The first example shows the basic functions of SIP: location of an
end point, signal of a desire to communicate, negotiation of session
parameters to establish the session, and teardown of the session once
Figure 1 shows a typical example of a SIP message exchange between
two users, Alice and Bob. (Each message is labeled with the letter
"F" and a number for reference by the text.) In this example, Alice
uses a SIP application on her PC (referred to as a softphone) to call
Bob on his SIP phone over the Internet. Also shown are two SIP proxy
servers that act on behalf of Alice and Bob to facilitate the session
establishment. This typical arrangement is often referred to as the
"SIP trapezoid" as shown by the geometric shape of the dotted lines
in Figure 1.
Alice "calls" Bob using his SIP identity, a type of Uniform Resource
Identifier (URI) called a SIP URI. SIP URIs are defined in Section
19.1. It has a similar form to an email address, typically
containing a username and a host name. In this case, it is
sip:firstname.lastname@example.org, where biloxi.com is the domain of Bob's SIP
service provider. Alice has a SIP URI of sip:email@example.com.
Alice might have typed in Bob's URI or perhaps clicked on a hyperlink
or an entry in an address book. SIP also provides a secure URI,
called a SIPS URI. An example would be sips:firstname.lastname@example.org. A call
made to a SIPS URI guarantees that secure, encrypted transport
(namely TLS) is used to carry all SIP messages from the caller to the
domain of the callee. From there, the request is sent securely to
the callee, but with security mechanisms that depend on the policy of
the domain of the callee.
SIP is based on an HTTP-like request/response transaction model.
Each transaction consists of a request that invokes a particular
method, or function, on the server and at least one response. In
this example, the transaction begins with Alice's softphone sending
an INVITE request addressed to Bob's SIP URI. INVITE is an example
of a SIP method that specifies the action that the requestor (Alice)
wants the server (Bob) to take. The INVITE request contains a number
of header fields. Header fields are named attributes that provide
additional information about a message. The ones present in an
INVITE include a unique identifier for the call, the destination
address, Alice's address, and information about the type of session
that Alice wishes to establish with Bob. The INVITE (message F1 in
Figure 1) might look like this:
Via contains the address (pc33.atlanta.com) at which Alice is
expecting to receive responses to this request. It also contains a
branch parameter that identifies this transaction.
To contains a display name (Bob) and a SIP or SIPS URI
(sip:email@example.com) towards which the request was originally
directed. Display names are described in RFC 2822 .
From also contains a display name (Alice) and a SIP or SIPS URI
(sip:firstname.lastname@example.org) that indicate the originator of the request.
This header field also has a tag parameter containing a random string
(1928301774) that was added to the URI by the softphone. It is used
for identification purposes.
Call-ID contains a globally unique identifier for this call,
generated by the combination of a random string and the softphone's
host name or IP address. The combination of the To tag, From tag,
and Call-ID completely defines a peer-to-peer SIP relationship
between Alice and Bob and is referred to as a dialog.
CSeq or Command Sequence contains an integer and a method name. The
CSeq number is incremented for each new request within a dialog and
is a traditional sequence number.
Contact contains a SIP or SIPS URI that represents a direct route to
contact Alice, usually composed of a username at a fully qualified
domain name (FQDN). While an FQDN is preferred, many end systems do
not have registered domain names, so IP addresses are permitted.
While the Via header field tells other elements where to send the
response, the Contact header field tells other elements where to send
Max-Forwards serves to limit the number of hops a request can make on
the way to its destination. It consists of an integer that is
decremented by one at each hop.
Content-Type contains a description of the message body (not shown).
Content-Length contains an octet (byte) count of the message body.
The complete set of SIP header fields is defined in Section 20.
The details of the session, such as the type of media, codec, or
sampling rate, are not described using SIP. Rather, the body of a
SIP message contains a description of the session, encoded in some
other protocol format. One such format is the Session Description
Protocol (SDP) (RFC 2327 ). This SDP message (not shown in the
example) is carried by the SIP message in a way that is analogous to
a document attachment being carried by an email message, or a web
page being carried in an HTTP message.
Since the softphone does not know the location of Bob or the SIP
server in the biloxi.com domain, the softphone sends the INVITE to
the SIP server that serves Alice's domain, atlanta.com. The address
of the atlanta.com SIP server could have been configured in Alice's
softphone, or it could have been discovered by DHCP, for example.
