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HTTP/2 Will Bring Significant Speed Improvements For CDN Customers

HTTP2Lately content owners have been asking me about HTTP/2 and what my opinion is on how it will impact the future of the content delivery business. The current HTTP protocol has worked well for a long time and was aligned with the needs of web developers when it was widely adopted around 1997. However, since then, webpages require much more external resources, bigger images, and today’s webpage are significantly different from those in the late 90’s. HTTP/2 brings multiple ways to align the needs of content owners and developers and is the future of how most content will be delivered in the near future.

One of the biggest advantages of the new protocol version is a significant speed improvement of data transfers, mainly due to lower latencies. For average bandwidth speed, it has been proven for latencies to have bigger impact on loading time than the actual connection speed. Simply put, the HTTP/2 protocol enables serving multiple requests in parallel over a single TCP connection, instead of one request per connection in the legacy version. Loading times are also reduced by compressing HTTP headers, transferring binary data (as opposed to textual in HTTP 1.x) and many other features. It also works great for connections that are unstable and have high latencies (typically mobile devices, third world countries etc.), however the difference is visible at almost any network/device. HTTP/2 is currently supported by all major browsers. It is safe with the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox (using TLS), Internet Explorer 11 (on Windows 10), Opera 28+ and Safari 9+.

Since HTTP/2 is still new, there are certain applications (like CDN, for example) where no one has run HTTP/2 at big scale yet. Some CDNs are still testing it (beta), some are thinking about it and some are waiting for others to confirm it is stable. The first CDN I saw to put it into action is CDN77. The company told me they decided to make it live across their entire network only “after extreme load testing” since generally, servers don’t support HTTP/2 by default. You need to activate it manually and make sure it scales. Some CDN77 customers I’ve spoken to are already using it and have reported that it is stable and works fine. The company’s testing showed that for sites which needed 6.5 seconds to load via HTTP 1.x it only takes 2.7 seconds to load over HTTP/2, a 58% improvement.

HTTP/2 is all about speed and reliability. Given the way it works it can send all the resources in much shorter time, and in extreme cases even several times faster, usually around half the time. Implementation of HTTP/2 brings two advantages at once to content owners. It combines the new faster protocol together with the usual advantage of a CDN, serving content from a location closest to the user. HTTP/2 is the future of the content delivery business and by next year, I expect all third-party CDN service providers to roll it out across their network. If you want to see a difference of the two protocols in action, check out this live demo page CDN77 has set up at www.http2demo.io