How the internet changed in 2019 (and what to expect in 2020)

Some pretty incredible advances were made this year across the internet — from the increased adoption of modernized protocols, to the growth in reach and capacity of global high-speed internet and beyond. It's changes like these, along with the challenges and wins shared by the tech leaders and inventive developers of the Fastly community, that will continue to drive us in 2020. These things inform what we'll build and where the internet at large will go. And because we have a unique view into these changes —  many of our distinguished engineers are on the boards and in the working groups guiding them, and a better, safer, faster internet has been the crux of our vision from the start — we created our own retrospective called Behind the screens, designed to share the most notable shifts online, and our insights into what they mean for developers in the coming year.

On top of the pivotal moments highlighted in Behind the screens, I wanted to share a few of my big takeaways from 2019 — there are three, in particular, that stand out — plus a prediction for where the future of programming could be headed.

Grassroots protocol improvement

One big shift that made me take note is that the appetite for changing and improving protocols and systems on the internet has increased significantly. The simple fact that we’re moving away from the view that protocols are unchangeable, and toward developers taking them into their own hands, means that the community can actually get involved in their modernization. We’re now seeing protocols that were created based on how we used the internet 30 years ago get the necessary upgrades they need to be better suited for the internet of today. (QUIC is a great example of this.) It’s a win for users — increased privacy, better online experiences, and greater security — and for developers, who want to be a part of building a better internet every day.

Encryption everywhere

Another movement we’re starting to see is the effect of encryption everywhere. This shift is well known to be a huge boon to both privacy and security. The internet has needed this shift for a long time and we’re extremely happy that it has hit critical mass.

However, this shift doesn’t just mean that everything is more secure. It also implies that everything is more changeable. This is a pretty exciting thing for all of us. When we have encryption in place, it is much harder for protocols to stagnate. End-to-end encryption implies that passive observers of traffic — ISPs, network optimizers, middleboxes, etc. — can’t make assumptions about the protocol. Ultimately, this means that if the server and client both speak the same protocol, they’ll be able to talk to each other. With that, we can make more frequent and routine updates to core protocols to keep them modern.

WebAssembly outside the browser

The shift I’m most excited about is this: the idea of WebAssembly (Wasm) at the edge and on the server is not a crazy thing anymore. It’s now publicly talked about. And with our launch of the Bytecode Alliance, bringing WebAssembly outside of the browser is now one of the primary goals of a significant group of companies.

The goal of Wasm is to make it possible for you, as a developer, to write in languages that you already know, in an environment that feels familiar — and then run that program anywhere. And that means you no longer have to be a specialized embedded systems developer to write something that runs on a watch, or a distributed systems programmer to run code on thousands of edge nodes at the same time. You can take the existing knowledge that you have and apply it to entirely new domains.

Looking ahead

All of these advancements happening at once set us up for a new era in programming. Imagine taking code that you’ve written and running it — not just on the place that it was intended for, but at scale, across entirely different platforms. Think laptops, watches, TVs, or a camera that's plugged into your network at home — not to mention at the edge and on a server and everywhere else. If it catches on the way that we're hoping it does, it will fundamentally change how people do this type of work.

As the year wraps up, we invite you to check out Behind the screens, and again give thanks to our customers and community who are there every step of the way, helping us build an internet with new possibilities — the kind that get us up in the morning, and keep us excited about what’s ahead.

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