If None Match HTTP Request Header

Jun 28 2024 by Oskay Günaçar

What is If None Match HTTP Request Header?

The If-None-Match HTTP request header makes conditional requests based on the ETag (Entity Tag) of a resource. It helps optimize web traffic and server load by allowing the server to send a response only if the content has changed.

When a client includes this header with an ETag value, the server compares it with the current ETag of the requested resource. If they match, indicating no change, the server returns a 304 Not Modified Status Code, telling the client to use the cached version of the resource. If they don't match, the server sends the new version of the resource with a 200 OK Status.

What is the Syntax of If-None-Match Request Header?

The syntax of the If-None-Match HTTP request header is straightforward. It allows one or more entity tags (ETags) to be specified in the request. Here's how it typically looks:

If-None-Match: "<etag_value>"

Where "<etag_value>" is the ETag of the resource that the client has cached. ETags are opaque strings that the server provides to represent the version of a resource.

Multiple ETags

You can also specify multiple ETags in a single If-None-Match header, which is useful if the client has several versions of a resource cached and wants to check for any matches. The ETags are separated by commas:

If-None-Match: "<etag1>", "<etag2>", "<etag3>"

Wildcard ETag

Additionally, the header can include a wildcard (*) character, which is used to indicate that the request should be processed only if the resource has never been retrieved (i.e., there is no current representation at all):

If-None-Match: *

This wildcard is particularly useful for PUT requests to prevent inserting a new resource that might inadvertently duplicate an existing one.

Use in Requests

The If-None-Match header is mainly used with GET or HEAD requests to allow conditional fetching, but it can also be used with other methods like PUT to ensure that updates to resources are not lost due to concurrent modifications.

How Does If None Match Header Work?

The If-None-Match HTTP request header is used to make conditional requests based on the ETag (Entity Tag) of the resource in question. Here’s how it works in practice:

Step 1: Server Response with ETag

When a server responds to a request for a resource, such as a web page or an image, it may include an ETag in the response. This ETag is a unique identifier for the current version of the resource.

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
ETag: "abc123"
Content-Type: text/html
Content-Length: 2345

[resource content]

Step 2: Client Request with If-None-Match

When the client (e.g., a web browser) later wants to check if the resource has been updated, it sends a new request with the If-None-Match header set to the ETag value previously received.

GET /page.html HTTP/1.1
Host: www.example.com
If-None-Match: "abc123"

Step 3: Server Evaluation

Upon receiving this request, the server compares the ETag provided in the If-None-Match header against the current ETag of the resource. There are two possible outcomes:

  • ETag Matches: If the ETag in the If-None-Match header matches the current ETag of the resource, it means the resource has not changed since the last time the client fetched it. The server will then respond with a 304 Not Modified status code, indicating that the client can continue to use its cached version.

    HTTP/1.1 304 Not Modified
    ETag: "abc123"
  • ETag Does Not Match: If the ETag in the If-None-Match header does not match the current ETag, it means the resource has changed. The server responds with a 200 OK status, including the new version of the resource and its new ETag.

    HTTP/1.1 200 OK
    ETag: "xyz456"
    Content-Type: text/html
    Content-Length: 2468
    [new resource content]

Step 4: Client Response Handling

  • 304 Not Modified: The client uses the cached version of the resource, saving bandwidth and reducing load times since no actual resource data is transmitted.
  • 200 OK: The client updates its cache with the new version of the resource and the new ETag.

This mechanism ensures efficient use of resources by reducing unnecessary data transfer and helps maintain the freshness and consistency of content in a web environment.

What are the Directives of If-None-Match HTTP Header?

The If-None-Match HTTP header primarily uses the following directives:

Single ETag

  • Single ETag: Specifies one ETag. The request is only successful if the ETag for the requested resource does not match this ETag. If it matches, the server returns a 304 Not Modified response, indicating that the cached version of the resource is up-to-date.

    If-None-Match: "abc123"

Multiple ETags

  • Multiple ETags: Allows the inclusion of several ETags in the header. The server checks each provided ETag against the current ETag of the resource. If none match, the request proceeds; if any ETag matches, the server returns 304 Not Modified.

