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Network Stack Use in Chromium


Chromium is the primary consumer of the Chromium network stack. While there are other consumers, the main one is the Chromium browser process. For the most part, the network stack runs in the browser process's IO thread, and interfaces with the Chromium network stack via ChromeURLRequestContext and URLRequest/URLFetcher.


The Chromium browser process uses several instances of ChromeURLRequestContext, a subclass of URLRequestContext.  For a given profile, there are a number of ChromeURLRequestContext instances:
  • The "main" ChromeURLRequestContext. The majority of URLRequests are associated with this ChromeURLRequestContext instance.
  • The "media" ChromeURLRequestContext. This one uses a different HttpCache instance that is optimized for large media requests (video). It shares many objects, such as the HostResolver, CookieMonster, etc. with the main ChromeURLRequestContext.
  • The "extension" ChromeURLRequestContext. It shares many objects with the main ChromeURLRequestContext.  This instance helps service chrome-extension:// requests.
There are also some other ChromeURLRequestContexts, such as sync's HttpBridge::RequestContext, the ConnectionTester's ChromeURLRequestContext, etc.  These are not tied to the profile, although with a multiple profile Chromium, sync's HttpBridge::RequestContext likely would have to be tied to a profile.

Note that the "off the record" (Incognito) profile uses a special OTR ChromeURLRequestContext, in addition to the media and extension contexts, that shares some objects, although notably not the HttpCache or CookieMonster etc that are important to be separated for an off the record profile. The HostResolver is shared.

Many of the objects in ChromeURLRequestContext use scoped_refptrs to share ownership. This causes a lot of problems with object destruction ordering and reference cycles. Many of these members are being moved towards being owned externally, by the IOThread, although that choice may have to change to ProfileImpl or something to support multiple profiles in Chromium.

Note that currently ChromeURLRequestContext contains a lot of extra members that don't exist in URLRequestContext.  These are being moved out, because they have nothing to do with URLRequestContext and were only placed in ChromeURLRequestContext because it was a convenient per-profile object, and originally there weren't many ChromeURLRequestContext objects.


ChromeURLRequestContext is constructed and destroyed on the same thread. However, sometimes other threads need to hold references to them, even before they get constructed. ChromeURLRequestContextGetter is a handle for ChromeURLRequestContext that will lazily construct it on the first attempt to use it. Accesses to the contained ChromeURLRequestContext are only allowed on the IO thread.

URLRequest usages

  • ResourceDispatcherHost creates URLRequests when the renderer or plugin processes issue resource requests. It retains pointers to all the ChromeURLRequestContextGetters.
  • URLFetcher is another frontend for URLRequest. It allows any thread with access to the appropriate ChromeURLRequestContextGetter to proxy requests to the IO thread. It provides a simplified delegate interface that returns the full response body as a single string. There are many users of URLFetcher in the Chromium browser process, including the omnibox, extensions, sync (which uses its own ChromeURLRequestContext), etc. Usually these objects use the "main" ChromeURLRequestContextGetter object.


  • IntranetRedirectDetector - Lets us probe the network to see if ISPs are trying to redirect requests to non-existent hosts.
  • GoogleURLTracker - Lets us probe Google to see the appropriate domain for the search engine.

Network predictor

It uses URLRequest::Interceptor to hook into all URLRequests to watch them come and go, so it can analyze the referers to learn the subdomains used in subsequent requests. It uses this knowledge to predict network requests. For likely requests, it keeps around the pointer to the "main" ChromeURLRequestContext's HostResolver, so it can perform DNS prefetching. For requests that are almost guaranteed to happen, it goes even further and uses the "main" ChromeURLRequestContext's HttpStreamFactory to preconnect a socket.