Future Tense

Good Old HTTP Is Getting a Makeover

We see it (and use it) every day.

Photo by JMiks/Shutterstock

Most addresses you put into your browser’s address bar start with “http.” We basically take that random string of letters for granted. But the grouping is actually an acronym for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, and it represents the series of operations that lets your browser connect to and communicate with Web servers. It’s the protocol that underlies the Internet as we know it. And it was in desperate need of an update.

HTTP was pioneered by Tim Berners-Lee and other early Interneters in the late 1980s, and it was revised a few times throughout the 1990s, resulting in HTTP/1.1, which came out in 1999. And then after that … nothing. Which is weird because the Internet has changed a lot since 1999. Webpages are a lot larger now and security is a bigger priority.


Finally, the Internet Engineering Task Force’s Steering Group announced Wednesday that it is ready to release an update called HTTP/2. The new version is designed to deal with the hulking sites that are now standard on the Web. When a browser sends a request to a server, the server will respond with more content and the connection will last longer. All of this will also help pages to load faster.

The new protocol isn’t a replacement for HTTPS, which requires an additional secure protocol like Transport Layer Security (TLS). The HTTP/2 working group writes in an FAQ that it considered baking encryption into the update. But, “after extensive discussion, the Working Group did not have consensus to require the use of encryption (e.g., TLS) for the new protocol.” The new version may make it easier to implement encryption and will do more to check the integrity of TLS connections, though.

And it’s not going to break everything, either. For obvious reasons, one of the most important priorities was to ensure compatibility between HTTP/1.1 and HTTP/2, and the updated version has already been in testing on Chrome and Firefox.

HTTP/2 should provide a better browsing experience (especially on mobile) without you having to do or know anything. A rare reward for laziness.