Things move incredibly quickly in the online world. Articles can become obsolete in under a year, and in many cases just a few short months.
With this in mind, it’s really quite surprising that the internet’s underlying protocol, HTTP, has not been updated for over 15 years—a lifetime in internet terms.
HTTP, the abbreviation for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, is most familiarly used at the start of a website address: http://www.example.com. However, its real purpose is to control how your web browser communicates with the server of the website you’re visiting.
Of course, websites have come a long way from the basic, text-focused websites the HTTP protocol was created for. Sure, the internet is faster these days, but that’s largely down to the super quick broadband connections. To continually improve speed, we need a comprehensive upgrade to the underlying HTTP protocol.
Although it’s still around a year away from launching, HTTP/2 has been officially approved by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and is currently in development.
Its purpose? To significantly improve the internet browsing experience by speeding up load times.
Today I want to give you a quick overview of what HTTP/2 is, what to expect, and what it means for you.
How will HTTP/2 improve speed?
The original HTTP standard was created at a time when websites were far more simplistic. Using HTTP, your browser can only make one server request at a time. For example, to load just one image on a website, your browser has to request that image, then wait for the server to respond. Only when the server has responded can it make the next request.
For modern websites, which are far more sophisticated and involve a lot more requests than your average website in 1999, this can limit how quickly a website loads. For example, if you add ten social sharing buttons to your website, that’s an extra ten requests right there. (This depends on what plugin you’re using, as some plugins get around this issue with lazy loading.)
Of course, this existing HTTP protocol is incredibly inefficient for today’s websites. Browsers have evolved to overcome this problem to some extent by creating multiple connections with the server, but each connection is still limited to one server request at a time.
HTTP/2 will allow your browser to make multiple requests to a server at once—this is called multiplexing. This will significantly improve a website’s speed as it puts a stop to the cycle of request, wait, request, wait, request, wait.
How much will HTTP/2 improve speed by?
It really does depend, but all internet users should experience a difference, even those who experience lightning quick load times already because of their broadband speed.
This is because HTTP/2 will reduce the bottleneck of all those requests, as briefly explained above.
Even if a fast internet connection loads each request incredibly quickly, the sheer volume of requests can still cause a bottleneck. This means that much of your connection’s extra bandwidth is not properly utilized, simply because the website’s server can’t respond fast enough.
With HTTP/2 this won’t be an issue, so your broadband connection will be able to perform much closer to its maximum levels. In other words, quicker load times for everyone.
How does HTTP/2 impact secure connections (HTTPS)?
A website’s speed and security are both ranking factors in Google’s algorithm.
Some websites use a more secure, encrypted connection, known as HTTPS–https://www.example.com. This is especially important for websites where sensitive information is transferred, such as eCommerce stores.
Although HTTP/2 will work with encrypted, HTTPS connections, it is not a requirement. HTTP/2 will work perfectly fine with non-encrypted connections.
It’s worth pointing out that the IETF have stated that many web hosts may only support HTTP/2 when used in conjunction with a secure connection, though. This could mean you need to add an HTTPS connection—usually done with SSL or TSL—to feel the benefits of HTTP/2.
HTTPS is generally slower than HTTP. It adds a few extra steps to the communication process (it needs to encrypt the data) when compared with HTTP, and this takes time. However, HTTP/2 will significantly improve the speed of HTTPS connections, and websites using encrypted connections will likely experience the biggest speed improvements of all.
What does HTTP/2 have to do with SPDY?
We’ve long known that the HTTP protocol is outdated and far from ideal for serving modern websites.
In recent years, Google has been pioneering HTTP improvements through its SPDY protocol. This work won’t be lost, however, as SPDY will be providing very capable foundations for HTTP/2.
SPDY effectively trialled some of the features we should expect in HTTP/2, for example multiplexing. HTTP/2 will learn from SPDY’s data and will look to make solid improvements. The groundwork SPDY laid should also make the transition to HTTP/2 smoother.
It’s worth pointing out that SPDY required a secure, encrypted connection. As we’ve already covered, this won’t be the case with HTTP/2—however, it will be encouraged.
How will I browse with HTTP/2?
From an internet user’s perspective, you won’t have to do anything other than download the latest version of your browser.
If the website is compatible with HTTP/2, your browser will automatically communicate with it using the new protocol. However, HTTP/2 is fully backwards compatible, so websites still using the old HTTP will not be affected. That means you can just sit back and enjoy faster loading websites.
Although it’s early days for the new HTTP/2 protocol, it’s likely you’ll hear a lot more about it as we move towards launch date—expect it in 2016.
Torque will keep you up to date with all the latest announcements, as always, and we’ll be sure to help you get your WordPress website setup for maximum HTTP/2 benefits when the time comes!
What are your thoughts on HTTP/2? Let us know in the comments section below!