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Microsoft puts out "HTTP 2.0" server to test the future of the Web

Microsoft this week released “Katana,” a server implementation that will allow developers to begin trying out Microsoft’s version of what could become HTTP 2.0: the future of the Web.

A Microsoft blog post provides the endpoints that can be used in conjunction with an HTTP 2.0-compliant browser, or users can simply download the test code itself and try it out.

Most people rarely consider the incredible complexity of navigating to a specific site on the Web: how the Web address is looked up, translated, and the back-and-forth as data is requested and delivered.

Most of the Web still runs on on HTTP 1.0, the original spec; what’s important is that HTTP 1.0 processes one request at a time. HTTP 1.1, a slight improvement, can still end up clogging the TCP “pipe” when multiple requests are made on a single new TCP connection. HTTP 2.0 hopes to change that, so that multiple page requests can be processed via a single connection to the server, easing the load on the server and the network connecting it.

HTTP 2.0 isn’t a magic bullet, however. What consumers care about is usually just how quickly a webpage loads, however, and there are a number of technologies that, together, can improve it. These include:

  • Preloading or prefetching pages, as modern browsers like Google’s Chrome and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer do, 
  • Rendering them as quickly as possible, and
  • Infrastructure improvements such as faster throughput and HTTP, the negotiation process between webpage and browser.

Enter HTTP 2.0. So far, the draft implementation of HTTP 2.0 has been based on SPDY, the open networking protocol developed by Google, which is supported by all the major browsers, save Safari. SPDY multiplexes webpage requests, so that only one connection is required.

Microsoft , meanwhile, began publishing its own approach last year, known as ”HTTP Speed + Mobility”. Basically, Microsoft believes that HTTP should be optimized not just for browsers, but for applications that access webpages and services, as well as mobile devices and browsers.

At this point, Microsoft and Google have until April 2014 to convince the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to adopt either SPDY, Microsoft’s HTTP Speed + Mobility, or some combination of the two. By November, the IETF is scheduled to submit whatever compromise is hammered out to the Internet Engneering Standards Group as a formal standard.

Whichever standard is implemented should have little impact on users, as it will undoubtedly be quickly supported in various browsers, both for mobile and desktop.

But being able to take credit for architecting the next foundation of the Web would be a nice trophy for either Google or Microsoft, even if the standard should theoretically be supported by the Web at large. If nothing else, it’s another signal that HTTP 2.0 is on its way.

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