What is HTTP/2 and is it going to speed up the web?

The web is about to get faster thanks to a new version of HTTP – the biggest change since 1999 to the protocol that underpins the world wide web as we know it today.

Hypertext Transfer Protocol is familiar to most as the https:// at the beginning of a web address. It governs the connections between a user’s browser and the server hosting a website, invented by the father of the web Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

What is HTTP/2?

HTTP/2 is the next version of HTTP and is based on Google’s SPDY, which was designed to speed up the loading of web pages and the browsing experience. It is a new standard and will take over from the current protocol HTTP1.1 used by most sites on the internet today.

What’s the difference?

HTTP/2 is a more modern protocol that essentially speeds web browsing up using new ways of transporting data between the browser and server across the internet.

It is backwards compatible with HTTP1.1 and uses most of the same technologies, but it is more efficient and allows servers to respond with more content than was originally requested, removing the need for the user’s computer to continually send requests for more information until a website is fully loaded.

Browsers can also request more than one piece of data at a time from one site and request data from several websites at once, again speeding up the process of loading single or multiple websites.

Will I actually see a difference?

Yes. Web pages will load much quicker compared to those using HTTP1.1. High-speed broadband internet connections already mean web pages load much faster, but the new protocol will allow webpages and browsers to take advantage of the increased bandwidth. Modern sites that have lots of images, text and data could load dramatically faster at first, although caching on a computer means that the benefits won’t be so obvious after the first loading of the site.

The new protocol will also speed up mobile browsing, which is often held back by the extended time it takes for a request to travel from a smartphone or tablet to the website server over a mobile broadband connection. Allowing the mobile browser to request more than one item at the same time should cut load times considerably.

Will I have to do anything?

No. From the user’s point of view nothing changes other than the speed. The address bar will still show https://, if at all, and the browser will automatically switch between HTTP1.1 and HTTP/2 as required.

Google Chrome users have been using SPDY protocols with Google services and a few other websites for the last two years and probably haven’t noticed.

What about HTTPS?

The secure version of the web used by banks, shops, email and other services will remain the same. HTTP/2 has full support for encryption in the same way HTTP1.1 does, and will not change the way users access secure services.

HTTP/2 requires an improved version of the transport layer security (TLS1.2), which was standardised in 2008 and offers better security than previous versions and should already be used by the majority of services.

When will I see it?

The HTTP/2 standard has now formally been approved by the Internet Engineering Task Force and will be published soon. At that point it is up to websites, hosting services and companies such as Google to implement the standard.

Google has already said that it’s current SPDY protocol will be withdrawn in favour of HTTP/2 in Chrome by early 2016. It is likely that we’ll see high profile websites and services, including those who have implemented SPDY – including Google, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and Yahoo – in the near future.

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