INTERNAUT

New HTTP standard will likely speed up online transactions

Shawn P. McCarthy

The next-generation Hypertext Transport Protocol will restructure the Web's foundation.

A working group of the World Wide Web Consortium at www.w3.org is collaborating with the Internet Engineering Task Force to make HTTP-NG a Net standard within two years. Agencies concerned about security and authentication will benefit most from the changes.

HTTP 1.1, the Web protocol invoked by typing a Web address, finds servers, retrieves documents and understands hyperlinks.

It has changed little in the past five years. But HTTP needs refreshment because users no longer simply view pages. They broadcast streaming media, bid in online auctions, secure purchase forms and dispatch roaming agents. The key word for HTTP-NG is modular. Until developers can focus on the components, new applications must continue to be layered over HTTP.

Tar Heel thoughts

W3 documents, many written by Simon Spero of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, point out that HTTP initiates a new connection for every request.

That wastes time in each transaction, burdening servers and networks. HTTP-NG, under development for about three years, can send many different requests over a single connection. The client need not wait for a response before sending other requests. The server can respond to requests in any order, assigning priorities and interweaving data from multiple objects.

Multiple data streams are possible because HTTP-NG sends its messages and data using a session layer that breaks the connection into multiple channels, including a control channel.

Web and flow

As the Web gears up for multimedia, this could become important. It will be easier for firewalls to tell what data is moving in and out.

The full impact of HTTP-NG won't be felt until new browsers and servers take advantage of it.

Even then, users won't see much difference except for speed.

Take a look at the experimental Java Web server called Jigsaw 2.0 at jigsaw.w3.org/ if you are interested in testing HTTP-NG.


Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at smccarthy@lycos.com.

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