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Client Hints is collection of HTTP and user-agent features that enables privacy-preserving, proactive content negotiation with an explicit cross-origin delegation mechanism:

  • Proactive content negotiation at the HTTP layer (defined in the IETF RFC) enables servers to request delivery of specific hints, in order to enable optimized and automated selection of resources based on a user's device, conditions and preferences, and lets clients decide which hint requests they want to grant, with per-hint and per-origin granularity.
  • Integration of said mechanism with web concepts (defined in this specification) specification) enables browsers to benefit from content adaptation, and have it play nicely with current web restrictions (e.g. same-origin policy).
  • The opt-in nature of the mechanism enables browsers to advertise requested hint data (e.g. user agent and device characteristics) selectively to secure-transport origins, instead of appending such data on every outgoing request.
  • Origin opt-in applies to same-origin assets only and delivery to cross-origin origins is subject to explicit cross-origin delegation via Feature Policy, enabling tight control over which cross-origin origins can access requested hint data.

The goal of Client Hints is to reduce passive fingerprinting on the web while enabling scalable and privacy preserving content adaptation between client and server, via a standardized set of content negotiation primitives at the HTTP and user agent levels.

This document outlines the Client Hints infrastructure, explains it at a high level and points to the various specification and draft proposals in which it is officially defined. It does not describe the various features and hints which rely on this infrastructure. They will be defined in their respective specifications.

The Client Hints infrastructure

How can servers opt into receiving hints from the client? How should clients send those hints? And how should that be handled across origins?

Opt-in mechanism

In order to receive Client Hints, servers must opt-in by using the HTTP response headers described in the sections below. For security and privacy reasons, the opt-in must be received on the response of the top-level navigation, over a secure connection. Servers can similarly opt-in by using the headers' HTML equivalents, the <meta> HTML tag and its http-equiv attribute.


The Accept-CH header enables servers to request specific hints from the browser. The header's value is a comma separated list, where each value in that list represents a request header hint that the server is interested in receiving.

If a server's response to a navigation request includes the Accept-CH: foo, bar header, same-origin subresource requests on the page will include the Sec-Foo: foo-value and Sec-Bar: bar-value request headers unless the client has reasons to avoid sending that information to the server.


The Delegate-CH <meta> HTML tag enables top level frames to request specific hints from the browser. The header's value is a semi-colon separated list (akin to the Permissions Policy syntax), where each value in that list represents a request header hint that the server is interested in receiving.

If the HTML response to a navigation request includes the <meta http-equiv="Delegate-CH" value="Sec-Foo; Sec-Bar"> tag, same-origin subresource requests on the page will include the Sec-Foo: foo-value and Sec-Bar: bar-value request headers, unless the client has reasons to avoid sending that information to the server.

Same-Origin Policy

There are three important restrictions on the opt-in mechanism description above:

  • opt-ins will only be granted when the opt-in headers are received with a top-level navigation resource
  • after the opt-in, hints will only be sent with same-origin requests
  • any Delegate-CH <meta> HTML tags injected by javascript will be ignored

Why are these limitations important?

As mentioned before, we don't want the mechanism to be used to increase fingerprinting on the web. The information that Client Hints provide should generally be available through Javascript APIs (see the Privacy Considerations section for more details).

That means that for active resources (e.g. HTML), Client Hints does not increase the active fingerprinting surface. Servers serving active resources can already exfiltrate the data that hints provide, via scripts, styles or certain elements (e.g. <img srcset>). Client Hints only provides servers with a more convenient and performant way to get that information for content-negotiation purposes and ensures that authors and user agents have ultimate control over which servers get what information.

Client Hints also allow this information to be collected on passive sub-resources (e.g. images). We don't want cross-origin origins to be able to exfiltrate data about the client/user without explicit permission from the top-level origin. And we certainly don't want them to be able to exfiltrate it cross-origin, beyond the lifetime of the current navigation.

Therefore, by default, Client Hints opt-in is only valid when delivered on top-level navigation requests before any scripts execute, and, by default, applies only to same-origin resources. Cross-origin requests must only receive hints when explicit permission is given by the top-level document's origin.

Cross-origin hint delegation

Why do we need cross-origin Client Hints?

