Wandering Thoughts archives

2020-05-13

The modern HTTPS world has no place for old web servers

When I ran into Firefox's interstitial warning for old TLS versions, it wasn't where I expected, and where it happened gave me some tangled feelings. I had expected to first run into this on some ancient appliance or IPMI web interface (both of which are famous for this sort of thing). Instead, it was on the website of an active person that had been mentioned in a recent comment here on Wandering Thoughts. On the one hand, this is a situation where they could have kept their web server up to date. On the other hand, this demonstrates (and brings home) that the modern HTTPS web actively requires you to keep your web server up to date in a way that the HTTP web didn't. In the era of HTTP, you could have set up a web server in 2000 and it could still be running today, working perfectly well (even if it didn't support the very latest shiny thing). This doesn't work for HTTPS, not today and not in the future.

In practice there are a lot of things that have to be maintained on a HTTPS server. First, you have to renew TLS certificates, or automate it (in practice you've probably had to change how you get TLS certificates several times). Even with automated renewals, Let's Encrypt has changed their protocol once already, deprecating old clients and thus old configurations, and will probably do that again someday. And now you have to keep reasonably up to date with web server software, TLS libraries, and TLS configurations on an ongoing basis, because I doubt that the deprecation of everything before TLS 1.2 will be the last such deprecation.

I can't help but feel that there is something lost with this. The HTTPS web probably won't be a place where you can preserve old web servers, for example, the way the HTTP web is. Today if you have operating hardware you could run a HTTP web server from an old SGI Irix workstation or even a DEC Ultrix machine, and every browser would probably be happy to speak HTTP 1.0 or the like to it, even though the server software probably hasn't been updated since the 1990s. That's not going to be possible on the HTTPS web, no matter how meticulously you maintain old environments.

Another, more relevant side of this is that it's not going to be possible for people with web servers to just let them sit. The more the HTTPS world changes and requires you to change, the more your HTTPS web server requires ongoing work. If you ignore it and skip that work, what happens to your website is the interstitial warning that I experienced and eventually it will stop being accepted by browsers at all. I expect that this is going to drive more people into the arms of large operations (like Github Pages or Cloudflare) that will look after all of that for them, and a little bit more of the indie 'anyone can do this' spirit of the old web will fade away.

(At the same time this is necessary to keep HTTPS secure, and HTTPS itself is necessary for the usual reasons. But let's not pretend that nothing is being lost in this shift.)

HTTPSNoOldServers written at 00:25:58; Add Comment

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