What Is The Difference Between HTTP and HTTPS?

What Is The Difference Between HTTP and HTTPS?

If you’ve been wondering about the main differences between the HTTP and HTTPS protocol, we can help. People come to us all the time asking questions like, “What is the protocol in a URL?  What does HTTP stand for? What does HTTPS mean? Why use HTTPS? How can I convert HTTP to HTTPS?”

Сomputer with magnifying glass over search bar that says “https”

Many people are confused about whether, how, and when to upgrade to HTTPS from HTTP,  so if that’s you, you’re definitely not alone. We’ve looked closely at the nuances between the two protocols, HTTP vs HTTPS, so we can help you sort it all out.   

Perhaps you’re concerned about HTTPS SEO. Interestingly, both HTTP protocol and HTTPS protocol have had a positive impact on SEO in 2020, a trend that is projected to continue in 2021. So it pays to learn more about them. In this article, we’ll see how all of these protocols stack up:

  • HTTP
  • SPDY
  • HTTP/2 

Let’s start by looking at the advantages and limitations of HTTP and HTTPS in detail.

What is HTTP?

HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. Add one more letter meaning “secure”, and you get HTTPS. As you likely have noticed, these are typically found at the beginning of website URLs, denoted as http:// and https:// when you enter a website address into the URL bar at the top of your browser. But they are more than simply part of the address. The differences become apparent when you explore the advantages and limitations of each protocol at the highest level and then in greater detail.

Two screenshots with search bars, one with http, the other with https

What is HTTP, without the “S”?

We’ve been entering “HTTP” in the address bar for various websites for a long time, so you may have already recognized the term as Hypertext Transfer Protocol. HTTP represents the international standard for how computer programs essentially talk to one other over a network.

Advantages of HTTP

The primary advantages of HTTP are in its simplicity and ease of use. 

  • Fewer demands.

HTTP requires lower CPU and memory usage. There are fewer simultaneous connections required in HTTP than in more secure protocols. 

  • Data pipelining.

HTTP enables requests and responses to be pipelined. Data pipelining is an orderly process allowing multiple instructions to be overlapped and stored by a data processor.  

  • Less congestion.

HTTP reduces network congestion. This is because it requires fewer TCP connections (TCP stands for TCProtocol, a type of information transmission protocol). 

  • Speed of requests.

Exchanging signals between computers (known as “handshaking”) happen only during the initial connection. Once the connection is established, subsequent requests can happen without delay. 

  • Connections.

HTTP won't close a TCP connection. It can report errors without shutting things down, which may be preferred in certain circumstances.

Limitations of HTTP

Despite its ease of use, following are some of the downsides, or limitations, of HTTP. These include insecure connections, rather basic capabilities, and server issues. 

  • Insecure connections.

HTTP allows point-to-point connection. This is a challenge for keeping a website secure, as information may become disclosed to third parties more easily. 

  • Basic capabilities. 

HTTP is considered to be a bit verbose. It's not optimized for mobile. It doesn't have "push capabilities.” So in these ways, HTTP is seen as a fairly basic protocol. 

  • Server issues.

The server won't be available if a client closes a connection before all the needed data has been received. No one wants to see server error messages unnecessarily.

What is HTTPS, then?

Table showing the differences in secure and insecure connection for http vs https

HTTPS was initially developed to keep payment transactions and sensitive corporate data secure. However, in 2016 a group of web developers campaigned to make the protocol more prevalent, helping to ensure greater privacy and data protection all around. The result is that HTTPS has become more commonly used, so we are all seeing the moniker “HTTPS” more often today. Sometimes mistakenly typed into a web browser as “https //” or “https;” HTTPS sites have URLs that are written as https://. 

Some people ask us, “What is the difference between SSL and HTTPS?” or “What is HTTPS vs SSL?” The answer is that ssl and https are different entities. HTTPS encrypts the communication protocol using Transport Layer Security (TLS), previously Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). So it may alternately be called "HTTP over TLS," or "HTTP over SSL."

Some advantages of HTTPS

We’re often asked, “Is https secure?” As its name indicates, the HTTPS protocol is more secure than the original version of HTTP. The HTTPS protocol blocks intermediaries (caches, proxies, etc.) between the client and server. Because the content is encrypted, it prohibits interlopers from interfering with requests and responses. HTTPS websites are generally considered safer than HTTP websites.

  • Search engine visibility.

An often overlooked benefit of HTTPS is that it is actually preferred by search engines such as Google. 

  • Data encryption. 

HTTPS encryption prevents hackers from snooping or tampering with your website traffic. Even if a hacker intercepts data between the client and the server, the data will be useless to the hacker because it is encrypted. 

  • Data protection. 

No "cookies" and only very limited data (if any) can be saved on the client system.

  • Server authentication. 

In the authentication process, servers look at the CA (certificate authority or certification authority) to check such things as the validity of dates, authority, digital signature, and domain name to help protect users from hackers. 

  • Data validation. 

HTTPS also conducts more extensive data validation or “handshaking” for each incident of information exchange, rather than only relying on the initial exchange for validation.



