Solved! Visual Studio .http File Not Sending Authorization Header
Date Published: 01 February 2024
I ran into a weird problem with how Visual Studio was sending API requests. I was trying to use a bearer token, and it worked fine in Swagger, but from an .http file the Authorization header was simply being ignored, resulting in a 401 Unauthorized.
I'd built a simple ASP.NET Core webapi project using the default template. I was using the built-in support for .http files to execute requests against the project. I could register and log in successfully, but when it came time to hit an endpoint that required authentication, it would always result in a 401. The same token added to the same
Authorization header worked just fine using Swagger/Swashbuckle in the browser.
Diagnosing the Problem
I tried a bunch of things to attempt to diagnose the problem. I checked to see if anyone else had reported similar issues. I posted on my company Discord and on Twitter to see if anyone else knew what was going on. Since the Request info tab in the .http file wasn't even showing the Authorization header (but would show a made-up
Authorization2 header that I added that was identical in all respects but the name) I figured maybe it was by design for some reason.
Since the issue seemed to revolve around missing headers, I wanted to verify if what was showing up in the Request tab was correct, so I wrote some custom LogHeadersMiddleware to show me every header that ASP.NET Core was seeing.
That's when I noticed something odd. See if you can pick it out in this image, which shows a request (a single request) from the .http file to the API app:
The issue was the
UseHttpsRedirection middleware. It was silently redirecting from the http endpoint to the https endpoint. The http endpoint was set up as a variable at the top of the .http file, so it wasn't even obvious far down into the file that a given request was using a particular URL/port:
Looking at the Request tab of the .http file output, it showed the URL of https://localhost:7248/cart but again, there was no reason for me to think this wasn't the correct URL. What it wasn't showing was the Authorization header.
It might be a nice feature to include in the Request tab (or somewhere) that a redirect was followed, and that the final URL doesn't match the original URL that was requested.
Silent Redirection and Authorization Headers
The underlying behavior at work here was the means by which
UseHttpsRedirection works and some assumptions about how that should behave. Specifically, it functions by sending a redirect response to the client, and if the client is configured to automatically follow redirects, it will do so without missing a beat. However, there is also a convention to not forward Authorization headers with redirects, as described here:
The Authorization header is cleared on auto-redirects and the handler automatically tries to re-authenticate to the redirected location. No other headers are cleared. In practice, this means that an application can't put custom authentication information into the Authorization header if it is possible to encounter redirection. Instead, the application must implement and register a custom authentication module.
Note that this document literally says you shouldn't use custom auth headers "if it is possible to encounter redirection" which basically means you should never combine
UseHttpsRedirection with a token-secured API.
Others have run into this problem before:
Visual Studio / Template Feedback
I submitted this feedback to Visual Studio. Please comment or vote on it if you think it will help.
I'm hoping that this article will help save someone else some time (or who knows, maybe future me). If you're getting a 401 Unauthorized even though you are setting your Authorization header correctly, and you notice the Authorization header is missing, look for redirects as the culprit. They may not be obvious in your tooling, especially if things are configured to automatically follow redirects. Good luck and keep improving!
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Steve is an experienced software architect and trainer, focusing on code quality and Domain-Driven Design with .NET.