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Feb 11 2015

Google to Ditch SPDY for HTTP/2

Server developers beware: the search-giant-cum-ad-seller-and-ICT-company has announced it will cease to support SPDY and several other extensions and plug-ins that help optimize web protocols and browser performance and switch to up-and-coming technologies instead. Despite Google's enthusiasm, the idea will inevitably draw criticism from security experts, privacy groups and open source developers alike.

The idea was first publicized on Monday this week in a post on the Chromium blog. As it stands, Google plans to dump its self-developed web accelerator SPDY – which is supported by all major web browsers – in favor of the yet-to-be-standardized HTTP/2. In a first move forward, the company's browser team will begin to gradually roll out HTTP/2 support in Chrome 40, the latest stable version that has been available for download since last week.

According to blog authors Bence Béky and Chris Bentzel, Google thinks the switch is unavoidable because of the massive performance improvements HTTP/2 is expected to bring. Developers from the HTTPbis Working Group, which has been entrusted with designing the successor to 1999's HTTP 1.1, describe the new standard as an "optimized expression of the syntax" of HTTP that would enable "a more efficient use of network resources and a reduced perception of latency by introducing header field compression and allowing multiple concurrent messages on the same connection." In other words, it's supposed to speed up response times, reduce unnecessary protocol and traffic overhead, and help avoid network congestion. What's more, HTTP/2 allows for request prioritization and enables more lasting connections, which ultimately leads to better network utilization. For detailed information, see the latest HTTP/2 draft published in November 2014. A brief overview of possible criticisms is here.

Along with SPDY, Google will also quit supporting NPN, the Next Protocol Negotiation Extension currently used to specify the transport and usage details for application layer protocols. NPN will be replaced with ALPN (short for: Application-Layer Protocol Negotiation Extension), an addition to the TLS standard that allows the application layer to decide which channel will actually be used if a TCP or UDP port supports more than one protocol.

Implementing HTTP/2 and ALPN support is obviously part of a larger project in which Google tries to clean up its Chrome browser's code base. Among the excess baggage that has been dropped from the most recent edition was support for the SSL 3.0 protocol and NPAPI plug-ins – which means that from now on, Chrome will enforce TLS connections without offering downgrade options and no longer displays Silverlight content.


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