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Hypertext Transfer Protocol, HTTP, is a key component of the world wide web. It is the communications layer through which web browsers request web pages from web servers and with which web servers respond with the contents of the page. Like much of the internet it’s been around for decades, but a recent announcement reveals that HTTP/2, the first major update in 15 years, is about to arrive.

The original HTTP protocol was the protocol first used by Sir Tim Berners-Lee at CERN where the web was created in 1991. This was improved over many years and finalised as HTTP 1.1 in 1999, the current standard used worldwide. Over the years the web has changed dramatically, introducing images, complex style sheets and Javascript code, Flash and other embedded elements and more. The original HTTP was a simple protocol for a simple web, it was not designed to handle increasingly media-rich websites.

For example, Google handles 40,000 web searches per second every day. To handle the pressure of serving billions of internet users, the company’s technicians launched a project in 2009 called SPDY (pronounced “speedy”) to improve HTTP. Originally only for internal use, other sites fielding heavy traffic such as Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and CloudFlare also implemented SPDY having seen its performance improvements.

This caught the attention of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which develops and promotes internet standards. IETF decided to use SPDY as the basis for HTTP/2 in 2012 — and the two protocols were developed in parallel. Even though Google spearheaded the protocol’s development, the work is continued by the IETF’s open working groups as it has done for other protocols for more than 30 years.

Google recently announced it was dropping SPDY in favour of the soon-to-arrive HTTP/2.