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Troubleshooting Basic HTTP Connectivity Using A Telnet Client

August 21, 2009

In my last blog post I demonstrated how to use the Windows telnet client to perform basic network connectivity troubleshooting. In this post I will demonstrate how to use the telnet client to interactively perform basic HTTP troubleshooting.

Note: This post assumes that you have a fundamental understanding of the HTTP protocol. If you are not familiar with HTTP and would like to learn more, there are some excellent books on the subject available. Two books that I recommend are HTTP – The Definitive Guide and the HTTP Pocket Reference, both from O’Reilly Books.

To begin, open a command prompt and enter the command telnet. This will bring up a telnet command prompt.


Notice that the escape character is CTRL+]. We’ll need to know this later. Next, enter the command set localecho. This command allows us see the text that we type in the command window.


To establish a connection to a web server on the default port, the command syntax is open <IP address, FQDN, or hostname> <port>.

For example…

open intranet.celestix.net 80


After you enter the open command and hit enter, it is not readily apparent that a connection has been made to the web server. That’s because the cursor immediately jumps to the upper left corner of the command window.


Before entering commands, hit the enter key a few times to bring the cursor to a clear area in the window.


Now that we have established a connection, we are ready to issue some basic HTTP commands to the web server. Let’s begin by retrieving the default web page for the site intranet.celestix.net. Although a full-featured HTTP client will send many request headers to a web server to retrieve content, the RFC specifies that only the HOST header is mandatory for HTTP 1.1. First we will send a GET command requesting the default page, then we will provide the HOST header to let the web server know which web site we are requesting content from (this is required because the web server may be hosting multiple web sites using the same IP address).

To retrieve the default page from intranet.celestix.net, enter the following commands:

GET / HTTP/1.1
HOST: intranet.celestix.net


These commands are case sensitive! Be sure to enter them exactly as shown above. After entering the HOST information, hit enter twice to send the commands to the web server. If successful, the web server will respond with the requested content.


Enter the escape command sequence CTRL+] to return to the telnet command prompt.

Additional Examples

Instead of retrieving the content of the web page, we could request that the web server send response headers only. This can be accomplished by entering the following commands:

HOST: intranet.celestix.net


If successful, the web server will send only the response headers and not the content of the web page itself.


Although somewhat useful in troubleshooting basic HTTP communication, the telnet client isn’t the best tool to use. As you will quickly see, the telnet client will not allow you to backspace if you make a typo entering a command. The advantage of using the telnet client is that it is installed on most Windows operating systems by default. Thankfully, a much more robust and feature rich tool is available from Microsoft. WFetch is a GUI utility that allows you to issue many different commands to the web server and includes support for multiple authentication methods. It includes the flexibility to manipulate headers and provides the ability to direct communication through a proxy server. If you are performing advanced troubleshooting or want to learn more about HTTP communication, you can find out more about using WFetch here.