Updating HTTP

Wouldn't it be nice to make an improved protocol? It would...

  1. Be less latency sensitive

  2. Fix pipelining and the head of line blocking problem

  3. Eliminate the need to keep increasing the number of connections to each host

  4. Keep all existing interfaces, all content, the URI formats and schemes

  5. Be made within the IETF's HTTPbis working group

4.1. IETF and the HTTPbis working group

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is an organization that develops and promotes internet standards, mostly on the protocol level. They're widely known for the RFC series of memos documenting everything from TCP, DNS, and FTP, to best practices, HTTP, and numerous protocol variants that never went anywhere.

Within IETF, dedicated “working groups” are formed with a limited scope to work toward a goal. They establish a “charter” with some set guidelines and limitations for what they should produce. Everyone and anyone is allowed to join in the discussions and development. Everyone who attends and says something has the same weight and chance to affect the outcome and everyone is counted as an individual, with little regard to which company they work for.

The HTTPbis working group (see later for an explanation of the name) was formed during the summer of 2007 and tasked with creating an update of the HTTP 1.1 specification. Within this group the discussions about a next-version HTTP really started during late 2012. The HTTP 1.1 updating work was completed early 2014 and resulted in the RFC 7230 series.

The final inter-op meeting for the HTTPbis WG was held in New York City in the beginning of June 2014. The remaining discussions and the IETF procedures performed to actually get the official RFC out continued into the following year.

Some of the bigger players in the HTTP field have been missing from the working group discussions and meetings. I don't want to mention any particular company or product names here, but clearly some actors on the Internet today seem to be confident that IETF will do good without these companies being involved...

4.1.1. The "bis" part of the name

The group is named HTTPbis where the "bis" part comes from the Latin adverb for two. Bis is commonly used as a suffix or part of the name within the IETF for an update or the second take on a spec; in this case, the update to HTTP 1.1.

4.2. http2 started from SPDY

SPDY is a protocol that was developed and spearheaded by Google. They certainly developed it in the open and invited everyone to participate but it was obvious that they benefited by being in control over both a popular browser implementation and a significant server population with well-used services.

When the HTTPbis group decided it was time to start working on http2, SPDY had already proven that it was a working concept. It had shown it was possible to deploy on the Internet and there were published numbers that proved how well it performed. The http2 work began with the SPDY/3 draft that was basically made into the http2 draft-00 with a little search and replace.

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