HTTP or Hypertext Transfer Protocol is the primary protocol behind any data communication on the web. But it is not secure. HTTPS is an extension of HTTP having security as its primary objective. It uses an authenticated SSL certificate to maintain the privacy and integrity of the data passing on the Internet. By default, HTTPS uses port 443 whereas HTTP uses port 80.

HTTPS is also known as HTTP over Transport Layer Security (TLS) or HTTP over Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). It operates by using the original HTTP on a connection encrypted by TLS/SSL.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a user or a developer of a website. An excellent and reliable online experience is everyone’s priority when it comes to exchanging information on the Internet.

Trusted third party and good encryption boost the overall quality of a website and browsing experience. The authenticated SSL certificate in HTTPS maintains the privacy and integrity of the data passing on the Internet. That’s the reason why more and more sites are shifting from HTTP to HTTPS.

Let’s explore http and https more in-depth, understanding what exactly is HTTP and HTTPS, the difference between them. We will also discuss why it is beneficial to make a move to HTTPS.

What is HTTP?

HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. It is a communication protocol to transmit and receive information across the internet.

It defines the methodology and rules relating to how request/response messages reciprocate between web servers and browsers.

HTTP uses TCP (Transmission Control Protocol), generally over port 80, to transmit data packets over the web. It is an application-layer protocol.

How does HTTP work?

HTTP follows simple client-server architecture. The client sends a request message to an HTTP server to establish a connection.

When you enter http:// in your address bar in front of the URL, it informs the browser to connect over HTTP.

The server acknowledges to the client after the request completes with a response message. This response message is in the form of a hypermedia web page that you see after typing the address and pressing enter.

Typically, a web browser is the client, and a web server is the one that hosts a website.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS is an abbreviation of Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. It is the secure version of HTTP. The ‘S’ at the end of HTTPS represents that all communications between your browser and the site are safe.

HTTPS also uses TCP, to send and receive data packets, but it does so over port 443. It uses Transport Layer Security (TLS)/ Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) as a sublayer for encryption of data.

It is the combination of Hypertext Transfer Protocol and SSL/TLS protocol. So, as the HTTP part emphasizes on moving your data along, the SSL/TLS focuses on keeping it secure.

How does HTTPS work?

When you enter https:// in your address bar in front of the URL, it informs the browser to connect over HTTPS.

HTTPS works by transmitting regular HTTP messages through an encrypted system. Other than the client and the server, any other third party cannot access this information.

Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) are the two encryption layers that encode the exchanging of data records.

Both the TLS and SSL protocols use asymmetric Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) system. An asymmetric system uses two keys to encrypt communications, a public key and a private key.

HTTPS uses SSL certificates to encrypt the data with the use of a public key. Owner of the public key can share the key with anyone using the SSL certificate. The private key helps in the encryption process.

The public key is present on the web server, and the SSL Certificate incorporates this key. The Certificate Authority (CA) cryptographically signs the SSL certificate.

When you initiate an HTTPS connection request to a webpage, the website will first forward its SSL certificate to the browser. This certificate has the public key that you require to start the secure session.

Based on the initial exchange, your browser and the website then initiate the SSL handshake.

The SSL handshake involves the generation of shared secrets to establish a uniquely secure connection.

How to know whether a site is using HTTP or HTTPS?

Everyday loads of personal information, such as contact number, card details, etc. keep flying around the internet.

If you enter a website connected over HTTP, your data can be extremely prone to security attacks. It is a concern when the data is confidential and highly sensitive.

No worries, you can always identify whether a website is using an HTTP connection or HTTPS. Look at the URL of the website. If it begins with ‘https’ instead of ‘http,’ it means the site is secure.

Every browser has a list of Certificate authorities it implicitly trusts. Any document signed by a CA in the trusted list is given a green padlock lock in the browser’s address bar.

When an Extended Validation Certificate is in use on a website, the address bar will turn green

Sites that aren’t on a secure network show a non-secure text in the address bar.

How is HTTPS different from HTTP?

Have you ever thought about how that extra ‘S’ acts as a differentiator between HTTP and HTTPS?

Both HTTP and HTTPS transmit hypermedia documents on the internet. Technically, they are the same because both of them follow the same client-server methodology.

However, HTTPS provides a secure exchange of sensitive information from the client to server and vice-versa on the internet.

The primary focus of HTTP is to pass data from one point to another, without caring how it gets there. For instance, a clothing company that delivers your parcel off with a delivery person, and not caring how it gets to you, as long as it gets there quickly.

Using HTTPS would be like a clothing company sending your parcel off with a delivery vehicle that has a tracking ID, ensuring that the package reaches safely.

All interactions that happen over regular HTTP connections are in plain text.  It can be read by any hacker that manages to break into the communication between your browser and the website.

In case of an HTTPS connection, all interactions undergo secure encryption. It depicts that even if somebody manages to break into the link, they would not be able to decode any of the data which passes between you and the website.

Difference between HTTP and HTTPS – summarized

Here are the significant differences between the HTTP and HTTPS protocol, in no particular order

  1. HTTP URL in your browser’s address bar begins with http:// and the HTTPS URL is https://.
  2. HTTP is unsecured while HTTPS is secured.
  3. HTTP sends data over port 80 while HTTPS uses port 443.
  4. HTTP works at the application layer, while HTTPS operates at the transport layer.
  5. HTTP does not require an SSL certificate, with HTTPS it is necessary that you own an SSL certificate and a CA validates it.
  6. Encryption does not happen in HTTP, with HTTPS involves encryption of data.

Why should you switch to HTTPS?

The original unsecured HTTP connection is prone to intrusion or attack by the hackers. The primary motive of moving to HTTPS is for security and privacy reasons.

In addition to security, there are various other plus points why you should think of switching from HTTP to HTTPS.

HTTPS provides three fundamental layers of protection:

Encryption

HTTPS helps in encrypting the data to keep it secure from eavesdroppers.

When the user browses a website, no third party can listen to their conversations, track their activities across multiple pages, or steal their information.

Data integrity

Data integrity ensures that data is safe from any modification cannot be modified during transfer, intentionally or otherwise.

Authentication

Authentication specifies that users communicate only with the intended website. It protects against man-in-the-middle attacks. It also builds user trust.

If you’re a website that handles any sensitive information, then this move is crucial for you. Using HTTPS will also improve the ranking of your site.

Conclusion

From the architecture perspective, there is not much difference between HTTP and HTTPS. Both of these protocols involve the client and the server.

However, the addition of a secure connection by using TLS as a sublayer is serving HTTPS in gaining momentum rapidly. As HTTP is more vulnerable to attacks, almost all the websites are now considering HTTPS to give users a secure platform to communicate.

The difference between HTTP and HTTPS may look like only a single letter. However, that extra ‘S’ has a massive impact on how you communicate across the web. We can say that HTTPS is the future of the World Wide Web.

HTTP is the primary protocol behind any data communication on the web. HTTPS operates by using the original HTTP but with added security. While HTTP sends data over port 80, HTTPS uses port 443.