDefault, url, NULL);
CFStringRef requestMethod = CFSTR("GET");
CFHTTPMessageRef myRequest =
    CFHTTPMessageCreateRequest(kCFAllocatorDefault, requestMethod, myURL,
CFDataRef bodyDataExt = CFStringCreateExternalRepresentation(kCFAllocatorDefault, bodyData, kCFStringEncodingUTF8, 0);
CFHTTPMessageSetBody(myRequest, bodyDataExt);
CFHTTPMessageSetHeaderFieldValue(myRequest, headerFieldName, headerFieldValue);
CFDataRef mySerializedRequest = CFHTTPMessageCopySerializedMessage(myRequest);

In this sample code, url is first converted into a CFURL object by calling CFURLCreateWithString. Then CFHTTPMessageCreateRequest is called with four parameters: kCFAllocatorDefault specifies that the default system memory allocator is to be used to create the message reference, requestMethod specifies the method, such as the POST method, myURL specifies the URL, such as, and kCFHTTPVersion1_1 specifies that message’s HTTP version is to be 1.1.

The message object reference (myRequest) returned by CFHTTPMessageCreateRequest is then sent to CFHTTPMessageSetBody along with the body of the message (bodyData). Then call CFHTTPMessageSetHeaderFieldValue using the same message object reference along with the name of the header (headerField), and the value to be set (value). The header parameter is a CFString object such as Content-Length, and the value parameter is a CFString object such as 1260. Finally, the message is serialized by calling CFHTTPMessageCopySerializedMessage and should be sent via a write stream to the intended recipient, in this example

When the message is no longer needed, release the message object and the serialized message. See Listing 3-2 for sample code.

Listing 3-2  Releasing an HTTP request

myRequest = NULL;
mySerializedRequest = NULL;

Creating a CFHTTP Response

The steps for creating an HTTP response are almost identical to those for creating an HTTP request. The only difference is that rather than calling CFHTTPMessageCreateRequest, you call the function CFHTTPMessageCreateResponse using the same parameters.

Deserializing an Incoming HTTP Request

To deserialize an incoming HTTP request, create an empty message using the CFHTTPMessageCreateEmpty function, passing TRUE as the isRequest parameter to specify that an empty request message is to be created. Then append the incoming message to the empty message using the function CFHTTPMessageAppendBytes. CFHTTPMessageAppendBytes deserializes the message and removes any control information it may contain.

Continue to do this until the function CFHTTPMessageIsHeaderComplete returns TRUE. If you do not check for CFHTTPMessageIsHeaderComplete to return TRUE, the message may be incomplete and unreliable. A sample of using these two functions can be seen in Listing 3-3.

Listing 3-3  Deserializing a message

CFHTTPMessageRef myMessage = CFHTTPMessageCreateEmpty(kCFAllocatorDefault, TRUE);
if (!CFHTTPMessageAppendBytes(myMessage, &data, numBytes)) {
    //Handle parsing error

In the example, data is the data that is to be appended and numBytes is the length of data. You may want to call CFHTTPMessageIsHeaderComplete to verify that the header of the appended message is complete.

if (CFHTTPMessageIsHeaderComplete(myMessage)) {
    // Perform processing.

With the message deserialized, you can now call any of the following functions to extract information from the message:

When you no longer need the message, release and dispose of it properly.

Deserializing an Incoming HTTP Response

Just as creating an HTTP request is very similar to creating an HTTP response, deserializing an incoming HTTP request is also very similar to deserializing an incoming HTTP response. The only important difference is that when calling CFHTTPMessageCreateEmpty, you must pass FALSE as the isRequest parameter to specify that the message to be created is a response message.

Using a Read Stream to Serialize and Send HTTP Requests

You can use a CFReadStream object to serialize and send CFHTTP requests. When you use a CFReadStream object to send a CFHTTP request, opening the stream causes the message to be serialized and sent in one step. Using a CFReadStream object to send CFHTTP requests makes it easy to get the response to the request because the response is available as a property of the stream.

Serializing and Sending an HTTP Request

To use a CFReadStream object to serialize and send an HTTP request, first create a CFHTTP request and set the message body and headers as described in Creating a CFHTTP Request. Then create a CFReadStream object by calling the function CFReadStreamCreateForHTTPRequest and passing the request you just created. Finally, open the read stream with CFReadStreamOpen.

When CFReadStreamCreateForHTTPRequest is called, it makes a copy of the CFHTTP request object that it is passed. Thus, if necessary, you could release the CFHTTP request object immediately after calling CFReadStreamCreateForHTTPRequest.

Because the read stream opens a socket connection with the server specified by the myUrl parameter when the CFHTTP request was created, some amount of time must be allowed to pass before the stream is considered to be open. Opening the read stream also causes the request to be serialized and sent.

A sample of how to serialize and send an HTTP request can be seen in Listing 3-4.

Listing 3-4  Serializing an HTTP request with a read stream

CFStringRef url = CFSTR("");
CFURLRef myURL = CFURLCreateWithString(kCFAllocatorDefault, url, NULL);
CFStringRef requestMethod = CFSTR("GET");
CFHTTPMessageRef myRequest = CFHTTPMessageCreateRequest(kCFAllocatorDefault,
        requestMethod, myUrl, kCFHTTPVersion1_1);
CFHTTPMessageSetBody(myRequest, bodyData);
CFHTTPMessageSetHeaderFieldValue(myRequest, headerField, value);
CFReadStreamRef myReadStream = CFReadStreamCreateForHTTPRequest(kCFAllocatorDefault, myRequest);

Checking the Response

After you schedule the request on a run loop, you will eventually get a header complete callback. At this point, you can call CFReadStreamCopyProperty to get the message response from the read stream:

CFHTTPMessageRef myResponse = (CFHTTPMessageRef)CFReadStreamCopyProperty(myReadStream, kCFStreamPropertyHTTPResponseHeader);

You can get the complete status line from the response message by calling the function CFHTTPMessageCopyResponseStatusLine:

CFStringRef myStatusLine = CFHTTPMessageCopyResponseStatusLine(myResponse);

Or get just the status code from the response message by calling the function CFHTTPMessageGetResponseStatusCode:

UInt32 myErrCode = CFHTTPMessageGetResponseStatusCode(myResponse);

Handling Authentication Errors

If the status code returned by the function CFHTTPMessageGetResponseStatusCode is 401 (the remote server requires authentication information) or 407 (a proxy server requires authentication), you need to append authentication information to the request and send it again. Please read Communicating with Authenticating HTTP Servers for information on how to handle authentication.

Handling Redirection Errors

When CFReadStreamCreateForHTTPRequest creates a read stream, automatic redirection for the stream is disabled by default. If the uniform resource locator, or URL, to which the request is sent is redirected to another URL, sending the request will result in an error whose status code ranges from 300 to 307. If you receive a redirection error, you need to close the stream, create the stream again, enable automatic redirection for it, and open the stream. See Listing 3-5.

Listing 3-5  Redirecting an HTTP stream

CFReadStreamRef myReadStream =
    CFReadStreamCreateForHTTPRequest(kCFAllocatorDefault, myRequest);
if (CFReadStreamSetProperty(myReadStream, kCFStreamPropertyHTTPShouldAutoredirect, kCFBooleanTrue) == false) {
    // something went wrong, exit

You may want to enable automatic redirection whenever you create a read stream.

Canceling a Pending Request

Once a request has been sent, it is not possible to prevent the remote server from acting on it. However, if you no longer care about the response data, you can close the stream.