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php – How to use HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR properly?

Posted by: admin April 23, 2020 Leave a comment


Alright, I have an small authentication issue. My web service allows to connect to my API over HTTP with a username and password, but this connection can also be restricted to a specific IP address.

This means that the $_SERVER['REMOTE_ADDR'] can be incorrect. I already know that any IP information can never truly be relied upon – I have the restriction only in an attempt to add another layer of security.

If this is the general overview of a request to my web server:

clientSERVER => clientPROXY => myPROXY => mySERVER

Then this means that mySERVER shows REMOTE_ADDR of myPROXY instead of that of the client and sends the actual IP of the client as HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR.

To overcome this, my web service has a list of ‘trusted proxy’ IP addresses and if REMOTE_ADDR is from one of those trusted IP addresses, then it tells my web service that the actual IP address is the value of HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR.

Now the problem is with clientPROXY. This means that (quite often) mySERVER gets HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR value that has multiple IP addresses. According to HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR documentation, the value is a comma-separated list of IP addresses where the first IP is that of the actual true client and every other IP address is that of a proxy.

So, if HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR has multiple values and my service is IP restricted, do I have to check the ‘last’ value of HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR against my allowed IP list and just ignore the actual client IP?

I assume that in a system, where I have to set the list of allowed IP addresses, the whitelisted IP address should be that of a proxy and not an IP that is behind the proxy (since that could be some localhost IP and change frequently).

And what of HTTP_CLIENT_IP?

How to&Answers:

You can use this function to get proper client IP:

public function getClientIP(){       
     if (array_key_exists('HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR', $_SERVER)){
            return  $_SERVER["HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR"];  
     }else if (array_key_exists('REMOTE_ADDR', $_SERVER)) { 
            return $_SERVER["REMOTE_ADDR"]; 
     }else if (array_key_exists('HTTP_CLIENT_IP', $_SERVER)) {
            return $_SERVER["HTTP_CLIENT_IP"]; 

     return '';


I like Hrishikesh’s answer, to which I only have this to add…because we saw a comma-delimited string coming across when multiple proxies along the way were used, we found it necessary to add an explode and grab the final value, like this:

return end($IParray);

the array_filter is in there to remove empty entries.


In the light of the latest httpoxy vulnerabilities, there is really a need for a full example, how to use HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR properly.

So here is an example written in PHP, how to detect a client IP address, if you know that client may be behind a proxy and you know this proxy can be trusted. If you don’t known any trusted proxies, just use REMOTE_ADDR


function get_client_ip ()
    // Nothing to do without any reliable information
    if (!isset ($_SERVER['REMOTE_ADDR'])) {
        return NULL;

    // Header that is used by the trusted proxy to refer to
    // the original IP
    $proxy_header = "HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR";

    // List of all the proxies that are known to handle 'proxy_header'
    // in known, safe manner
    $trusted_proxies = array ("2001:db8::1", "");

    if (in_array ($_SERVER['REMOTE_ADDR'], $trusted_proxies)) {

        // Get the IP address of the client behind trusted proxy
        if (array_key_exists ($proxy_header, $_SERVER)) {

            // Header can contain multiple IP-s of proxies that are passed through.
            // Only the IP added by the last proxy (last IP in the list) can be trusted.
            $proxy_list = explode (",", $_SERVER[$proxy_header]);
            $client_ip = trim (end ($proxy_list));

            // Validate just in case
            if (filter_var ($client_ip, FILTER_VALIDATE_IP)) {
                return $client_ip;
            } else {
                // Validation failed - beat the guy who configured the proxy or
                // the guy who created the trusted proxy list?
                // TODO: some error handling to notify about the need of punishment

    // In all other cases, REMOTE_ADDR is the ONLY IP we can trust.
    return $_SERVER['REMOTE_ADDR'];

print get_client_ip ();



You can also solve this problem via Apache configuration using mod_remoteip, by adding the following to a conf.d file:

RemoteIPHeader X-Forwarded-For
LogFormat "%a %l %u %t \"%r\" %>s %b \"%{Referer}i\" \"%{User-Agent}i\"" combined


If you use it in a database, this is a good way:

Set the ip field in database to varchar(250), and then use this:

$theip = $_SERVER["REMOTE_ADDR"];

if (!empty($_SERVER["HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR"])) {
    $theip .= '('.$_SERVER["HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR"].')';

if (!empty($_SERVER["HTTP_CLIENT_IP"])) {
    $theip .= '('.$_SERVER["HTTP_CLIENT_IP"].')';

$realip = substr($theip, 0, 250);

Then you just check $realip against the database ip field


HTTP_CLIENT_IP is the most reliable way of getting the user’s IP address. Next is HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR, followed by REMOTE_ADDR. Check all three, in that order, assuming that the first one that is set (isset($_SERVER['HTTP_CLIENT_IP']) returns true if that variable is set) is correct. You can independently check if the user is using a proxy using various methods. Check this out.