Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)

Last Updated: April 30, 2020

Definition - What does Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) mean?

Hypertext transfer protocol or HTTP is a fundamental protocol used on the Internet in order to control data transfer to and from a hosting server, in communication with a web browser.

HTTP is the essential means of communication between web users and the servers that maintain the websites themselves.

Techopedia explains Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)

As a stateless protocol, HTTP is not inherently saving user settings — so items like cookies are used to help the web sites and servers to “remember” what a user has done.

The use of user-accessible tools means users can choose to erase cookies and other tools and start over again as anonymous users, or save these markers so that they can bypass all of that “getting to know” the hosting server’s site again.

In some ways, HTTP has been useful in transitioning web use into a really stable stateful result — but users who delete all cookies and stored data for the first time may be dismayed by how much of their daily web routine is compromised.

Early HTTP

Let's talk about some of the essential parts of the HTTP header. HTTP request and response headers define the operating parameters of HTTP transactions.

A request structure typically contains the URL with a method, and defines the protocol.

Then there are various standard and non-standard request fields that all trigger different interactions.

A simple way to think of this is that the HTTP codes and fields are, again, the way that the two transacting parties communicate — browsers send the request to the server, and the servers send the responses, also in HTTP syntax.

Universalizing this in the context of hypertext syntax makes sense and is a part of how groups like the World Wide Web Consortium or W3C approached building the Internet as it exists today.

Making HTTP Secure

Over time, a new protocol called HTTPS emerged, which encrypts the contents of HTTP messages with Transport Layer Security and Secure Dockets Layer or TLS/SSL protocols.

Close-up view of a computer screen with a web browser with text "http www" and a frame with domain names

Prior to this, in many cases, hackers could simply go in and type in additions or amendments to the actual request in their browser URL bar, before triggering the request itself. That led to all sorts of security vulnerabilities where bad actors were getting control of or access to systems.

Because HTTPS encrypts the actual HTTP syntax, it's effective in safeguarding against this kind of activity.

Tracking and Interactivity

As the web becomes more complex, HTTP is evolving, too. The ways that web users and sites interact have been subject to some pretty significant evolutions over the last couple of decades.

For example, in general, the era of Web 2.0 has been a time in which company and other websites have become more interactive. There are more user registration fields and other user events embedded in web pages in general, and all of these have to be managed with HTTP, or more accurately HTTPS.

Then there's the news of a future web 3.0, which will rely on technologies like JSON to accommodate more data mapping, more semantic connection and more automation of browser and server interactions.

HTTP itself might undergo a lot more future change to accommodate this — but for now, HTTPS remains a foundational aspect of Internet security and function.

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