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Apache 1.3 API notes

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This document has not been updated to take into account changes made in the 2.0 version of the Apache HTTP Server. Some of the information may still be relevant, but please use it with care.

These are some notes on the Apache API and the data structures you have to deal with, etc. They are not yet nearly complete, but hopefully, they will help you get your bearings. Keep in mind that the API is still subject to change as we gain experience with it. (See the TODO file for what might be coming). However, it will be easy to adapt modules to any changes that are made. (We have more modules to adapt than you do).

A few notes on general pedagogical style here. In the interest of conciseness, all structure declarations here are incomplete -- the real ones have more slots that I'm not telling you about. For the most part, these are reserved to one component of the server core or another, and should be altered by modules with caution. However, in some cases, they really are things I just haven't gotten around to yet. Welcome to the bleeding edge.

Finally, here's an outline, to give you some bare idea of what's coming up, and in what order:


Basic concepts

We begin with an overview of the basic concepts behind the API, and how they are manifested in the code.

Handlers, Modules, and Requests

Apache breaks down request handling into a series of steps, more or less the same way the Netscape server API does (although this API has a few more stages than NetSite does, as hooks for stuff I thought might be useful in the future). These are:

These phases are handled by looking at each of a succession of modules, looking to see if each of them has a handler for the phase, and attempting invoking it if so. The handler can typically do one of three things:

Most phases are terminated by the first module that handles them; however, for logging, `fixups', and non-access authentication checking, all handlers always run (barring an error). Also, the response phase is unique in that modules may declare multiple handlers for it, via a dispatch table keyed on the MIME type of the requested object. Modules may declare a response-phase handler which can handle any request, by giving it the key */* (i.e., a wildcard MIME type specification). However, wildcard handlers are only invoked if the server has already tried and failed to find a more specific response handler for the MIME type of the requested object (either none existed, or they all declined).

The handlers themselves are functions of one argument (a request_rec structure. vide infra), which returns an integer, as above.

A brief tour of a module

At this point, we need to explain the structure of a module. Our candidate will be one of the messier ones, the CGI module -- this handles both CGI scripts and the ScriptAlias config file command. It's actually a great deal more complicated than most modules, but if we're going to have only one example, it might as well be the one with its fingers in every place.

Let's begin with handlers. In order to handle the CGI scripts, the module declares a response handler for them. Because of ScriptAlias, it also has handlers for the name translation phase (to recognize ScriptAliased URIs), the type-checking phase (any ScriptAliased request is typed as a CGI script).

The module needs to maintain some per (virtual) server information, namely, the ScriptAliases in effect; the module structure therefore contains pointers to a functions which builds these structures, and to another which combines two of them (in case the main server and a virtual server both have ScriptAliases declared).

Finally, this module contains code to handle the ScriptAlias command itself. This particular module only declares one command, but there could be more, so modules have command tables which declare their commands, and describe where they are permitted, and how they are to be invoked.

A final note on the declared types of the arguments of some of these commands: a pool is a pointer to a resource pool structure; these are used by the server to keep track of the memory which has been allocated, files opened, etc., either to service a particular request, or to handle the process of configuring itself. That way, when the request is over (or, for the configuration pool, when the server is restarting), the memory can be freed, and the files closed, en masse, without anyone having to write explicit code to track them all down and dispose of them. Also, a cmd_parms structure contains various information about the config file being read, and other status information, which is sometimes of use to the function which processes a config-file command (such as ScriptAlias). With no further ado, the module itself:

/* Declarations of handlers. */

int translate_scriptalias (request_rec *);
int type_scriptalias (request_rec *);
int cgi_handler (request_rec *);

/* Subsidiary dispatch table for response-phase
 * handlers, by MIME type */

handler_rec cgi_handlers[] = {
{ "application/x-httpd-cgi", cgi_handler },
{ NULL }

