Google Chrome is testing a change which would see the Omnibox automatically default to the encrypted (HTTPS) version of a page, without going to the unencrypted version first. The move could shave valuable fractions of a second from page loading times and reflects the company’s policy of prioritising encrypted websites in search results, brought in during 2018.
A new code commit discovered by our friends at Windows Latest and expanded by 9to5Google shows that the team behind Chromium, the open-source version of Google Chrome, are listing the following as an experiment:
– Modifies omnibox and autocomplete code to use HTTPS as the default scheme for navigations. We call these “upgraded HTTPS navigations”.
– Observes upgraded HTTPS navigations until completion and falls back to the HTTP version of the URL if the HTTPS load fails. It does this by introducing a new navigation throttle called TypedNavigationUpgradeThrottle.
Whilst you may have just assumed it already did this, it’s only in recent years that encrypting pages by default has been the norm, and doing so any sooner could have resulted in unwanted 404 pages at a time when Google Chrome was just establishing itself as the world’s most prevalent browser platform.
“This is a minimal implementation and is not ready for general usage. Future CLs are going to observe upgraded HTTPS navigations for several seconds instead and cancel the load when necessary, instead of indefinitely waiting for HTTPS loads to succeed,” said a Google engineer.
Indeed some sites may only encrypt their homepage, making it difficult for the browser to keep track of whether to fall back or not, whilst others who have not implemented site encryption appropriately could suffer the same fate. As such, this all remains a work in progress, with no schedule for adding it commercially. When it does, however, it’s likely that other Chromium browsers including Microsoft Edge and Opera will follow suit.
This is a great example of how big tech ‘nudges’ behavior, then makes changes to embrace it. It was Google’s decision to change its search algorithm to prioritise encrypted sites that caused a seachange towards encryption in the first place. Now, it is in a position to use it to make the web a bit faster.