HTTP vs HTTPS: An In-depth Comparison

Have you ever thought what’s the difference between an HTTP website and an HTTPS website? What is the difference in both of these terms anyway? How is HTTP different from HTTPS? Why do some websites suddenly start using HTTPS instead of HTTP?

If you want to know the difference between an HTTP website and an HTTPS website, and where each one of them is used, then continue reading because that’s exactly what this post is about. Let’s begin with our HTTP vs HTTPS analysis.

What is HTTP?

HTTP is the short form of Hypertext Transfer Protocol. It is a prescribed order (or a protocol) for presenting data or information. It is used for transferring and moving data over a network. Most of the information that moves from one website to another over the internet uses this HTTP protocol.

HTTP vs HTTPS: An In-depth Comparison

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There are two main types of messages involved in HTTP: responses and requests. HTTP requests are those that are created by the user’s browser when the user interacts with properties of the web. For example, if a user clicks on a link or button, their browser sends a series of ‘HTTP GET’ requests for the content that’s on the destination page. These requests are either received by the origin server or the proxy caching server. Then the recipient server generates an HTTP response. These HTTP responses are answers or replies to the HTTP requests.

Another HTTP website built on Strikingly

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All HTTP requests and responses are sent in the form of plaintext across the internet. Since these are in plaintext, anybody who is monitoring the connection can read them. This can become a problem when sensitive data is sent through a web application or website, such as a password, a credit or debit card number, or any other data a user types into a registration form. If there is a malicious actor or attacker within the network, they can simply read the plaintext and know exactly what the user is trying to do. They can then attempt to manipulate the request or communication.

This is where the HTTP vs HTTPS story comes in. To avoid such issues, many websites are now using HTTPS instead of HTTP.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS is the short form of Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. It is sometimes also referred to as HTTP over SSL or HTTP over TLS. HTTPS makes use of SSL or TLS for encrypting HTTP requests and responses. When you use HTTPS instead of HTTP, there is no plaintext used, which means an attacker is not able to read your request. Anyone who sees the request will only see a series of random and unreadable characters.

TLS uses public-key encryption, which is a kind of technology. There are two types of keys. One is a public key while the other is a private key. The certificates of these keys are signed cryptographically by a Certificate Authority (CA). Each browser has a few CAs that it trusts. Any certificate that is signed by a CA and exists in its trusted list gets a green padlock lock that shows in the address bar of the browser. The lock sign shows that the particular website has been proven to be trusted and does belong to the domain it is at.

Some companies have now turned the process of using SSL certificates into a free process. When a client browses a server connection, each machine requires a verified identity. The two devices in any such instance use the private and public keys to agree on all the new keys or the session keys, to encrypt any further communications among them. As a result, all HTTP requests and responses get encrypted with the session keys. Now anyone who views the communications will only see a string of random characters and not any plaintext. This is how HTTP vs HTTPS works.

Along with encrypting the communication, HTTPS also authenticates the two parties that are communicating with each other. Authentication means it verifies that a human or a machine is who they are claiming to be. In HTTP vs HTTPS, there is no such identity verification. It is merely based on trust. But in reality, on the modern internet, we cannot just rely on the principle of trust. We need authentication.

Think of an ID card a person has. It is used for confirming his or her identity. Similarly, a private key confirms the server’s identity. When a channel is opened by a client with the origin server, which happens when a user browses through a website, the user’s possession of a private key that matches with the website’s SSL certificate public key proves that the user’s server is a legitimate host for that website. This helps in blocking several attacks that could have taken place if there was no such authentication. Such attacks include DNS hijacking, domain spoofing, and Man-in-the-middle attacks.

What is Difference Between HTTP and HTTPS?

If you are doing an HTTP vs HTTPS comparison, here are the main differences between the two in simple terms.

1. URL

The URL of an HTTP website has only ‘http’ in it while that of an HTTPS website has ‘https’ in it. This is the main visible difference in HTTP vs HTTPS.

Showing an HTTPS Strikingly user's website

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2. Security

An HTTP website is considered to be not secure, while an HTTPS website has enhanced security.

Showing a secure website built on Strikingly

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3. Port

An HTTP website comes from Port 80 while an HTTPS website comes from Port 443.

4. OSI Layer

An HTTP website uses an application layer and an HTTPS website uses a transport layer.

5. Domain Validation

HTTP websites do not require domain validation but HTTPS websites do.

6. Encryption

HTTP websites are not encrypted and HTTPS websites are. This is the greatest difference in HTTP vs HTTPS.

Things to do Before Switching From HTTP to HTTPS

The process of turning a website from HTTP to HTTPS, once you have done your HTTP vs HTTPS comparison, is a one-way street. But it is not so easy and many people get confused in the process. There are so many options in the process to choose from that are laid upon you.

There are 4 main steps in the process.

  1. You have to obtain the SSL certificate, and that needs to be done from a trusted CA (Certificate Authority).
  2. You have to install the SSL certificate into your website’s hosting account.
  3. Then you need to set up 301 Redirects. This has to be done by editing your website’s .htaccess file by locating it in its root folder.
  4. Then you need to notify Google and other search engines that your website’s addresses have been changed. Now anyone who visits your site should be automatically taken to its HTTPS address.

If you find this process too complicated, you can use another option. The hosting companies nowadays offer SSL certificates along with their services. When they do that, most of the work to switch from HTTP to HTTPS is done by them. All you need to do is point out your site’s visitors to the new HTTPS web address. However, if you get your hosting company to do this for you, this might charge a relatively high service fee. It is better to learn the process by doing your HTTP vs HTTPS study and try to implement this switch on your own.

The Future of HTTP vs HTTPS

The internet today has over 4 billion users. These include shoppers, content consumers, and users of other categories. When user demand is combined with the regulations of the internet, it seems like a complete HTTP vs HTTPS analysis will soon be done by all the users, leading to a full transition of all websites from HTTP to HTTPS. Browsers are also encouraging this switch these days, as most of them plan to flag the HTTP websites by marking them as insecure.

Free SSL Certificate For Strikingly Websites

Screenshot of Strikingly landing page

Image taken from Strikingly

Strikingly is a website-building tool that has features to enable laymen to create and edit their websites on their own. It allows you to build a complete website within just a few hours, even when you have zero programming knowledge or coding skills.

At Strikingly, we strive to support our users in all the technical matters of launching and running a website. We also cooperate with our users in their HTTP vs HTTPS battle. We do this by offering a free-of-cost HTTP or SSL certificate for all our users’ websites.

Our SSL certificate lets your site visitors access it over its HTTPS version, which shows them that the connection between them and the website is secure and encrypted. This gives the visitors of our users’ websites confidence in the sense that their personal information cannot be read by any third-party source, especially when they are making payments with their credit or debit cards. Whether it is an eCommerce website or a simple site to showcase their services, helping our users in switching from HTTP to HTTPS gives them an advantage over those who build their websites on platforms other than Strikingly.

Hence, this contributes to the success and growth of our users’ websites, which is our ultimate goal. We are happy to see our users prosper and satisfy their site visitors as well as customers.