The atlanta.com SIP server is a type of SIP server known as a proxy
server. A proxy server receives SIP requests and forwards them on
behalf of the requestor. In this example, the proxy server receives
the INVITE request and sends a 100 (Trying) response back to Alice's
softphone. The 100 (Trying) response indicates that the INVITE has
been received and that the proxy is working on her behalf to route
the INVITE to the destination. Responses in SIP use a three-digit
code followed by a descriptive phrase. This response contains the
same To, From, Call-ID, CSeq and branch parameter in the Via as the
INVITE, which allows Alice's softphone to correlate this response to
the sent INVITE. The atlanta.com proxy server locates the proxy
server at biloxi.com, possibly by performing a particular type of DNS
(Domain Name Service) lookup to find the SIP server that serves the
biloxi.com domain. This is described in . As a result, it
obtains the IP address of the biloxi.com proxy server and forwards,
or proxies, the INVITE request there. Before forwarding the request,
the atlanta.com proxy server adds an additional Via header field
value that contains its own address (the INVITE already contains
Alice's address in the first Via). The biloxi.com proxy server
receives the INVITE and responds with a 100 (Trying) response back to
the atlanta.com proxy server to indicate that it has received the
INVITE and is processing the request. The proxy server consults a
database, generically called a location service, that contains the
current IP address of Bob. (We shall see in the next section how
this database can be populated.) The biloxi.com proxy server adds
another Via header field value with its own address to the INVITE and
proxies it to Bob's SIP phone.
Bob's SIP phone receives the INVITE and alerts Bob to the incoming
call from Alice so that Bob can decide whether to answer the call,
that is, Bob's phone rings. Bob's SIP phone indicates this in a 180
(Ringing) response, which is routed back through the two proxies in
the reverse direction. Each proxy uses the Via header field to
determine where to send the response and removes its own address from
the top. As a result, although DNS and location service lookups were
required to route the initial INVITE, the 180 (Ringing) response can
be returned to the caller without lookups or without state being
maintained in the proxies. This also has the desirable property that
each proxy that sees the INVITE will also see all responses to the
When Alice's softphone receives the 180 (Ringing) response, it passes
this information to Alice, perhaps using an audio ringback tone or by
displaying a message on Alice's screen.
In this example, Bob decides to answer the call. When he picks up
the handset, his SIP phone sends a 200 (OK) response to indicate that
the call has been answered. The 200 (OK) contains a message body
with the SDP media description of the type of session that Bob is
willing to establish with Alice. As a result, there is a two-phase
exchange of SDP messages: Alice sent one to Bob, and Bob sent one
back to Alice. This two-phase exchange provides basic negotiation
capabilities and is based on a simple offer/answer model of SDP
exchange. If Bob did not wish to answer the call or was busy on
another call, an error response would have been sent instead of the
200 (OK), which would have resulted in no media session being
established. The complete list of SIP response codes is in Section
21. The 200 (OK) (message F9 in Figure 1) might look like this as
Bob sends it out:
SIP/2.0 200 OK
Via: SIP/2.0/UDP server10.biloxi.com
Via: SIP/2.0/UDP bigbox3.site3.atlanta.com
Via: SIP/2.0/UDP pc33.atlanta.com
To: Bob <sip:email@example.com>;tag=a6c85cf
From: Alice <sip:firstname.lastname@example.org>;tag=1928301774
CSeq: 314159 INVITE
(Bob's SDP not shown)
The first line of the response contains the response code (200) and
the reason phrase (OK). The remaining lines contain header fields.
The Via, To, From, Call-ID, and CSeq header fields are copied from
the INVITE request. (There are three Via header field values - one
added by Alice's SIP phone, one added by the atlanta.com proxy, and
one added by the biloxi.com proxy.) Bob's SIP phone has added a tag
parameter to the To header field. This tag will be incorporated by
both endpoints into the dialog and will be included in all future
requests and responses in this call. The Contact header field
contains a URI at which Bob can be directly reached at his SIP phone.
The Content-Type and Content-Length refer to the message body (not
shown) that contains Bob's SDP media information.
In addition to DNS and location service lookups shown in this
example, proxy servers can make flexible "routing decisions" to
decide where to send a request. For example, if Bob's SIP phone
returned a 486 (Busy Here) response, the biloxi.com proxy server
could proxy the INVITE to Bob's voicemail server. A proxy server can
also send an INVITE to a number of locations at the same time. This
type of parallel search is known as forking.
In this case, the 200 (OK) is routed back through the two proxies and
is received by Alice's softphone, which then stops the ringback tone
and indicates that the call has been answered. Finally, Alice's
softphone sends an acknowledgement message, ACK, to Bob's SIP phone
to confirm the reception of the final response (200 (OK)). In this
example, the ACK is sent directly from Alice's softphone to Bob's SIP
phone, bypassing the two proxies. This occurs because the endpoints
have learned each other's address from the Contact header fields
through the INVITE/200 (OK) exchange, which was not known when the
initial INVITE was sent. The lookups performed by the two proxies
are no longer needed, so the proxies drop out of the call flow. This
completes the INVITE/200/ACK three-way handshake used to establish
SIP sessions. Full details on session setup are in Section 13.
Alice and Bob's media session has now begun, and they send media
packets using the format to which they agreed in the exchange of SDP.
