13.1.5 Exceptions to the Rules and Warnings

In some cases, the operator of a cache MAY choose to configure it to return stale responses even when not requested by clients. This decision ought not be made lightly, but may be necessary for reasons of availability or performance, especially when the cache is poorly connected to the origin server. Whenever a cache returns a stale response, it MUST mark it as such (using a Warning header) enabling the client software to alert the user that there might be a potential problem.

It also allows the user agent to take steps to obtain a first-hand or fresh response. For this reason, a cache SHOULD NOT return a stale response if the client explicitly requests a first-hand or fresh one, unless it is impossible to comply for technical or policy reasons.