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Resumable Downloads


Resumable downloads were introduced in Nuke 7. When the image download fails or gets canceled and the image is only partially loaded, the next request will resume where the previous one left off. This sounds like a must-have feature, but most image loading frameworks don’t support it.

The resumable downloads are built using HTTP range requests. There are at least two ways to implement range requests with URLSession. The first one is to use URLSessionDownloadTask which has resumable downloads built-in, the second is to use URLSessionDataTask and handle HTTP range requests manually. I’m going to cover both in this article.

URLSession Download Tasks #

URLSessionDownloadTask handles all the intricacies of HTTP range requests for you. Let’s quickly go through how to use URLSessionDownloadTasks.

URLSession has two ways of using session tasks (URLSessionTask) - the convenience closure-based way, and the delegate-based way. I’m going to focus on the latter.

Unlike other URLSessionTask subclasses there are two ways to create a download task - either with a URL (or URLRequest) or with a resumable data.

let urlSession: URLSession
var resumableData: Data?

func startRequest() {
    let url = URL(string: "https://example.com/image.jpeg")!
    if let resumableData = self.resumableData {
        urlSession.downloadTask(withResumeData: resumableData).resume()
    } else {
        urlSession.downloadTask(with: url).resume()

Actually there is also a third indirect way to create URLSessionDownloadTask. You can implement func urlSession(_:dataTask:didReceive response:completionHandler:) method from URLSessionDataTaskDelegate protocol and call completion handler with ResponseDisposition .decomeDownload in this method.

When you create URLSessionDownloadTask for the given URL for the first time you do so by passing either URL or URLRequest in initializer. But if you already have resumable data, the request is no longer needed - it’s stored as part of the resumable data. But where does the resumable data come from?

You can retrieve resumable data from the userInfo of the task’s error using NSURLSessionDownloadTaskResumeData key. The error is going to contain the resumable data when either a transfer error occurs or when you call cancel(byProducingResumeData:) method (if you call cancel() the resumable data is not produced).

The server must also indicate that it supports HTTP range request for resumable data to be produced.

func urlSession(_ session: URLSession, task: URLSessionTask, didCompleteWithError error: Error?) {
    if let resumableData = (error as? URLError)?.userInfo[NSURLSessionDownloadTaskResumeData] as? Data  {
        // Store resumable data somewhere

When you receive resumable data you need to store it somewhere depending on what your requirements are.

URLSessionDownloadTask works great but has a few limitations:

  • It can read from URLCache (native HTTP cache) but it’s not going to save responses there. If you’d like to do that, you’ll have to do it manually.
  • There is always disk I/O happening which is not always desirable.
  • It doesn’t seem to support unconditional HTTP range requests, the documentation says that at least one HTTP validator must be present - either ETag or Last-Modified.

Download tasks are designed to be used when you actually want to download some data to disk. This isn’t what URLSession is used for in Nuke. It uses URLSessionDataTasks and fortunately, there is a way to make them support HTTP range requests.

URLSession Data Tasks #

Lets first quickly go through the HTTP range requests spec and then see how it can be implemented using Swift and URLSessionDataTask.

HTTP Range Requests #

If the Accept-Ranges header is present in the response and has value bytes, the server supports range requests:

curl -I https://cloud.githubusercontent.com/assets/1567433/9781817/ecb16e82-57a0-11e5-9b43-6b4f52659997.jpg

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Accept-Ranges: bytes
Content-Length: 31038

To issue a range request pass the Range of bytes that you’d like the server to send:

curl https://cloud.githubusercontent.com/assets/1567433/9781817/ecb16e82-57a0-11e5-9b43-6b4f52659997.jpg \
    -i -H "Range: bytes=30000-"

There are different ways to format Range value. In our case, we use one-sided range which means that we want all the remaining data starting from index 30000.

If everything goes well the server will respond with status code 206 Partial Content and the requested data:

HTTP/1.1 206 Partial Content
Content-Range: bytes 30000-31037/31038
Content-Length: 1038
Accept-Ranges: bytes

When resuming the request that contains a validator - either Last-Modified or ETag - you can also provide an optional If-Range header in the request which makes a request conditional. It means that if the representation is unchanged, send the requested part; otherwise, send the entire representation (with status code 200 OK).

