HTTP Client APIs

Apart from the server-side HTTP abstractions spray-can also contains a client-side HTTP implementation that enables your application to interact with other HTTP servers. And just like on the server side it is actor-based, fully asynchronous, low-overhead and built on top of Akka IO / spray-io.

As the counterpart of the HTTP Server it shares all core features as well as the basic “low-level” philosophy with the server-side constructs.

The spray-can client API offers three different levels of abstraction that you can work with (from lowest to highest level):

Basic API Structure

Depending on the specific needs of your use case you should pick the

Connection-level API
for full-control over when HTTP connections are opened/closed and how requests are scheduled across them.
Host-level API
for letting spray-can manage a connection-pool for one specific host.
Request-level API
for letting spray-can take over all connection management.

You can interact with spray-can on different levels at the same time and, independently of which API level you choose, spray-can will happily handle many thousand concurrent connections to a single or many different hosts.

Chunked Requests

While the host- and request-level APIs do not currently support chunked (streaming) HTTP requests the connection-level API does. Alternatively to a single HttpRequest the application can choose to send this sequence of individual messages:

  • One ChunkedRequestStart
  • Zero or more MessageChunks
  • One ChunkedMessageEnd

The connection actor will render these as one logical HTTP request with Transfer-Encoding: chunked. The timer for checking request timeouts (if configured to non-zero) only starts running when the final ChunkedMessageEnd message was sent out.

Chunked Responses

Chunked (streaming) responses are supported by all three API levels. If the response-chunk-aggregation-limit connection config setting is set to zero the individual response parts of chunked requests are dispatched to the application as they come in. In these cases a full response consists of the following messages:

  • One ChunkedResponseStart
  • Zero or more MessageChunks
  • One ChunkedMessageEnd

The timer for checking request timeouts (if configured to non-zero) will stop running as soon as the initial ChunkedResponseStart message has been received, i.e. there is currently no timeout checking for and in between individual response chunks.

HTTP Headers

When a spray-can connection actor receives an HTTP response it tries to parse all its headers into their respective spray-http model classes. No matter whether this succeeds or not, the connection actor will always pass on all received headers to the application. Unknown headers as well as ones with invalid syntax (according to spray‘s header parser) will be made available as RawHeader instances. For the ones exhibiting parsing errors a warning message is logged depending on the value of the illegal-header-warnings config setting.

The following message headers are managed by the spray-can layer itself and as such are ignored if you “manually” add them to an outgoing request:

  • Content-Type
  • Content-Length
  • Transfer-Encoding

There are two exceptions for requests in ChunkedRequestStart messages:

  1. They are allowed to contain a user-specified Content-Type header if their entity is empty.
  2. They must contain a user-specified Content-Length header if spray.can.client.chunkless-streaming is enabled. This Content-Length header must fit the total length of all requests chunks.

Additionally spray-can will render a

  • Host request header if none is explicitly added.
  • User-Agent default request header if none is explicitly defined. The default value can be configured with the spray.can.client.user-agent-header configuration setting.


The Content-Type header has special status in spray since its value is part of the HttpEntity model class. Even though the header also remains in the headers list of the HttpResponse sprays higher layers (like spray-client) only work with the ContentType value contained in the HttpEntity.

SSL Support

SSL support is enabled

  • for the connection-level API by setting Http.Connect(sslEncryption = true) when connecting to a server
  • for the host-level API by setting Http.HostConnectorSetup(sslEncryption = true) when creating a host connector
  • for the request-level API by using an https URL in the request

Particular SSL settings can be configured via the implicit ClientSSLEngineProvider member on the Http.Connect and Http.HostConnectorSetup command messages. An ClientSSLEngineProvider is essentially a function PipelineContext Option[SSLEngine] which determines whether encryption is to be performed and, if so, which instance is to be used. By returning None the ClientSSLEngineProvider can decide to disable SSL support even if SSL support was requested by the means described above.

If you’d like to apply some custom configuration to your SSLEngine instances an easy way would be to bring a custom engine provider into scope, e.g. like this:


implicit val myEngineProvider = ClientSSLEngineProvider { engine =>
  engine.setEnabledProtocols(Array("SSLv3", "TLSv1"))

EngineProvider creation also relies on an implicitly available SSLContextProvider, which is defined like this:

trait SSLContextProvider extends (PipelineContext  Option[SSLContext])

The default SSLContextProvider simply provides an implicitly available “constant” SSLContext, by default the SSLContext.getDefault is used. This means that the easiest way to have the server use a custom SSLContext is to simply bring one into scope implicitly:


implicit val mySSLContext: SSLContext = {
  val context = SSLContext.getInstance("TLS")
  // context.init(...)

Redirection Following

Automatic redirection following for 3xx responses is supported by setting configuring the setting. This is the logic that is then applied:

  • If set to zero redirection responses will not be followed, i.e. they’ll be returned to the user as is.
  • If set to a value > zero redirection responses will be followed up to the given number of times.
  • If the redirection chain is longer than the configured value the first redirection response that is is not followed anymore is returned to the user as is.

By default max-redirects is set to 0.

Since this setting is at the host level, it is possible to configure a different number of max-redirects for different hosts (see Request-level API). In this situation the max-redirects configured for the host of the initial request is respected for the entire redirection chain. This is true even if redirection means changing to another host.

Which redirects are followed?

This table shows which http method is used to follow redirects for given request methods and response status codes. Any request method and response status code combination not in the table will not result in redirection following and the response will be returned as is.

Request Method Response Status Code Redirection Method Specification
GET / HEAD 301 / 302 / 303 Original request method RFC 2616
Any (except GET / HEAD) 302 / 303 GET RFC 2616
Any 307 Original request method HttpBis Draft
Any 308 Original request method 308 Draft