Larry Price

And The Endless Cup Of Coffee

Letting the Browser Decide Betwen HTTP and HTTPS

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While working on SEP Labs' Health2Wealth app, I got my first taste of setting up a website to use secure connections. I’ve been using the browser extension HTTPS Everywhere for quite some time now, so all of the web pages that I visit attempt to using HTTPSinstead of the standard HTTP. When I inadvertently started testing our app with HTTPS, things got a little weird.

My machine was able to open most of a page, but it wouldn’t load some of the graphics or javascript we had embedded in the page. I was the only one able to reproduce it, so we chalked it up to a wonky machine. Then I suddenly remembered that I was using HTTPS Everywhere. I found the area in FireFox that warns you about insecure connections and found that our page was only partially loading on my browser because some of the content was insecure. From there I enabled an option to reveal the insecure elements, which forced my page to load everything correctly. So now we needed to find what was insecure about our page. I trekked through the codebase and found that some of our graphs and links were hard-coded to use HTTP. My initial thought was just to force them to use HTTPS, which is almost certainly the impending standard. With a quick search, I found that there exists a real solution to this problem.

Let’s say I have a very normal web application, so I want to include jQuery embedded in my page. I initially copy-paste <script src=''></script> right into my <head> node, which normally seems fine. Unfortunately, this is where issues arise. I’m now forcing the user to make a connection which may or may not be secure to fetch data from an insecure page.

By removing the http: from the http://, the issue of deciding whether to fetch the file using HTTP or HTTPS is left to the web browser. So my script include becomes <script src='//'></script>. This also works for links, images, and web fonts. In fact, every link included in this post uses the same principal, where I leave the protocol out of what becomes the href tag.