The X-Forwarded-For (XFF) HTTP header field is a de facto standard for identifying the originating IP address of a client connecting to a web server through an HTTP proxy or load balancer. This is an HTTP request header which was introduced by the Squid caching proxy server’s developers. An effort has been started at IETF for standardizing the Forwarded HTTP header.
The general format of the field is:
X-Forwarded-For: client, proxy1, proxy2
where the value is a comma+space separated list of IP addresses, the left-most being the original client, and each successive proxy that passed the request adding the IP address where it received the request from. In this example, the request passed through proxy1, proxy2, and then proxy3 (not shown in the header). proxy3 appears as remote address of the request.
Since it is easy to forge an X-Forwarded-For field the given information should be used with care. The last IP address is always the IP address that connects to the last proxy, which means it is the most reliable source of information. X-Forwarded-For data can be used in a forward or reverse proxy scenario.
Just logging the X-Forwarded-For field is not always enough as the last proxy IP address in a chain is not contained within the X-Forwarded-For field, it is in the actual IP header. A web server should log BOTH the request’s source IP address and the X-Forwarded-For field information for completeness.