What Does HTTP Stand For?

HyperText Transfer Protocol is a communication standard on the web

Abstract image of web search box containing http:// and www protocol headers

TimeStopper/Moment Collection/Getty Images

You’ve probably seen the letters ’http’ or ‘https’ accompanying website addresses for years, yet most people don’t know what these acronyms are short for or what they actually signify. The HTTP acronym is short for HyperText Transfer Protocol. HTTPS, meanwhile, refers to HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure.

What exactly is HTTP?

HTTP is the primary protocol that makes the World Wide Web tick. It facilitates communications between user-driven devices like computers or smartphones and servers that host the sites that we visit through web browsers like Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera and Safari

How does HTTP work?

When you open your browser to access a website (i.e., https://www.lifewire.com) an HTTP (or HTTPS) request is made to a web server, which then processes the request and returns an HTTP/HTTPS response to the browser. There are typically multiple requests and responses at this point, collectively containing all of the necessary code (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc.), data, and other assets required to render the web page requested.

What are the differences between HTTP and HTTPS?

An extension of HyperText Transfer Protocol, HTTPS utilizes SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to encrypt the data being passed back and forth between your computer or other browser-based device and a web server. Utilizing a secure connection when communicating with a website helps ensure that potentially sensitive information remains private, out of the hands of unwanted parties who often intend to use it for nefarious purposes.

A website in the Chrome web browser, showing the https:// protocol in the address bar.

Initially reserved for sites like banking institutions and shopping portals, a much larger portion of the web now employs HTTPS communications in place of the basic HTTP option, meaning your communications are much safer. To determine whether or not a website is using HTTPS, look for the 'https://' protocol indicator in your browser’s address bar, located to the left of the site’s address (also known as its URL). A lock icon may also be displayed to indicate the presence of an SSL certificate on the current web page.

Other Benefits of HTTPS over HTTP

In addition to the security perks, HTTPS is also significantly faster than HTTP. This means that website elements often load much sooner than they would if a site is using HTTP, and other data transmission activities also take less time when utilizing the more modern protocol, resulting in a pleasant and efficient online experience. In some cases, web pages have been proven to render upwards of 70% quicker with HTTPS, a noticeable difference to say the least.

screenshot of Anthum's HTTPS vs HTTPS speed test in action
 Anthum

To see the actual disparity in speed between HTTP and HTTPS for yourself, try running the following test in real-time: HTTPS vs. HTTPS Test.

Another notable benefit of HTTPS over HTTP is applicable mainly to website owners and developers, as Google and other key search engines have a strong preference for theHTTPS protocol when it comes to where sites rank in those all-important search results. As tough as it can be to place high in the rankings anyway, you're putting yourself at a serious disadvantage if your site still uses HTTP over the faster and more secure option.