Reverse proxy that inverts the direction of traffic
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README.md

Inverting Proxy and Agent

This repository defines a reverse proxy that inverts the direction of traffic between the proxy and the backend servers.

That design makes configuring and hosting backends much simpler than what is required for traditional reverse proxies:

  1. The communication channel between the proxy and backends can be secured using the SSL certificate of the proxy. This removes the need to setup SSL certificates for each backend.
  2. The backends do not need to be exposed to incoming requests from the proxy. In particular, the backends can run in different networks without needing to expose them to incoming traffic from the internet.

Disclaimer

This is not an official Google product

Background

A reverse proxy is a server that forwards requests to one or more backend servers.

Traditionally, this has been done by configuring the reverse proxy with the address of each backend, and then having it send a request to a backend for each request it receives from a client.

That meant each backend had to be able to receive incoming requests from the proxy. This implied one of two choices.

  1. Place the backend servers on a private network shared with the proxy.
  2. Place the backend servers on the public internet.

The first choice requires the proxy and backends to be controlled by the same hosting provider, while the second requires the backends handle all of the same overhead required for any internet hosting (SSL termination, protection against DDoS attacks, etc).

This project aims to limit the overhead of hosting a public server to just the proxy while still allowing anyone to run a backend.

The details of how this is accomplished are outlined below.

Design

This project defines two components:

  1. Something that we are calling the "Inverting Proxy"
  2. An agent that runs alongside a backend and forwards requests to it

The inverting proxy can be run on App Engine. It requires incoming requests be authenticated via the Users API and forwards those requests to the appropriate backend, via the agent.

Since neither the backend nor the agent will be accessible from the public internet, requests are not directly forwarded to the backend. Instead, the direction of that traffic is inverted. The agent sends a request to the inverting proxy, the proxy waits for incoming client requests, and then the proxy responds to the request from the agent with those client requests in the response body.

The agent then forwards those requests to the backend, takes the responses that it gets back, and sends them as a request to the inverting proxy.

Finally, the inverting proxy extracts the backend's response from the agent's request and sends it as the response to the original client request.

An example request flow looks like this:

+--------+         +-------+         +-------+         +---------+
| Client |         | Proxy | <-(1)-- | Agent |         | Backend |
|        | --(2)-> |       |         |       |         |         |
|        |         |       | --(3)-> |       |         |         |
|        |         |       |         |       | --(4)-> |         |
|        |         |       |         |       | <-(5)-- |         |
|        |         |       | <-(6)-- |       |         |         |
|        | <-(7)-- |       |         |       |         |         |
|        |         |       | --(8)-> |       |         |         |
+--------+         +-------+         +-------+         +---------+

The important thing to note is that the request from the client (#2) matches the request to the backend (#4) and the response from the backend (#5) matches the response to the client (#7).

Components

There are two components required for the inverting proxy to work:

  1. The proxy itself, which must be accessible from the public internet.
  2. The forwarding agent, which must be able to forward requests to the backend.

Inverting Proxy

The inverting proxy serves the same roll as a reverse proxy, but additionally inverts the direction of traffic to the agent.

We implement the inverting proxy as an App Engine app. The app is written in Go and its source code is under the 'app' subdirectory.

Forwarding Agent

The agent receives the inverted traffic from the proxy and inverts it again before forwarding it to the backend. This ensures that the requests from the client match the requests to the backend and that the responses from the backend match the responses to the client.

The forwarding agent is standalone binary written in Go and its source code is under the 'agent' subdirectory.

Usage

Prerequisites

First, create a Google Cloud Platform project that will host your proxy, and ensure that you have the Google Cloud SDK installed on your machine.

Setup

Save the ID of your project in the environment variable PROJECT_ID, and then run the command

make deploy

This will deploy 3 App Engine services to your project (one for the proxy, one for agents to contact, and one that implements an API for managing proxy endpoints).

Registering Backends

Before you can connect a backend server to your proxy, you must use the proxy's admin API to create a record of that backend. This is just a simple HTTP REST API with create, list, and delete operations. There is no client tool provided for the admin API, but you can access it using curl.

To list the current backends:

curl -H "Authorization: Bearer $(gcloud auth print-access-token)" \
    https://api-dot-${PROJECT_ID}.appspot.com/api/backends

To create a backend:

curl -H "Authorization: Bearer $(gcloud auth print-access-token)" \
    -d "${BACKEND_RECORD}" \
    https://api-dot-${PROJECT_ID}.appspot.com/api/backends

... where "${BACKEND_RECORD}" is a JSON object with the following fields:

  • id: An arbitary name for the backend
  • endUser: The email address of the end user connecting to that backend. The email address must be for a Google account. Alternatively, you can use the special string "allUsers" to make your server public.
  • backendUser: The email address of account running the agent. This should be the account listed as "active" when you run gcloud auth list on the machine where the agent runs.
  • pathPrefixes: This specifies the list of URL paths served by the backend. To match all request, use ["/"].

Finally, to delete a backend:

curl -X DELETE \
    -H "Authorization: Bearer $(gcloud auth print-access-token)" \
    https://api-dot-${PROJECT_ID}.appspot.com/api/backends/${BACKEND_ID}

Running Backends

Once you have created the record for your backend using the API, you can run the agent alongside your server with the following command:

docker run --net=host --rm -it \
    -v "${HOME}/.config:/root/.config" \
    --env="PORT=${PORT}" \
    --env="BACKEND=${BACKEND_ID}" \
    --env="PROXY=https://agent-dot-${PROJECT_ID}.appspot.com/" \
    gcr.io/inverting-proxy/agent

And then you can access your backend by vising https://${PROJECT_ID}.appspot.com

Limitations

Currently, the inverting proxy only supports HTTP requests. In particular, websockets are not supported, so you have to use an adapter like socket.io if you want to use the inverting proxy with a service that requires websockets.