Listeners

A listener is a set of processes that listens on a port for new connections. Incoming connections get handled by Cowboy. Depending on the connection handshake, one or another protocol may be used.

This chapter is specific to Cowboy. Please refer to the Ranch User Guide for more information about listeners.

Cowboy provides two types of listeners: one listening for clear TCP connections, and one listening for secure TLS connections. Both of them support the HTTP/1.1 and HTTP/2 protocols.

Clear TCP listener

The clear TCP listener will accept connections on the given port. A typical HTTP server would listen on port 80. Port 80 requires special permissions on most platforms however so a common alternative is port 8080.

The following snippet starts listening for connections on port 8080:

start(_Type, _Args) ->
    Dispatch = cowboy_router:compile([
        {'_', [{"/", hello_handler, []}]}
    ]),
    {ok, _} = cowboy:start_clear(my_http_listener,
        [{port, 8080}],
        #{env => #{dispatch => Dispatch}}
    ),
    hello_erlang_sup:start_link().

The Getting Started chapter uses a clear TCP listener.

Clients connecting to Cowboy on the clear listener port are expected to use either HTTP/1.1 or HTTP/2.

Cowboy supports both methods of initiating a clear HTTP/2 connection: through the Upgrade mechanism (RFC 7540 3.2) or by sending the preface directly (RFC 7540 3.4).

Compatibility with HTTP/1.0 is provided by Cowboy's HTTP/1.1 implementation.

Secure TLS listener

The secure TLS listener will accept connections on the given port. A typical HTTPS server would listen on port 443. Port 443 requires special permissions on most platforms however so a common alternative is port 8443.

The function provided by Cowboy will ensure that the TLS options given are following the HTTP/2 RFC with regards to security. For example some TLS extensions or ciphers may be disabled. This also applies to HTTP/1.1 connections on this listener. If this is not desirable, Ranch can be used directly to setup a custom listener.

start(_Type, _Args) ->
    Dispatch = cowboy_router:compile([
        {'_', [{"/", hello_handler, []}]}
    ]),
    {ok, _} = cowboy:start_tls(my_http_listener,
        [
            {port, 8443},
            {certfile, "/path/to/certfile"},
            {keyfile, "/path/to/keyfile"}
        ],
        #{env => #{dispatch => Dispatch}}
    ),
    hello_erlang_sup:start_link().

Clients connecting to Cowboy on the secure listener are expected to use the ALPN TLS extension to indicate what protocols they understand. Cowboy always prefers HTTP/2 over HTTP/1.1 when both are supported. When neither are supported by the client, or when the ALPN extension was missing, Cowboy expects HTTP/1.1 to be used.

Cowboy also advertises HTTP/2 support through the older NPN TLS extension for compatibility. Note however that this support will likely not be enabled by default when Cowboy 2.0 gets released.

Compatibility with HTTP/1.0 is provided by Cowboy's HTTP/1.1 implementation.

Protocol configuration

The HTTP/1.1 and HTTP/2 protocols share the same semantics; only their framing differs. The first is a text protocol and the second a binary protocol.

Cowboy doesn't separate the configuration for HTTP/1.1 and HTTP/2. Everything goes into the same map. Many options are shared.

Cowboy 2.0 User Guide

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