Originally created 12/26/96

America Online denies members access to thousands of web sites



BOCA RATON, Fla., Dec. 24 /PRNewswire/ -- Last week, thousands of Web sites became inaccessible to America Online customers when AOL decided to stop supporting the latest version of the worldwide web's communication protocol. The world's largest web hosting company, Hiway Technologies, was quickly flooded with angry email from AOL customers who were unaware of the source of the problem.

Whenever a customer using the AOL browser tries to access a server that uses the new HTTP/l.1 standard, the customer is blocked from the site. Hiway is not the only Internet presence provider affected, but with over 16,000 web site customers, they were one of the first to discover AOL's new policy of denying access to servers that are using the HTTP/1.1 standard. It seems that AOL is blocking access from its proxy server to any site, anywhere, that is using the new HTTP/1.1 standard.

"The thing we don't understand is that America Online is violating an Internet standard which they were a party to developing. AOL has completely disregarded the specification for the HTTP/1.1 response headers, which states the same thing that the HTTP/1.0 specification states: minor-version-number revisions are backwards compatible," explained Bill Nesbitt, chief technical officer at Hiway Technologies. "And, in fact, prior to AOL's 'upgrade' last week when they began denying access to HTTP/1.1 servers, the AOL proxy servers had been working perfectly with the new standard -- and we've been using 1.1 for weeks now. We were able to narrow down the problem rather quickly, because we have had no other problems with other browsers or online services, and actually, no problems with AOL until they decided to block access to 1.1 servers. We have been, to date, unsuccessful in persuading AOL to become compliant with their own rules."

After AOL refused to make their proxy servers compliant with the HTTP/1.1 specification, Hiway realized it would have to solve the problem on its own. Hiway enlisted the help of Apache, the world's leading provider of Web server software. Engineers wrote a patch specifically targeted to AOL's proxy servers. The patch would allow AOL users access to HTTP/l.1 Web servers, but wouldn't cripple the server software to compliant browsers. "The HTTP/l.1 specification was designed to facilitate a smooth transition from 1.0 to 1.1, but the fact that we are in full compliance means nothing to the millions of AOL users that are being denied access by their own provider," continued Nesbitt. "This is the busiest time of year for many of our customers. We knew we had to find a way around the problem, at least until AOL management and technicians realize they are defeating the purpose of developing specifications and standards, and hurting their customers in the process."

The patch identifies the AOL proxy servers and responds as if it were an HTTP/1.0 server. While this circumvents the HTTP/1.1 specification, it does provide interoperability between the AOL proxy servers and the Apache web server. Because the patch is specifically targeted to AOL browsers, it has no effect on other, standards-compliant browsers.