HTTP is obsolete. It’s time for the distributed, permanent web
Sep 8 2015
Early this year, the Internet Archive put out a call for a distributed web. We heard them loud and clear.
Today I’m making an announcement that begins our long journey to the future of the web. A web that is faster, more secure, more robust, and more permanent.
Neocities has collaborated with Protocol Labs to become the first major site to implement IPFS in production. Starting today, all Neocities web sites are available for viewing, archiving, and hosting by any IPFS node in the world. When another IPFS node chooses to host a site from Neocities, that version of the site will continue to be available, even if Neocities shuts down or stops hosting it. The more IPFS nodes seed Neocities sites, the more available (and redundant) Neocities sites become. And the less centrally dependent the sites are on us to continue existing.
What is IPFS? From their README:
IPFS is a distributed file system that seeks to connect all computing devices with the same system of files. In some ways, this is similar to the original aims of the Web, but IPFS is actually more similar to a single bittorrent swarm exchanging git objects. IPFS could become a new major subsystem of the internet. If built right, it could complement or replace HTTP. It could complement or replace even more. It sounds crazy. It is crazy.
IPFS is still in the alpha stages of development, so we’re calling this an experiment for now. It hasn’t replaced our existing site storage (yet). Like with any complex new technology, there’s a lot of improvements to make. But IPFS isn’t vaporware, it works right now. You can try it out on your own computer, and already can use it to help us serve and persist Neocities sites.
The message I want to send couldn’t possibly be more audacious: I strongly believe IPFS is the replacement to HTTP (and many other things), and now’s the time to start trying it out. Replacing HTTP sounds crazy. It is crazy! But HTTP is broken, and the craziest thing we could possibly do is continue to use it forever. We need to apply state-of-the-art computer science to the distribution problem, and design a better protocol for the web.
Part 1: What’s wrong with HTTP?
The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) has unified the entire world into a single global information protocol, standardizing how we distribute and present information to eachother.
It is inconceivable for me to even think about what life would be like without it. HTTP dropped the cost of publishing content to almost nothing, an innovation that took a sledgehammer to the top-down economic, political, and cultural control over distribution of information (music, ideas, video, news, games, everything). As a result of liquifying information and making it the publication of it more egalitarian and accessible, HTTP has made almost everything about our culture better.
I love HTTP, and I always will. It truly stands among the greatest and most important inventions of all time.
But while HTTP has achieved many things, it’s usefulness as a foundation for the distribution and persistence of the sum of human knowledge isn’t just showing some cracks, it’s crumbling to pieces right in front of us. The way HTTP distributes content is fundamentally flawed, and no amount of performance tuneups or forcing broken CA SSL or whatever are going to fix that. HTTP/2 is a welcome improvement, but it’s a conservative update to a technology that’s beginning to show its age. To have a better future for the web, we need more than a spiced up version of HTTP, we need a new foundation. And per the governance model of cyberspace, that means we need a new protocol. IPFS, I’m strongly hoping, becomes that new protocol.