HTTPUnsecuredport 80Application layerNo SSL certificates required
HTTPSSecuredport 443Transport layerSSL certificate signed by a CA

Limitations of HTTPS

The limitations of HTTPS include higher costs, greater potential for error displays, and additional requirements. It also raises concerns about performance, scalability, and evolvability.  

  • Costs

There's an annual cost to hold the HTTPS certificate. Prices typically vary based on the number of domains or subdomains the certificate will cover. The level of identity verification also affects the price. 

  • Errors 

If the certificate expires (or is not renewed for any reason), the site will display errors. In fact, it may not display anything at all, unless reverted back to HTTP.

  • Requirements

Additional computational overhead is required to manage data processing.

  • Performance

Generally speaking, HTTPS runs a bit slower than HTTP, so performance can become something to consider. 

  • Scalability

In a fully secured network, innovations are less likely to be replicated, and less quickly, than in open environments. So scalability is another consideration.

  • Less evolvability

Computer scientists like to promote “evolvability,” or an ability to learn, grow, and adapt. Because of their closed nature, more secure networks are less instantly evolvable. 

So, that’s an overview of how HTTPS works, as well as HTTP.

Chart showing how hacker sees password on site with secure/insecure connection

Looking beyond the differences between HTTP and HTTPS

When considering the limitations and advantages of HTTP and HTTPS protocols, the reasons for the difference in the level of security become much clearer, don’t they? You can really sense why a business might choose one over the other.  

However, there are other protocols we are often asked about as well, including SPDY and HTTP/2. These other popular protocols were developed with speed and convenience in mind.  

What is SPDY?

SPDY (pronounced "speedy") is Google’s attempt at creating a protocol that helps make the web run faster on HTTP. It was an experimental protocol, also sometimes called "a deprecated open-specification networking protocol." 

SPDY was designed to use different types of compression for HTTP headers attached to every request and response in network computing. It uses compression to download text content, improving speed and performance.

Table showing the connection between client and server using http1.1

What about HTTP/2?

While HTTP/2 is based on the SPDY protocol and also uses compression, HTTP/2 uses an algorithm designed for newer websites. Sites have become quite resource-intensive over time as additional “bells and whistles” have been added. Just think about how dynamic a website’s content is today compared to 10 years ago. A lot has changed. 

HTTP/2 has been shown to be consistently even faster than SPDY. Therefore, among these protocols Google has announced in recent years that it is withdrawing support for SPDY in favor of supporting HTTP/2. 

HTTP/2 protocols have many advantages over HTTP 1.0. The bottom line is that it’s safe to say that HTTP/2 improves the user experience and ensures speedier content delivery overall. However, while HTTP/2 is a vast improvement over the original HTTP, it’s still not as secure as HTTPS.

Table displaying the connection between client and server using http/2

All of these protocols -- HTTP,  HTTPS, HTTPS/2, and SPDY -- are not "code;" rather, they are reference models. You can think of them as a set of rules or conventions, as they aren't software. Server implementation can be written in any programming language.  


The important thing to remember is that these protocols have a positive impact in SEO for 2020 and are projected to have a positive impact in 2021 as well. Google and other search engines are really looking closely at page load time and “crawl budget rank,” which make HTTP and HTTPS excellent choices for getting optimal search results. 

As you can see, you’ll want to consider your own company’s individual priorities and concerns when weighing your decision on developing your site as HTTPS or HTTP, or other various protocols available. There are a variety of advantages and limitations to each option. 

We find that while security is a critical piece of the puzzle, there are more factors to consider when evaluating HTTP and HTTPS than that single issue. We encourage clients to think through all aspects of strategic decisions such as these. However, at the end of the day we currently most frequently recommend going with an HTTPS website protocol. In terms of security, we would rank these common protocols as follows:

  • HTTP/2 
  • SPDY
  • HTTP

Search bar that says https://directlinedev.com

If you’d like to learn more about which protocol is best for your company, please contact us at your convenience. We love to talk about HTTP,  HTTPS, HTTPS/2, SPDY, and all the other acronyms related to helping your business grow and thrive online.


  • What is http and https?HTTP is the foundation of the WWW, and is used to load web pages using hypertext links. HTTPS is a secure encrypted connection between the browser and the server.
  • What is the main difference between http and https?HTTP is unsecured while HTTPS is secured.
  • Why https and not http?HTTPS is now used more often by web users than HTTP, primarily to protect page authenticity, and to keep user web browsing private.
  • Why is https secure and http is not?HTTPS makes a secure connection by establishing an encrypted link between the browser and the server. All HTTP sites are insecure since a third-party can intercept data transmitted between such websites and users and servers.


18th January 2021

It always bugged me why some websites use HTTPS while the rest stays on HTTP. Thanks for the informative article!

24th January 2021

Thank you for the thorough explanations! So HTTPS websites are safer for users - good to know. Data safety is vital for everyone today.

1st February 2021

I finally found the information I needed. I often heard, but couldn't find information anywhere, not only about the difference between HTTP and HTTPS but also what SPDY and HTTPS/2 are. The article is very useful and informative. Now everything is much clearer. Thank you!

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