The World Wide Web: HTTP
One of the major communication technologies that has changed the way people live and work is the Web. Perhaps what appeals the most users about the Web is that it is on demand. Users receive what they want, when they want it. This is unlike broadcast radio and television, which force users to "tune in" when the content provider makes the content available. In addition to being on demand, the Web has many other wonderful features that people love and cherish. It is enormously easy for any individual to make any available over the Web; everyone can become a publisher at extremely low cost. Hyperlinks and search engines help us navigate through an ocean of Web sites. Graphics and animated graphics stimulate our senses. Forms, Java applets, Active X components, as well as many other devices enable us to interact with pages and sites. And more and more, the Web provides a menu interface to vast quantities of audio and video material stored in the Internet, audio and video that can be accessed on demand.
2. Overview of HTTP
The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), the Web's application-layer protocol, is at the heart of the Web. HTTP is implemented in two programs: a client program and a server program. The client program and server program, executing on different end systems, talk to each other by exchanging HTTP messages. HTTP defines the structure of these messages and how the client and server exchange the messages. It is useful to review some Web terminology. A Web page (also called a document) consists of objects. An object is a simple file -- such as an HTML file, a JPEG image, a GIF image, a Java applet, an audio clip, etc. -- that is addressable by a single URL. Most Web pages consist of a base HTML file and several referenced objects. For example, if a Web page contains HTML text and five JPEG images, then the Web page has six objects: the base HTML file plus the five images. The base HTML file references the other objects in the page with the objects' URLs. Each URL has two components: the host name of the server that houses the object and the object's path name. For example, the URL: www.someSchool.edu/someDepartment/picture.gif
has www.someSchool.edu for a host name
and /someDepartment/picture.gif for a path name.
A browser is a user agent for the Web; it displays to the user the requested Web page and provides numerous navigational and configuration features. Web browsers also implement the client side of HTTP. Thus, in the context of the Web, we will interchangeably use the words "browser" and "client".
HTTP defines how Web clients (i.e., browsers) request Web pages from servers (i.e., Web Servers) and how servers transfer Web pages to clients. The general idea is illustrated in Figure 1. When a user requests a Web page (e.g., clicks on a hyperlink), the browser sends HTTP request messages for the objects in the page to the server. The server receives the requests and responds with HTTP response messages that contain the objects.
Figure 1: HTTP request-response behavior
Both HTTP/1.0 and HTTP/1.1 use TCP as their underlying transport protocol. The HTTP client first initiates a TCP connection with the server. Once the connection is established, the browser and the server processes access TCP through their socket interfaces. On the client side the socket interface is the "door" between the client process and the TCP connection; on the server side it is the "door" between the server process and the TCP connection. The client sends HTTP request messages into its socket interface and receives HTTP response messages from its socket interface. Similarly, the HTTP server receives request messages from its socket interface and sends response messages into the socket interface. Once the client sends a message into its socket interface, the message is "out of the client's hands" and is "in the hands of TCP". TCP provides a reliable data transfer service to HTTP...
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