Web Server Load Balancing with NGINX Plus

Developers usually want to build applications and infrastructure using released, official, and supported libraries. Even with HTTP/3, there is a strong need for a convenient library that supports QUIC and doesn’t increase the maintenance costs or operational complexity in the production infrastructure.

For many QUIC+HTTP/3 users, that default cryptographic library is OpenSSL. Installed on most Linux-based operating systems by default, OpenSSL is the number one Transport Layer Security (TLS) library and is used by the majority of network applications.

The Problem: Incompatibility Between OpenSSL and QUIC+HTTP/3

Even with such wide usage, OpenSSL does not provide the TLS API required for QUIC support. Instead, the OpenSSL Management Committee decided to implement a complete QUIC stack on their own. This endeavor is a considerable effort planned for OpenSSL v3.4 but, according to the OpenSSL roadmap, that won’t likely happen before the end of 2024. Furthermore, the initial Minimum Viable Product of the OpenSSL implementation won’t contain the QUIC API implementation, so there is no clear path for users to get HTTP/3 support with OpenSSL.

Options for QUIC TLS Support

In this situation, there are two options for users looking for QUIC TLS support for their HTTP/3 needs:

  • OpenSSL QUIC implementation – As mentioned above, OpenSSL is currently working on implementing a complete QUIC stack on its own. This development will encapsulate all QUIC functionality within the implementation, making it much easier for HTTP/3 users to use the OpenSSL TLS API without worrying about QUIC-specific functionality.
  • Libraries supporting the BoringSSL QUIC API – Various SSL libraries like BoringSSL, quicTLS, and LibreSSL (all of which started as forks of OpenSSL) now provide QUIC TLS functionality by implementing BoringSSL QUIC API. However, these libraries aren’t as widely adopted as OpenSSL. This option also requires building the SSL library from source and installing it on every server that needs QUIC+HTTP/3 support, which might not be a feasible option for everyone. That said, this is currently the only option for users wanting to use HTTP/3 because the OpenSSL QUIC TLS implementation is not ready yet.

A New Solution: The OpenSSL Compatibility Layer

At NGINX, we felt inspired by these challenges and created the OpenSSL Compatibility Layer to simplify QUIC+HTTP/3 deployments that use OpenSSL and help avoid complexities associated with maintaining a separate SSL library in production environments.

Available with NGINX Open Source mainline since version 1.25.0 and NGINX Plus R30, the OpenSSL Compatibility Layer allows NGINX to run QUIC+HTTP/3 on top of OpenSSL without needing to patch or rebuild it. This removes the dependency of compiling and deploying third-party TLS libraries to get QUIC support. Since users don’t need to use third-party libraries, it also alleviates the dependency on schedules and roadmaps of those libraries, making it a comparatively easier solution to deploy in production.

How the OpenSSL Compatibility Layer Works

The OpenSSL Compatibility Layer implements these steps:

  • Converts a QUIC handshake to a TLS 1.3 handshake that is supported by OpenSSL.
  • Passes the TLS handshake messages in and out of OpenSSL.
  • Gets the encryption keys for handshake and application encryption levels out of OpenSSL.
  • Passes the QUIC transport parameters in and out of OpenSSL.

Based on the amount of OpenSSL adoption today and knowing its status with official QUIC+HTTP/3 support, we believe an easy and scalable option to enable QUIC is a step in the right direction. It will also promote HTTP/3 adoption and allow for valuable feedback. Most importantly, we trust that the OpenSSL Compatibility Layer will help us provide a more robust and scalable solution for our enterprise users and the entire NGINX community.

Note: While we are making sure NGINX users have an easy and scalable option with the availability of the OpenSSL Compatibility Layer, users still have options to use third-party libraries like BoringSSL, quicTLS, or LibreSSL with NGINX. To decide which one is the right path for you, consider what approach best meets your requirements and how comfortable you are with compiling and managing libraries as dependencies.

A Note on 0-RTT

0-RTT is a feature in QUIC that allows a client to send application data before the TLS handshake is complete. 0-RTT functionality is made possible by reusing negotiated parameters from a previous connection. It is enabled by the client remembering critical parameters and providing the server with a TLS session ticket that allows the server to recover the same information.

While this feature is an important part of QUIC, it is not yet supported in the OpenSSL Compatibility Layer. If you have specific use cases that need 0-RTT, we welcome your feedback to inform our roadmap.

Learn More about NGINX with QUIC+HTTP/3 and OpenSSL

You can begin using NGINX’s OpenSSL Compatibility Layer today with NGINX Open Source or by starting a 30-day free trial of NGINX Plus. We hope you find it useful and welcome your feedback.

More information about NGINX with QUIC+HTTP/3 and OpenSSL is available in the resources below.

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About The Author

Prabhat Dixit

Prabhat Dixit

Principal Product Manager

About F5 NGINX

F5, Inc. is the company behind NGINX, the popular open source project. We offer a suite of technologies for developing and delivering modern applications. Together with F5, our combined solution bridges the gap between NetOps and DevOps, with multi-cloud application services that span from code to customer.

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