What is HTTP/2? The Ultimate Guide

In this in-depth guide, I will explain the HTTP/2.

HTTP or HyperText Transfer Protocol is a simple application-layer protocol that forms the World Wide Web Foundation.

HTTP enables the retrieval of network-connected resources available across the internet.

HTTP has emerged through the decades to deliver fast, secure and productive mediums for our digital communication.

At Rovity, we are passionate about optimizing the load times of the websites hosted on our platform. Thus, we made sure that every site hosted on our servers is serving through the latest HTTP versions.

Let’s now deep dive into HTTP/2.

What is HTTP/2?

Tim Berners-Lee originally proposed HTTP. He is the inventor of the World Wide Web.

Lee designed the application protocol with simplicity in mind to perform high-level data communication functions between clients and web servers.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) HTTP Working Group improved HTTP further. The Working Group then developed the second major version of the application protocol as HTTP/2 in February 2015.

In May 2015, based on Google’s HTTP-compatible SPDY protocol, this Working Group officially standardized the HTTP/2 implementation specification.

The Goal of Creating HTTP/2

HTTP 1.1 has served the cyber world for over 15 years.

Modern websites use resource-intensive multimedia content formats and have extreme affection toward web performance.

These trends made HTTP 1.1 outdated.

These trends require vital HTTP/2 additions to improve the web experience.

Simplicity, high performance, and robustness were the primary goals when developing a new version of HTTP.

By adding techniques that reduce latency in the browser request processing, we have achieved these goals.

Multiplexing, compression, request prioritization, and server push were some primary techniques.

This combined system allowed servers to reply efficiently with more content than the client initially requested.

HTTP/2’s powerful header compression minimized protocol overhead. This improved performance with each browser request and server response.

The stakeholders increased the advantages of HTTP/2 over time based on real-world tests.

Along with the experiments, HTTP/2’s ability to address performance-related issues in the real-world impacted its evolution.

HTTP/2 comes as an addition to HTTP 1.1, and it won’t replace HTTP 1.1 anytime soon. However, its implementation won’t enable automatic support for all encryption types available with HTTP 1.1.

What Was Wrong With HTTP 1.1?

HTTP 1.1 is limited to processing only one request per TCP connection. So, the browsers are forced to use multiple TCP connections to process many requests.

Though, using many TCP connections in parallel leads to TCP congestion. And this jam causes improper monopolization of network resources.

Using multi connections to process these extra requests involves a more significant share of the available network resources.

This usually caused downgrading network performance for other users.

We were forced to hack these limitations with methods such as concatenation, domain sharding, spriting and data inlining, and a few others.

As web applications grew in complexity, scope, and functionality, we started experiencing massive performance degradation.

The web has emerged well beyond the potential of old HTTP based networking technologies. Core features of HTTP 1.1 developed over a decade ago; thus, it has several awkward performances and security holes.

For example, Cookie Hack; allows cybercriminals to reuse an earlier session to compromise account passwords.

The reason is that HTTP 1.1 doesn’t have session endpoint-identity facilities.

Similar security concerns will remain to worry HTTP/2. However, the new application protocol is developed with more reliable security capacities. An updated implementation of new TLS features is an example.

Multiplexed Streams

Multiplexed Streams

A stream is a bi-directional string of text format carried over the HTTP/2 and transacted between the client and server.

Old HTTP protocol was able to transmit only one stream at a time. And there was some delay within each stream.

Sending multiple media content via an individual stream is ineffective and resource-draining. Changes in HTTP version 2 helped establish a new binary framing layer to address this concern.

This new layer allows the server and the client to divide the HTTP payload into a small, detached and manageable sequence of frames.

Some benefits of Multiplexed streams are:

  • The parallel multiplexed requests and responses don’t block each other.
  • Despite sending many data streams, a single TCP connection is used to assure fair network resource utilization.
  • Hacks like image sprites, concatenation, and domain sharding became outdated.
  • Reduced latency. Faster web performance. Better search engine rankings.

HTTP/2 Server Push

Server Push allows the server to send extra cacheable data to the client that the client did not request but is expected in future requests.

For example, the client requested JavaScript A, but the server knew that JavaScript B is referenced with JavaScript A.

The server then decides to push JavaScript B and JavaScript A instead of waiting for an appropriate client request.

The client then places the pushed JavaScript B into its cache for future usage.

