Revisiting 100-continue with unbuffered proxying

kbolino nginx-forum at
Sat May 1 04:38:30 UTC 2021

Use case: Large uploads (hundreds of megabytes to tens of gigabytes) where
nginx is serving as a reverse proxy and load balancer. The upstream servers
can get bogged down, and when they do, they apply backpressure by responding
with 503 status code.

Problem: Naively implemented, the client sends the entire request body off
to the server, then waits to find out that the server can't handle the
request. Time and network bandwidth are wasted, and the client has to retry
the request.

Partial solution: Using an idempotent request method, with
"proxy_request_buffering on", and "proxy_next_upstream http_503", nginx will
accept the upload from the client once, but try each server in succession
until one works. Fortunately, nginx will set header "Expect: 100-continue"
on each proxied request and will not send the request body off to an
upstream server that isn't ready to receive it. However, nginx won't even
begin to send a proxied request to any upstream server until the initial
request body upload from the client has completed. Also, the entire request
body has to be stored somewhere local to nginx and the speed of that storage
has a direct impact on the performance of the whole process.

Next solution idea: Have the *client* set header "Expect: 100-continue".
Then the client won't send the request body until nginx can find an upstream
server to handle the request. However, this is not how things work today.
Nginx will unconditionally accept the request with "100 Continue" regardless
of upstream server status. With buffering enabled, this makes sense, since
nginx wants to aggressively buffer the request body so it can re-send it if

Refined solution idea: Disable buffering. Unfortunately, while setting
"proxy_request_buffering off" and "proxy_http_version 1.1" does disable
buffering, it doesn't disable nginx from immediately telling the client "100
Continue". Moreover, nginx only tries one upstream server before giving up,
probably because it has no buffered copy of the request body to send to the
next server on behalf of the client. Yet if nginx delayed sending "100
Continue" back to the client, it could have taken a little bit more time to
find a viable upstream server.

I did some digging before bringing this topic up, and I find a proposed
(, a
request in the forum
(,212533,212533#msg-212533), and a trac
ticket ( all to disable automatic
handling of the 100-continue mechanism. The trac ticket was closed because
unbuffered upload was not supported yet, the patch was rejected because it
sounded like it was the other side's problem to solve, and finally the forum
request was rejected because nginx was "designed as [an] accelerator to
minimize backend interaction with a client".

As to that last quoted part, I agree! I'd rather have nginx figure things
out than to have the client finagle with the backend server too much. So
here's what I think should happen. First, the client's Expect header should
not get directly passed on to the upstream server nor should nginx ignore
the header entirely (i.e., keep these things the same as they are today).
Instead, with unbuffered upload, an upstream block with multiple servers,
and proxy_next_upstream set to try another server when one fails:

1. Client sends request with "Expect: 100-continue" to nginx
2. Nginx receives request but does not respond with anything yet
3. Nginx tries the first eligible server by sending a proxied request with
"Expect: 100-continue" (not passthrough; this is nginx's own logic and this
part exists today as far as I can tell)
4. If the server responds "100 Continue" to nginx *then* nginx responds "100
Continue" to the client and the unbuffered upload proceeds to that server
5. If instead the server fails in a way that proxy_next_upstream is
configured to handle, then nginx still doesn't respond to the client, and
now tries to reach the next eligible server instead.
6. This process proceeds until a server willing to accept the request is
found or all servers have been tried and none are available, at which point
nginx sends an appropriate non-100 response to the client (502/503/504).

(Caveat: If an upstream server fails *after* already accepting a request
with "100 Continue", then nginx still has to give up since there's no

Thoughts? I know there are other ways to solve this problem (e.g. S3-style
multipart uploads), but there is a convenience to the "Expect: 100-continue"
mechanism and it is pretty widely supported. I don't think this goes against
the grain of what nginx is trying to be, especially since unbuffered uploads
are supported now.

Thanks for your consideration,
Kristian Bolino

Posted at Nginx Forum:,291404,291404#msg-291404

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