IBM unveils Reliable HTTP

IBM Corp. is trying to corral network industry support for a new communications protocol that beefs up the reliability of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol underpinning most Web traffic.

The new protocol – dubbed HTTPR for Reliable HTTP – ensures that a message gets delivered over the Internet to its destination application only once, or gets reported as undeliverable. HTTPR is geared toward business-to-business communications over the Web, such as ordering a part or processing a purchase order, where a message must be delivered once and only once to its intended receiver.

IBM engineers designed HTTPR to work with other nascent Web services protocols such as the Simple Object Access Protocol for XML message formatting, Universal Description Discovery and Integration for directory services, and Web Services Description Layer for describing Web services and service providers.

“Reliability needs to be an important part of the standards stack for Web services,” says Bob Sutor, director for e-business standards strategy at IBM. “You can put [reliability] into the application level or you can drop it down to the transport level… HTTPR fits in at a level underneath the applications to keep the application logic a lot simpler.”

HTTPR defines a set of conventions that developers can use to define how messages will be sent back and forth between Web applications in a reliable fashion. HTTPR runs on the current version of HTTP – 1.1 – and it sends messages that look like regular HTTP traffic. HTTPR also works with the secure version of HTTP called HTTPS.

HTTPR requires support in Web server software, Web applications and messaging agents. IBM has not announced plans to support HTTPR in its WebSphere software, but the company expects to release preliminary HTTPR code on its AlphaWorks Web site in coming months.

“We think it’s pretty well cooked,” Sutor says, pointing out that HTTPR was designed by the same engineers that work on IBM’s MQSeries, which many large organizations use for internal messaging.

IBM published the HTTPR specification on its DeveloperWorks Web site last week in the hope of generating industry feedback. IBM also plans to pitch HTTPR to a standards body such as the Internet Engineering Task Force.