If the selection of the best representation for a response is made by an algorithm located at the server, it is called server-driven negotiation. Selection is based on the available representations of the response (the dimensions over which it can vary; e.g. language, content-coding, etc.) and the contents of particular header fields in the request message or on other information pertaining to the request (such as the network address of the client).
Server-driven negotiation is advantageous when the algorithm for selecting from among the available representations is difficult to describe to the user agent, or when the server desires to send its "best guess" to the client along with the first response (hoping to avoid the round-trip delay of a subsequent request if the "best guess" is good enough for the user). In order to improve the server's guess, the user agent MAY include request header fields (Accept, Accept-Language, Accept-Encoding, etc.) which describe its preferences for such a response.
Server-driven negotiation has disadvantages:
HTTP/1.1 includes the following request-header fields for enabling server-driven negotiation through description of user agent capabilities and user preferences: Accept (section 14.1), Accept- Charset (section 14.2), Accept-Encoding (section 14.3), Accept- Language (section 14.4), and User-Agent (section 14.42). However, an origin server is not limited to these dimensions and MAY vary the response based on any aspect of the request, including information outside the request-header fields or within extension header fields not defined by this specification.
HTTP/1.1 origin servers MUST include an appropriate Vary header field (section 14.43) in any cachable response based on server-driven negotiation. The Vary header field describes the dimensions over which the response might vary (i.e. the dimensions over which the origin server picks its "best guess" response from multiple representations).
HTTP/1.1 public caches MUST recognize the Vary header field when it is included in a response and obey the requirements described in section 13.6 that describes the interactions between caching and content negotiation.