HTTP and HTTPS
When we compare HTTP and HTTPS, we must first understand what each of them means. Once we understand the definitions, we can conduct a meaningful comparison.
What is HTTP?
HTTP is an abbreviation for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. It’s a way of sending files from a networked computer to another networked computer on the Internet.
Communication occurs when a computer sends and receives HTTP requests and responses over the World Wide Web. The Hypertext Transfer Protocol was created to enable hypertext and the World Wide Web. It works in a client-server computing model.
When a client sends an HTTP request, the server loads an application to process the request. The application returns output in an HTTP response that the server sends back to the client.
When you see ‘HTTP’ in the name of a “Protocol”, it means that the language used conforms to the set of rules specified in the HTTP protocol. HTTP is one of the Internet Protocol Suite, a series of protocols used on the Internet and other IP-based networks.
The “Transfer” part of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol indicates that information is transferred over the web. This information can be text, graphics, images, audio, video, or other multimedia.
The term ‘HyperText’ in the name HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) refers to the ability of documents to contain links that they can access immediately by a mouse click.
Therefore, hypertext documents can contain links to other files, which will cause an additional transfer request upon their selection. HTTP is a set of rules governing the transfer of hypertext files over the World Wide Web.
What is HTTPS?
Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is a protocol for secure communication between a web server and a browser.
The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) works as plain text and can be intercepted or modified by outside sources with relative ease. HTTPS was developed to protect HTTP from these kinds of attacks.
The “S” at the end of HTTPS stands for “Secure.” HTTPS is an extension of HTTP, a standard protocol used on the Internet that allows people to share information over a network with privacy and data integrity. HTTPS also falls in the application layer of the Internet Protocol Suite.
The secure HTTP protocol is sometimes called HTTPS, indicating that it uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) or Secure Socket Layer (SSL) as a sublayer to encrypt the communication protocol. It utilizes a digital certificate to establish a secure connection between the client and server.
HTTPS provides both authentications of the accessed website and data protection in transit. That is, HTTPS assures secure communication. In addition to providing bidirectional encryption between client and server, HTTPS also protects against eavesdropping and tampering of the message.
When you use a web browser such as Chrome, Internet Explorer, or any other, you will see an icon of a padlock.
Image of lock screen in a web browser
This lock icon indicates that a secure (HTTPS) connection is adequate.
The Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) was initially adopted in financial transactions, such as online shopping and e-banking. In recent times, HTTPS has been widely implemented in many websites to ensure data authenticity and security of transactions.
How does HTTPS work?
As mentioned above, HTTPS uses either SSL or TLS to encrypt web traffic. Both SSL and TLS are based on an asymmetric key algorithm, which pairs two keys: public and private keys.
Private keys are kept with the web servers of secure websites. The public key is distributed to clients through a Certificate Authority.
To ensure that no one can read any data in transit between a web server and an end user’s web browser, HTTPS uses encryption to protect data sent across the Internet. Data is encrypted by a web server using a unique encryption key—random numbers—and an encryption algorithm. The encrypted data is decrypted on the user’s end by reversing the encryption process and retrieving the original data.
“Symmetric encryption” is used when both ends of a communication channel use the same key to encrypt and decrypt information. An excellent example of symmetric encryption is WiFi (used in homes) because both the router and laptop share the same password.
In “Asymmetric encryption”, the encryption key and the decryption key are different and are used in the initial exchange of messages between a web browser and a server.
Secure websites are equipped with a unique digital certificate purchased from GeoTrust, GoDaddy, etc.
In the context of HTTPS, the process can be divided into two steps
When entering a URL like www.Yahoo.com, the Yahoo web server provides both a “Certificate”—signed by any Certificate Authority—and its “public key” to the user’s Web browser.
Web browsers contain a list of public keys provided by foremost registered Certificate Authorities. Browsers will check that these keys match the digitally signed certificate referenced. If the public key can decrypt the certificate, users will only see a green padlock before the URL.
If the public key does not match, the connection will be terminated, and the red cross symbol will show up at the beginning of the URL. This process is called handshaking.
Encryption uses a combination of a public key and a private key to scramble data. The public key is used for encryption, and the private key is decryption. It means that asynchronous communication is used when encryption takes place.
As mentioned above, when you go to www.yahoo.com, data is sent from the server encrypted through a public key. This public key is not shared, so any attempt to decrypt the data would be impossible without the private key.
A third key, called a session key, is created by the web browser for each server. The session key gets encrypted using the public key received from the server and is shared with the server. The server decrypts the session key to identify an individual user using its private key.
Now, the user and server are said to be communicating with session keys, both of which are identical. If the user’s machine and server remain in the same session, they will continue to use symmetric encryption until the session ends by closing the website.
Difference Between HTTP and HTTPS
- HTTP URLs begin with the characters HTTP: // and default to port 80.
- HTTP is unsecured and vulnerable to Man-in-the-Middle attacks, resulting in an injection of viruses or the leaking of sensitive information to attackers.
- Does not use SSL or data encryption for communication.
- Content suitable for use on websites such as blogs, forums, educational sites, entertainment, and articles.
- Due to its simplicity, HTTP is faster than HTTPS. It is a stateless protocol; information from preceding web sessions is not recalled.
- Visitors feel uncertain about security measures and do not want to risk leaked sensitive information.
- Cannot use Accelerated mobile pages (AMP) with HTTP.
- HTTP URLs begin with the characters https: // and default to port 443
- HTTPs are encrypted, a secure communication protocol that can resist attacks and provide authentication, privacy, and security.
- Uses SSL or data encryption for communication.
- It is the best fit for websites that collect private or sensitive information, such as payment gateways and shopping sites.
- Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is slower than Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). It is because establishing secure sessions takes up coprocessing time.
- The website uses encryption to ensure visitors’ sensitive information is kept private.
- HTTPS allows you to use the AMP framework.
HTTP vs HTTPS Performance
Generally, web page load times are shorter on HTTP than on HTTPS. The SSL handshake step slightly delays the page-loading process. Still, again this depends on several things such as the session length, the ratio of static vs dynamic content, client-side caching behavior, and hardware/server specs.
For example, a website that loads dynamic content will experience more minor time delays with HTTPS than one that requires strong security measures. Static content, however, adds an extra time burden on SSL’s encryption algorithm because each page is generated separately. Also, the SSL handshake process; however, long sessions will experience this time delay only at the beginning of the session, and subsequent requests will be faster.
The security benefits of using HTTPS are worth the slight performance delays compared to HTTP.
Additionally, there are several available ways to enhance https performance
HTTP/2: The latest version of HTTP, HTTP/2, features several benefits, including multiplexing and concurrency, header compression, stream dependency, and server push.
Brotli compression: An algorithm that reduces bandwidth consumption while improving content load time.
HPACK compression: It reduces the size of HTTP headers by 30 percent and is resistant to compression-based attacks
OCSP (Online certificate status protocol) Stapling: It is a method to check the validity of an SSL certificate.
CDN: CDN (content delivery networks) is used to rapidly deliver data to internet users, reducing HTTP waiting and TCP/TLS handshakes.
In this article, we explored the basics of HTTP and HTTPS protocols and identified their differences. HTTP provides a framework for data transfer between client and server, whereas HTTPS adds a layer of security by facilitating three main goals: privacy, integrity, and authentication.
Though the performance of HTTPS may be slower than that of HTTP, security-conscious users should opt to use HTTPS due to its benefits.
An ever-expanding number of ways exist to optimize HTTPS performance, and currently, the protocol is growing faster than ever.
For more information on HTTP and HTTPS, contact Ahbiv. We are here to guide you through the process.