In general, the end-to-end media packets take a different path from
the SIP signaling messages.
During the session, either Alice or Bob may decide to change the
characteristics of the media session. This is accomplished by
sending a re-INVITE containing a new media description. This re-
INVITE references the existing dialog so that the other party knows
that it is to modify an existing session instead of establishing a
new session. The other party sends a 200 (OK) to accept the change.
The requestor responds to the 200 (OK) with an ACK. If the other
party does not accept the change, he sends an error response such as
488 (Not Acceptable Here), which also receives an ACK. However, the
failure of the re-INVITE does not cause the existing call to fail -
the session continues using the previously negotiated
characteristics. Full details on session modification are in Section
At the end of the call, Bob disconnects (hangs up) first and
generates a BYE message. This BYE is routed directly to Alice's
softphone, again bypassing the proxies. Alice confirms receipt of
the BYE with a 200 (OK) response, which terminates the session and
the BYE transaction. No ACK is sent - an ACK is only sent in
response to a response to an INVITE request. The reasons for this
special handling for INVITE will be discussed later, but relate to
the reliability mechanisms in SIP, the length of time it can take for
a ringing phone to be answered, and forking. For this reason,
request handling in SIP is often classified as either INVITE or non-
INVITE, referring to all other methods besides INVITE. Full details
on session termination are in Section 15.
Section 24.2 describes the messages shown in Figure 1 in full.
In some cases, it may be useful for proxies in the SIP signaling path
to see all the messaging between the endpoints for the duration of
the session. For example, if the biloxi.com proxy server wished to
remain in the SIP messaging path beyond the initial INVITE, it would
add to the INVITE a required routing header field known as Record-
Route that contained a URI resolving to the hostname or IP address of
the proxy. This information would be received by both Bob's SIP
phone and (due to the Record-Route header field being passed back in
the 200 (OK)) Alice's softphone and stored for the duration of the
dialog. The biloxi.com proxy server would then receive and proxy the
ACK, BYE, and 200 (OK) to the BYE. Each proxy can independently
decide to receive subsequent messages, and those messages will pass
through all proxies that elect to receive it. This capability is
frequently used for proxies that are providing mid-call features.
Registration is another common operation in SIP. Registration is one
way that the biloxi.com server can learn the current location of Bob.
Upon initialization, and at periodic intervals, Bob's SIP phone sends
REGISTER messages to a server in the biloxi.com domain known as a SIP
registrar. The REGISTER messages associate Bob's SIP or SIPS URI
(sip:email@example.com) with the machine into which he is currently
logged (conveyed as a SIP or SIPS URI in the Contact header field).
The registrar writes this association, also called a binding, to a
database, called the location service, where it can be used by the
proxy in the biloxi.com domain. Often, a registrar server for a
domain is co-located with the proxy for that domain. It is an
important concept that the distinction between types of SIP servers
is logical, not physical.
Bob is not limited to registering from a single device. For example,
both his SIP phone at home and the one in the office could send
registrations. This information is stored together in the location
service and allows a proxy to perform various types of searches to
locate Bob. Similarly, more than one user can be registered on a
single device at the same time.
The location service is just an abstract concept. It generally
contains information that allows a proxy to input a URI and receive a
set of zero or more URIs that tell the proxy where to send the
request. Registrations are one way to create this information, but
not the only way. Arbitrary mapping functions can be configured at
the discretion of the administrator.
Finally, it is important to note that in SIP, registration is used
for routing incoming SIP requests and has no role in authorizing
outgoing requests. Authorization and authentication are handled in
SIP either on a request-by-request basis with a challenge/response
mechanism, or by using a lower layer scheme as discussed in Section
The complete set of SIP message details for this registration example
is in Section 24.1.
Additional operations in SIP, such as querying for the capabilities
of a SIP server or client using OPTIONS, or canceling a pending
request using CANCEL, will be introduced in later sections.
5 Structure of the Protocol
SIP is structured as a layered protocol, which means that its
behavior is described in terms of a set of fairly independent
processing stages with only a loose coupling between each stage. The
protocol behavior is described as layers for the purpose of
presentation, allowing the description of functions common across
elements in a single section. It does not dictate an implementation
in any way. When we say that an element "contains" a layer, we mean
it is compliant to the set of rules defined by that layer.
Not every element specified by the protocol contains every layer.
Furthermore, the elements specified by SIP are logical elements, not
physical ones. A physical realization can choose to act as different
logical elements, perhaps even on a transaction-by-transaction basis.
The lowest layer of SIP is its syntax and encoding. Its encoding is
specified using an augmented Backus-Naur Form grammar (BNF). The
complete BNF is specified in Section 25; an overview of a SIP
message's structure can be found in Section 7.
