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Knowledge Base Overview

http:// for dummies

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What this is about

For many people HTTP (similar to HTML) is exactly four letters and a little hard to grasp and understand what it really means or does. In this page I will try to explain some of the main things you should know about HTTP.

I will keep this on a general level and not go into specific details. Therefore, this will be very brief because there is not really much you have to know on a general level.

What this is not about

There is nothing here besides the protocol and as said I keep it basic at a very general level. If you need a complete reference about HTTP see the W3C Protocol Overview. Check out the Wikipedia article if you are interested in a more detailed overview about it. Thanks for visiting anyway!

About the Protocol

First thing you need to know and understand is that HTTP is a protocol. That would be the P character in the acronym. What is a protocol good for? Many, many years ago one teacher tried to explain a protocol this way and I cannot think of any better way.

If you are going to visit the Queen of England (or any other of those blue blooded people) you are confronted with a list of things you are allowed to do and things you should not do under any circumstances. This list is called the royal protocol. There are also protocols in diplomacy. Other terms in this regard are Etiquette, Manners or Conventions.

Protocols in the computer world are certainly nothing like etiquette but more or less like the manners how computer components interact with each other. Convention is probably the most fitting term other than protocol.

Network Protocols

Our protocol here belongs to a family of protocols which are referred to as the network protocols. If you ever wondered about how computers communicate with each other then go, find and read all the network protocols. Before you begin you should read about and understand the layers in the OSI Model, though. I digress, I intended to keep this basic.

You see, HTTP is just a small piece in a very complex model of layers and protocols. So, lets stick with the main purpose of the protocol, which is the second T in the acronym. The T and the P together are the transfer protocol. Very basic and simple, this protocol has all the conventions for how something gets transfered in the network. Now, guess what! If you say it must be about the first two characters you are correct. The HT, or hypertext, is the thing that gets transferred with this protocol.

Long story short and very basic: HTTP is the convention how hypertext gets transferred in a network.

A little more specific

Oh, you are feisty! First what is hypertext. Lets say I create a link to my other web page about HTML like this where I already wrote something about hypertext. What have I done exactly? In computer parlance I have set a hyperlink to more text, text beyond this text, übertext, overtext. We call it hypertext, though. When you surf the Internet and jump from one page to the next you see hypertext in full swing, you are hypertexting.

Because we are hypertexting in a network we need some rules, conventions or how about a protocol between all parties on how this hypertext is transferred. The parties in this transfer are mainly two. There are many more like switches, routers, firewalls but for our basic understanding we need only two: two computers!

Believe it or not but your computer (or smartphone, iPod/iPhone/iPad, tablet etc.) somewhere has the hypertext transform protocol installed. Together with a bunch of other network protocols which is known as the IP stack, the Internet Procol Suite or the TCP/IP model or architecture. As a user you don't have to worry about this because the web browser of your choice does all the work and deals with it. The browser sends a request to the IP stack which does all the rest. In regards to our protocol it sends the request according to the rules set in the protocol over the network.

On the other side of the network we essentially have nothing more than your computer but instead of a browser with another piece of software, a web server. Of course, that computer also has HTTP installed. Here the protocol is linked with this web server software which will get the request and according to it will answer with a response. This response, again according to the rules set in the protocol, will be send back to your computer where the browser will understand what is going on and present the response to you.

Is it that simple, really? If we strictly talk about HTTP, yes! There is not much we have to do and quite frankly can do. If you dig deep into your operating system and look for this protocol you might not find more than an on/off switch. There is not much that can go wrong and will go wrong in terms of this protocols. There are others, though and dozens of other things can go wrong between your browser and the web server but not with HTTP. So, don't worry—be happy!

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