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Standards body approves HTTP 1.1

A new version of a key Web protocol clears a hurdle this week as an international standards group makes HTTP 1.1 a draft standard, hoping to speed the performance of the Web.

A new version of a key Web protocol cleared a hurdle this week as an international standards group made HTTP 1.1 a draft standard.

The new version will speed the performance of the Web, according to its authors at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which worked on the protocol, and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which granted it draft standard status. Those standards bodies said hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) 1.1 will cache content more flexibly and streamline the transfer of information packets.

Version 1.1 also allows for the secure transfer of passwords and economizes the use of Internet protocol (IP) addresses.

"With HTTP 1.1 we Net number system at a crossroads have taken away the weak spots of what HTTP 1.0 inflicted on the Internet and resolved some of the crucial design flaws," the W3C's Henrik Frystyk Nielsen told CNET News.com. Nielsen, the W3C's HTTP activity lead and coauthor of the original protocol and its new version, added, "We've solved some of the problems that were bringing the Internet to its knees."

Familiar to Web users as the prefix to most Web addresses, HTTP sits on top of two other basic protocols that define the Internet and how information passes back and forth between Web clients and servers.

The trouble with HTTP 1.0 is that it doesn't fit well enough with those bottom layers, according to Nielsen. Internet protocol (IP) sits at the bottom and defines the Internet; transport control protocol (TCP) sits in the middle and establishes a conduit or "stream" for transferring data; and HTTP wraps data into packets and governs how they are sent.

HTTP 1.0 required a new stream for each packet of data sent. But HTTP 1.1 can send multiple packets along the same stream, speeding the flow of information on the Web.

Version 1.1 will establish more flexible rules for caching content. Caching lets Internet service providers keep copies of frequently accessed content closer to the client to minimize the distance that information traverses the Internet.

But problems arise because content providers can't specify exactly enough the part of their content they want cached and what they want served up fresh with each request; as a result, many content providers simply disallow their pages from being cached. HTTP 1.1 allows for greater specificity in deciding what part of a page can and cannot be cached.

HTTP 1.1 is designed to help economize the use of IP addresses, the numerical addresses that correspond to the more commonly used domain names such as "News.com." HTTP 1.1 allows one Web hosting provider to house numerous domain names on a single IP address and use aliases to distinguish the different named sites. In one example, "News.com" and "CNET.com" could share an IP address under HTTP 1.1, while under HTTP 1.0 one name can correspond to one numerical address.

Another innovation of HTTP 1.1 is called "digest authentication," which lets HTTP servers authenticate users securely by encrypting passwords without unnecessarily encrypting other, less sensitive information.

While HTTP 1.1 moves through the standardization process, another even more advanced version called HTTP NG, or Next Generation, is also in the works, the W3C said.