Custom Protocols Everywhere

I’m here at the IETF discussing HTTP/2.0 (was SPDY).

One of the most interesting developments to me is that the rate of protocol evolution is about to step onto a rocket ship. In the past, we’ve been dependent on standards, browsers, and servers to all simultaneously move to new protocols. It takes about 15 years, in a good case! But mobile apps are cracking this open. With native code, instead of relying on the browser’s network stack, you just include your client library (imagine a facebook client library which speaks a custom protocol optimized just for facebook). Since these apps are not doing general purpose web surfing, they’re only connecting to their own servers. If you own the client, and you own the server, who needs a standard?

This is going to lead to massive innovation in protocols. Companies can invent new paradigms and algorithms, and then either keep these to themselves or kick them back to the IETF for later. From what I hear, SPDY sounds like a promising starting point for these apps, and it will lead to splintering. But you don’t have to wait for Google, Microsoft, and Firefox to agree on protocols anymore! As Will Chan puts it, it’s like HTML for HTTP – everyone can change it in practically real time.

The one last challenge is getting your protocol to work across the internet, where proxies, intermediaries, carriers, and other middlemen are always trying to trip you up. But fortunately, we have an answer for that too – tunnel it all through SSL, which you should be doing as a best practice anyway.

One thought on “Custom Protocols Everywhere

  • February 13, 2013 at 5:23 am

    How is SSL going to help get through firewalls? I’m imagining that most firewalls will have an https proxy and nothing else.


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