    If-None-Match: "abc123", "xyz456", "def789" 


  • Wildcard (*): This directive indicates that the request should be processed only if the resource has not been previously fetched. If the resource exists (regardless of its ETag), the server responds with 304 Not Modified. This is often used to ensure that a PUT operation does not inadvertently create duplicate entries.

    If-None-Match: *

These directives help manage the caching behavior between clients and servers, optimizing data transfer and ensuring the freshness of the content served.

What are the Use Cases of If None Match Request Header?

The If-None-Match HTTP request header has several key use cases that enhance web performance and efficiency:

r proxies to validate cached content. When a cached resource carries an ETag, a subsequent request with this header can lead to a 304 Not Modified response if the content hasn't changed, saving bandwidth and reducing load times.

Enhancing Web Application Performance

Using the If-None-Match header helps maintain high performance of web applications by minimizing the amount of data transferred between the client and the server. This is particularly beneficial for applications with large or frequently accessed resources, as it ensures users only download updates when necessary.

Conditional Content Delivery

This header allows servers to make decisions about sending full responses or just status codes based on the presence of specific ETags. This is useful for dynamic content or applications where new versions of resources are frequently generated.

Efficient Cache Management

It aids in more efficient cache management by ensuring that clients are only served new data when the content they have cached is outdated. This approach not only improves user experience by speeding up web interactions but also helps manage server load more effectively.

Developing Web APIs

For web APIs, the If-None-Match header is crucial in managing stateful interactions. It can prevent concurrent updates from overwriting changes (a scenario often termed as the "lost update" problem), by ensuring that an update happens only if the resource hasn't been modified since the last known state.

Handling If-None-Match HTTP Header in Web Servers

Handling the If-None-Match HTTP request header effectively in web servers is crucial for optimizing resource delivery and maintaining efficient server-client communication. Here’s how this can be implemented across different web servers:

Apache HTTP Server

  1. Module Configuration:

    • Ensure that the mod_headers and mod_cache are enabled to handle conditional requests and caching.
    • Configuration can be added to .htaccess files or directly into server configuration files.
  2. ETag Generation:

    • Apache automatically generates and manages ETags using the FileETag directive.
    • You can configure how ETags are generated based on file properties such as size, modification time, and inode number.
  3. Conditional Requests Handling:

    • Apache handles conditional requests natively once ETags are configured.
    • Responses like 304 Not Modified are automatically sent if the ETag of the resource matches the ETag provided in the If-None-Match header.


  1. ETag Configuration:

    • Nginx does not enable ETag generation by default. You can manually configure ETag handling using third-party modules or by setting ETags in proxy environments.
  2. Conditional Request Module:

    • Using the ngx_http_rewrite_module, you can set conditions for handling If-None-Match headers.
    • Implementing conditional returns or rewrites based on the header's value can manage cache validation.
  3. Cache Control:

    • Nginx can be configured to work with upstream caches to respect the If-None-Match headers using proxy caching directives.
    • Proper cache validation settings will ensure that Nginx serves fresh content when needed and respects the conditional headers.

IIS (Internet Information Services)

  1. ETag and Header Management:

    • IIS automatically handles ETags and conditional headers through its static and dynamic content modules.
    • Custom configurations can be set in the IIS Manager or directly in the web.config file.
  2. Custom Handling:

    • You can write custom handlers or use URL Rewrite Module to manage responses based on If-None-Match headers.
    • This allows more granular control over caching strategies and response codes.

By setting up your web server to properly handle the If-None-Match header, you can significantly enhance the efficiency of web communications, ensuring that clients receive timely and bandwidth-efficient responses.

Best Practices and Considerations For If-None-Match HTTP Header

Implementing the If-None-Match HTTP header effectively involves a series of best practices and considerations that ensure its optimal use. Here are some key points to consider:

1. Proper ETag Configuration

  • Generate Accurate ETags: Ensure that the ETags you generate accurately reflect the content of the resources. They should change whenever the content of the resource changes. Misconfigured ETags can lead to unnecessary data transfers or stale content.
  • Use Strong Validators: Prefer strong validators over weak ones. Strong ETags, which are typically generated based on the exact bytes of the content, offer more precise validation than weak ETags, which can be based on timestamps or other less specific data.

