Understanding HTTP Methods

Understanding HTTP Methods: A Beginner’s Guide

HTTP methods

When a client sends a request to the server, it should also inform the server what action is to be performed on the desired resource. For example, if a user only wants to view the contents of a web page, it will invoke the GET method, which informs the servers to send the contents of the web page to the client web browser.

Several methods are described in this section. They are of interest to a penetration tester, as they indicate what type of data exchange is happening between the two endpoints.

The GET method

The GET method is used to retrieve whatever information is identified by the URL or generated by a process identified by it. A GET request can take parameters from the client, which are then passed to the web application via the URL itself by appending a question mark ? followed by the parameters’ names and values. As shown in the following header, when you send a search query for web penetration testing in the Bing search engine, it is sent via the URL:


The POST method

The POST method is similar to the GET method. It is used to retrieve data from the server, but it passes the content via the body of the request. Since the data is now passed in the body of the request, it becomes more difficult for an attacker to detect and attack the underlying operation. As shown in the following POST request, the username (login) and password (pwd) are not sent in the URL but rather in the body, which is separated from the header by a blank line:

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The HEAD method

The HEAD method is identical to GET, except that the server does not include a message body in the response; that is, the response of a HEAD request is just the header of the response to a GET request.

The TRACE method

When a TRACE method is used, the receiving server bounces back the TRACE response with the original request message in the body of the response. The TRACE method is used to identify any alterations to the request by intermediary devices such as proxy servers and firewalls. Some proxy servers edit the HTTP header when the packets pass through it, and this can be identified using the TRACE method. It is used for testing purposes, as it lets you track what has been received by the other side.

The PUT and DELETE methods

The PUT and DELETE methods are part of WebDAV, which is an extension of the HTTP protocol and allows for the management of documents and files on a web server. It is used by developers to upload production-ready web pages onto the web server. PUT is used to upload data to the server whereas DELETE is used to remove it.

In modern day applications, PUT and DELETE are also used in web services to perform specific operations on the database. PUT is used for insertion or modification of records and DELETE is used to delete, disable, or prevent future reading of pieces of information.

HTTP methods

The OPTIONS method is used to query the server for the communication options available to the requested URL. In the following header, we can see the response to an OPTIONS request:

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