Behind every email, post, like, purchase, pin, slack, and snap on the web are the cables, servers, satellites, languages, code, and protocols that make these experiences possible.
The growth of this complex infrastructure helps make room for new technologies. These technologies push us to dream bigger about the kinds of online experiences we can create. And new experiences, in turn, push infrastructure to keep pace with a continuous cycle of inspiration and progress.
Here’s a look at 2019’s most notable changes to internet infrastructure, and what they mean for 2020 and beyond.
First things first: to have the internet, you need connectivity. In May of this year, SpaceX launched 60 low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites to provide high-speed, broadband internet to parts of the world that never had access to it. And they plan to launch another 40,000 in the coming years. OneWeb, Telesat, Amazon, and Facebook have also thrown their hats into the LEO satellite ring, with some already requesting permission to launch their own fleets.
While new satellites took to the sky, 27 new, fiber-optic submarine cables, totaling 39,094.5 kilometers* in length, were installed on the ocean floor this year. The longest runs 7,200 kilometers under the Atlantic Ocean connecting Wall Township, New Jersey, to Blaabjerg, Denmark; Kristiansand, Norway; and Lecanvey, Ireland. The shortest connects São Sebastião, Brazil with its neighboring island city of Ilhabela, Brazil just 2.5 kilometers away.
*as of December 9, 2019
While it’s been supported by all major browsers since 2017, the adoption and support of WebAssembly within the developer community began to pick up steam in 2019. Wasm’s flexibility and capabilities give more control to developers, greatly expanding what’s possible to accomplish within the browser, from gaming to web apps. One of the early success stories is the launch of Google Earth on Wasm, which allowed the app to run across multiple browsers. Expect experimentation with Wasm beyond the browser in 2020, backed by the recently formed Bytecode Alliance.
While fully defined in 2018, the latest version of TLS was more widely deployed in 2019 — growing from 6% to nearly 30% of all TLS sessions over the course of the year. This latest iteration provides both improved performance, thanks in part to a condensed handshake, as well as upgraded security between users and websites, ensuring that those two parties alone are privy to the information exchanged between them.
HTTP/2 is now the most common version of HTTP on the web, accounting for nearly 60% of all internet activity, and decreasing page load times for content-rich sites. HTTP/3 has the potential to become widely deployed in early 2020 as the new transport protocol, QUIC, nears completion.
With certificate transparency now a de facto requirement for all Certification-Authority-issued certificates on the web, the log of issued certificates grew significantly in 2019. This database of over 7 billion entries* (and counting) allows proactive identification of misused or impersonated certificates and helps bolster the security of the entire public key infrastructure ecosystem.
*as of December 9, 2019
In 2019, the tech industry grappled and experimented with new approaches to congestion control and secured DNS in the form of BBR and DNS over HTTPS.
The BBR algorithm seeks to manage buffering and congestion within today’s modern internet, while the goal of DNS over HTTPS is to increase the privacy and security of DNS. Industry leaders, such as Google and Mozilla, are both heavily vested in the progress of these solutions, though both still have some kinks to be worked out. Larger-scale changes can be expected in 2020.
Voted Stack Overflow’s most-loved programming language for the fourth year in a row, Rust continued to grow in popularity and usage in 2019. Its focus on concurrency, memory safety, and performance makes it capable of producing apps that run very quickly and efficiently at scale — ideal for Wasm and edge computing.
It’s easy for most people to see how the internet has changed year over year just by interacting with their phones or laptops. What’s not always so obvious is what’s taken place behind the screens to make those experiences possible. 2019 saw some remarkable shifts to internet infrastructure, from satellites inciting a new type of space race, to greater privacy and transparency with updated protocols. And as always, there's more ahead. Here’s to 2020, and the never-ending quest for a more trustworthy internet.