A new version of the web protocol HTTP has been approved and will be making its way to our web browsers soon. HTTP/2 has been agreed, accepted and just needs to be prepared for launch before being let out into the wild. So what is it and what will it do for us?
HTTP, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol manages the connection between your browser and the web server of the sites you visit. It is used by web browsers to keep connections open and exchange information. For example, you open a browser and click a link. The browser will make an HTTP request to the web server and the server will send the page you requested. This exchange continues for the length of your browsing session.
It is built around request-response. Your browser requests, the web server responds. It’s a simple premise designed around 1965 with improvements released in 1999 at HTTP/1.1.
The downside of HTTP is that each request is dealt with separately and sequentially. The longer you were on the web, the more connections you would have. Larger pages with more objects need more connections and consequently, more resources. Also, if one object got stuck or was slow, it interrupted or at least, slowed the web page.
HTTP/2 is designed to address the growth of the internet and the growth of websites. Where sites used to be a simple HTML page with a few images, they are now bigger pages that can contain HD images, video, audio and interactive elements. All these things need to be transferred over the internet to your browser.
The requirement for an individual connection for each object causes slowdowns and network congestion. Your browser and the web server both need to work much harder to give a seamless experience.
HTTP/2 seeks to change all that by collecting all those individual connections into a single request. So rather than downloading a website and waiting for an individual request for each object, HTTP/2 will use multiplexing to collect all those requests into a single TCP stream.
With that comes the shift from sequential requests to parallel requests. That mean multiple page objects can be downloaded at once and if one object is slow or gets stuck, the others will still download normally.
So where HTTP could be considered an A-road where traffic can only go in single file, sequentially and only as fast as the slowest object, HTTP/2 is a motorway, with a single route for multiple paths of traffic all going in the same direction but not limited by the slowest mover. That’s good news for all of us!
There are a range of other improvements on the way in HTTP/2, but speed and this new request-response technique is the headliner. The other important thing about HTTP/2 is that it will work seamlessly with the existing web. You won’t need to do anything with your websites, change browsers or take any action. Your browser will automatically update itself and begin using HTTP/2 once its released. It’s as easy as that!