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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

8.2 Nontransparent Proxy Deployment

Nontransparent proxy deployment refers to a deployment in which client software is made aware in some way of the proxy's existence. Then clients send their Web requests to the proxy regardless of the origin servers specified in the URLs. In addition to document retrieval, these clients also delegate DNS resolutions to a proxy: a browser sends to its proxy the entire requested URL, including the host name part, and the proxy then, if needed, resolves the host name into an IP address and retrieves the object from that address. This is different from the actions of clients accessing the Web directly. Such a client itself obtains the origin server's IP address and sends the HTTP request containing just the path portion of the URL (see Section 4.1) to that address.

Proxies whose deployment is nontransparent to clients are often called explicit proxies. Let us now consider different ways of making clients aware of the explicit proxy.

8.2.1 Explicit Client Configuration

With explicit client configuration, clients (browsers or other proxies) are explicitly configured to send requests to a proxy instead of the origin servers.

There are several advantages to explicit client configuration. One advantage is its flexibility. Users can easily bypass the proxy if they choose to, by simply changing their browser configuration. Also, the proxy can be deployed at any convenient place in the network: since clients explicitly address their requests to the proxy, the requests will find their way to the proxy regardless of where it is located.

The main disadvantage of this deployment method is that clients must be explicitly configured. This causes administrative complications, especially for an ISP. In fact, the ISP often does not even know the clients at all, as, for example, when they belong to an enterprise customer or a downstream ISP. Switching the proxy off for maintenance or other reasons also becomes a problem. Still, explicit client configuration is a simple and valid alternative for proxy deployment in enterprise networks, and ISPs sometimes use it by preconfiguring browsers of their own residential customers.

8.2.2 Browser Autoconfiguration

Modern browsers implement proxy autoconfiguration capability [Netscape 1996]. Instead of being configured directly to use a certain proxy, a browser is configured to download a special URL every time it is started, called an autoconfiguration file, which identifies the proxy the browser should use. This level of indirection allows the administrator to maintain the proxy configuration information in a centralized manner. For instance, when a browser should be assigned to a different proxy, the administrator need only change the autoconfiguration file that is returned to the browser. The browser itself need not be reconfigured, though it must be restarted for the change to take effect.

In addition to simplifying administration, an autoconfiguration file can specify backup proxies and also different proxies for different Web sites and URL types. For example, the file can specify that the browser should use proxy P1 for all URLs matching the "*.gif" pattern, proxy P2 for those URLs matching the "*.html" pattern, and go directly to the Web site for all URLs that match the "*/cgi-bin/*" pattern, where the asterisk denotes an arbitrary string.

The autoconfiguration facility simplifies administration of explicit proxies but does not change the fact that every browser must be explicitly configured. The next step in automating browser configuration is a mechanism that allows the browser to discover automatically the autoconfiguration file URL.

8.2.3 Proxy Auto-Discovery

A mechanism for discovering an explicit proxy, called Web Proxy Auto-Discovery (WPAD) [Inktomi 1998], utilizes various protocols that hosts may use to discover resources on the network, such as printers, name servers, and so forth. For example, when using DNS, all browsers using this method essentially agree on a well-known relative domain name of the Web server that must provide the autocon-figuration file—such as wpad. At start-up, the browser queries its DNS server for this name (after expanding it into a fully qualified name as it normally would, like wpad.research.att.com). The DNS server returns the IP address of the Web server where the autoconfiguration file resides. The browser then constructs the autoconfiguration URL by adding a well-known path portion to the discovered IP address of the server, such as wpad.dat. If, for example, the IP address of the autoconfiguration server is 127.200.27.11, then the autoconfiguration URL would be http://127.200.27.11/wpad.dat. Once this URL is constructed, the browser can download the autoconfiguration file and start using the specified proxies.

With autodiscovery, the administrator need only maintain a Web server with the well-known domain name and an autoconfiguration file on that server with the well-known URL. The browsers could be used "out of the box," with no configuration, and still find proxies to use.

The proxy auto-discovery mechanism is in the proposal state. Moreover, it works only when the browser and the proxy are in the same administrative domain, such as an enterprise network. In other cases, transparent deployment, achieved with interception proxies, became a popular alternative.

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