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I've been Googling for this question, and ironically annoyingly I can't find a concrete answer. I've answered this question myself in the past, and now I can't remember my own explanation.

Several times a year, someone will ask me to do this. I'd like to point them to some sort of respectable article which explains this.

I want to take the URL at https://www.example.com/ and redirect the traffic to https://www.example2.com/ .

I believe this should be technically possible, but is undesired. What is wrong with this method? Will browsers get a security popup since I am redirecting them to another site? Can anyone provide a link to some respectable documentation which explains this?

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Your situation might be annoying, but it isn't ironic ;) –  Gareth Aug 5 '10 at 14:59
@Gareth, It's the Alanis Morissette definition of ironic (aka annoying as you said). –  ManiacZX Aug 5 '10 at 21:05
@ManiacZX I've always thought the irony in the Alanis Morissette song was actually the song. It's ironic that the song has no real irony. –  Joshua Mar 12 '13 at 18:54

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

You can do this, both sites need to have a valid SSL certificate. This way browsers won't give a security popup. If both sites exist at the same server however, both domains need to be hosted from different IP addresses.

A webserver looks at the "Host" header in the HTTP request to see which site it needs to serve. The SSL negotiation happens before the HTTP request is sent, so at that point the webserver can't tell which website it will display. It will always send the same certificate to the browser.

There are two ways to work around this:

  • Have a wildcard certificate for *.example.com, so all subdomains can share the same certificate.
  • Run each SSL site at a different IP address. This way, the webserver knows which SSL certificate it can send to the browser. - by inspecting the IP address which received the incoming connection.

Note it's perfectly possible to attach multiple IP addresses to the same network adapter, it's just that you need a second IP adress available in your IP address space.

update: nowadays, you can run multiple SSL sites at a singe IP. To enable this, configure SNI support at your webserver. Most modern browsers (except windows XP, and Android 2) support this.

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You can also host multiple SSL sites at the same IP under a Unified Communication Certificate (UCC), see help.godaddy.com/article/3908 –  ManiacZX Aug 5 '10 at 21:09
One other workaround for the multi-hostname/one IP certificate issue is to use alternative port numbers. This is not ideal, since some firewalls/public access points block non 80/443 traffic. –  Bryan Agee May 18 '11 at 21:39

I've never tried this so I don't speak from concrete experience, but it should work. You will need to have a valid SSL certificate for https://www.example.com as the hostname is encrypted inside the HTTP header so your server won't know to redirect until it's decrypted. After that it should redirect as it would a normal HTTP request.

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Why would this be undesired?

As an example, Big Bank and Little Bank both run sites on https to give the customers a happy secure feeling. Big Bank buys Little Bank. At some point the IT people will set up a redirect for https://www.littlebank.com to https://www.bigbank.com. This is a legitimate reason to redirect from https to https.

This should work fine.

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That scenario you described would be fine, however if you navigated to www.littlebank.com and were redirected to www.bigbank.com while having the actual address masked such that the browser still shows www.littlebank.com, THAT is not a good thing. This is fairly common with non-secure sites where it is irrelevant, but surely you can see the dangers inherent in displaying yourself as a secure website that you are in fact not. –  Charles Aug 9 '10 at 15:20

The one disconnect that I think is present in the current responses that may come up for you is that in any of these circumstances, a true redirect (ie: browser gets repointed to www.example2.com) will be fine but if you mask this such that the browser stillthinks it is pointed at www.example.com when in reality you have sent it to www.example2.com, this is where you will see security warnings precisely because you could be trying to spoof the user.

The short version is a normal redirect should be fine, address masking is probably going to leave you with a lot of explaining to do.

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Thanks Charles. That must be the "undesired" situation I was thinking of. –  Stefan Lasiewski Aug 6 '10 at 15:48

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