The foundation of data communication on the web is set to get its first major update since HTTP 1.1 was adopted in 1999. Today the IETF HTTP Working Group has announced it formally approved the HTTP/2 specification, which will now go through some editorial processes before being published as a new standard to be used in browsers and web services.

The proposed standard is actually based on a custom version of the SPDY protocol created by Google -- pronounced “speedy”. Among its several improvements are header field compression, multiplexing to support multiple requests to web servers via a single connection, and cache pushing. All of this results in a faster and more efficient web both at server and client sides. 

Currently, SPDY offers some of these benefits and is already integrated into Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox. However, aside from some major players like Facebook, Twitter and Google, the protocol is not widely supported across the web. To that end Google has already announced it'll combine efforts by retiring SPDY and switching to HTTP/2 in Chrome going forward.

HTTP/2 uses the same HTTP APIs that developers are familiar with so the transition, while it may require so tweaking, won’t be as cumbersome to the parties involved. Mark Nottingham, chair of the IETF HTTP Working Group, explains that HTTP/2 is not about pushing a completely new standard, rather about "getting the HTTP we know on the wire in a better way.”

The original plan for the new standard was to have TLS encryption built in too, but it was decided against because it could present some challenges to network operators. That said, HTTP/2 may indirectly end up making the internet safer regardless, as Firefox and Chrome developers have said that they won't support HTTP/2 unless it does support encryption. So, sites that want to get the benefit of faster browsing will need to implement TLS.