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Web acceleration protocol nears completion

Joab Jackson | Aug. 5, 2014
The HTTP/2 protocol will speed Web delivery, though also may put more strain on Web servers as a result.

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When it comes to speeding up Web traffic over the Internet, sometimes too much of a good thing may not be such a good thing at all.

The Internet Engineering Task Force is putting the final touches on HTTP/2, the second version of the Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP). The working group has issued a last call draft, urging interested parties to voice concerns before it becomes a full Internet specification.

Not everyone is completely satisfied with the protocol however.

"There is a lot of good in this proposed standard, but I have some deep reservations about some bad and ugly aspects of the protocol," wrote Greg Wilkins, lead developer of the open source Jetty server software, noting his concerns in a blog item posted Monday.

Others, however, praise HTTP/2 and say it is long overdue.

"A lot of our users are experimenting with the protocol," said Owen Garrett, head of products for server software provider NGINX. "The feedback is that generally, they have seen big performance benefits."

First created by Web originator Tim Berners-Lee and associates, HTTP quite literally powers today's Web, providing the language for a browser to request a Web page from a server.

Version 2.0 of HTTP, based largely on the SPDY protocol developed by Google, promises to be a better fit for how people use the Web.

"The challenge with HTTP is that it is a fairly simple protocol, and it can be quite laborious to download all the resources required to render a Web page. SPDY addresses this issue," Garrett said.

While the first generation of Web sites were largely simple and relatively small, static documents, the Web today is used as a platform for delivering applications and bandwidth intensive real-time multimedia content.

HTTP/2 speeds basic HTTP in a number of ways. HTTP/2 allows servers to send all the different elements of a requested Web page at once, eliminating the serial sets of messages that have to be sent back and forth under plain HTTP.

HTTP/2 also allows the server and the browser to compress HTTP, which cuts the amount of data that needs to be communicated between the two.

As a result, HTTP/2 "is really useful for organization with sophisticated Web sites, particularly when its users are distributed globally or using slower networks -- mobile users for instance," Garrett said.

While enthusiastic about the protocol, Wilkins did have several areas of concern. For instance, HTTP/2 could make it more difficult to incorporate new Web protocols, most notably the communications protocol WebSocket, Wilkins asserted.

Wilkins noted that HTTP/2 blurs what were previously two distinct layers of HTTP -- the semantic layer, which describes functionality, and the framework layer, which is the structure of the message. The idea is that it is simpler to write protocols for a specification with discrete layers.

 

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