2. Understanding Client Behavior

  • Respect Header Directives: Make sure your server properly respects the directives provided in the If-None-Match header. Incorrect handling can lead to client browsers displaying outdated content or unnecessarily re-downloading resources.
  • Compatibility Checks: Ensure that your implementation is compatible with various clients (browsers, APIs, etc.) as they may handle caching and ETags differently.

3. Security Considerations

  • Information Leakage: Be cautious about how much information is included in ETags. Overly descriptive ETags might inadvertently leak details about the server file system or the specifics of the resource.
  • Mitigate Replay Attacks: In secure or sensitive environments, consider the implications of ETag replay attacks where old ETags might be used to expose sensitive information. One way to mitigate this is by ensuring that ETags are regenerated frequently or are specific to user sessions.

4. Performance Optimization

  • Avoid Unnecessary Network Traffic: Use the If-None-Match header to reduce the bandwidth by avoiding sending full responses when the content has not changed. This is particularly effective for large resources.
  • Server Load Reduction: Proper use of ETags and the If-None-Match header can significantly reduce the load on your servers by minimizing the amount of data that needs to be sent and processed.

5. Cache Coherence

  • Global and Local Caching Strategies: Align If-None-Match handling with both global (e.g., CDN) and local (browser) caching strategies. This ensures coherent behavior across different layers of caching.
  • Cache Invalidation: Be proactive about cache invalidation strategies. When resource content changes, corresponding ETags should be updated immediately to avoid serving stale content.

6. Handling Updates and Concurrency

  • Concurrency Control: Use the If-None-Match header as part of your concurrency control strategy, especially in APIs. It can help prevent the "lost update" problem, where simultaneous updates to a resource can overwrite each other without warning.
  • Consistent Updates: In environments with heavy write operations, ensure that updates to resources and their ETags are atomic and consistent to avoid synchronization issues.

7. Testing and Documentation

  • Thorough Testing: Regularly test how your application handles the If-None-Match header across different scenarios to ensure it behaves as expected.
  • Clear Documentation: Document how ETags are generated and managed within your application or API. Clear documentation helps developers understand how to interact with your system effectively.

By following these best practices, you can ensure that the If-None-Match header is used effectively to improve the performance, security, and user experience of web applications.


In conclusion, the If-None-Match HTTP request header is a powerful tool for managing web resources efficiently. By facilitating conditional requests based on ETag values, it significantly reduces unnecessary network traffic and optimizes server load. This mechanism not only ensures that users access the most current content but also conserves bandwidth and improves overall web application performance.

Understanding the syntax and directives of the If-None-Match header is crucial for developers aiming to implement robust caching strategies. By correctly handling these headers in web servers like Apache, Nginx, and IIS, developers can ensure that their applications are responsive and efficient.

However, it's important to adhere to best practices when using this header. Proper ETag configuration, respecting client behaviors, and ensuring security are just a few considerations that can enhance the effectiveness of this HTTP header. Additionally, integrating these strategies into your caching and content delivery frameworks will not only provide a better user experience but also reduce the environmental impact of digital operations by lowering the data transfer requirements.

By following the guidelines and considerations outlined in this discussion, developers and administrators can leverage the If-None-Match header to its fullest potential, ensuring that web resources are managed in the most efficient manner possible.

Oskay Günaçar
Oskay Günaçar is a Technical SEO expert and backend developer. His main areas of interest are back-end programming, Python, Django, Go, semantic SEO, technical SEO. With more than 5 years of SEO experience, he has held SEO specialist positions at İkiler, Webtures, Boosmart, and Storyly.io companies, and has been involved in numerous projects as an outsourced expert. Through the TechSEOHub website, he aims to share the expertise and experience he has gained from managing and developing (SEO) processes for many successful and large websites in the industry, and to produce content for easy access to accurate and high-quality information.