The second layer is the transport layer. It defines how a client
sends requests and receives responses and how a server receives
requests and sends responses over the network. All SIP elements
contain a transport layer. The transport layer is described in
The third layer is the transaction layer. Transactions are a
fundamental component of SIP. A transaction is a request sent by a
client transaction (using the transport layer) to a server
transaction, along with all responses to that request sent from the
server transaction back to the client. The transaction layer handles
application-layer retransmissions, matching of responses to requests,
and application-layer timeouts. Any task that a user agent client
(UAC) accomplishes takes place using a series of transactions.
Discussion of transactions can be found in Section 17. User agents
contain a transaction layer, as do stateful proxies. Stateless
proxies do not contain a transaction layer. The transaction layer
has a client component (referred to as a client transaction) and a
server component (referred to as a server transaction), each of which
are represented by a finite state machine that is constructed to
process a particular request.
The layer above the transaction layer is called the transaction user
(TU). Each of the SIP entities, except the stateless proxy, is a
transaction user. When a TU wishes to send a request, it creates a
client transaction instance and passes it the request along with the
destination IP address, port, and transport to which to send the
request. A TU that creates a client transaction can also cancel it.
When a client cancels a transaction, it requests that the server stop
further processing, revert to the state that existed before the
transaction was initiated, and generate a specific error response to
that transaction. This is done with a CANCEL request, which
constitutes its own transaction, but references the transaction to be
cancelled (Section 9).
The SIP elements, that is, user agent clients and servers, stateless
and stateful proxies and registrars, contain a core that
distinguishes them from each other. Cores, except for the stateless
proxy, are transaction users. While the behavior of the UAC and UAS
cores depends on the method, there are some common rules for all
methods (Section 8). For a UAC, these rules govern the construction
of a request; for a UAS, they govern the processing of a request and
generating a response. Since registrations play an important role in
SIP, a UAS that handles a REGISTER is given the special name
registrar. Section 10 describes UAC and UAS core behavior for the
REGISTER method. Section 11 describes UAC and UAS core behavior for
the OPTIONS method, used for determining the capabilities of a UA.
Certain other requests are sent within a dialog. A dialog is a
peer-to-peer SIP relationship between two user agents that persists
for some time. The dialog facilitates sequencing of messages and
proper routing of requests between the user agents. The INVITE
method is the only way defined in this specification to establish a
dialog. When a UAC sends a request that is within the context of a
dialog, it follows the common UAC rules as discussed in Section 8 but
also the rules for mid-dialog requests. Section 12 discusses dialogs
and presents the procedures for their construction and maintenance,
in addition to construction of requests within a dialog.
The most important method in SIP is the INVITE method, which is used
to establish a session between participants. A session is a
collection of participants, and streams of media between them, for
the purposes of communication. Section 13 discusses how sessions are
initiated, resulting in one or more SIP dialogs. Section 14
discusses how characteristics of that session are modified through
the use of an INVITE request within a dialog. Finally, section 15
discusses how a session is terminated.
The procedures of Sections 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 deal
entirely with the UA core (Section 9 describes cancellation, which
applies to both UA core and proxy core). Section 16 discusses the
proxy element, which facilitates routing of messages between user
The following terms have special significance for SIP.
Address-of-Record: An address-of-record (AOR) is a SIP or SIPS URI
that points to a domain with a location service that can map
the URI to another URI where the user might be available.
Typically, the location service is populated through
registrations. An AOR is frequently thought of as the "public
address" of the user.
Back-to-Back User Agent: A back-to-back user agent (B2BUA) is a
logical entity that receives a request and processes it as a
user agent server (UAS). In order to determine how the request
should be answered, it acts as a user agent client (UAC) and
generates requests. Unlike a proxy server, it maintains dialog
state and must participate in all requests sent on the dialogs
it has established. Since it is a concatenation of a UAC and
UAS, no explicit definitions are needed for its behavior.
Call: A call is an informal term that refers to some communication
between peers, generally set up for the purposes of a
Call Leg: Another name for a dialog ; no longer used in this
Call Stateful: A proxy is call stateful if it retains state for a
dialog from the initiating INVITE to the terminating BYE
request. A call stateful proxy is always transaction stateful,
but the converse is not necessarily true.
Client: A client is any network element that sends SIP requests
and receives SIP responses. Clients may or may not interact
directly with a human user. User agent clients and proxies are
Conference: A multimedia session (see below) that contains
Core: Core designates the functions specific to a particular type
of SIP entity, i.e., specific to either a stateful or stateless
proxy, a user agent or registrar. All cores, except those for
the stateless proxy, are transaction users.
Dialog: A dialog is a peer-to-peer SIP relationship between two
UAs that persists for some time. A dialog is established by
SIP messages, such as a 2xx response to an INVITE request. A
dialog is identified by a call identifier, local tag, and a
remote tag. A dialog was formerly known as a call leg in RFC
Downstream: A direction of message forwarding within a transaction
that refers to the direction that requests flow from the user
agent client to user agent server.
