Node.Js reverse proxy

Sep 19, 2011   #Node.js  #OVH  #reverse-proxy  #VHost 

When I rented this OVH server, I wanted to be able to host all my web tools on it on port 80 using both my IPv6 and IPv4 stack. This is usually done with Apache’s “ports.conf” and VHost feature.

In fact, most of my favorite applications are written using Node.Js and as such embeds there own server logic. It is not possible anymore to bind each of them to *:80.

The only solution is then to use a reverse-proxy binded to all my real interfaces on port 80 and to forward calls based on the domain to the real applications listening to a random port of the loopback interface.

I found an impressive 20 line basis on Peteris Krumins' blog that I forked on Github. You can find my modifications on my github fork.

The basic idea is to decode the “host” field of the HTTP 1.1 headers and to forward the requests according to the config file. This solves the “VHost” issue. Here are two helpers I use internally:

//decode host and port info from header
function decode_host(host){
    host = host.split(':'); = host[0];
    out.port = host[1] || 80;
    return out;

//Find the more precise rule for this request.
//the actual rule decoding in done in "handle_proxy_rule"
//which i did not include in this snippet to keep it short 😉
function handle_proxy_route(host, token) {
    //extract target host and port
    action = decode_host(host);
    action.action="proxyto";//default action

    //try to find a matching rule
    //rule of the form "foo.domain.tld:port"
    if(':'+action.port in hostfilters)
         action=handle_proxy_rule(rule, action, token);
    //rule of the form "foo.domain.tld"
    else if ( in hostfilters)
         action=handle_proxy_rule(rule, action, token);
    //rule of the form "*:port"
    else if ("*:"+action.port in hostfilters)
         action=handle_proxy_rule(rule, action, token);
    //default rule
    else if ("*" in hostfilters)
         action=handle_proxy_rule(rule, action, token);
    return action;

It is then possible to put all this server logic in a separate callback that would be called by multiple listener. This solves the “Dual stack” issue.

interface_to_listen_on = [
    {'ip':"", 'port':80},//all IPv4 int
    {'ip':"::", 'port':80}//all IPv6 int

    port = listen.port;
    sys.log("Starting server on port '" + ip+':'+port);
    http.createServer(server_loop).listen(port, ip);

What if a malicious packet is forged that makes every thing crash ? Let’s add a small security layer. At least filtering based on source address was already done by the bootstrap code. I just added a “last chance exception catcher” and an input field check. Here is he last chance exception catcher. The filtering is pretty straight forward. It mostly is a matter of checking headers on by one and taking a decision.

//last chance error handler
//it catch the exception preventing the application from crashing.
//I recommend to comment it in a development environment as it
//"Hides" very interesting bits of debugging informations.
process.on('uncaughtException', function (err) {
  console.log('LAST ERROR: Caught exception: ' + err);

What if a redirect rule has an error that causes a loop ? Let’s add a special header indicating that a forward already happened. That’s all the trick.

function prevent_loop(request, response)
    //if request is already tooted => loop 
        sys.log("Loop detected");
        response.write("Proxy loop !");
        return false;
    //append a tattoo to it
        return request;

What if I need authentication for an app that doesn’t support it natively ? Let’s implement “basic auth” as defined in RFC 2617. It is really easy to do:

//1st => On each request, decode the "authorization" field (easy part)
function authenticate(request)
    if (request.headers.authorization &&'Basic ') === 0) 
        // fetch login and password
        basic = (new Buffer(request.headers.authorization.split(' ')[1], 'base64').toString());
        sys.log("Authentication token received: "+basic);
        basic = basic.split(':');
        token.login = basic[0];
        token.pass  = basic[1];//fixme: potential trouble if there is a ":" in the pass
    return token;

//2nd => Somewhere in your application logic, check credentials
//3rd => If they are not valid, issue an authentication request (trivial part :p )
function action_authenticate(response, msg)
        'WWW-Authenticate': "Basic realm=\""+msg+"\""

To make it short, this reverse-proxy enables :

  • IPv4/IPv6 only application to answer to both IP familly
  • Independent servers to work transparently on the same public interface/port
  • Unsecured application to get very basic user security
  • more to come ? Let me know…