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Flask, Safari and HTTP 206 Partial Media Requests

Jun 08, 2014

While working on my Python 3, Flask-based application Binbogami in order that a friend would be able to put their rebirthed podcast online, a test scenario that I hadn't thought to check upon came to light: streaming MP3 in Safari on an iOS device. It turns out that attempting to do this resulted in an error in Safari along the lines of the below:

Safari iOS error

A little more investigation showed that this error was repeated on Safari on OSX. Given the unfortunate trinity of erroneous situations that Binbogami seemed to fall foul of, it seemd that the problem lay with how Safari, or QuickTime as the interface for media streaming under Safari on these platforms, was attempting to fetch the file.

The problem

A cursory DuckDuckGo search led me to find that where Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer and Opera all use a standard HTTP GET request for fetching media, even where this media could be considered to be being streamed, Safari's dependency on QuickTime for media playback meant that upon attempting to fetch the file, an initial request for the first two bytes of the file is made to determine its length and other header-type information, using the Range request header, with Range requests consequent to these two bytes being made subsequently.

By default, the method that I was making use of in Flask to serve static files does not issue the HTTP 206 response headers necessary to make this work, as well as not paying any heed to the Range of bytes that are requested in the request headers.


While it seemed apparent that implementation of the correct headers in the HTTP response and implementing some sort of custom method to send only the requested bytes within a file would be the way around this, my head was not particularly in the space of implementation. Again, with some internet searching I came across an instructive blog post, that appeared to have a sensible answer. With a little bit of customisation to suit my own particularities:

def send_file_206(path, safe_name):
    range_header = request.headers.get('Range', None)
    if not range_header:
        return send_from_directory(current_app.config["UPLOAD_FOLDER"], safe_name)

    size = os.path.getsize(path)
    byte1, byte2 = 0, None

    m = re.search('(\d+)-(\d*)', range_header)
    g = m.groups()

    if g[0]: byte1 = int(g[0])
    if g[1]: byte2 = int(g[1])

    length = size - byte1
    if byte2 is not None:
        length = byte2 - byte1

    data = None
    with open(path, 'rb') as f:
        data = f.read(length)

    rv = Response(data,
    rv.headers.add('Content-Range', 'bytes {0}-{1}/{2}'.format(byte1, byte1 + length - 1, size))
    return rv

A secondary issue

While the above did lead Safari to believe that it could indeed play the files, it would always treat them as "live broadcasts", rather than MP3 files of a finite length. This is due to the way in which QuickTime establishes the length of a file through it's initial requests for a few bytes at the head of a file: if it cannot get the number of bytes that it expects, it ceases trying to issue Range requests and instead issues a request with an Icy-Metadata header, implying that it believes the file to be an IceCast stream (WireShark is a wonderful tool).

The issue in the above code is found in the byte1 + length - 1 statement in the issued Content-Range header: where Safari is requesting two bytes in its first request (so the Range header will look like Range: 0-1) this will evaluate to only sending the 0 + (1 - 0) - 1 = 0th byte - not the 0th and 1st byte as requested. The file still looks like a valid MP3 file, however, so Safari requests the whole file as a stream - therefore leading to the "Live Broadcast" designation.

A simple fix was to add +1 to the length declaration, to make it length = byte2 - byte1 + 1.


It's interesting to see how differently major implemenations of media downloading functionality in mainstream browsers can differ based upon the technology underlying it. In the case of Safari's approach however, it seems somewhat contrary to the major use case of this: most people using the browser to access a media file will be seeking to download, rather than "stream" (in a traditional sense) it.

Safari's approach also has the downside of generating a lot of HTTP requests, which as a systems administrator can cause havok if you're yet to set up your log rotations for your webserver and application server container (Nginx and uWSGI in this case). It hadn't been long enough since I'd seen a high wa% in top.