How to make an HTTP request with telnet


One of the most frequent interview question for tech professionals, especially system administrators and developers is – “tell us what happens when you type a URL in a browser?”. Skipping the DNS resolution part, we can understand the client to server HTTP communication with telnet. The simplest case is a GET request to a path with a HOST header.As an example, let us make an http request to an AWS service which responds back with our public IP address –

$ telnet checkip.amazonaws.com 80
....
GET / HTTP/1.1
Host: checkip.amazonaws.com
....

Here is the full transaction –


daniel@hidmo:~$ telnet checkip.amazonaws.com 80
Trying 18.214.132.216...
Connected to checkip.us-east-1.prod.check-ip.aws.a2z.com.
Escape character is '^]'.
GET / HTTP/1.1
Host: checkip.amazonaws.com

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Date: Sat, 14 Sep 2019 12:51:55 GMT
Server: lighttpd/1.4.41
Content-Length: 14
Connection: keep-alive

162.247.79.245
Connection closed by foreign host.

Notice how the server closes the connection after waiting for a few seconds, that is because the keep-alive is enabled on the server side as shown from the server response – “Connection: keep-alive“. With keep-alive we can make additional http calls with out going through the whole 3-way TCP handshake.

Disable keep-alive on client side

If for some reason, we want to close the connection on the client side immediately we can pass “Connection: Close” as part of the http header in the request.


References –

Telnet manpage

https://stackoverflow.com/questions/15772355/how-to-send-an-http-request-using-telnet

https://www.ntu.edu.sg/home/ehchua/programming/webprogramming/HTTP_Basics.html

https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/HTTP/Headers/Keep-Alive

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