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Software Engineering

What is HTTP?

James Gallagher - January 04, 2021


You’ve probably come across the acronym HTTP at some point in your life. All you need to do is look in the address bar of your computer and you’ll see https:// before the Career Karma domain name. HTTP is everywhere on the Internet.

In this guide, we’re going to discuss what HTTP is, how it works and how requests are made on the Internet. By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge you need to hold your own if you ever have to talk about or work with HTTP.

What is HTTP?

HTTP, which is short for HyperText Transfer Protocol, is used to structure web requests and responses and transfer data.

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The web address in your address bar starts with https:// for a reason. It’s the protocol the Internet uses to make requests.

At its core, the Internet is just a collection of servers. Career Karma has a few servers which host its application, blog and other resources. These servers store data such as web pages, videos and scripts which make the Career Karma app and websites work.

In order to access materials on a website, you need to make a web request using HTTP. This tells the server what resources you want to retrieve. For instance, to access this web page you needed to make an HTTP web request.

How do Requests and Responses Work?

There are two parts to the HTTP structure you need to know about: requests and responses.

A request is what your web browser sends to the Internet. This contains information such as what website you want to access and what page on that website you want to access. You may also send information like contact information if you’re filling out a contact form, or login information if you are registering for an account.

Once a request has been made to a web server, the server will process the request. It will locate the resource you are looking for and then prepare to send it back to you.

This is when a response is created. The response is sent back to your browser with the data you have requested and then your browser uses that information to display a web page.

On the web, clients and servers use HTTP to communicate. A client is a computer accessing a resource (like yours) and a server is a computer that serves a resource (like the Career Karma blog).

Here’s an example of how these processes worked when you loaded this web page:

  • Your browser sent an HTTP request to https://careerkarma.com/blog/what-is-http/
  • Our web server received the request
  • Our web server located the blog post “What is HTTP?”
  • Our web server returned an HTTP response with the blog post you requested
  • Your browser displayed the HTTP response

The HTTP protocol is the building block of the Internet. Without HTTP, you wouldn’t be able to interact with other computers; the web simply would not work.

How it Works: A Technical Description

The two main aspects of HTTP are requests and responses. As you can imagine, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes which makes these web requests and responses work.

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When you visit a website such as careerkarma.com , you are telling your browser to create a TCP connection to the server. This channel is used to make a web request. Through the channel, you will send all the details about your request, such as the website you want to access, and the web page(s) on that site that you want to access.

Once the TCP channel has been opened, an HTTP GET request is made. This allows you to retrieve information from a web server. There are other types of requests such as POST and PUT, but those are only used when you want to modify resources on an existing server.

When you clicked on this article, the following GET request was sent to our servers:

GET /blog/what-is-http HTTP/1.1
Host: www.careerkarma.com

This request gives our servers the basic information needed to render a web page. In this case, the following was sent:

  • GET: The type of web request being made.
  • /blog/what-is-http: The page on our server you want to access.
  • HTTP/1.1: The protocol being used to make a web request.
  • Host: The name of the site from which you are requesting data.

This request returned the following response:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
…

200 is an HTTP status code that tells us a successful web request has been made. Alongside this data was everything your browser needed to load this web page. For instance, a HTML file was returned which displays this blog page. Another web request was made to collect CSS files which apply the graphic styles to this web page.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS is similar to HTTP, but with one major difference: it is more secure. The “S” in HTTPS stands for secure.

When you make a request over HTTP, the request data is stored in plain text. This is fine if all you want to do is collect some basic data from a web page. But if you are accessing sensitive data or sending usernames and passwords, then using HTTP is not a good idea. That’s because data sent over HTTP is sent in plain text.

HTTPS requests use another protocol which is either Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) to make a web request. This ensures that your data is kept secure when you make a web request.

TLS and SSL are becoming standard across the web. Years ago, when the Internet was still gaining traction, many sites didn’t have HTTPS installed. Now, thanks to the rise of tools that make it easy to process web requests using SSL, more and more websites support this protocol, even those that don’t process sensitive data.

The entire Career Karma website uses HTTPS to secure the requests sent to and from our servers. Other websites like Google also use HTTPS and you can expect services like your bank or online shopping sites to use this protocol as well.

With that said, HTTPS only secures the contents of a web request. If you’re using a website that supports HTTPS, you’ll still need to practice basic digital security hygiene. You should still choose secure passwords and be careful of the sites you click on.

Conclusion

The HTTP protocol is used to structure how requests and responses are made over the Internet. When you make an HTTP request, a server is given all the information it needs to locate a web resource. It will then return a response with the information you have requested, whether that’s a web page, a CSS file, a document or another web resource.

HTTPS is a more secure version of HTTP that is commonly used to transmit sensitive information across the Internet. More and more sites are now using HTTPS because the protocol is generally more secure than the traditional HTTP protocol when sending data.

About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.

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James Gallagher

About the author: James Gallagher is a self-taught programmer and the technical content manager at Career Karma. He has experience in range of programming languages and extensive expertise in Python, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. James has written hundreds of programming tutorials, and he frequently contributes to publications like Codecademy, Treehouse, Repl.it, Afrotech, and others. He also serves as a researcher at Career Karma, publishing comprehensive reports on the bootcamp market.

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