HTTP defines methods (sometimes referred to as verbs) to indicate the desired action to be performed on the identified resource. What this resource represents, whether pre-existing data or data that is generated dynamically, depends on the implementation of the server. Often, the resource corresponds to a file or the output of an executable residing on the server.
The HTTP/1.0 specification defined the GET, POST and HEAD methods and the HTTP/1.1 specification added 5 new methods: OPTIONS, PUT, DELETE, TRACE and CONNECT. By being specified in these documents their semantics are well known and can be depended upon. Any client can use any method and the server can be configured to support any combination of methods. If a method is unknown to an intermediate it will be treated as an unsafe and non-idempotent method. There is no limit to the number of methods that can be defined and this allows for future methods to be specified without breaking existing infrastructure. For example WebDAV defined 7 new methods and RFC5789 specified the PATCH method.
- Requests a representation of the specified resource. Requests using GET should only retrieve data and should have no other effect. (This is also true of some other HTTP methods.) The W3C has published guidance principles on this distinction, saying, "Web application design should be informed by the above principles, but also by the relevant limitations." See safe methods below.
- Asks for the response identical to the one that would correspond to a GET request, but without the response body. This is useful for retrieving meta-information written in response headers, without having to transport the entire content.
- Requests that the server accept the entity enclosed in the request as a new subordinate of the resource identified by the URI. The data POSTed might be, as examples, an annotation for existing resources; a message for a bulletin board, newsgroup, mailing list, or comment thread; a block of data that is the result of submitting a web form to a data-handling process; or an item to add to a database.
- Requests that the enclosed entity be stored under the supplied URI. If the URI refers to an already existing resource, it is modified; if the URI does not point to an existing resource, then the server can create the resource with that URI.
- Deletes the specified resource.
- Echoes back the received request so that a client can see what (if any) changes or additions have been made by intermediate servers.
- Returns the HTTP methods that the server supports for specified URL. This can be used to check the functionality of a web server by requesting '*' instead of a specific resource.
- Converts the request connection to a transparent TCP/IP tunnel, usually to facilitate SSL-encrypted communication (HTTPS) through an unencrypted HTTP proxy.
- Is used to apply partial modifications to a resource.
HTTP servers are required to implement at least the GET and HEAD methods and, whenever possible, also the OPTIONS method.
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