WSGI question: reading headers before message body has been read

Graham Dumpleton Graham.Dumpleton at
Sun Jan 18 22:21:39 CET 2009

On Jan 19, 6:01 am, Ron Garret <r... at> wrote:
> I'm writing a WSGI application and I would like to check the content-
> length header before reading the content to make sure that the content
> is not too big in order to prevent denial-of-service attacks.  So I do
> something like this:
> def application(environ, start_response):
>     status = "200 OK"
>     headers = [('Content-Type', 'text/html'), ]
>     start_response(status, headers)
>     if int(environ['CONTENT_LENGTH'])>1000: return 'File too big'

You should be returning 413 (Request Entity Too Large) error status
for that specific case, not a 200 response.

You should not be returning a string as response content as it is very
inefficient, wrap it in an array.

> But this doesn't seem to work.  If I upload a huge file it still waits
> until the entire file has been uploaded before complaining that it's
> too big.
> Is it possible to read the HTTP headers in WSGI before the request
> body has been read?


The issue is that in order to avoid the client sending the data the
client needs to actually make use of HTTP/1.1 headers to indicate it
is expecting a 100-continue response before sending data. You don't
need to handle that as Apache/mod_wsgi does it for you, but the only
web browser I know of that supports 100-continue is Opera browser.
Clients like curl do also support it as well though. In other words,
if people use IE, Firefox or Safari, the request content will be sent
regardless anyway.

There is though still more to this though. First off is that if you
are going to handle 413 errors in your own WSGI application and you
are using mod_wsgi daemon mode, then request content is still sent by
browser regardless, even if using Opera. This is because the act of
transferring content across to mod_wsgi daemon process triggers return
of 100-continue to client and so it sends data. There is a ticket for
mod_wsgi to implement proper 100-continue support for daemon mode, but
will be a while before that happens.

Rather than have WSGI application handle 413 error cases, you are
better off letting Apache/mod_wsgi handle it for you. To do that all
you need to do is use the Apache 'LimitRequestBody' directive. This
will check the content length for you and send 413 response without
the WSGI application even being called. When using daemon mode, this
is done in Apache child worker processes and for 100-continue case
data will not be read at all and can avoid client sending it if using

Only caveat on that is the currently available mod_wsgi has a bug in
it such that 100-continue requests not always working for daemon mode.
You need to apply fix in:

For details on LimitRequestBody directive see:


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