The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is an application protocol for distributed, collaborative, hypermedia information systems. HTTP is the foundation of data communication for the World Wide Web.
Hypertext is structured text that uses logical links (hyperlinks) between nodes containing text. HTTP is the protocol to exchange or transfer hypertext.
The standards development of HTTP was coordinated by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), culminating in the publication of a series of Requests for Comments (RFCs), most notably RFC 2616 (June 1999), which defined HTTP/1.1, the version of HTTP most commonly used today. In June 2014, RFC 2616 was retired and HTTP/1.1 was redefined by RFCs 7230, 7231, 7232, 7233, 7234, and 7235. HTTP/2 is currently in draft form.
HTTP functions as a request-response protocol in the client-server computing model. A web browser, for example, may be the client and an application running on a computer hosting a web site may be the server. The client submits an HTTP request message to the server. The server, which provides resources such as HTML files and other content, or performs other functions on behalf of the client, returns a response message to the client. The response contains completion status information about the request and may also contain requested content in its message body.
A web browser is an example of a user agent (UA). Other types of user agent include the indexing software used by search providers (web crawlers), voice browsers, mobile apps, and other software that accesses, consumes, or displays web content.
HTTP is designed to permit intermediate network elements to improve or enable communications between clients and servers. High-traffic websites often benefit from web cache servers that deliver content on behalf of upstream servers to improve response time. Web browsers cache previously accessed web resources and reuse them when possible to reduce network traffic. HTTP proxy servers at private network boundaries can facilitate communication for clients without a globally routable address, by relaying messages with external servers.
HTTP is an application layer protocol designed within the framework of the Internet Protocol Suite. Its definition presumes an underlying and reliable transport layer protocol, and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is commonly used. However HTTP can use unreliable protocols such as the User Datagram Protocol (UDP), for example in Simple Service Discovery Protocol (SSDP).
HTTP resources are identified and located on the network by Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs)—or, more specifically, Uniform Resource Locators (URLs)—using the http or https URI schemes. URIs and hyperlinks in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) documents form webs of inter-linked hypertext documents.
HTTP/1.1 is a revision of the original HTTP (HTTP/1.0). In HTTP/1.0 a separate connection to the same server is made for every resource request. HTTP/1.1 can reuse a connection multiple times to download images, scripts, stylesheets, etc after the page has been delivered. HTTP/1.1 communications therefore experience less latency as the establishment of TCP connections presents considerable overhead.