Twitter Catches the ‘SPDY’ Train

Twitter has embraced Google’s vision of a faster web and is now serving webpages over the SPDY protocol to browsers that support it.

SPDY, pronounced “speedy,” is a replacement for the HTTP protocol — the language currently used when your browser talks to a web server. When you request a webpage or a file from a server, chances are your browser sends that request using HTTP. The server answers using HTTP, too. This is why “http” appears at the beginning of most web addresses.

The SPDY protocol handles all the same tasks as HTTP, but SPDY can do it all about 50 percent faster.

SPDY started life as a proprietary protocol at Google and worked only in the company’s Chrome web browser. SPDY has since won support elsewhere. Firefox will have SPDY support when version 11 hits prime time in the near future [Update: As Mozilla’s Chris Blizzard points out, SPDY is disabled by default in Firefox 11. If you’re using the beta and want to give it a try, you’ll need to visit about:config, search for network.http.spdy.enabled and set the value to true. If all goes well SPDY will be turned on by default in Firefox 13.]. Amazon also baked SPDY support into its Silk browser for the Kindle.

The IETF’s HTTPbis Working Group — the standards body charged with creating and maintaining the HTTP specification — is now considering adding SPDY to HTTP 2.0, which will improve the speed of HTTP connections.

Despite the web standards backing, SPDY still has a long way to go before it’s an everyday part of the web. With only Chrome and Firefox behind it, SPDY is still only available for about 40 percent of desktop users. But with large services like Twitter throwing their weight behind it, SPDY may well start to take the web by storm — the more websites that embrace SPDY the more likely it is that other browsers will add support for the faster protocol.

If you’d like to follow Twitter’s lead and get your own site serving over SPDY, check out mod_spdy, a SPDY module for the Apache server (currently a beta release).