HTTP/2 gets approved, heads to RFC

February 18, 2015 // 11:33 a.m.

Tags: #api #browser #google #http #http2 #hypertext #iesg #ietf #mark-nottingham #server #spdy #web

The IETF HTTP Working Group has officially approved the HTTP/2 specification, bringing the biggest change to the web since the launch of HTTP/1.1 back in 1999.

The HyperText Transport Protocol (HTTP) underpins the web, but has been relatively stagnant since 1999 when the publication of RFC2616 formalised the current version 1.1 of the standard. While HTTP/1.1 has served the web well over the years, it has failed to keep up with the increasing power of modern computing. Traffic is restricted to a set number of connections which fail to make use of modern high-bandwidth connectivity and massively-concurrent processing capabilities. Alternative protocols, like Google's SPDY, show that there is definite room for improvement with up to 64 per cent performance boosts available with purely software changes.

The need for an alternative to HTTP has been obviated with the Internet Engineering Task Force's announcement that HTTP/2 has now been approved as a formal standard. Google itself pledged its support for the fledgling standard earlier this month when it announced the retirement of SPDY, its own protocol for speeding up web traffic. 'Since most of the benefits [of SPDY] are present in HTTP/2, it's time to say goodbye,' developer Chris Bentzel wrote at the time.

HTTP/2's improvements include a reduction in blocking connections, SPDY-like connection multiplexing to decrease the number of individual connections while increasing the number of page items that can be loaded at any one time, header compression, and 'cache pushing,' all of which combine to offer considerable improvements in performance both at server and client sides. While it uses the same application programming interface (API) calls as HTTP/1.1, it is a binary rather than text standard - which makes it unsuitable for selected edge-case scenarios such as manual connection debugging.

While companies like Google are already working on support for HTTP/2, the technology won't see active use in the wild until it's an official standard. The IETF's Internet Engineering Steering Group's approval of the protocol is the first step. 'The IESG has formally approved the HTTP/2 and HPACK specifications, and they’re on their way to the RFC Editor, where they’ll soon be assigned RFC numbers, go through some editorial processes, and be published,' wrote IETF HTTP Working Group chair Mark Nottingham in a blog post on the matter. Nottingham also deflected criticism over Google's involvement in the process, stating that 'while a few have painted Google as forcing the [SPDY] protocol upon us, anyone who actually interacted with [Google's] Mike [Belshe] and Roberto [Peon] in the group knows that they came with the best of intent, patiently explaining the reasoning behind their design, taking in criticism, and working with everyone to evolve the protocol.'

The formal HTTP/2 RFC is expected to be published within weeks, rather than months, at which point browser and server developers will begin rolling out support for the standard.
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