We’re going to take you through all the key differences in the battle between HTTP vs HTTPS protocols, leaving you with everything you need to know about how they affect your, your business’s, and your customer’s data security. Though if you want the very, very short version, all you need to know is that HTTPS websites are now the vast majority of the internet (largely because of Google and Chrome, but also because it’s a good idea) and users are going to wonder why yours isn’t protecting their sensitive data. But if you want to know more, we’ll go into more and more detail as this article goes on.

HTTP: The Postcard of the Internet

HTTP, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol, is the old-school way web browsers and web servers chat. It’s been around since the dawn of the World Wide Web. Think of it as sending a postcard; your message is out there for anyone to see if they fancy a peek.

Here’s the thing: HTTP is straightforward. It does its job – transferring html data from Point A (the server) to Point B (your browser). No frills, no fuss. But, and it’s a big but, it’s not secure. If you’re just browsing the digital equivalent of window shopping, HTTP might do. But enter personal data? That’s like sticking your heading a pool of sharks. Let’s just not.

HTTPS: Sealing the Envelope with a Digital Kiss

Enter HTTPS, or as the folks with too much time on their hands call it, Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. This is HTTP’s more sophisticated sibling. It’s like sending your data in a sealed envelope instead of a postcard. HTTPS encrypts the information sent between your browser and the server. It’s the digital equivalent of a secret handshake.

What makes HTTPS the hero in our story? It’s all about SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Layer Security). These technologies create a secure channel over an insecure network. So, even if someone intercepts your data, all they get is a bunch of gibberish.

Why HTTPS is the Way to Go

  1. Security: The most obvious reason. Protecting user data is crucial, especially if you’re handling sensitive information like credit card numbers or personal details.
  2. Trust: A website with HTTPS shows its visitors that it cares about their security. Most browsers mark HTTPS sites as secure, giving users peace of mind.
  3. SEO Benefits: Yes, search engines like Google give preference to secure websites. If you’re in the business of ranking high (who isn’t?), HTTPS is your friend.
  4. Data Integrity: HTTPS reduces the risk of files being corrupted during transfer. You get what you’re supposed to get, no nasty surprises.
  5. Authentication: It assures your users that they are indeed talking to your server, not an imposter.

How They Both Work

We’ve told you what, but if you’re the seriously curious type, you probably want to know why and how HTTP and HTTPS connections work differently. How

Accessing a Page via HTTP: A Simple Conversation

When you access a website using HTTP, here’s the play-by-play:

  1. URL Typing: It starts with you typing a website’s URL into your browser. Let’s say, http://example.com.
  2. DNS Lookup: Your browser asks a DNS server (think internet phonebook) for the IP address associated with example.com.
  3. Browser-Server Handshake: Once the IP address is found, your browser sends a request to the server at that address. It’s like knocking on the server’s door and saying, “Hey, can I see example.com?”
  4. Data Transfer: The server, if all goes well, responds with, “Sure, here it is!” and sends the website’s data back to your browser in plain text.
  5. Page Display: Your browser takes this data and displays the webpage for you to see.

This process is fast and straightforward but is not secure. Since the data is in plain text, anyone eavesdropping on the network can see everything.

Accessing a Page via HTTPS: A Secure Handshake

With HTTPS, the process gets a security upgrade:

  1. URL Typing: Just like before, you type a URL, but this time it’s https://example.com.
  2. DNS Lookup: Same deal – your browser finds the IP address for the website.
  3. Secure Handshake: This is where things change. When your browser connects to the server, it asks for a valid SSL/TLS certificate. It’s the server’s way of proving its identity.
  4. Encryption Key Exchange: Once the certificate checks out, your browser and the server agree on encryption keys. These keys will encrypt and decrypt all the data sent between them.
  5. Data Transfer: Now, when the server sends the website data, it’s encrypted. To anyone eavesdropping, it looks like gibberish.
  6. Page Display: Your browser decrypts the data using the agreed-upon key and then displays the webpage.

This secure connection ensures that even if someone intercepts the data, they can’t understand it without the encryption key. It’s like sending a coded message that only the intended recipient can decode.

The HTTPS Security Protocol in Action

The magic of HTTPS lies in the SSL/TLS protocol. It provides:

  • Encryption: Using an algorithm to make the data unreadable to anyone who doesn’t have the key.
  • Data Integrity: Ensuring the data isn’t tampered with during transmission (by the dreaded man-in-the-middle attack).
  • Authentication: Verifying that the website is indeed the website it claims to be.

In Summary: HTTP vs HTTPS in Action

While HTTP is like having a loud conversation in a crowded room, HTTPS is like having a confidential chat in a soundproof, secure room. The processes might seem similar, but the security level is worlds apart. These days, when privacy and security are vital, the extra steps taken by HTTPS’s encrypted connection to keep your data safe from hackers are not just valuable; they’re essential.

HTTP/2: the Future

There’s one more reason to make sure your website (whether blog or fully-featured e-commerce megastore) is working with HTTPS, and that’s how the entire way we access pages is changing. Honestly, in truth, it’s already mostly changed. Let’s talk HTTP/2.

In many ways, HTTP/2 is the same as the older HTTP/1.1, but with some nifty features under the hood that make the whole web browsing experience faster and more efficient.

