Last modified 18:48, 22 Jul 2008

Byte Ranges

Since all HTTP entities are represented in HTTP messages as sequences of bytes, the concept of a byte range is meaningful for any HTTP entity. (However, not all clients and servers need to support byte- range operations.)

Byte range specifications in HTTP apply to the sequence of bytes in the entity-body (not necessarily the same as the message-body).

A byte range operation MAY specify a single range of bytes, or a set of ranges within a single entity.

       ranges-specifier = byte-ranges-specifier
       byte-ranges-specifier = bytes-unit "=" byte-range-set
       byte-range-set  = 1#( byte-range-spec | suffix-byte-range-spec )
       byte-range-spec = first-byte-pos "-" [last-byte-pos]
       first-byte-pos  = 1*DIGIT
       last-byte-pos   = 1*DIGIT

The first-byte-pos value in a byte-range-spec gives the byte-offset of the first byte in a range. The last-byte-pos value gives the byte-offset of the last byte in the range; that is, the byte positions specified are inclusive. Byte offsets start at zero.

If the last-byte-pos value is present, it MUST be greater than or equal to the first-byte-pos in that byte-range-spec, or the byte- range-spec is syntactically invalid. The recipient of a byte-range- set that includes one or more syntactically invalid byte-range-spec values MUST ignore the header field that includes that byte-range- set.

If the last-byte-pos value is absent, or if the value is greater than or equal to the current length of the entity-body, last-byte-pos is taken to be equal to one less than the current length of the entity- body in bytes.

By its choice of last-byte-pos, a client can limit the number of bytes retrieved without knowing the size of the entity.

       suffix-byte-range-spec = "-" suffix-length
       suffix-length = 1*DIGIT

A suffix-byte-range-spec is used to specify the suffix of the entity-body, of a length given by the suffix-length value. (That is, this form specifies the last N bytes of an entity-body.) If the entity is shorter than the specified suffix-length, the entire entity-body is used.

If a syntactically valid byte-range-set includes at least one byte- range-spec whose first-byte-pos is less than the current length of the entity-body, or at least one suffix-byte-range-spec with a non- zero suffix-length, then the byte-range-set is satisfiable. Otherwise, the byte-range-set is unsatisfiable. If the byte-range-set is unsatisfiable, the server SHOULD return a response with a status of 416 (Requested range not satisfiable). Otherwise, the server SHOULD return a response with a status of 206 (Partial Content) containing the satisfiable ranges of the entity-body.

Examples of byte-ranges-specifier values (assuming an entity-body of length 10000):

  • The first 500 bytes (byte offsets 0-499, inclusive):
    • bytes=0-499
  • The second 500 bytes (byte offsets 500-999, inclusive):
    • bytes=500-999
  • The final 500 bytes (byte offsets 9500-9999, inclusive): 
    • bytes=-500
    • bytes=9500-
  • The first and last bytes only (bytes 0 and 9999):
    • bytes=0-0,-1
  • Several legal but not canonical specifications of the second 500 bytes (byte offsets 500-999, inclusive):
    • bytes=500-600,601-999
    • bytes=500-700,601-999

Range Retrieval Requests

HTTP retrieval requests using conditional or unconditional GET methods MAY request one or more sub-ranges of the entity, instead of the entire entity, using the Range request header, which applies to the entity returned as the result of the request:

      Range = "Range" ":" ranges-specifier

A server MAY ignore the Range header. However, HTTP/1.1 origin servers and intermediate caches ought to support byte ranges when possible, since Range supports efficient recovery from partially failed transfers, and supports efficient partial retrieval of large entities.

If the server supports the Range header and the specified range or ranges are appropriate for the entity:

  • The presence of a Range header in an unconditional GET modifies what is returned if the GET is otherwise successful. In other words, the response carries a status code of 206 (Partial Content) instead of 200 (OK).
  • The presence of a Range header in a conditional GET (a request using one or both of If-Modified-Since and If-None-Match, or one or both of If-Unmodified-Since and If-Match) modifies what is returned if the GET is otherwise successful and the condition is true. It does not affect the 304 (Not Modified) response returned if the conditional is false.

In some cases, it might be more appropriate to use the If-Range header (see section 14.27) in addition to the Range header.

If a proxy that supports ranges receives a Range request, forwards the request to an inbound server, and receives an entire entity in reply, it SHOULD only return the requested range to its client. It SHOULD store the entire received response in its cache if that is consistent with its cache allocation policies


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