Python Requests And Proxies

Python Requests And Proxies

One of Requests’ most popular features is its simple proxying support. HTTP as a protocol has very well-defined semantics for dealing with proxies, and this has lead to widespread deployment of HTTP proxies.

The vast majority of these proxies are ‘transparent’: that is, they sit on the message path and quietly capture HTTP messages before forwarding them on. These proxies are not a problem for people interacting with HTTP exactly because of their transparency: you don’t need to know anything about them to get your messages through.

Many proxies however are non-transparent. The most prevalent use of this kind of HTTP proxy is at the border between a controlled LAN and the wider internet. In particular, companies and state institutions (e.g. schools) deploy HTTP proxies very widely. These proxies require explicit configuration on HTTP clients because all HTTP traffic must pass through them.

The widespread nature of this kind of deployment means that Requests is essentially obligated to support routing HTTP requests through proxies. Today I’m going briefly to talk about how this is done, and some particular problems we’ve had with the implementation.

The Good: The API

From the perspective of the Requests user, the configuration of proxies is the perfect combination of simple and powerful. You simply build a dictionary, mapping URL schemes to the URL to the proxy. A proxy dictionary could look like this:

proxies = {'http' : '',
           'https': ''}

This dictionary would then get passed into the standard Requests call:

r = requests.get('', proxies=proxies)

Voila! Your HTTP messages are now being routed through the proxy at If you were using a Session object then you’d just configure the proxy dictionary on the Session:

s = requests.Session()
s.proxies = proxies

No big deal, right?

Also Good: The Requests Internals

Happily, inside Requests everything also looks pretty good. The proxies parameter isn’t used until it reaches the Transport Adapter at the bottom of the Requests stack. Here, it is used for three things. The first two are simple: it can affect the URL that Requests passes to urllib3 and we can potentially add a Proxy-Authorization header (in an ugly hack I’m not entirely proud of writing). The third thing, however, is the most complex: it affects what connection pool we use.

This is the the bit that matters most. We take great advantage of the urllib3 connection pools, and obviously all requests that pass through a proxy should use the same connection pool: after all, they’re all going to the same place. The urllib3 connection pool used for proxies is basically the same as the standard kind, but it’ll put on a few extra headers and does a bit less sanity checking. No big deal. Another win for code sanity!

The Bad: HTTPS

So far so good, right? Unfortunately, this is where I tell you that the idealised view of proxies provided above is only half the story. You see, with the above steps, HTTP over proxies works like a charm. In fact, Requests has had functioning proxy support over HTTP for a very long time, and it has almost never broken. It’s one of the stablest parts of the library.

However, proxying and HTTPS is a totally different story. To explain why I’m going to walk you through a little bit of proxying in Requests.

To do that, we’re going to use a tool that I consider to be a vital weapon in the arsenal of the network programmer: mitmproxy. The list of sweet features in mitmproxy is as long as my arm, so I’ll just direct you to their website. In this case, we’re going to abuse it as a cheap, easy to run proxy.

We crack it out, and then get to work. First, let’s pass a simple HTTP request through it:

>>> proxies = {'http': ''}
>>> r = requests.get('')

In the mitmproxy window we can see the request and response come through, no big deal:

    <- 200 text/html 10.58kB

Awesome, so we know it works. Now, let’s try to pass an HTTPS request through it:

>>> proxies = {'https': ''}
>>> r = requests.get('')
requests.exceptions.SSLError: [Errno 1] _ssl.c:503: error:140770FC:SSL routines:SSL23_GET_SERVER_HELLO:unknown protocol

Uh-oh. What the hell happened there?

The short answer is that everything went to hell in a hand-basket, and to understand why you need to understand what happens when you try to proxy a HTTPS request.

Proxying HTTPS

The thing about HTTPS is that it relies on secure connections created using public key cryptography. The keys for the connection are established using cryptographically signed certificates, which are handed out by certificate authorities (by ‘handed out’ I mean ‘exorbitantly charged for’). In principle these authorities (also called ‘CA’s) should verify the person applying for the certificate owns the domain in question: in practice if a government comes to them and asks really nicely, they’ll usually hand over a new set of keys.

When your computer establishes an SSL connection, it begins by performing the SSL handshake, which involves handing certificates over. This certificate is only valid for a single domain, and nothing else. If your User-Agent verifies SSL certificates (like Requests does by default), your connection will fail if the machine you’re connecting to hands over a certificate that isn’t correct for the domain.

This poses a problem for proxying HTTPS traffic. To send the message on the proxy needs to know where it’s going, but it can’t find out without performing the SSL handshake. It can’t do that because it doesn’t have the right certificate for the connection, so the User-Agent will terminate the connection attempt. (Those au fait with SSL/TLS will note I’ve simplified a lot here, but we don’t have time for the full discussion.)

The solution has been to use the HTTP CONNECT verb. The CONNECT verb essentially turns HTTP into a tunnel over which you can send raw TCP data. This means the proxy can pass your handshake (and then the subsequent encrypted messages) along without needing to be able to read them.

So what’s the problem?

Yeah, We Don’t Do That

Requests does not support the CONNECT verb. At all. This is because our underlying HTTP connection library, urllib3, also doesn’t support it. There has been an open Pull Request on urllib3 for some time, but it has been essentially abandoned by its original author and there’s not been a sufficient push to get the rebased version up to standards. This is, in my opinion, the single biggest problem Requests has as a library at the moment.

How Do I Get HTTPS Working?

It depends. If you want HTTPS proxying without the proxy being able to read it, I’m afraid you can’t use Requests right now. This is unfortunate, but until we can get the other Pull Request to move forward that’s just where we are.

However, if you want to be able to connect to HTTPS URLs and don’t care if the proxy can read it (more fool you!), you can set up your proxies argument like this:

proxies = {'https': ''}

This establishes an HTTP connection to your proxy, which should then establish an HTTPS connection upstream. This isn’t secure, but should work if you desperately need it. Otherwise, you’ll just have to wait until this gets sorted out. Or take the initiative and sort it out yourself!