  1. Multiplexing: The star feature of HTTP/2. Imagine being able to have multiple conversations with the same person simultaneously without getting confused. That’s multiplexing. It allows multiple requests and responses between your browser and the server to happen at the same time over a single connection. This is a huge step up from the old HTTP/1.1, where each request needed a separate connection, with the prior request having to be finished before you can move onto the next one.
  2. Server Push: In the HTTP/1.1 world, your browser asks for a webpage and then waits to see what it needs next, often leading to back-and-forth requests that slow things down. HTTP/2 introduces Server Push, where the server can send multiple responses at once. That way, they can anticipate your response, and already be sending the next few things you’ll need. All of which means everything is faster.

When HTTP/2 met HTTPS

Now, here’s where HTTPS comes into play. Initially, HTTP/2 was designed to be protocol-agnostic, meaning it could work with both HTTP and HTTPS. However, in practice, almost all browsers only support HTTP/2 over HTTPS. This requirement ties back to our earlier point about security. With HTTP/2’s new capabilities, like multiplexing, the need for a secure transmission becomes even more crucial to protect against potential vulnerabilities.

When you visit an HTTPS website today, you’re likely benefiting from HTTP/2 without even realising it. And if you want your websites to get that extra speed, you’re going to have to go with HTTPS yourself.

Making the Switch to HTTPS

Switching from HTTP to HTTPS is like moving from a dodgy neighbourhood to a gated community. You’ll need an SSL/TLS certificate, which is like your digital ID card. This certificate tells browsers, “Yep, it’s really me. You can trust this connection.”

Most web hosting services offer easy ways to get these digital certificates. Some, like OnlyDomains, will throw in simple ones for free when you get a domain name or web hosting through them.

In Conclusion: HTTP vs HTTPS

In the end, the fight between HTTP vs HTTPS is a no-brainer. Sure, HTTP might still work for a basic blog or information site. But for anything more, especially if you’re handling user data, HTTPS is the way to go. It’s about ensuring a secure, trustworthy, and professional presence on the web. And users look for a telltale padlock icon, while browsers will scream bloody murder if it’s missing.

So, next time you’re browsing the web or setting up your website, think about whether you’re sending a postcard or a sealed letter. In the digital world, it’s always better to keep it sealed with HTTPS.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is HTTPS Important for Websites?

All website owners, whether you do online banking or social media, should use HTTPS to protect users’ data, gain their trust, and improve search engine rankings. HTTPS encrypts user data, reducing the risk of data breaches and eavesdropping. Additionally, search engines like Google prioritise HTTPS websites in search results, making it crucial for SEO.

Can HTTP/2 Work Without SSL/TLS Encryption?

Technically, HTTP/2 can work without SSL/TLS encryption, but most browsers require a secure connection (HTTPS) to utilise HTTP/2. This requirement ensures that the enhanced performance of HTTP/2 is coupled with the security benefits of HTTPS.

Can HTTP/2 be used with both HTTP and HTTPS?

While HTTP/2 is designed to be compatible with both HTTP and HTTPS, in practice, it is predominantly used over HTTPS. Most modern browsers support HTTP/2 only when used with HTTPS, making the secure version essential for leveraging the performance benefits of HTTP/2 and giving your site’s visitors a better user experience.

Do I Need to Change My Website to HTTPS?

Yup. Switching to HTTPS is really important to protect your users’ data and improve your site’s credibility and search engine ranking. It’s just not the type of thing you can avoid doing anymore, because not only are users checking for the padlock next to their address bar, but you’re also missing out on the performance benefits of HTTP/2. And with most web hosting providers giving free SSL/TLS certificates and easy integration offered by most hosting services, if you want to enable HTTPS it’s easy than ever to do.

What’s the Difference between HTML vs HTTP?

Despite both being four-letter acronyms beginning with an H and involving webpages, the two are actually very different things. HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) is the code that describes and defines what a webpage will be and includes all its content, whether it’s blue, red, or shapeshifting. HTTP (and HTTPS) are the way your computer accesses a website’s HTML. HTTPS and HTTP work with HTML to bring the internet to you.

Which port should be used for HTTPS connections?

The standard port used for HTTPS connections is port 443. When a web browser connects to a website using HTTPS, it uses this port by default to establish a secure communication channel. This is different from HTTP, which typically uses port 80. Using port 443 for HTTPS ensures that the data transmitted between the client (like a web browser) and the server is encrypted for security. This port is an integral part of the HTTPS protocol, providing a dedicated pathway for secure communications over the Internet.

What does HTTPS mean?

HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. It’s the secure version of the older HTTP and is a way to keep the user data you input to a website safe. You can check for it by looking for the padlock icon in your address bar.

How to Get an HTTPS Certificate?

It’s easy to get an HTTPS certificate, also known as an SSL/TLS certificate. In fact, most companies that offer web hosting (like us) offer you one for free, just because it’s such a vital part of owning a website today. Honestly, if your provider hasn’t offered you a certificate for free, you might want to look to move.

And if you need even more security, there are even more powerful versions of SSL Certificates available, which guarantee you larger amounts, though they tend to come at a price.

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