Web development

What is HTTP/2?

The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) has been around since the conception of the internet. It’s a protocol that handles the connection between the server and your browser – and it’s finally been updated after its last incremental update in 1999.

HTTP 1.1 is very latency sensitive, which is an issue when even small websites serve users so many files. It was also limited to using one outstanding request per TCP connection, forcing browsers to use multiple TCP connections. Using too many of these connections causes network congestion and unfair monopolisation of network resources. Developers often work around this by using image sprites, concatenating and combining all the CSS and JS files into one file. This isn’t particularly ideal as users won’t need all the CSS and JS served in those single files. Cached files are also served in order to reduce latency and load speed for users and the server.

Why did we need HTTP/2?
The primary goal of HTTP/2 is to reduce latency by fixing the issues outlined above, but it also aims to maintain its compatibility with HTTP 1.1 as well as support more common/modern use cases such as mobile web browsers and content delivery networks. To put it simply, the newer protocol promises to deliver far faster websites for everyone. Have a look at this example to see how fast it is compared to its predecessor.

But I just upgraded my website to HTTPS
HTTPS is a form of encryption for websites, protecting your users and the data they enter into your websites. Without it, the data your users send to your website can be intercepted, spied on or even changed before it gets to the server. When you visit a HTTPS site, the browser and the website will exchange encrypted keys that only your browser and the server can decrypt.

HTTP/2 is completely unrelated to this security protocol – unlike HTTPS it isn’t required and browsers and search engines won’t be warning users against using your website. Think of HTTP/2 as an optional extra to improve your site speed rather than a required improvement to increase security for your users.

Will I need to update my site to work with HTTP/2?
No – developers will have built your site to account for the downfalls found in the older protocol. HTTP/2 is completely backwards compatible and shouldn’t require any website changes. It’s better to think of it as an extension of HTTP 1.1 rather than a direct replacement.

The HTTP/2 change is more server related and you will have to contact your host regarding this. As it’s still very new, many hosting providers are slowly rolling it out. You’ll only find the very large sites using this protocol – YouTube, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and PayPal are already on board. Browsers will also need to support this change and most major ones already do. For any unsupported browsers, the older protocol will be used instead.

At The Bigger Boat we’re always looking at ways of optimising our websites so we’re excited to start implementing HTTP/2 in the near future.


Written by Steven Powers
It’s all about performance for web developer Steven. He’s behind some of our most fascinating builds.