/* Declarations of routines to manipulate the
 * module's configuration info. Note that these are
 * returned, and passed in, as void *'s; the server
 * core keeps track of them, but it doesn't, and can't,
 * know their internal structure.

void *make_cgi_server_config (pool *);
void *merge_cgi_server_config (pool *, void *, void *);

/* Declarations of routines to handle config-file commands */

extern char *script_alias(cmd_parms *, void *per_dir_config, char *fake, char *real);

command_rec cgi_cmds[] = {
{ "ScriptAlias", script_alias, NULL, RSRC_CONF, TAKE2,
"a fakename and a realname"},
{ NULL }

module cgi_module = {

  NULL,                     /* initializer */
  NULL,                     /* dir config creator */
  NULL,                     /* dir merger */
  make_cgi_server_config,   /* server config */
  merge_cgi_server_config,  /* merge server config */
  cgi_cmds,                 /* command table */
  cgi_handlers,             /* handlers */
  translate_scriptalias,    /* filename translation */
  NULL,                     /* check_user_id */
  NULL,                     /* check auth */
  NULL,                     /* check access */
  type_scriptalias,         /* type_checker */
  NULL,                     /* fixups */
  NULL,                     /* logger */
  NULL                      /* header parser */

How handlers work

The sole argument to handlers is a request_rec structure. This structure describes a particular request which has been made to the server, on behalf of a client. In most cases, each connection to the client generates only one request_rec structure.

A brief tour of the request_rec

The request_rec contains pointers to a resource pool which will be cleared when the server is finished handling the request; to structures containing per-server and per-connection information, and most importantly, information on the request itself.

The most important such information is a small set of character strings describing attributes of the object being requested, including its URI, filename, content-type and content-encoding (these being filled in by the translation and type-check handlers which handle the request, respectively).

Other commonly used data items are tables giving the MIME headers on the client's original request, MIME headers to be sent back with the response (which modules can add to at will), and environment variables for any subprocesses which are spawned off in the course of servicing the request. These tables are manipulated using the ap_table_get and ap_table_set routines.

Note that the Content-type header value cannot be set by module content-handlers using the ap_table_*() routines. Rather, it is set by pointing the content_type field in the request_rec structure to an appropriate string. e.g.,

r->content_type = "text/html";

Finally, there are pointers to two data structures which, in turn, point to per-module configuration structures. Specifically, these hold pointers to the data structures which the module has built to describe the way it has been configured to operate in a given directory (via .htaccess files or <Directory> sections), for private data it has built in the course of servicing the request (so modules' handlers for one phase can pass `notes' to their handlers for other phases). There is another such configuration vector in the server_rec data structure pointed to by the request_rec, which contains per (virtual) server configuration data.

Here is an abridged declaration, giving the fields most commonly used:

struct request_rec {

pool *pool;
conn_rec *connection;
server_rec *server;

/* What object is being requested */

char *uri;
char *filename;
char *path_info;

char *args;           /* QUERY_ARGS, if any */
struct stat finfo;    /* Set by server core;
                       * st_mode set to zero if no such file */

char *content_type;
char *content_encoding;

/* MIME header environments, in and out. Also,
 * an array containing environment variables to
 * be passed to subprocesses, so people can write
 * modules to add to that environment.
 * The difference between headers_out and
 * err_headers_out is that the latter are printed
 * even on error, and persist across internal
 * redirects (so the headers printed for
 * ErrorDocument handlers will have them).

table *headers_in;
table *headers_out;
table *err_headers_out;
table *subprocess_env;

/* Info about the request itself... */

int header_only;     /* HEAD request, as opposed to GET */
char *protocol;      /* Protocol, as given to us, or HTTP/0.9 */
char *method;        /* GET, HEAD, POST, etc. */
int method_number;   /* M_GET, M_POST, etc. */

/* Info for logging */

char *the_request;
int bytes_sent;

/* A flag which modules can set, to indicate that
 * the data being returned is volatile, and clients
 * should be told not to cache it.

int no_cache;