As the purpose of for client hints is to enable content negotiation at scale, and as many optimization services are offered over different origins than the main page's origin (e.g., CDNs, resource-specific hosting services, or dedicated, resource-specific, first-party sub-domains), cross-origin support is a vital part of Client Hints.

In order to support these use-cases, we have defined delegation of Client Hints cross-origin, using a HTTP Permissions Policy or HTML Feature Policy.

HTTP Example

A server sending the following header Permissions-Policy: ch-example=( "" ""), ch-example-2="" as part of a top-level navigation response will delegate the example hint to the "" and "" origins and example-2 to the "" origin. So, the client would know that it had explicit permission from the top-level origin to send these hints cross-origin, so that these cross-origin origins could perform content adaptation based on them.

HTML Example

A top level frame containing the following <meta> HTML tag: <meta accept-ch="Delegate-CH" value="sec-ch-example; sec-ch-example-2"> will delegate the example hint to the "" and "" origins and example-2 to the "" origin. So, the client would know that it had explicit permission from the top-level origin to send these hints cross-origin, so that these cross-origin origins could perform content adaptation based on them.

Privacy implications

Why is it privacy-safe for pages to delegate hints to certain cross-origin origins?

Since we're treating Client Hints as an active fingerprinting equivalent, we are comfortable with the information it exposes to the top-level origin, as the same information is already freely available in the equivalent Javascript APIs. Similarly, cross-origin delegation is safe because top-level origin are already able to use other means (such as link decoration), to achieve the same information sharing cross-origin, in less convenient and performant ways.

Further, the HTML delegation can only occur when the <meta> HTML tag is not injected via javascript, ensuring scripts cannot delegate hints in ways that relax the restrictions the top-level content author did not permit.

In short, top-level origins already have the power to share information about the client cross-origin. Cross-origin delegation of Client Hints provides a cleaner pathway for that sharing, and ensures that top-level origin, and ultimately clients, are aware and in control of what is being shared with who.

Sec- prefix

Adding new request headers increases the risk that legacy server systems already use those values for a different purpose. Changing the request header values that such legacy systems receive may result in server bugs.

While that risk is significantly mitigated by the opt-in mechanisms of Client Hints (as servers would be opting in to get Client Hints headers), we feel it is required to mitigate it even further. So, Client Hints request headers should be preceded by the Sec- prefix.

The Sec- prefix also ensures that these headers are only generated by the browser and not added by potentially-malicious developers. That gives servers further guarantees when processing those headers. It may also enable us to simplify the related Fetch processing model, as it clearly indicates that these are headers that were added by the user agent.

Caching considerations

When adapting content to specific Client Hints request headers, servers should add the Vary header to their responses, with a value of each Client Hint header used, in order to indicate such adaptation to caches, and make sure that Client-Hint-negotiated resources are not cached using only their URL as the cache key.

This is also the reason that each Client Hint is represented using a separate header. Ensuring that each hint has its own header reduces cache variance in responses that may rely on some hints, but not others.

Security and privacy considerations

There are a few key mechanisms we already discussed that are part of the Client Hints infrastructure, which enable secure and privacy-preserving deployment of Client Hints:

  • Server opt-ins must be delivered on a top-level navigation request, over a secure connection.
  • Hints are only delivered with same-origin requests, over a secure connection.
  • If the top-level origin wants hints to be delivered to certain cross-origin origins, the top-level origin can explicitly delegate specific hints to specific origins.
  • Hints are Sec- prefixed, to provide servers with more confidence regarding the values they deliver, as well as to avoid legacy server bugs.

Beyond that, when implementing Client Hints, browsers should make sure that certain privacy-related precautions are being taken:

  • Client Hint features should not be shipped unless there is a Javascript-based equivalent API, which enables developers access to the same data and is deemed privacy-safe to ship
    • This follows Extensible Web principles — we want the shipped features to be polyfillable (Even if Sec- headers cannot be added by developers)
    • As discussed above, from a privacy perspective, we consider Client Hints to be a potential active fingerprinting vector equivalent. Therefore, it is only safe to ship it with hints that provide information which is already available through other active fingerprinting means, such as a Javascript API.
  • Browsers should turn off hints when users choose to turn off Javascript
    • If the user has turned off Javascript, Javascript-based active fingerprinting vectors have been disabled. Since that could have been the user's intention when turning off scripting, browsers should similarly turn off Client Hints.
  • Browsers can choose to omit or to lie about certain Client Hints to increase their users' privacy
    • Browsers are free to take privacy-enhancing heuristics into account when deciding to respect the server's opt-in to receive them. Similar heuristics can also be used when deciding what values to send.

