Cross-origin resource sharing
A web page may freely embed images, stylesheets, scripts, iframes, videos and some plugin content (such as Adobe Flash) from any other domain. However embedded web fonts and AJAX (XMLHttpRequest) requests have traditionally been limited to accessing the same domain as the parent web page (as per the same-origin security policy). "Cross-domain" AJAX requests are forbidden by default because of their ability to perform advanced requests (POST, PUT, DELETE and other types of HTTP requests, along with specifying custom HTTP headers) that introduce many cross-site scripting security issues.
CORS defines a way in which a browser and server can interact to safely determine whether or not to allow the cross-origin request. It allows for more freedom and functionality than purely same-origin requests, but is more secure than simply allowing all cross-origin requests. It is a recommended standard of the W3C.
How CORS works
The CORS standard describes new HTTP headers which provide browsers and servers a way to request remote URLs only when they have permission. Although some validation and authorization can be performed by the server, it is generally the browser's responsibility to support these headers and respect the restrictions they impose.
For AJAX and HTTP request methods that can modify data (usually HTTP methods other than GET, or for POST usage with certain MIME types), the specification mandates that browsers "preflight" the request, soliciting supported methods from the server with an HTTP OPTIONS request header, and then, upon "approval" from the server, sending the actual request with the actual HTTP request method. Servers can also notify clients whether "credentials" (including Cookies and HTTP Authentication data) should be sent with requests.
This is generally not appropriate when using the same-origin security policy. When a CORS-compatible browser attempts to make a cross-origin request:
- The browser sends the request with an
OriginHTTP header. The value of this header is the domain that served the parent page. When a page from http://www.foo.com attempts to access a user's data in bar.com, the following request header would be sent to bar.com:
- The server may respond with:
Access-Control-Allow-Origin(ACAO) header in its response indicating which origin sites are allowed. For example:
- An error page if the server does not allow the cross-origin request
Access-Control-Allow-Origin(ACAO) header with a wildcard that allows all domains:
A wildcard same-origin policy is appropriate when a page or API response is considered completely public content and it is intended to be accessible to everyone, including any code on any site. For example a freely-available web fonts on public hosting services like Google Fonts.
A wildcard same-origin policy is also widely and appropriately used in the object-capability model, where pages have unguessable URLs and are meant to be accessible to anyone who knows the secret.
The value of "*" is special in that it does not allow requests to supply credentials, meaning HTTP authentication, client-side SSL certificates, nor does it allow cookies to be sent.
Note that in the CORS architecture, the ACAO header is being set by the external web service (bar.com), not the original web application server (foo.com). CORS allows the external web service to authorise the web application to use its services and does not control external services accessed by the web application. For the latter, Content Security Policy should be used (
When performing certain types of cross-domain AJAX requests, modern browsers that support CORS will insert an extra "preflight" request to determine whether they have permission to perform the action.
OPTIONS / Host: bar.com Origin: http://foo.com
If bar.com is willing to accept the action, it may respond with the following headers:
Access-Control-Allow-Origin: http://foo.com Access-Control-Allow-Methods: PUT, DELETE
The HTTP headers that relate to CORS are:
CORS is supported by all browsers based on the following layout engines:
- Gecko 1.9.1 (Firefox 3.5, SeaMonkey 2.0, Camino 2.1) and above.
- WebKit (Initial revision uncertain, Safari 4 and above, Google Chrome 3 and above, possibly earlier)
- MSHTML/Trident 6.0 (Internet Explorer 10) has native support. MSHTML/Trident 4.0 & 5.0 (Internet Explorer 8 & 9) provide partial support via the XDomainRequest object.
- Presto-based browsers (Opera) implement CORS as of Opera 12.00 and Opera Mobile 12, but not Opera Mini.
The following browsers are also noteworthy in their lack of CORS support:
- Camino does not implement CORS in the 2.0.x release series because these versions are based on Gecko 1.9.0.
- As of version 0.10.2, Arora exposes WebKit's CORS-related APIs, but attempted cross-origin requests will fail.
Cross-origin support was originally proposed by Matt Oshry, Brad Porter, and Michael Bodell of Tellme Networks in March 2004 for inclusion in VoiceXML 2.1 to allow safe cross-origin data requests by VoiceXML browsers. The mechanism was deemed general in nature and not specific to VoiceXML and was subsequently separated into an implementation NOTE. The WebApps Working Group of the W3C with participation from the major browser vendors began to formalize the NOTE into a W3C Working Draft on track toward formal W3C Recommendation status.
CORS vs JSONP
CORS can be used as a modern alternative to the JSONP pattern. While JSONP supports only the GET request method, CORS also supports other types of HTTP requests. Using CORS enables a web programmer to use regular XMLHttpRequest, which supports better error handling than JSONP. On the other hand, JSONP works on legacy browsers which predate CORS support. CORS is supported by most modern web browsers. Also, while JSONP can cause cross-site scripting (XSS) issues where the external site is compromised, CORS allows websites to manually parse responses to ensure security.
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- W3C Recommendation
- Usage guide
- enable cross-origin resource sharing
- HTML5 Rocks explains how CORS works in detail
- Test CORS support
- Mozilla Developer Network on CORS