HTTP/1.1 hits the press! [Markoff]

Rohit Khare (
Tue, 18 Feb 1997 12:10:35 -0500 (EST)

The New York Times
New Software Expected to Cut Web Delays
The World Wide Wait may be coming to an end.
The explosive growth of the World Wide Web in the last five years has
created increasing computer traffic jams as the number of users has
continued to outstrip the hardware and data-network resources on which
the Internet is based.
But now a group of researchers has demonstrated that not all of the
congestion results from the sheer weight of the millions of new users
trying to squeeze onto the Internet. They suggest that a significant
part of the delay has been created by the design of the software
underlying the Web.
A study published by the group, based at the World Wide Web
Consortium in Cambridge, Mass., an industry-sponsored group that sets
standards, also shows that a redesign of that software would improve
basic performance on the Web.
The authors of the report were able to demonstrate data retrieval
speeds twice to eight times as fast as the speed using current World
Wide Web software.
Individual users are expected to see improvements like faster times
to download information, and the collective benefit could be still
greater because the basic set of conventions, or protocol, for Internet
operation would be used more efficiently.
Later this year, browsers that support the new protocol are to be
available, though current browsers will continue to work with the new
''This will be good for the whole Internet,'' John Klensin, a network
designer at MCI Communications, said.
The World Wide Web software works in conjunction with the basic
software of the Internet, known as TCP/IP, to permit users to retrieve
data without worrying about where it is on the global Internet. The
Internet consists of a growing collection of software protocols, and the
Hypertext Transfer Protocol -- the ''http'' at the beginning of many
electronic addresses -- has been the basis of the World Wide Web since
''Everyone has known about the problems involving congestion on the
Internet,'' said Jim Gettys, a Digital Equipment Corporation software
designer who is a visiting scientist at the consortium and is one of the
authors of the study. ''What is less well known is that the World Wide
Web protocol has been defeating the congestion control mechanisms in the
Internet's underlying protocols.''
Mr. Gettys said that the interaction between Web software and the
basic Internet routing software became an issue as Web use proliferated
in recent times.
''It didn't matter when HTTP was a tiny fraction of the Internet,''
he said. ''This problem has only become an issue as HTTP has become a
dominant force in the Internet.''
Although precise measurements are difficult to obtain because there
is no single control point for the entire Internet, most researchers say
that HTTP data now make up the largest category of information flowing
through the Internet.
Companies like Netscape Communications and Microsoft are readying
versions of their software that are based on the new version of the
protocol, HTTP/1.1. And one of the most common server programs used on
the Internet, the Apache server, has recently added the capability.
As more computer users begin to convert to Web browsers that support
the new HTTP, they will in many cases see significant decreases in
downloading time as they retrieve information from servers that also
have the new software.
''You are going to get a lot of improved performance,'' said John
Dawes, Netscape's group product manager for the servers that are sold to
businesses. The company, based in Mountain View, Calif., is the largest
maker of commercial versions of Internet server programs and browers. It
is testing a version of its server with the new system, and plans to
release the product early in May.
The consortium's study, which is available at the group's Web site
( Protocols/HTTP/Performance/Pipeline.html),
shows that the most notable improvements are for Internet users who have
high-speed data network connections. In many cases downloading times
were cut in half, and in some instances, the improvement was as great as
eight times the speed.
For users with slower telephone dial-up connections, the new version
of the HTTP software will offer less direct performance improvements.
Users will typically see about a 20 percent performance improvement.
The researchers acknowledged that despite the performance improvement
with the new software, congestion is not likely to be eliminated for
good, especially as the Internet continues to be put to new uses.
''What I don't know is, what will be the killer application in the
next year?'' Mr. Gettys said. ''We're concerned about the next little
guy doing something innovative we haven't thought about.''