Part 2: The Difference Between HTTP and HTTPS
Last updated: July 19th 2023
This article is a new addition to the series "Introduction to Web Server Setup & Management". In this series, you'll learn how a web server operates and interacts with users, and you'll also learn how to tweak things to improve the experience. And at the end, you'll understand why we built our LAMP/LEMP stacks the way we did. You can also apply this knowledge to other programming languages and environments.
Last week, I covered what web servers are, and in this article, I will shed light on the differences between HTTP and HTTPS, how the two protocols transport data over the internet, and the crucial part SSL certificates play. Additionally, I'll delve into the security, performance, and SEO advantages of HTTPS over HTTP.
What is HTTP?
Hypertext Transfer Protocol, commonly known as HTTP, is the foundation of communication between various computing systems. It facilitates the seamless exchange of information and data across networks, ensuring the efficient transmission of data packets.
How does HTTP Work?
When an internet user intends to access a website or engage with its content, their browsing program transmits an HTTP request to the original server that stores the website's data. These requests comprise textual information that travels the online network.
Once the browser and server can make a successful connection, the server will begin to process the request made by the browser. Once the processing is complete, the server will return an HTTP response to the browser. The result is that site visitors can easily access web pages.
HTTP requests are transmitted unencrypted, meaning they are exposed and vulnerable to those with advanced technical expertise. Using basic tools can allow individuals to intercept and interpret the data being exchanged in these requests, which is where HTTPS comes into the picture.
What is HTTPS?
Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, or HTTPS, safeguards data transfer between web servers and browsers. HTTPS secures data transmission with a digital security protocol that utilizes cryptographic keys for encryption and data validation. This is commonly done by obtaining a Transport Layer Security (TLS) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate.
By doing so, they ensure that all communication and data exchange between the users and the server is encrypted and protected from any potential malicious activity.
How does HTTPS Work?
HTTPS is a way to secure data transmission over the internet, and it is not a distinct protocol but rather an implementation of the HTTP protocol with TLS/SSL encryption. This encryption is essential for ensuring that the data being sent and received is not intercepted or tampered with by malicious entities.
One of the critical components of HTTPS is the use of SSL certificates. These certificates are used to verify the identity of the website being accessed. When a user connects to a webpage, the website will send over its SSL certificate, which contains the public key necessary to establish a secure session.
To establish this secure session, the client and server must go through a series of back-and-forth communications known as an SSL/TLS handshake. This process is designed to establish a secure connection and ensure the transmitted data is encrypted and protected from prying eyes.
Determining whether a website employs SSL/TLS is a simple task. Keep an eye out for a padlock symbol on the left side of the URL, which indicates a secure connection. Additionally, website URLs beginning with "https://" indicate the site is protected.
How to get an SSL certificate?
If you want to obtain an SSL certificate, several options are available. One standard method is to choose a reputable Certificate Authority (CA) that issues these types of public-key certificates. When you work with a Certificate Authority, they play the role of a reliable intermediary between you, the owner of the certificate, and anyone who uses it. By providing this service, they help establish trust and security for all parties involved. Examples of well-known Certificate Authorities include Comodo, GeoTrust, Symantec, and Let’s Encrypt.
Let's Encrypt is a widely used provider of SSL certificates that are valid for 90 days and are available for free. It has gained popularity as it aims to make SSL certificates accessible to everyone, and Let's Encrypt has become a common choice for many users in today's digital landscape.
At Webdock, all server domains are provisioned with a free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate and are automatically renewed with Certbot, which comes pre-installed with the LEMP/LAMP stacks.
HTTP v/s HTTPS: Which is better?
A significant shift towards HTTPS has been observed, and it is clear that it is no longer just an option for websites. Enabling an SSL certificate on your website provides a multitude of advantages apart from obvious security advantages that you cannot ignore:
In today's digital age, user trust and credibility are crucial for any website's success. To achieve this, HTTPS is the preferred choice. This can translate into longer browsing times and lower bounce rates, critical metrics for lead generation. A site perceived as trustworthy and credible is more likely to attract signups, purchases, and downloads.
Recent data from Google's transparency report reveals that a staggering 99% of browsing time on Chrome is spent on HTTPS websites and websites that still use HTTP risk losing users due to security concerns. It is estimated that around 85% of users abandon their online shopping cart on an HTTP site. This shows that users are increasingly conscious of the websites' security. The padlock icon, which indicates that a site is using HTTPS, is now a must-have for any website.
An added advantage of opting for HTTPS over HTTP is the potential for quicker website loading times, mainly when utilized with a server compatible with HTTP/2. The encryption is reinforced by HTTP/2, which enhances its security measures. In addition to its other capabilities, HTTP/2 maximizes bandwidth efficiency and has low resource consumption, leading to decreased latency.
As a result, utilizing the HTTPS protocol and HTTP/2 can improve website speed and performance, surpassing what is achievable with the conventional HTTP protocol.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Google strongly advises using HTTPS on websites to enhance their security; as a bonus, such sites get a slight boost in their search engine ranking. It is worth noting that nearly all of the top results on Google's first page are sites that have implemented HTTPS.
The bedrock of communication among diverse computing systems is Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). This protocol enables a smooth exchange of data and information across networks, ensuring the optimal transmission of data packets, and its usage guarantees an efficient and hassle-free experience.
Although HTTP has long been the standard protocol for transmitting data on the internet, HTTPS has emerged as a vastly improved version in terms of security. The primary contrast lies in HTTPS leverages SSL/TLS to encrypt connections between web browsers and servers.
Deploying HTTPS on your website can reap many benefits besides security, including improved site performance and better search engine optimization.
Aayush Nair has been designing WordPress websites for eight years now. He is also a content writer, writing blogs on technology and related topics, and likes helping people in his free time.