Final Response: A response that terminates a SIP transaction, as
opposed to a provisional response that does not. All 2xx, 3xx,
4xx, 5xx and 6xx responses are final.
Header: A header is a component of a SIP message that conveys
information about the message. It is structured as a sequence
of header fields.
Header Field: A header field is a component of the SIP message
header. A header field can appear as one or more header field
rows. Header field rows consist of a header field name and zero
or more header field values. Multiple header field values on a
given header field row are separated by commas. Some header
fields can only have a single header field value, and as a
result, always appear as a single header field row.
Header Field Value: A header field value is a single value; a
header field consists of zero or more header field values.
Home Domain: The domain providing service to a SIP user.
Typically, this is the domain present in the URI in the
address-of-record of a registration.
Informational Response: Same as a provisional response.
Initiator, Calling Party, Caller: The party initiating a session
(and dialog) with an INVITE request. A caller retains this
role from the time it sends the initial INVITE that established
a dialog until the termination of that dialog.
Invitation: An INVITE request.
Invitee, Invited User, Called Party, Callee: The party that
receives an INVITE request for the purpose of establishing a
new session. A callee retains this role from the time it
receives the INVITE until the termination of the dialog
established by that INVITE.
Location Service: A location service is used by a SIP redirect or
proxy server to obtain information about a callee's possible
location(s). It contains a list of bindings of address-of-
record keys to zero or more contact addresses. The bindings
can be created and removed in many ways; this specification
defines a REGISTER method that updates the bindings.
Loop: A request that arrives at a proxy, is forwarded, and later
arrives back at the same proxy. When it arrives the second
time, its Request-URI is identical to the first time, and other
header fields that affect proxy operation are unchanged, so
that the proxy would make the same processing decision on the
request it made the first time. Looped requests are errors,
and the procedures for detecting them and handling them are
described by the protocol.
Loose Routing: A proxy is said to be loose routing if it follows
the procedures defined in this specification for processing of
the Route header field. These procedures separate the
destination of the request (present in the Request-URI) from
the set of proxies that need to be visited along the way
(present in the Route header field). A proxy compliant to
these mechanisms is also known as a loose router.
Message: Data sent between SIP elements as part of the protocol.
SIP messages are either requests or responses.
Method: The method is the primary function that a request is meant
to invoke on a server. The method is carried in the request
message itself. Example methods are INVITE and BYE.
Outbound Proxy: A proxy that receives requests from a client, even
though it may not be the server resolved by the Request-URI.
Typically, a UA is manually configured with an outbound proxy,
or can learn about one through auto-configuration protocols.
Parallel Search: In a parallel search, a proxy issues several
requests to possible user locations upon receiving an incoming
request. Rather than issuing one request and then waiting for
the final response before issuing the next request as in a
sequential search, a parallel search issues requests without
waiting for the result of previous requests.
Provisional Response: A response used by the server to indicate
progress, but that does not terminate a SIP transaction. 1xx
responses are provisional, other responses are considered
Proxy, Proxy Server: An intermediary entity that acts as both a
server and a client for the purpose of making requests on
behalf of other clients. A proxy server primarily plays the
role of routing, which means its job is to ensure that a
request is sent to another entity "closer" to the targeted
user. Proxies are also useful for enforcing policy (for
example, making sure a user is allowed to make a call). A
proxy interprets, and, if necessary, rewrites specific parts of
a request message before forwarding it.
Recursion: A client recurses on a 3xx response when it generates a
new request to one or more of the URIs in the Contact header
field in the response.
Redirect Server: A redirect server is a user agent server that
generates 3xx responses to requests it receives, directing the
client to contact an alternate set of URIs.
Registrar: A registrar is a server that accepts REGISTER requests
and places the information it receives in those requests into
the location service for the domain it handles.
Regular Transaction: A regular transaction is any transaction with
a method other than INVITE, ACK, or CANCEL.
Request: A SIP message sent from a client to a server, for the
purpose of invoking a particular operation.
Response: A SIP message sent from a server to a client, for
indicating the status of a request sent from the client to the
Ringback: Ringback is the signaling tone produced by the calling
party's application indicating that a called party is being
Route Set: A route set is a collection of ordered SIP or SIPS URI
which represent a list of proxies that must be traversed when
sending a particular request. A route set can be learned,
through headers like Record-Route, or it can be configured.
Server: A server is a network element that receives requests in
order to service them and sends back responses to those
requests. Examples of servers are proxies, user agent servers,
redirect servers, and registrars.
