TLS Session Resumption

The extra latency and computational costs of the full TLS handshake impose a serious performance penalty on all applications that require secure communication. To help mitigate some of the costs, TLS provides an ability to resume or share the same negotiated secret key data between multiple connections.

Session Identifiers

The first Session Identifiers (RFC 5246) resumption mechanism was introduced in SSL 2.0, which allowed the server to create and send a 32-byte session identifier as part of its "ServerHello" message during the full TLS negotiation which we discuss in TLS Handshake.

Internally, the server could then maintain a cache of session IDs and the negotiated session parameters for each peer. In turn, the client could then also store the session ID information and include the ID in the "ClientHello" message for a subsequent session, which serves as an indication to the server that the client still remembers the negotiated cipher suite and keys from previous handshake and is able to reuse them. Assuming both the client and the server are able to find the shared session ID parameters in their respective caches, then an abbreviated handshake can take place. Otherwise, a full new session negotiation is required, which will generate a new session ID.


Leveraging session identifiers allows us to remove a full roundtrip, as well as the overhead of public key cryptography, which is used to negotiate the shared secret key. This allows a secure connection to be established quickly and with no loss of security, since we are reusing the previously negotiated session data.

In practice, most web applications attempt to establish multiple connections to the same host to fetch resources in parallel, which makes session resumption a must-have optimisation to reduce latency and computational costs for both sides.

Most modern browsers intentionally wait for the first TLS connection to complete before opening new connections to the same server: subsequent TLS connections can reuse the SSL session parameters to avoid the costly handshake.

However, one of the practical limitations of the Session Identifiers mechanism is the requirement for the server to create and maintain a session cache for every client. This results in several problems on the server, which may see tens of thousands or even millions of unique connections every day: consumed memory for every open TLS connection, a requirement for session ID cache and eviction policies, and nontrivial deployment challenges for popular sites with many servers, which should, ideally, use a shared TLS session cache for best performance.

None of the preceding problems are impossible to solve, and many high-traffic sites are using session identifiers successfully today. But for any multiserver deployment, session identifiers will require some careful thinking and systems architecture to ensure a well operating session cache.

Session Tickets

To address this concern for server-side deployment of TLS session caches, the "Session Ticket" (RFC 5077) replacement mechanism was introduced, which removes the requirement for the server to keep per-client session state. Instead, if the client indicated that it supports Session Tickets, in the last exchange of the full TLS handshake, the server can include a New Session Ticket record, which includes all of the session data encrypted with a secret key known only by the server.

This session ticket is then stored by the client and can be included in the SessionTicket extension within theClientHello message of a subsequent session. Thus, all session data is stored only on the client, but the ticket is still safe because it is encrypted with a key known only by the server.

The session identifiers and session ticket mechanisms are respectively commonly referred to as session cachingand stateless resumption mechanisms. The main improvement of stateless resumption is the removal of the server-side session cache, which simplifies deployment by requiring that the client provide the session ticket on every new connection to the server—that is, until the ticket has expired.

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