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The content that is sent via the Internet has profoundly changed over the past decade. But the protocol that is used to exchange data has remained unchanged – and it actually would need to be thoroughly reviewed ASAP. Fortunately, HTTP/2 has been finalised last week. Here is some explanation...
The way Internet users consume content on the Internet has changed significantly over the past years. They indeed watch more videos, send more messages, and social networks play a central role in this context, since they follow all these interactions. Then again, websites and web services are not designed as they were before – they gather content from various sources, get their adverts from here, the monitoring of the interaction with social networks from there, etc. As a result, tons of requests are sent to much more servers.
With the old HTTP1, which has been used since 1999, these requests were neatly processed in chronological order. With the result that a single bad request could cause the whole page to load much slower. This forced developers to use all sorts of tricks, like using inline code.
Since HTTP/2 uses multiplexing, several requests can be sent and processed simultaneously. As a result, web pages can load without any interruption. HTTP/2 also uses much fewer connections, which should help reduce the load on servers and networks.
Although HTTP/2 was developed by the IETF HTTP Working Group, an organisation that develops and sets standards, the protocol is based on a special version of another protocol that was actually developed by Google, namely SPDY (pronounce “speedy”), whose main features were header field compression and multiplexing. SPDY is already integrated in the Chrome, IE and Firefox browsers, but is not generally supported by the websites themselves.
So, the new HTTP/2 standard has now become reality, and Google already intends to make it available as quickly as possible on the Internet. The search giant from Mountain View has therefore announced that it will use HTTP/2 in the next version of its Chrome browser. Developers wishing to test HTTP/2 now can do this using the Firefox and Chrome browsers. They can also download test servers in order to test some of the new features. Find out more reading the HTTP/2 FAQ.
Observers acclaimed the request multiplexing feature: it is as if you could put multiple letters into one envelope before sending them to the same addressee. However, they expressed criticism about the fact that TLS encryption is not embedded in HTTP/2, as originally planned. In an era when all sorts of hackers and intrusive security services constantly stick their nose into the communications of both companies and citizens, such encryption is definitely required. But the integration of TLS encryption in the new HTTP/2 protocol could not stand the pressure brought by large industry players, like network operators, because this would require too much extra effort from them.
Still, this does not mean that SSL and TLS will be degraded with the new protocol. Quite the contrary: developers of the Firefox and Chrome browsers have already declared that they will not support HTTP/2 unless it also allows encryption. In other words: sites who want to enjoy the speed advantage offered by HTTP/2 will also need to use TLS.
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