Lightweight C library for HTML5 websockets
Using TLS Session resumption

Lws supports clientside session caching and session resumption on both mbedtls and openssl-type tls library backends, to accellerate connection re- establishment.


TLS specifies logical "sessions" that get "established" on both sides when the tls tunnel is negotiated... these are the object that gets validated by the certificate PKI. They each have a server-unique "Session ID" of up to 32 bytes each.

Normally the default is that there is a new session negotiated per connection, so multiple connections to the same endpoint each negotiate fresh sessions from scratch.

However tls servers typically maintain a cache of recent sessions, and where both the server and client still have a copy of a previously-negotiated session around, support the client explicitly requesting additional connections binding to the old session by asking for it by its Session ID at negotiation time.

Re-use of validated sessions

The advantage is that the timeconsuming key exchange part of the negotiation can be skipped, and a connection-specific AES key agreed at both sides just by hashing on the secret held in the session object at each side. This allows new tunnels to be established much faster after the first, while the session from the first is still valid and available at both sides.

Both the server and client may apply their own lifetime restriction to their copy of the session, the first side to expire it will cause a new session to be forced at the next reuse attempt. Lifetimes above 24h are not recommended by RFC5246.

Multiple concurrent use of validated sessions

In addition, the session's scope is any connection to the server that knows the original session ID, because individual new AES keys are hashed from the session secret, multiple connections to the same endpoint can take advantage of a single valid session object.

Difference from Session Tickets

TLS also supports sessions as bearer tokens, but these are generally considered as degrading security. Lws doesn't support Session Tickets, just reuse by Session IDs.

Support in lws

Server-side TLS generally has session caching enabled by default. For client side, lws now enables LWS_WITH_TLS_SESSIONS at cmake by default, which adds a configurable tls session cache that is automatically kept updated with a MRU-sorted list of established sessions.

It's also possible to serialize sessions and save and load them, but this has to be treated with caution.

Filling, expiring and consulting the session cache for client connections is performed automatically.

tls library differences

Mbedtls supports clientside session caching in lws, but it does not have a session message arrival callback to synchronize updating the client session cache like openssl does.

Separately, the session cb in boringssl is reportedly nonfunctional at the moment.

To solve both cases, lws will schedule a check for the session at +500ms after the tls negotiation completed, and for the case the connection doesn't last 500ms or the server is slow issuing the message, also attempt to update the cache at the time the tls connection object is closing.

Session namespacing in lws

Internally sessions are referred to by a vhostname.hostname.port tuple.

Configuring the clientside cache

Session caches in lws exist in and are bound to the vhost. Different vhosts may provide different authentication (eg, client certs) to the same endpoint that another connection should not be able to take advantage of.

The max size of this cache can be set at .tls_session_cache_max in the vhost creation info struct, if left at 0 then a default of 10 is applied.

The Time-To-Live policy for sessions at the client can be set in seconds at .tls_session_timeout, by default whatever the tls library thinks it should be, perhaps 300s.

You can disable session caching for a particular vhost by adding the vhost option flag LWS_SERVER_OPTION_DISABLE_TLS_SESSION_CACHE to .options at vhost creation time.

Session saving and loading

Trying to make sessions really persistent is supported but requires extra caution. RFC5246 says

Applications that may be run in relatively insecure environments should not write session IDs to stable storage.

The issue is that while in process memory the session object is relatively secure compared to sensitive secrets and tls library data already in process memory.

But when serialized to, eg, some external, unencrypted medium, the accessibility of what is basically a secret able to decrypt tls connections can become a security hazard. It's left to the user to take any necessary steps to secure sessions stored that way.

For openssl, Public APIs are provided in libwebsockets/lws-tls-sessions.h to serialize any session in the cache associated with a vhost/host/port tuple, and to preload any available session into a vhost session cache by describing the endpoint hostname and port.

The session saving and loading apis aren't supported for mbedtls yet.