Not coincidentally, that standards body, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), is meeting this week to discuss the future of the venerable Hypertext Transfer Protocol, better known as HTTP. On the agenda is creating HTTP 2.0, a faster, modern approach to internet communication.
One candidate for HTTP 2.0 is Google’s SPDY protocol. Pronounced “speedy,” Google’s proposal would replace the HTTP protocol – the language currently used when your browser talks to a web server. When you request a webpage or a file from a server, chances are your browser sends that request using HTTP. The server answers using HTTP, too. This is why “http” appears at the beginning of most web addresses.
The SPDY protocol handles all the same tasks as HTTP, but SPDY can do it all about 50 per cent faster. Chrome and Firefox both support SPDY and several large sites, including Google and Twitter, are already serving pages over SPDY where possible.
Part of the IETF’s agenda this week is to discuss the SPDY proposal, and the possibility of turning it into a standard.
But now Microsoft is submitting another proposal for the IETF to consider.
Microsoft’s new HTTP Speed+Mobility lacks a catchy name, but otherwise appears to cover much of the same territory SPDY has staked out. Though details on exactly what HTTP Speed+Mobility entails are thin, judging by the blog post announcing it, HTTP Speed+Mobility builds on SPDY but also includes improvements drawn from work on the HTML5 WebSockets API. The emphasis is on not just the web and web browsers, but mobile apps.
“We think that apps – not just browsers – should get faster,” writes Microsoft’s Jean Paoli, General Manager of Interoperability Strategy.
To do that, Microsoft’s HTTP Speed+Mobility “starts from both the Google SPDY protocol and the work the industry has done around WebSockets.” What’s unclear from the initial post is exactly where HTTP Speed+Mobility goes from that hybrid starting point.
But clearly Microsoft isn’t opposed to SPDY. “SPDY has done a great job raising awareness of web performance and taking a ‘clean slate’ approach to improving HTTP,” writes Paoli. “The main departures from SPDY are to address the needs of mobile devices and applications.”
SPDY co-inventor Mike Belshe writes on Google+ that he welcomes Microsoft’s efforts and looks forward to “real-world performance metrics and open source implementations so that we can all evaluate them.”
Belshe also notes that Microsoft’s implication that SPDY is not optimised for mobile “is not true.” Belshe says that the available evidence suggests that developers are generally happy using SPDY in mobile apps, “but it could always be better, of course.”
The process of creating a faster HTTP replacement will not mean simply picking any one vendor’s protocol and standardising it. Hopefully the IETF will take the best ideas from all sides and combine them into a single protocol that can speed up the web. The exact details – and any potential speed gains – from Microsoft’s HTTP Speed+Mobility contribution remain to be seen, but the more input the IETF gets the better HTTP 2.0 will likely be.
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