Sequential Search: In a sequential search, a proxy server attempts
each contact address in sequence, proceeding to the next one
only after the previous has generated a final response. A 2xx
or 6xx class final response always terminates a sequential
Session: From the SDP specification: "A multimedia session is a
set of multimedia senders and receivers and the data streams
flowing from senders to receivers. A multimedia conference is
an example of a multimedia session." (RFC 2327 ) (A session
as defined for SDP can comprise one or more RTP sessions.) As
defined, a callee can be invited several times, by different
calls, to the same session. If SDP is used, a session is
defined by the concatenation of the SDP user name, session id,
network type, address type, and address elements in the origin
SIP Transaction: A SIP transaction occurs between a client and a
server and comprises all messages from the first request sent
from the client to the server up to a final (non-1xx) response
sent from the server to the client. If the request is INVITE
and the final response is a non-2xx, the transaction also
includes an ACK to the response. The ACK for a 2xx response to
an INVITE request is a separate transaction.
Spiral: A spiral is a SIP request that is routed to a proxy,
forwarded onwards, and arrives once again at that proxy, but
this time differs in a way that will result in a different
processing decision than the original request. Typically, this
means that the request's Request-URI differs from its previous
arrival. A spiral is not an error condition, unlike a loop. A
typical cause for this is call forwarding. A user calls
firstname.lastname@example.org. The example.com proxy forwards it to Joe's
PC, which in turn, forwards it to email@example.com. This
request is proxied back to the example.com proxy. However,
this is not a loop. Since the request is targeted at a
different user, it is considered a spiral, and is a valid
Stateful Proxy: A logical entity that maintains the client and
server transaction state machines defined by this specification
during the processing of a request, also known as a transaction
stateful proxy. The behavior of a stateful proxy is further
defined in Section 16. A (transaction) stateful proxy is not
the same as a call stateful proxy.
Stateless Proxy: A logical entity that does not maintain the
client or server transaction state machines defined in this
specification when it processes requests. A stateless proxy
forwards every request it receives downstream and every
response it receives upstream.
Strict Routing: A proxy is said to be strict routing if it follows
the Route processing rules of RFC 2543 and many prior work in
progress versions of this RFC. That rule caused proxies to
destroy the contents of the Request-URI when a Route header
field was present. Strict routing behavior is not used in this
specification, in favor of a loose routing behavior. Proxies
that perform strict routing are also known as strict routers.
Target Refresh Request: A target refresh request sent within a
dialog is defined as a request that can modify the remote
target of the dialog.
Transaction User (TU): The layer of protocol processing that
resides above the transaction layer. Transaction users include
the UAC core, UAS core, and proxy core.
Upstream: A direction of message forwarding within a transaction
that refers to the direction that responses flow from the user
agent server back to the user agent client.
URL-encoded: A character string encoded according to RFC 2396,
Section 2.4 .
User Agent Client (UAC): A user agent client is a logical entity
that creates a new request, and then uses the client
transaction state machinery to send it. The role of UAC lasts
only for the duration of that transaction. In other words, if
a piece of software initiates a request, it acts as a UAC for
the duration of that transaction. If it receives a request
later, it assumes the role of a user agent server for the
processing of that transaction.
UAC Core: The set of processing functions required of a UAC that
reside above the transaction and transport layers.
User Agent Server (UAS): A user agent server is a logical entity
that generates a response to a SIP request. The response
accepts, rejects, or redirects the request. This role lasts
only for the duration of that transaction. In other words, if
a piece of software responds to a request, it acts as a UAS for
the duration of that transaction. If it generates a request
later, it assumes the role of a user agent client for the
processing of that transaction.
UAS Core: The set of processing functions required at a UAS that
resides above the transaction and transport layers.
User Agent (UA): A logical entity that can act as both a user
agent client and user agent server.
The role of UAC and UAS, as well as proxy and redirect servers, are
defined on a transaction-by-transaction basis. For example, the user
agent initiating a call acts as a UAC when sending the initial INVITE
request and as a UAS when receiving a BYE request from the callee.
Similarly, the same software can act as a proxy server for one
request and as a redirect server for the next request.
Proxy, location, and registrar servers defined above are logical
entities; implementations MAY combine them into a single application.
7 SIP Messages
SIP is a text-based protocol and uses the UTF-8 charset (RFC 2279
A SIP message is either a request from a client to a server, or a
response from a server to a client.
Both Request (section 7.1) and Response (section 7.2) messages use
the basic format of RFC 2822 , even though the syntax differs in
character set and syntax specifics. (SIP allows header fields that
would not be valid RFC 2822 header fields, for example.) Both types
of messages consist of a start-line, one or more header fields, an
empty line indicating the end of the header fields, and an optional
generic-message = start-line
[ message-body ]
start-line = Request-Line / Status-Line
The start-line, each message-header line, and the empty line MUST be
terminated by a carriage-return line-feed sequence (CRLF). Note that
the empty line MUST be present even if the message-body is not.
Except for the above difference in character sets, much of SIP's
message and header field syntax is identical to HTTP/1.1. Rather
than repeating the syntax and semantics here, we use [HX.Y] to refer
to Section X.Y of the current HTTP/1.1 specification (RFC 2616 ).
