There’s a good chance you’ve already heard of HTTP/2, the latest iteration of the world’s most popular Internet protocol. Launched as an Internet Draft in April 2016, HTTP/2 is the next evolution of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or HTTP for short. While HTTP/1.1 is the original protocol allowing servers and web browsers to communicate via web pages, HTTP/2 is an optimized version of the protocol that offers higher performance and reduces overhead for both users and servers. Thanks to improvements like these, many consider HTTP/2 to be the next big thing in web technology.
Why Should You Care About HTTP/2?
If you’re reading this, I assume you’re either already using HTTP/2 or are planning on integrating it into your site, app, or product. If not, then it’s time to discover the advantages of this protocol and how you can put it to use.
At the time of writing, HTTP/2 has been around for less than a year and is still in the early stages of adoption, so it’s mostly trial-and-error at this point. What’s more, few webmasters and web content designers have taken the time to learn HTTP/2 yet, which is why only recently has it begun to see significant usage on the web.
What Are the Main Differences Between HTTP/2 and HTTP/1.1?
Like most evolutionary steps, HTTP/2 improves on its predecessor, HTTP/1.1. Perhaps the most significant change is the switch from HTTP to HTTPS, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. When a connection is made over HTTP, the server and client must first establish a secure connection via TLS 1.0, 1.1, or 1.2.
In order to ensure a secure connection, HTTP/2 uses the same ciphersuites, key exchanges, and certificates as HTTPS, which should not come as a great surprise given HTTP/1.1 is intended to be transport secure.
Another significant difference between HTTP/1.1 and 2 is that while the older protocol is connection-oriented, HTTP/2 is message oriented. In other words, instead of using HTTP to transfer a single web page, users will typically make a series of requests utilizing HTTP/2. This change makes it much easier to scale an HTTP/2 service and enables it to process more requests than an HTTP/1.1 service can handle. Plus, since HTTP/2 is a sequential, stateless protocol, it’s simpler for servers to process multiple requests simultaneously.
Will HTTP/2 Support HTML5 WebSockets?
Speaking of simplicity, one of the primary goals of HTTP/2 is to remove complexities from the core protocol. While the standard supports bi-directional and event-driven communication, it was originally designed to only handle requests from browsers. As a result, it does not natively support the full power of HTML5 WebSockets. This would require a non-standard extension to the protocol.
What About Performance?
Even with the optimizations that newer protocols like HTTP/2 bring, it’s still not as fast as some would like. For instance, Google claims that the newer protocol only offers a fraction of the performance of HTTP/1.1. However, this is more of a problem with browsers than with the protocol itself. Most modern browsers already support HTTP/2, but they don’t always implement it efficiently. This means that even on fast connections, pages can still load slowly due to poor browser implementation.
What About SSL?
Another topic that comes up often is the comparison between HTTP/2 and SSL. While HTTP/2 shares a lot of similarities with HTTPS, it does not require a secure connection on every request, only on first contact. This means that you can utilize HTTP/2 with plain old HTTP connections, which are the most common on the web today. This flexibility is one of the main draws of HTTP/2, but it also means that you don’t necessarily need an SSL certificate to use the protocol. The only real difference between HTTP/2 and SSL is that the former does not include the authentication process, which is part of the latter.
When Will HTTP/2 Be Strictly Adopted?
The question is: when will HTTP/2 be adopted by everyone? This is a hard question to answer because it depends on a lot of factors, not just the version of the protocol that your web server supports. While HTTP/2 will undoubtedly replace HTML as we know it, it will not be adopted overnight. Just like its predecessor, HTTP/1.1, HTTP/2 is in a very early stage of adoption, which means that not everyone on the net is running it yet, and not all browsers support it completely.
However, as more and more people learn about the advantages of HTTP/2, we anticipate that this will change. Why? Because it’s the right thing for the web. In today’s world, the way we communicate online plays a huge role in how society functions. Thanks to the web, we have access to a global village and can keep in touch with friends and family across the world. As the web evolves, so does our ability to integrate technology and take advantage of new opportunities that it brings.
How Do I Get Started With HTTP/2?
If you’re wondering how you can get started with HTTP/2, there are a few different ways to go about it. First, you can check with your web host to see if they offer the new protocol. Many web hosts have transitioned to native HTTP/2 support, so it should be easy to find out whether or not your web host is equipped to handle HTTP/2.
Alternatively, you can check the support for HTTP/2 in popular web browsers. Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox all support native HTTP/2, which means that you don’t necessarily need to have a server-side implementation to get started. All you need is a web browser and a willingness to learn.
Last but not least, you can download the entire protocol in advance and implement it yourself on your web server. This is the approach that many have taken, and it’s a viable option as well. Just remember that if you go this route, you’ll need to do some research into how to properly configure the protocol so that it can work efficiently on your server. Otherwise, you run the risk of hurting the performance of your site.
In sum, HTTP/2 is the next big thing in web technology and should be considered by anyone who is involved in any way with the web. Its adoption will only increase as more and more people learn about its superior performance and how to properly use it.