/* Various other config info which may change
 * with .htaccess files
 * These are config vectors, with one void*
 * pointer for each module (the thing pointed
 * to being the module's business).

void *per_dir_config;   /* Options set in config files, etc. */
void *request_config;   /* Notes on *this* request */


Where request_rec structures come from

Most request_rec structures are built by reading an HTTP request from a client, and filling in the fields. However, there are a few exceptions:

Handling requests, declining, and returning error codes

As discussed above, each handler, when invoked to handle a particular request_rec, has to return an int to indicate what happened. That can either be

Note that if the error code returned is REDIRECT, then the module should put a Location in the request's headers_out, to indicate where the client should be redirected to.

Special considerations for response handlers

Handlers for most phases do their work by simply setting a few fields in the request_rec structure (or, in the case of access checkers, simply by returning the correct error code). However, response handlers have to actually send a request back to the client.

They should begin by sending an HTTP response header, using the function ap_send_http_header. (You don't have to do anything special to skip sending the header for HTTP/0.9 requests; the function figures out on its own that it shouldn't do anything). If the request is marked header_only, that's all they should do; they should return after that, without attempting any further output.

Otherwise, they should produce a request body which responds to the client as appropriate. The primitives for this are ap_rputc and ap_rprintf, for internally generated output, and ap_send_fd, to copy the contents of some FILE * straight to the client.

At this point, you should more or less understand the following piece of code, which is the handler which handles GET requests which have no more specific handler; it also shows how conditional GETs can be handled, if it's desirable to do so in a particular response handler -- ap_set_last_modified checks against the If-modified-since value supplied by the client, if any, and returns an appropriate code (which will, if nonzero, be USE_LOCAL_COPY). No similar considerations apply for ap_set_content_length, but it returns an error code for symmetry.

int default_handler (request_rec *r)
int errstatus;
FILE *f;

if (r->method_number != M_GET) return DECLINED;
if (r->finfo.st_mode == 0) return NOT_FOUND;

if ((errstatus = ap_set_content_length (r, r->finfo.st_size))
    || (errstatus = ap_set_last_modified (r, r->finfo.st_mtime)))
return errstatus;

f = fopen (r->filename, "r");

if (f == NULL) {
log_reason("file permissions deny server access", r->filename, r);

register_timeout ("send", r);
ap_send_http_header (r);

if (!r->header_only) send_fd (f, r);
ap_pfclose (r->pool, f);
return OK;

Finally, if all of this is too much of a challenge, there are a few ways out of it. First off, as shown above, a response handler which has not yet produced any output can simply return an error code, in which case the server will automatically produce an error response. Secondly, it can punt to some other handler by invoking ap_internal_redirect, which is how the internal redirection machinery discussed above is invoked. A response handler which has internally redirected should always return OK.

(Invoking ap_internal_redirect from handlers which are not response handlers will lead to serious confusion).

Special considerations for authentication handlers

Stuff that should be discussed here in detail:

Special considerations for logging handlers

When a request has internally redirected, there is the question of what to log. Apache handles this by bundling the entire chain of redirects into a list of request_rec structures which are threaded through the r->prev and r->next pointers. The request_rec which is passed to the logging handlers in such cases is the one which was originally built for the initial request from the client; note that the bytes_sent field will only be correct in the last request in the chain (the one for which a response was actually sent).


Resource allocation and resource pools

One of the problems of writing and designing a server-pool server is that of preventing leakage, that is, allocating resources (memory, open files, etc.), without subsequently releasing them. The resource pool machinery is designed to make it easy to prevent this from happening, by allowing resource to be allocated in such a way that they are automatically released when the server is done with them.

The way this works is as follows: the memory which is allocated, file opened, etc., to deal with a particular request are tied to a resource pool which is allocated for the request. The pool is a data structure which itself tracks the resources in question.