However, SIP is not an extension of HTTP.
SIP requests are distinguished by having a Request-Line for a start-
line. A Request-Line contains a method name, a Request-URI, and the
protocol version separated by a single space (SP) character.
The Request-Line ends with CRLF. No CR or LF are allowed except in
the end-of-line CRLF sequence. No linear whitespace (LWS) is allowed
in any of the elements.
Request-Line = Method SP Request-URI SP SIP-Version CRLF
Method: This specification defines six methods: REGISTER for
registering contact information, INVITE, ACK, and CANCEL for
setting up sessions, BYE for terminating sessions, and
OPTIONS for querying servers about their capabilities. SIP
extensions, documented in standards track RFCs, may define
Request-URI: The Request-URI is a SIP or SIPS URI as described in
Section 19.1 or a general URI (RFC 2396 ). It indicates
the user or service to which this request is being addressed.
The Request-URI MUST NOT contain unescaped spaces or control
characters and MUST NOT be enclosed in "<>".
SIP elements MAY support Request-URIs with schemes other than
"sip" and "sips", for example the "tel" URI scheme of RFC
2806 . SIP elements MAY translate non-SIP URIs using any
mechanism at their disposal, resulting in SIP URI, SIPS URI,
or some other scheme.
SIP-Version: Both request and response messages include the
version of SIP in use, and follow [H3.1] (with HTTP replaced
by SIP, and HTTP/1.1 replaced by SIP/2.0) regarding version
ordering, compliance requirements, and upgrading of version
numbers. To be compliant with this specification,
applications sending SIP messages MUST include a SIP-Version
of "SIP/2.0". The SIP-Version string is case-insensitive,
but implementations MUST send upper-case.
Unlike HTTP/1.1, SIP treats the version number as a literal
string. In practice, this should make no difference.
SIP responses are distinguished from requests by having a Status-Line
as their start-line. A Status-Line consists of the protocol version
followed by a numeric Status-Code and its associated textual phrase,
with each element separated by a single SP character.
No CR or LF is allowed except in the final CRLF sequence.
Status-Line = SIP-Version SP Status-Code SP Reason-Phrase CRLF
The Status-Code is a 3-digit integer result code that indicates the
outcome of an attempt to understand and satisfy a request. The
Reason-Phrase is intended to give a short textual description of the
Status-Code. The Status-Code is intended for use by automata,
whereas the Reason-Phrase is intended for the human user. A client
is not required to examine or display the Reason-Phrase.
While this specification suggests specific wording for the reason
phrase, implementations MAY choose other text, for example, in the
language indicated in the Accept-Language header field of the
The first digit of the Status-Code defines the class of response.
The last two digits do not have any categorization role. For this
reason, any response with a status code between 100 and 199 is
referred to as a "1xx response", any response with a status code
between 200 and 299 as a "2xx response", and so on. SIP/2.0 allows
six values for the first digit:
1xx: Provisional -- request received, continuing to process the
2xx: Success -- the action was successfully received, understood,
3xx: Redirection -- further action needs to be taken in order to
complete the request;
4xx: Client Error -- the request contains bad syntax or cannot be
fulfilled at this server;
5xx: Server Error -- the server failed to fulfill an apparently
6xx: Global Failure -- the request cannot be fulfilled at any
Section 21 defines these classes and describes the individual codes.
7.3 Header Fields
SIP header fields are similar to HTTP header fields in both syntax
and semantics. In particular, SIP header fields follow the [H4.2]
definitions of syntax for the message-header and the rules for
extending header fields over multiple lines. However, the latter is
specified in HTTP with implicit whitespace and folding. This
specification conforms to RFC 2234  and uses only explicit
whitespace and folding as an integral part of the grammar.
[H4.2] also specifies that multiple header fields of the same field
name whose value is a comma-separated list can be combined into one
header field. That applies to SIP as well, but the specific rule is
different because of the different grammars. Specifically, any SIP
header whose grammar is of the form
header = "header-name" HCOLON header-value *(COMMA header-value)
allows for combining header fields of the same name into a comma-
separated list. The Contact header field allows a comma-separated
list unless the header field value is "*".
7.3.1 Header Field Format
Header fields follow the same generic header format as that given in
Section 2.2 of RFC 2822 . Each header field consists of a field
name followed by a colon (":") and the field value.
The formal grammar for a message-header specified in Section 25
allows for an arbitrary amount of whitespace on either side of the
colon; however, implementations should avoid spaces between the field
name and the colon and use a single space (SP) between the colon and
Subject : lunch
Thus, the above are all valid and equivalent, but the last is the
Header fields can be extended over multiple lines by preceding each
extra line with at least one SP or horizontal tab (HT). The line
break and the whitespace at the beginning of the next line are
treated as a single SP character. Thus, the following are
Subject: I know you're there, pick up the phone and talk to me!
