In February, web engineers released a way to move information over the web. Called HTTP/2, the new protocol is designed to make web traffic faster and more efficient. In the months since it was formally approved, the challenge has been getting the rest of the web to use it.
Today, the protocol is taking a big step forward, thanks to a new deployment from the content distribution network CloudFlare. Starting today, HTTP/2 will be available by default to all the company’s customers, more than doubling the adoption for the fledgling web standard. CEO Matthew Prince says the company has been rolling out support for the protocol slowly over the past week, and company scans indicate three out of four sites using HTTP/2 on the Alexa top million are already doing so through CloudFlare.
Only 2.5 percent of websites currently use HTTP/2
The most noticeable result for users will be faster page speeds. HTTP/2 won’t make pages significantly smaller, but the same data will require fewer round trips to the server, cutting load times by as much as half in some tests. Other features like header compression have been more controversial among engineers, but the protocol still expected to lead to faster pages and less congestion as it spreads across the web.
It’s the broadest deployment yet on the host side, although much of the software that supports the web has already prepared for the transition. Apache added HTTP/2 support to its web server software last month, just a few weeks after Nginx announced support. Browsers are still split, with Chrome and Firefox already supporting the protocol, while Edge and Safari promise support in future versions.
At the moment, HTTP/2 accounts for just a sliver of the web at large. One survey this month found only 2.5 percent of websites using the protocol, although the list already includes Google, Facebook and YouTube. Still, CloudFlare expects today’s announcement to spur adoption. “In order for these protocols to actually take off, you have to have early adopters that are willing to make bets around them,” Prince said. “What we’ve been able to do at CloudFlare is show that some of these things are possible.”