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CloudFlare intros HTTP/2, so we can ‘spend holiday time with our family’

So … erm, that’s a good thing, probably

By Alexander J Martin, 3 Dec 2015

CloudFlare is introducing HTTP/2 support for all of its users, to be available on all SSL/TLS connections – while still supporting SPDY – so netizens can spend more time with their families instead of waiting for pages to load this Christmas.

Talking to The Register on Tuesday night, CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince explained the company's "multiple step rollout" of the future of the web.

"The first step really started when we turned on TLS. Thursday will be the second step, when we announce base protocol support for everyone," Prince said, before admitting "for most customers we've actually quietly already turned it on."

"The way we do rollouts is roll out to free customers in one particular data centre: free customers in Toronto in this instance. So as of last Wednesday, they went live, so that happened quietly, and over the holiday weekend in the US we've been expanding that to other data centres," said Prince.

"So, by the end of Tuesday we'd be done with the push (so it's in all facilities) and then Wednesday is just a day of buffer before the announcement on Thursday. The third step is what we're doing in the New Year," he added.

Dodging HTTP/2 scanners for "a massive spike" on Thursday, Prince stated that the rollout will be "a Christmas present to the internet".

"This is the first time that the underlying protocol of the internet, HTTP, has been updated since 1998, so it's a pretty big change on one level, but on another level it's just based on a protocol developed by Google called SPDY," said Prince.

While not initially developed to replace HTTP, the method in which it overrides connection management and data transfer formats has substantially informed the Internet Engineering Task Force's HTTP/2.

CloudFlare has supported SPDY for just over three years, and Prince claimed that "75 per cent of the top Alexa websites support SPDY because of CloudFlare".

"When HTTP/2, which was really an outgrowth of SPDY, came out, we committed to making sure this was available to all of our users, including those using our service for free. We don't believe you should pay a tax to be a part of the modern internet," said Prince.

"But the way we approached it was different from how some other vendors did, mostly tearing out SPDY and implementing HTTP/2. We wanted to make sure we covered HTTP 1.1 for the legacy browsers, SPDY for today's browsers (or yesterday's) and then also HTTP/2 for the small handful of browsers than can support it today, and the larger majority that could support it going forward," he added.

Asked whether CloudFlare would roll out the standard NGINX build, or if it had room to bring in some of HTTP/2's cooler features such as Server Push, Prince stated that the company had been using NGINX as part of its core, but it has updated it somewhat.

"The way it was implemented, it tore out the SPDY support and then added in HTTP/2 support," said Prince, "and what we found was if we used the stock NGINX build we would actually make the internet slower for over 50 per cent of our users, as a lot of the traffic came from browsers which supported SPDY and not HTTP/2."

"So we rewrote the module, and we plan to open source that in the new year and give that back to the NGINX community. Server Push will not be initially supported, but have a team working on it internally – and there are two parts to that."

Prince told The Register: "Part one is in supporting it in the NGINX lab, eventually to be contributed back to the open source community. The second part is to use our data to make an intelligent Server Push without you having to make application changes on your side."

"We serve a trillion page views a month across our network, and compared with HTTP 1.1, HTTP/2 for the average site it improves page loading by 2-3 seconds," said Prince. "That's not much, but across a month, that's 95,000 years of loading time saved. This is not just a present to our users, but our customers' customers. Two billion individual people pass through our network, effectively the entire active internet, and while for each one we save a tiny bit of time, it adds up to a lot more time amongst them all."

"That's more time can they can spend with their family during the holidays," Prince joked.

"HTTP/2 will be on by default for free and pro+ customers," said Prince, "then for business and large customers, including the UK government, it will be an option they can toggle on in their control panel starting on Thursday." ®

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