Sharing HTTPS, HTTP sessions in tomcat hosted web-apps

The requirement is to only serve the login page securely and once the user is authenticated (s)he should be redirected to non-secure http mode. I was struggling to do this quite some time back, and just thought of documenting about it.

The requirement

The idea I had was; “It should be quite simple”, Facebook does that, Google does that and why is it still not well documented ?, However the almost all Google search results for my queries were about simply redirecting HTTP traffic to HTTPS for certain URLs, some were using URL rewriting (mod_rewrite), and some have used server configuration via Tomcat’s server.xml.

What I really wanted to achieve is to preserve the state between the protocol switch. After some considerable amount of searching I found out this is not achievable (in a very clean manner) with tomcat or rather it is a conflict between security and state management in the servlet spec itself, hence there only exist a dirty hack (not sure if this works) to get it done, but even that hack couldn’t be applied to my scenario.

So after some thinking I came up with my own hack (I think its even dirtier 😉 ) to solve the issue; Its quite simple, and involves cookie manipulation. My approach was simply read the HTTPS cookie and set it as the HTTP cookie, what I need was one jsp which is served with HTTPS and few lines of Java code.

The solution
The solution

True enough it certainly looks like a hack, but security wise its as same as the Tomcat user group has suggested. so until the new servlet specification answers this question we have to live with this. the code of converting the cookies are as follows.

   
    Cookie[] cookies = request.getCookies();
    String sessionId;
    if (cookies != null) {
        for (Cookie c : cookies) {
            if (c.getName().equals("JSESSIONID")) {
                sessionId = c.getValue();
            }
        }
    }

    Cookie k = new Cookie("JSESSIONID", sessionId);
    k.setPath(request.getContextPath());
    response.addCookie(k);

Basically what the code does is, reading the secure cookies while inside the middle.jsp and setting them without security (k.setSecure() is not mentioned hence by default its false), and that’s about it, once this is done you can simply redirect to the HTTP page.

response.sendRedirect("http://foo.com:8080/index.jsp");  

and now the cookie which originally set via HTTPS is accessible to the HTTP requests, hence the session is shared.

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