[whatwg] Session Management

Dave Kok updates at davekok.net
Thu Mar 3 08:17:34 PST 2011

Here is a more formal proposal for Session Management. Hoping to get 
more traction.


The proposal is restricted solely the HTML5 spec. Though in the 
rational HTTP and authentication are mentioned as by example.


This proposal requests for an new interface to be added to HTML5 usable 
from script. The interface is currently defined on the window global 
object. The naming is chosen so it seems natural to co-exist with 

window.sessionStart([string path = "/", [boolean auto_end = false]]);

The session start function should indicate to the UA that a new session 
is requested by the author for the current browsing context. From this 
point forward any session data should be associated with this session. 
However this is only done for documents loaded from the same origin or 
if a path is supplied for that path and sub paths of that path within 
the current origin. The auto_end argument may be supplied if a session 
should automatically end when the user navigates away from documents 
within the origin[/path].

window.sessionEnd([boolean clearHistory = false]);

The session end function should indicate to the UA that the current 
session is no longer valid. The UA can now stop associating session 
data with this session and unreference any session data associated with 
this session. The clearHistory parameter requests the UA, if true, to 
clear any documents within the back/forward history that have been 
loaded between session start and session end. UA's are only encouraged 
to do this for documents that required authentication and for which re-
authentication is required after sessionEnd. This to prevent 
unauthorized access to cached documents by using the back/forward 
functionality to access information that would otherwise require

Session data:

What a UA considers session data in the context of this proposal is 
for a UA to decide but at minimal it is required to include data stored 
in the sessionStorage and cookies created through the document.cookie 
interface without expiration and any credentials supplied through the 
XMLHttpRequest.open function if the UA manages these. Additionally 
a UA is encouraged to include any cookies received without expiration 
from any source especially when made available through the 
document.cookie interface pertaining to the current origin[/path]. Any 
credentials that are cached for documents within origin[/path] and 
additional resources referenced by these documents whether or not 
within the origin[/path]. But only if the UA marks these for auto 
cleaning when the UA itself terminates.

Ending sessions

A UA is never required to wait until the sessionEnd is called before 
it ends a session and cleans associated data/state. But is encouraged 
not to selectively clean session data/state while sessionEnd has not 
been called. In others words all or nothing is preferred. A session is 
automatically ended when a current browsing context is closed. A UA may 
also have additional methods to force a session to end.


The rational of this feature is to provide an easy method to clean 
session data/state after it is no longer required. How and when session 
data is cleaned when sessionStart is never called is not specified by 
this proposal. Implementers are encouraged to ignore any calls to 
sessionEnd if sessionStart has never been called. They may off course 
emit a warning/notice to aid an author in debugging.

Basic usage scenario:
1. The user has navigated to a document and follows a link on which the 
author registered a onclick event and the event handler calls 
sessionStart. The UA now creates a new session, event handler ends and 
the UA loads the indicated document. If this document is within the 
scope of the session and authentication is required and no prior 
credentials exists, it gathers these credentials either from an 
external source or from the user and associates these with the 
session if it intends to dispose of these automatically when the UA 
itself terminates.
2. The user reads, clicks, types and follows links to other documents 
within the same origin[/path]. Possibly causing additional session data 
to be associated with this session.
3. The user follows a link on which to author registered a onclick 
event handler. The event handler calls sessionEnd. The UA now 
unreferences any session data associated with the session, event 
handler ends and the UA loads the document indicated by the link. On a 
side note this may very well be superior to a UA UI logout button. As 
the author can also specify a URL to go to after the session has ended. 
A UA UI logout button may not be able to do this in a meaningful way.

What if's:
1. the user follows a link, clicks on a bookmark or enters a URL 
outside the origin[/path] for the current session. If auto_end was set 
to true. The session is ended as in step 3 of above scenario.

2. a session has been started with auto_end off and the user loads a 
document outside the current origin[/path] which also calls 
sessionStart. A new session is created but the old session is still 
valid for when documents within the origin[/path] of that session are 
loaded later on. (useful?)

3. the user closes the current browsing context. The session is 
disposed off.

4. a document references a script not within the origin[/path] which 
calls sessionStart. The call is interpreted as if called from a script 
within origin[/path]. If sessionStart has already been called it is 
ignored, if not a new one is created. Same for sessionEnd. (sensible?)

5. the user loads a document which loads a sub document in a frame/
iframe which also calls sessionStart. If the sub document is within the 
same origin[/path] it is ignored (reasonable?). If not a nested session 
is created associated with the parent session. If the parent session 
ends the nested session does also. If the nested session ends the 
parent session doesn't. (too much?)

6. a document is loaded from a origin[/path] in the browsing context of 
the parent session (or higher). The session is no longer nested.

7. script calls the window.open function causing a new browsing context 
in which a document is loaded for which in the current browsing context 
a valid session would exist. Within the new browsing context no valid 
session will exist. Thus calling sessionEnd has no effect unless 
sessionStart had been called. Any session data that would otherwise 
been made available to the new browsing context will still be made 

8. the user bookmarks the current document for which a valid session 
exists. The document is bookmarked as normal. If the session is ended 
and the user uses the bookmark the get to that document. The document 
is loaded without a valid session. If this is unacceptable to the 
document's author this would have to be handled within the document. 
The author could for instance set a value in sessionStorage immediately 
after calling sessionStart and check for this on every document which 
is expected to be part of a valid session and if it doesn't exists 
redirect the user. Or handle this at a level lower then HTML when for 
instance the document is retrieved through HTTP without credentials and 
credentials would be expected for this document, if it were part of a 
valid session, redirect the user to a document in which sessionStart 
can be called. Basically this would put this outside the scope of this 
proposal. Same for when the user does this by manually navigating or 
by following a link.

I would like to extend an open invitation to any implementers to add
this proposal to an experimental build and hear of any findings. Any 
feedback from authors would be well appreciated.

Dave Kok

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