What is http/2 and how can it benefit your website?

In recent years the Internet became so entrenched in our everyday lives we reached a point where we were taxing its existing method of communicating data. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) — yes, that’s a thing — came to the rescue and developed a new protocol to fix it: HTTP/2. It has been available since 2015 and with the kinks now worked out and all major web browsers on board, Limelight Online have begun confidently transferring our clients’ websites across to the new protocol to make them faster and more secure. Today we’d like to answer some questions around HTTP/2… what is it, what are the advantages and is it proven?

What is HTTP/2 and why do we need it?

HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol and it is the foundation of data communication for the web. HTTP/2 is the first major HTTP protocol update since 1997, when HTTP/1.1 was first published by the IETF. HTTP/1.1 has worked well over its lifespan, but as web pages have evolved, loading them has become more challenging for the protocol, which practically allows for only one active and one outstanding request per TCP (transmission control protocol or connection layer between web server and browser) connection. Web browsers tried to get around this by issuing parallel requests between browser and server using multiple TCP connections, but this leads to congestion which harms the network and performance, culminating in a poor user experience.

Put plainly, the limitations of HTTP/1.1 resulted in the industry using workarounds as best practice and it became obvious a new protocol was needed. The IETF’s HTTP Working Group developed HTTP/2, a binary (rather than textual) protocol to address the HTTP/1.1 issues and further progress the World Wide Web. It was published in 2015 and supported by major browsers including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer 11 and Edge.