If the client doesn’t send If-Range header but makes a request conditional by providing either or both If-Unmodified-Since and If-Match, then if the condition fails the request is also going to fail with status code 412 Precondition Failed which isn’t very convenient.

curl https://cloud.githubusercontent.com/assets/1567433/9781817/ecb16e82-57a0-11e5-9b43-6b4f52659997.jpg \
    -i -H "Range: bytes=0-1023" -H "If-Match: aa2fa107a9618d19df8d37dd0e40d2fa"

HTTP/1.1 412 Precondition Failed

Mozilla is doing a fantastic job documenting web technologies. If you’d to learn a bit more check their HTTP Range Requests guide.

Implementing ResumableData #

First, let’s create a type that would implement the HTTP range requests spec. Let’s start by defining a type itself and its initializer:

struct ResumableData {
    let data: Data
    let validator: String // Either `Last-Modified` or `ETag`

    // - returns `nil` if the request can't be resumed. 
    init?(response: URLResponse, data: Data) {
        // Check if "Accept-Ranges" is present and the response is valid.
        guard !data.isEmpty,
            let response = response as? HTTPURLResponse,
            response.statusCode == 200 /* OK */ || response.statusCode == 206, /* Partial Content */
            let acceptRanges = response.allHeaderFields["Accept-Ranges"] as? String,
            acceptRanges.lowercased() == "bytes",
            let validator = ResumableData.validator(from: response) else {
                return nil
        self.data = data
        self.validator = validator

    private static func validator(from response: HTTPURLResponse) -> String? {
        if let entityTag = response.allHeaderFields["ETag"] as? String {
            return entityTag
        // There seems to be a bug with ETag where HTTPURLResponse would canonicalize
        // it to Etag instead of ETag
        // https://bugs.swift.org/browse/SR-2429
        if let entityTag = response.allHeaderFields["Etag"] as? String {
            return entityTag
        if let lastModified = response.allHeaderFields["Last-Modified"] as? String {
            return lastModified
        return nil

We also need methods that we could use to “resume” a request:

func resume(request: inout URLRequest) {
    var headers = request.allHTTPHeaderFields ?? [:]
    headers["Range"] = "bytes=\(data.count)-"
    headers["If-Range"] = validator
    request.allHTTPHeaderFields = headers

// Check if the server resumed the response.
static func isResumedResponse(_ response: URLResponse) -> Bool {
    return (response as? HTTPURLResponse)?.statusCode == 206

ResumableData is covered by a complete suite of unit tests in Nuke to make sure the HTTP spec is implemented correctly.

Now that we have ResumableData in place it’s only a matter of using it when working with data tasks.

Using ResumableData #

When the data task fails we need to try and save the resumable data somewhere.

func urlSession(_ session: URLSession, task: URLSessionTask, didCompleteWithError error: Error?) {
    if let error = error, let response = task.urlResponse,
        let resumableData = ResumableData(response: response, data: session.data) {
        storeResumableData(resumableData, for: session.request.urlRequest)

When we create a new data task we need to check whether we have a resumable data for the request.

When we receive the response we need to check whether it was resumed and then append the data to the existing resumable data, or if we received a new response (200 OK) discard the resumable data.

func urlSession(_ session: URLSession, dataTask: URLSessionDataTask, didReceive data: Data) {
    guard let handler = self.handlers[dataTask] else { return }
    if let resumableData = handler.resumableData {
        // See if the server confirmed that we can use the resumable data.
        if ResumableData.isResumedResponse(response) {
            handler.data = resumableData.data
        handler.resumableData = nil
    handler.data.append(data) // Append new data

You might have noticed that ResumableData doesn’t support unconditional range requests. This matches the URLSessionDownloadTask behavior which states that a download can only be resumed if the server provides either the ETag or Last-Modified header (or both) in its response.

I’m not entirely sure why this is the case, please leave a comment if you know. My guess is that range requests are somewhat dangerous. If the server returns Accept-Ranges but fails to send validators for content which can actually change in the future, the client might end up downloading parts of different resources and combining them together.

Resumable Downloads in Nuke #

It was very satisfying to implement resumable downloads in Nuke and see them in action. I think it can be a major improvement to the user experience, especially on mobile networks.