This feature reduces network latency and saves a request-respond round trip.

However, the client needs to allow the server to push cacheable resources with HTTP/2 explicitly.

HTTP version 2 offers notable performance for pushed resources. Some benefits are:

  • The client can cache pushed resources and use them on different pages in the future.
  • The server can prioritize pushed resources.
  • The client can limit or refuse pushed resources or disable Server Push altogether.

Binary Protocols

HTTP/2 can transform a text protocol into a binary. HTTP 1.x is used to process text commands. HTTP version 2 will use binary commands to execute the same tasks.

This decreases complications with framing and simplifies the implementation of confusingly mixed commands.

Some benefits are:

  • Low overhead when parsing data
  • Lighter network footprint.
  • Effective network resource utilization.
  • Robust for processing data between server and client.

Stateful Header Compression

The websites require to be rich in content to deliver a high-end user experience.

The HTTP is stateless. That means each request from the client must hold as much information as the server requires to perform the intended operation.

Without optimizing this, prioritized data streams cannot obtain the performance.

By compressing numerous redundant header frames, HTTP version 2 addresses this concern.

As a secure and straightforward approach to header compression, HTTP/2 uses the HPACK specification. Here server and client keep a list of headers used in initial client-server requests.

Before transferring to the server, HPACK compresses the individual value of each header.

Similarities With HTTP 1.x and SPDY

HTTP version 2 is based on SPDY. SPDY is Google’s alternative to HTTP 1.x.

Differences are the techniques used to process client-server requests.

How Does HTTP/2 Work With HTTPS

To process sensitive business and user data, HTTPS is used to establish an ultra-secure network. This secure network makes the connection between computers, machines, and servers worry-free.

HTTPS works as an active layer against cybercrime threats along with other security tools like Web Application Firewall.

The Main Benefits of HTTP/2

From the viewpoint of online businesses and internet users, the web is getting slower day by day. The reason is that websites nowadays get populated with growing quantities of media-rich content.

HTTP/2 changes are developed to improve effectiveness in client-server data communication so that online businesses can reach their target market efficiently.

And users can access better web content quicker.

Internet speed is not the same for everyone. The mobile user-base needs seamless, high-performance internet across every device.

Because of congestion, mobile networks can’t compete with high-speed broadband internet.

Here, to tackle this challenge, HTTP/2 emerged as a viable solution.

Following are some main benefits of HTTP version 2.

Web Performance

This term sums up all benefits of HTTP v2.

Benchmark results illustrate the performance improvements of HTTP/2 over its old versions and alternatives.

Technologies such as Multiplexing formulate additional space to carry more data simultaneously.

What happens when the data communication mechanism drops all hurdles to increase web performance?

The superior website performance introduces improved customer delight, more solid search engine optimization, resource utilization and high productivity, growing user-base, better sales numbers, and many more.

Mobile Web Performance

The mobile device is the primary gateway to the cyber world for millions of internet users.

Growing online businesses follow a Mobile-First strategy to target the exploding mobile user-base effectively.

HTTP/2 is designed in the context of current-day web usage. It optimizes web experience for mobile users with high performance and security; this was previously only available to desktop users.

HTTP version 2 promises an immediate positive impact on the way e-businesses target buyers currently.

Cheaper Internet

Internet costs drop day by day.

Extending web access and increasing internet speed was always the intention of improvements in internet technologies.

The features of HTTP/2 will allow telecom operators to shrink operational expenses while maintaining high-speed internet standards.

The decreased operational expenses will encourage service providers to cut pricing for the low-end market. It will also introduce high-speed service tiers for the current pricing.

Media Rich Experience

The current web experience is about delivering rich media content faster.

Features like Header Compression reduce a few bytes from the resource-consuming media-rich content transfer.

HTTP/2 SEO Advantage

Old industry processes for search engine optimization go beyond front-end marketing tactics nowadays.

SEO now embraces the entire lifecycle of the client-server communication as well.

Optimizing the infrastructure for HTTP/2 is now critical to search engine optimization.

HTTP/2 Support and Availability

HTTP/2 Can I Use

All modern browsers and servers now support HTTP/2. Web servers like Apache, Nginx, and LiteSpeed support it.

If your website is hosted with Rovity, your website will always have access to modern technologies.

Gifty Antony

Gifty is passionate about Web Development and connected with various communities. She loves WordPress.

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