Motivation and trade-offs

Proactive content negotiation and its benefits

When choosing a solution that will provide alternative resources to the user's browser based on various factors, we are faced with a design dillema: Either the developer can provide the browser with a list of all potential URLs and let the browser choose the best one, or can use content negotiation and let the server pick the best-fit resource variant.

The former option certainly has its place, and it is used successfully across the web in examples like <picture>, srcset, <video>, etc.

At the same time, there are some use-cases where it is not sufficient. Transformation and adaptation of the page's subresources in a manner that is independent from the page's markup can result in more scalable solutions, that don't have to be assimilated into markup related workflows.

By decoupling the resource selection from markup, we can enable external services to perform those transformations automatically. We can also provide a wider range of resources, as offering more resources may result in some server-side costs, but those costs are not directly exposed to the user in the form of markup bloat.

There are many potential dimensions by which we'd want the content adapted to the user:

  • Device characteristics
    • Screen dimensions
    • Screen density
    • Memory and CPU capabilities
    • Range of colors the screen can display
  • Browser characteristics
    • User Agent major or full version
    • Device model, OS version and platform
    • Supported formats and codecs
  • User preferences
    • Data-saving preferences
    • Preferred language
  • Network conditions
    • RTT
    • Effective bandwidth

The list above is not necessarily exhaustive, but it can give us an idea as to why simply providing the browser with (possibly very long) list of resources which have been adapted across multiple dimensions of variability may not be practical, at least in some cases.

An opt-in solution and its tradeoffs

Client Hints requires that servers explicitly advertise and request sets of hints that they would like to receive. This makes such requests explicit and does not enable passive fingerprinting using those hints, which is one of the key and guiding requirements for Client Hints.

Indiscriminately broadcasting user data carries other downsides, as well. Exposing all details and adaptation dimensions to all servers runs a risk of bloating request headers. There are many potential details that can be useful for content negotiation, and we expect that list to grow over time. Sending all of the hints all the time can quickly result in bloat, and make requests significantly larger than they should be. To avoid that, it is more efficient for servers to specifically request the headers that they would take into account, and for client to only send these hints with outgoing requests.

Unfortunately, that decision doesn't come without tradeoffs. Client Hints as an opt-in mechanism currently means that content adaptation of the initial navigation request on the very first view is not possible, at least not without hacks.

At the same time, for features which are critical for content negotiation of navigation requests, browsers may choose to send hints regardless of a server opt-in, when they deem that the information in question doesn't increase the passive fingerprinting surface.

Note: there may be other, out-of-band, opt-in mechanisms in the future that could enable delivery of hints on first navigation to new origins, such as Origin Policy.

Privacy enhancing content negotiation

Content negotiation is typically viewed as a mechanism that enables passive fingerprinting, by adding different bits of data to different user's requests, by default, and enabling servers to use those differences to tell users apart without leaving any trace of that activity.

Client Hints’ opt-in mechanism enables us to avoid this problem, as servers need to tell the browsers which information they need, making any such use of fingerprinting detectable.

But, Client Hints can also enable us to do more than that for user privacy, and turn passive-fingerprinting-enabling content-negotiation mechanisms (e.g. The User-Agent or Accept-Language request headers) into opt-in-only mechanisms. Restricting the amount of entropy that browsers send by default would effectively reduce the passive fingerprinting surface on the web, and Client Hints’ opt-in mechanism would enable browsers to keep closer tabs on entities that use that information for seemingly nefarious reasons.


Client Hints provides a powerful content negotiation mechanism that enables us to adapt content to users' needs without compromising their privacy. It does that by requiring server opt-in, which guarantees that access to the information requires active and tracable action on the server's side. As such, the mechanism does not increase the web's current active fingerprinting surface.

The Client Hints infrastructure can be further used to reduce the web's passive fingerprinting surface, by converting common use-cases for today's passive fingerprinting vectors (e.g. the User-Agent string) into Client Hints which require a specific opt-in.


Specification for the Client Hints infrastructure - privacy preserving proactive content negotiation




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