Everything You Need To Know About HTTP2

Hypertext Transfer Protocol, known colloquially as HTTP, has been the foundation of the Web’s data communication since 1999, but its age is beginning to show.

Now the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has just announced the completion of HTTP2, set to be the first major update to the protocol in 16 years. Mark Nottingham, chair of the IETF HTTP Working Group, announced the news Tuesday.

Once HTTP2 goes through an editing process at the IETF, it will be approved and published as a Web-wide standard protocol. Here’s what this means for users.

Why Update HTTP?

For the past 16 years, HTTP has basically done the heavy lifting of bringing Web pages to your browser. When you type a URL into your browser bar—readwrite.com, for instance—you’re actually creating an HTTP request to the Web server that instructs it to find and deliver a particular Web page.

But HTTP has its limits. Modern Web pages pack in more features than just about anyone imagined back in 1999, making it more resource-intensive than ever just to load them in a browser. Each feature counts as a separate HTTP request; the resulting flurry of requests slows down your load rate.

It’s time for an update.

Where Did HTTP2 Come From?

Once upon a time, Google invented SPDY, its homegrown Internet application-layer protocol primed for the Chrome browser. SPDY improved on HTTP and picked up some traction, but it was still an alternative to the norm, not the standard.

See also: What Web Users Need To Know About SPDY

SPDY became the basis for HTTP2, and Chrome developers have been working with the IETF on the protocol ever since. Last week, Chrome announced that because HTTP2 now exhibited every benefit SPDY had, Google would remove SPDY support in favor of HTTP2.

How Does HTTP2 Improve On HTTP?

The first thing users might notice with HTTP2 are faster load times on existing websites, thanks to a multiplexing feature that can deliver more HTTP requests at once.

Currently, many developers minimize HTTP requests with hacks like spriting and inlining, which cut down on those requests by, for instance, combining several images into a single file that gets loaded all at once. But these hacks can create their own problems—and anyway, no one should have to hack a good protocol just to give users barely acceptable performance. With HTTP 2, a larger number of requests is no longer a problem, but something it expects.

Nottingham listed several other HTTP2 advantages in a blog post

Will HTTP Be Obsolete?

The IETF is working to demonstrate the ways HTTP2 will improve upon HTTP, but the reality is that we live in a world where people still use Internet Explorer 8.

“We can’t force the world to migrate, and because of the way that people deploy proxies and servers, HTTP/1.x is likely to still be in use for quite some time,” the HTTP2 FAQ reads.

Can I Visit A Site Using HTTP2 Now?

Not yet! If you’re a developer, you can explore a few dozen test implementations. But the rest of us will need to wait until the services we use support it. If you’re a Chrome user, you might be one of the first to test it out—Google has promised to support it as soon as possible. 

Photo by Yuri Samoilov

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