What is HTTP?

HTTP, short for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, is the foundation of any data exchange on the Web, and it is a protocol used for transmitting hypertext requests and information between servers and browsers. It’s a client-server protocol, meaning requests are initiated by the recipient, usually the web browser. A complete document is reconstructed from the different sub-documents fetched.

What is HTTP/1.1?

HTTP/1.1 is the version of HTTP that has powered the Web for many years. Introduced in 1997, it significantly improved HTTP/1.0, such as persistent connections, chunked transfer coding, and content negotiation. However, it is a text-based protocol that is delivered over TCP, and it suffers from a few issues that have a significant impact on web performance:

  1. Head-of-line blocking arises because only one request can be outstanding on a TCP connection at a time.
  2. Uncompressed headers: Headers are sent in plaintext and are not compressed, which can add unnecessary network traffic.
  3. Redundant headers: Often, many duplicate headers are sent, which, again, contribute to unnecessary data being transmitted.

What is HTTP/2?

HTTP/2, standardized in 2015, is a binary protocol designed to overcome many of the limitations and inefficiencies of HTTP/1.1. It was based on Google’s SPDY protocol, which had similar goals. Here are some of the key features that make HTTP/2 superior:

  1. Multiplexing: Multiple requests and responses can be sent simultaneously, significantly reducing the head-of-line blocking problem faced in HTTP/1.1.
  2. Prioritization: HTTP/2 allows browsers to specify how vital a resource they’re requesting is. If there’s contention for network resources, the most critical resources are sent down the wire first.
  3. Header compression: HTTP/2 compresses HTTP headers using HPACK compression, which reduces the overhead of small HTTP requests.
  4. Server Push: This feature allows the server to send resources the client hasn’t yet requested, anticipating future needs and thus improving load times.

What is prioritization, and how does it affect performance?

Prioritization in HTTP/2 allows browsers to specify how vital a resource they’re requesting is. The server can then use this information to make smarter decisions about resource allocation. This becomes crucial when dealing with multiple requests from the same client.

The client can specify the dependency level between resources and their relative importance. This can lead to a significant performance boost, as servers are better equipped to handle multiple simultaneous requests, delivering higher priority resources first and ensuring that essential demands don’t get stuck behind less important ones.

Other Differences Impacting Performance

The server push capability in HTTP/2 allows servers to send additional cacheable information to the client that isn’t requested but is anticipated. This is a significant improvement over HTTP/1.1, where each request had to be initiated by the client.

HTTP/2 is also a binary protocol, which is easier for a server to parse, more compact, and less error-prone compared to the textual nature of HTTP/1.1.

What is HTTP/3?

HTTP/3 is the next iteration of the HTTP protocol, and it’s one of the most significant changes yet. The main difference is that it uses QUIC, a transport layer protocol that uses UDP instead of TCP. This mitigates the head-of-line blocking problem at the transport layer, providing more reliable performance over poor network conditions.

QUIC provides multiplexing and prioritization like HTTP/2, but it also introduces connection migration, which means if a client changes network interfaces, such as switching from Wi-Fi to 4G, the connection can survive this change.

1. Nginx: Since version 1.9.5, Nginx has included support for HTTP/2. To enable it, include the ‘http2’ parameter in your ‘listen’ directives in your server configuration:

listen 443 ssl http2;

2. Apache: Apache supports HTTP/2 from version 2.4.17 onwards through mod_http2. Enable it by including these lines in your configuration:

LoadModule http2_module modules / mod_http2.so
Listen 443
  < VirtualHost *: 443 >
    Protocols h2 http / 1.1
</VirtualHost >

Remember, SSL must be enabled to use HTTP/2, as most browsers only support HTTP/2 over HTTPS.

3. HAProxy: Starting from version 2.0, HAProxy has HTTP/2 support. Enable it in the ‘bind’ directive in your configuration:

frontend www
bind *: 443 ssl crt / etc / haproxy / ssl / myssl.crt alpn h2, http / 1.1

Always test your configuration after enabling HTTP/2 to ensure it works correctly.

HTTP/2 and HTTP/3 continue to evolve the internet, offering improved performance and reliability. By understanding these technologies, developers can make better choices for delivering their content to the end-users.