When the request has been processed, the pool is cleared. At that point, all the memory associated with it is released for reuse, all files associated with it are closed, and any other clean-up functions which are associated with the pool are run. When this is over, we can be confident that all the resource tied to the pool have been released, and that none of them have leaked.

Server restarts, and allocation of memory and resources for per-server configuration, are handled in a similar way. There is a configuration pool, which keeps track of resources which were allocated while reading the server configuration files, and handling the commands therein (for instance, the memory that was allocated for per-server module configuration, log files and other files that were opened, and so forth). When the server restarts, and has to reread the configuration files, the configuration pool is cleared, and so the memory and file descriptors which were taken up by reading them the last time are made available for reuse.

It should be noted that use of the pool machinery isn't generally obligatory, except for situations like logging handlers, where you really need to register cleanups to make sure that the log file gets closed when the server restarts (this is most easily done by using the function ap_pfopen, which also arranges for the underlying file descriptor to be closed before any child processes, such as for CGI scripts, are execed), or in case you are using the timeout machinery (which isn't yet even documented here). However, there are two benefits to using it: resources allocated to a pool never leak (even if you allocate a scratch string, and just forget about it); also, for memory allocation, ap_palloc is generally faster than malloc.

We begin here by describing how memory is allocated to pools, and then discuss how other resources are tracked by the resource pool machinery.

Allocation of memory in pools

Memory is allocated to pools by calling the function ap_palloc, which takes two arguments, one being a pointer to a resource pool structure, and the other being the amount of memory to allocate (in chars). Within handlers for handling requests, the most common way of getting a resource pool structure is by looking at the pool slot of the relevant request_rec; hence the repeated appearance of the following idiom in module code:

int my_handler(request_rec *r)
struct my_structure *foo;

foo = (foo *)ap_palloc (r->pool, sizeof(my_structure));

Note that there is no ap_pfree -- ap_palloced memory is freed only when the associated resource pool is cleared. This means that ap_palloc does not have to do as much accounting as malloc(); all it does in the typical case is to round up the size, bump a pointer, and do a range check.

(It also raises the possibility that heavy use of ap_palloc could cause a server process to grow excessively large. There are two ways to deal with this, which are dealt with below; briefly, you can use malloc, and try to be sure that all of the memory gets explicitly freed, or you can allocate a sub-pool of the main pool, allocate your memory in the sub-pool, and clear it out periodically. The latter technique is discussed in the section on sub-pools below, and is used in the directory-indexing code, in order to avoid excessive storage allocation when listing directories with thousands of files).

Allocating initialized memory

There are functions which allocate initialized memory, and are frequently useful. The function ap_pcalloc has the same interface as ap_palloc, but clears out the memory it allocates before it returns it. The function ap_pstrdup takes a resource pool and a char * as arguments, and allocates memory for a copy of the string the pointer points to, returning a pointer to the copy. Finally ap_pstrcat is a varargs-style function, which takes a pointer to a resource pool, and at least two char * arguments, the last of which must be NULL. It allocates enough memory to fit copies of each of the strings, as a unit; for instance:

ap_pstrcat (r->pool, "foo", "/", "bar", NULL);

returns a pointer to 8 bytes worth of memory, initialized to "foo/bar".

Commonly-used pools in the Apache Web server

A pool is really defined by its lifetime more than anything else. There are some static pools in http_main which are passed to various non-http_main functions as arguments at opportune times. Here they are:

never passed to anything else, this is the ancestor of all pools
  • subpool of permanent_pool
  • created at the beginning of a config "cycle"; exists until the server is terminated or restarts; passed to all config-time routines, either via cmd->pool, or as the "pool *p" argument on those which don't take pools
  • passed to the module init() functions
  • sorry I lie, this pool isn't called this currently in 1.3, I renamed it this in my pthreads development. I'm referring to the use of ptrans in the parent... contrast this with the later definition of ptrans in the child.
  • subpool of permanent_pool
  • created at the beginning of a config "cycle"; exists until the end of config parsing; passed to config-time routines via cmd->temp_pool