Subject: I know you're there,
pick up the phone
and talk to me!
The relative order of header fields with different field names is not
significant. However, it is RECOMMENDED that header fields which are
needed for proxy processing (Via, Route, Record-Route, Proxy-Require,
Max-Forwards, and Proxy-Authorization, for example) appear towards
the top of the message to facilitate rapid parsing. The relative
order of header field rows with the same field name is important.
Multiple header field rows with the same field-name MAY be present in
a message if and only if the entire field-value for that header field
is defined as a comma-separated list (that is, if follows the grammar
defined in Section 7.3). It MUST be possible to combine the multiple
header field rows into one "field-name: field-value" pair, without
changing the semantics of the message, by appending each subsequent
field-value to the first, each separated by a comma. The exceptions
to this rule are the WWW-Authenticate, Authorization, Proxy-
Authenticate, and Proxy-Authorization header fields. Multiple header
field rows with these names MAY be present in a message, but since
their grammar does not follow the general form listed in Section 7.3,
they MUST NOT be combined into a single header field row.
Implementations MUST be able to process multiple header field rows
with the same name in any combination of the single-value-per-line or
comma-separated value forms.
The following groups of header field rows are valid and equivalent:
Route: <sip:firstname.lastname@example.org>, <sip:email@example.com>
Route: <sip:firstname.lastname@example.org>, <sip:email@example.com>,
Each of the following blocks is valid but not equivalent to the
The format of a header field-value is defined per header-name. It
will always be either an opaque sequence of TEXT-UTF8 octets, or a
combination of whitespace, tokens, separators, and quoted strings.
Many existing header fields will adhere to the general form of a
value followed by a semi-colon separated sequence of parameter-name,
field-name: field-value *(;parameter-name=parameter-value)
Even though an arbitrary number of parameter pairs may be attached to
a header field value, any given parameter-name MUST NOT appear more
When comparing header fields, field names are always case-
insensitive. Unless otherwise stated in the definition of a
particular header field, field values, parameter names, and parameter
values are case-insensitive. Tokens are always case-insensitive.
Unless specified otherwise, values expressed as quoted strings are
case-sensitive. For example,
is equivalent to
is equivalent to
The following two header fields are not equivalent:
Warning: 370 devnull "Choose a bigger pipe"
Warning: 370 devnull "CHOOSE A BIGGER PIPE"
7.3.2 Header Field Classification
Some header fields only make sense in requests or responses. These
are called request header fields and response header fields,
respectively. If a header field appears in a message not matching
its category (such as a request header field in a response), it MUST
be ignored. Section 20 defines the classification of each header
7.3.3 Compact Form
SIP provides a mechanism to represent common header field names in an
abbreviated form. This may be useful when messages would otherwise
become too large to be carried on the transport available to it
(exceeding the maximum transmission unit (MTU) when using UDP, for
example). These compact forms are defined in Section 20. A compact
form MAY be substituted for the longer form of a header field name at
any time without changing the semantics of the message. A header
field name MAY appear in both long and short forms within the same
message. Implementations MUST accept both the long and short forms
of each header name.
Requests, including new requests defined in extensions to this
specification, MAY contain message bodies unless otherwise noted.
The interpretation of the body depends on the request method.
For response messages, the request method and the response status
code determine the type and interpretation of any message body. All
responses MAY include a body.
7.4.1 Message Body Type
The Internet media type of the message body MUST be given by the
Content-Type header field. If the body has undergone any encoding
such as compression, then this MUST be indicated by the Content-
Encoding header field; otherwise, Content-Encoding MUST be omitted.
If applicable, the character set of the message body is indicated as
part of the Content-Type header-field value.
The "multipart" MIME type defined in RFC 2046  MAY be used within
the body of the message. Implementations that send requests
containing multipart message bodies MUST send a session description
as a non-multipart message body if the remote implementation requests
this through an Accept header field that does not contain multipart.
SIP messages MAY contain binary bodies or body parts. When no
explicit charset parameter is provided by the sender, media subtypes
of the "text" type are defined to have a default charset value of
7.4.2 Message Body Length
The body length in bytes is provided by the Content-Length header
field. Section 20.14 describes the necessary contents of this header
field in detail.
The "chunked" transfer encoding of HTTP/1.1 MUST NOT be used for SIP.
(Note: The chunked encoding modifies the body of a message in order
to transfer it as a series of chunks, each with its own size
7.5 Framing SIP Messages
Unlike HTTP, SIP implementations can use UDP or other unreliable
datagram protocols. Each such datagram carries one request or
response. See Section 18 on constraints on usage of unreliable
Implementations processing SIP messages over stream-oriented
transports MUST ignore any CRLF appearing before the start-line
The Content-Length header field value is used to locate the end of
each SIP message in a stream. It will always be present when SIP
messages are sent over stream-oriented transports.