SiteGround Applies the QUIC Protocol: Beats Cloudflare!

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SiteGround recently announced last month, that they officially support QUIC – the improvement to HTTP/2. This allows faster simultaneous connections for multiple resources that don’t suffer from what is called “Head of Line Blocking” or HOLB. This makes SiteGround one of the first web hosts to offer QUIC to users, continuing their tradition of being ahead of the market curve. They were amongst the first to offer free SSL, SSDs, and now QUIC. Here’s the complete list of SiteGround discounts to get you started!

What’s particularly impressive, is that they even beat Cloudflare to the punch! So if you’re a Cloudflare user, you’re going to have to wait for a while to reap the benefits.

QUIC Protocol Explained

QUIC originally stood for “Quick UDP Internet Connections” and was first envisioned by Google way back in 2012. Since then, it’s a been a long road towards adoption and is now finally rolling out to the world at large under the stewardship of the IETF. You can read Google’s technical QUIC protocol specifications here if you want.

Benefits of QUIC

There are two primary benefits of the QUIC Protocol:

  1. Security
  2. Performance

Since security is likely to be a pretty boring read, let’s move straight to the exciting part – performance!

Performance Benefits of QUIC

When HTTP/2 first came out, it heralded significant changes in the way multiple resources were delivered for a single page. Before HTTP/2, if you required a bunch of CSS and JS files for a page load, each of them needed its own connection. And there was a limit to the number of connections a client could establish to a server at the same time.

That’s why we used to have advice like “Host your images on a different subdomain”. Advice that seems so antiquated nowadays, but which was there for a reason. It was also the driving force behind concatenation and merging of CSS and JS files.

HTTP/2 changed all that. Now, browsers could request any number of resources over a single TCP connection and have them all download simultaneously. For example, here’s how the static resources load for WP-Tweaks:

Simultaneous HTTP/2 Connections on WP-Tweaks
All files are downloaded at once over a single HTTP/2 connection

As you can see, they all start downloading at the same time. Once the initial DNS lookup and the handshake is complete, the client receives everything at once. No more waiting for one file to download before another starts.

This is great. Except for one hitch. All these files still share a single connection. Which means that if there’s a problem with any one of them for any reason, the entire connection is disrupted, and all the files are affected. This is called “Head of Line Blocking”.

It’s a problem that’s particularly severe in areas of the world where Internet connections are unstable. I’ve often complained that developers spend too much time optimizing sites for developed markets, where everything loads super-fast anyway.

But in some areas of Africa and East Asia, the speed difference can be very noticeable. QUIC aims to alleviate some of these problems.

QUIC Uses Independent UDP Instead of TCP

QUIC addresses the HOLB problem by separating the file connections and allowing each of them to have its own pipe. Unfortunately, this runs into the old HTTP problem of restricted simultaneous connections. So QUIC uses UDP instead of TCP and now everything works!

We retain the benefits of HTTP/2 and remove the disadvantage of a single file spoiling the fun for everyone else.

How to Implement QUIC for your Website

QUIC requires both the browser, as well as the server to support the protocol. Chrome is leading the way on this, and since most people use Chrome anyway, you should already be set on that count. Firefox doesn’t yet support QUIC, but it’s expected to soon.

Second, your site needs to be served over HTTPS. It might seem redundant at this point to exhort users to move to secure HTTPS, but I’ll do it anyway. You can get SSL for free easily with most hosts, so there’s no reason to hold back. Just the click of a button!

QUIC Enabled Web Hosts

The second component is one you have less control over. Right now, I know of only SiteGround and A2 Hosting that offer QUIC protocol support on their hosting plans. However, A2 only supports QUIC on their Turbo plans, whereas SiteGround has it on even their most basic shared hosting packages.

Cloudflare Hasn’t Caught up Yet

Like SiteGround, Cloudflare is usually well up on the latest technologies. However, their scale is so much larger, that they have to be very careful about introducing something new like this. As a result, Cloudflare sill doesn’t support QUIC. But they offer it as a beta feature. To access this, go to the “Network” tab in your Cloudflare dashboard, and you can join the waitlist as an early tester as shown here:

Cloudflare's QUIC is still in beta
Join the waiting list for QUIC in Cloudflare

This is definitely a bit disappointing since Cloudflare pipes so much of the Internet traffic through it. I personally use it for their firewall and Argo capabilities, and I consider Cloudflare to be one of the best CDN providers on the market, despite their “free” tier.

But I have confidence that this is coming quickly, and that soon we can all reap the benefits of QUIC! Till that time, you can use SiteGround’s servers to serve lightning quick responses to your users – especially if they live in places around the world with unstable Internet connections.

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