Over the past two weeks, Nginx Inc. has released fully supported implementations of HTTP/2 in both its commercial and open source products. And although a new release of a web server may not seem like much, for those interested in performance, this is significant news.

On Sept 16, they announced the release of Nginx Plus R7, and then on Sept. 22, they followed up with the release of Nginx Open Source 1.9.5. Both have full implementations of the new HTTP/2 protocol and are backward compatible, able to deliver both HTTP/1.x and HTTP/2 traffic in parallel.

Why is this significant?

The reason this is significant is both the HTTP/2 protocol and the Nginx web server were built specifically with performance in mind. So for those who are interested in seeing better performing websites, having Nginx and HTTP/2 together provides a great step forward.

Performance Benefits of HTTP/2

In a follow up post to their recent announcement, Nginx Inc. lists some key features that HTTP/2 will bring to web applications. Some of the these benefits include:

  1. True multiplexing – Instead of processing each request in order, HTTP/2 allows requests to be processed in parallel and out of order.

  2. Single, persistent connection – Instead of opening multiple connection to a server in order to download rescues in parallel, HTTP/2 allows for resources to be downloaded in parallel over a single connection.

  3. Binary encoding – Header information is sent in compact, binary format. This will save bytes compared to plain text.

  4. Header compression – There is now a purpose-built algorithm for compressing headers—HPACK. This again reduces the amount of data over the wire.

Significance of Nginx’s popularity

Nginx is a web server that has become known for its focus on concurrency, performance, and low memory usage. Although it’s been around since 2002, its popularity has really taken off in recent years, recently surpassing Apache in usage among the top 100,000 websites.

Why this gain in popularity? One of the reasons is the performance benefits that Nginx provides. In recent comments by Peter Guagenti, VP of Marketing at Nginx, Inc., he explain why this focus on performance has been integral to Nginx’s popularity.

“There has never been a focus on performance like we’ve seen in the past few years. Performance is everything. Milliseconds of latency costs thousands to millions of dollars in e-commerce. Milliseconds of latency mean you use one app over another on your phone, that you switch to a different media site to read the same article.”

Seeing the growth of Nginx points to the reality that performance matters. And now with a full implementation of HTTP/2, Nginx provides another way to increase performance for its users.

Next Steps

Given the popularity of Nginx, it will be interesting to see how quickly HTTP/2 will be adopted by those who are already using the web server. For those interested, the Nginx announcement post goes into details of how to enable HTTP/2 with the server release.

We’ve looked at the potential for HTTP/2 in the past, but now we’re coming to a place were we can actually start using it for many of our sites. Of course, it will be interesting to actually test it out and see what kinds of performance gains we see in real life—and what changes we’ll need to incorporate into how we develop sites. And although there may be adjustments we’ll need to make to the way we’ve done things in the past, I think most of us are excited about the potential.