Sockets – Explain http keep-alive mechanism

httpsockets

Keep-alives were added to HTTP to basically reduce the significant
overhead of rapidly creating and closing socket connections for each
new request. The following is a summary of how it works within HTTP
1.0 and 1.1:

HTTP 1.0 The HTTP 1.0 specification does not really delve into how
Keep-Alive should work. Basically, browsers that support Keep-Alive
appended an additional header to the request as [edited for clarity] explained below:

When the server processes the request and
generates a response, it also adds a header to the response:

Connection: Keep-Alive

When this is done, the socket connection is
not closed as before, but kept open after sending the response. When
the client sends another request, it reuses the same connection. The
connection will continue to be reused until either the client or
the server decides that the conversation is over, and one of them drops the connection.

The above explanation comes from here. But I don't understand one thing

When this is done, the socket connection is not closed as before, but
kept open after sending the response.

As I understand we just send tcp packets to make requests and responses, how this socket connection helps and how does it work? We still have to send packets, but how can it somehow establish the persistent connection? It seems so unreal.

Best Solution

There is overhead in establishing a new TCP connection (DNS lookups, TCP handshake, SSL/TLS handshake, etc). Without a keep-alive, every HTTP request has to establish a new TCP connection, and then close the connection once the response has been sent/received. A keep-alive allows an existing TCP connection to be re-used for multiple requests/responses, thus avoiding all of that overhead. That is what makes the connection "persistent".

In HTTP 0.9 and 1.0, by default the server closes its end of a TCP connection after sending a response to a client. The client must close its end of the TCP connection after receiving the response. In HTTP 1.0 (but not in 0.9), a client can explicitly ask the server not to close its end of the connection by including a Connection: keep-alive header in the request. If the server agrees, it includes a Connection: keep-alive header in the response, and does not close its end of the connection. The client may then re-use the same TCP connection to send its next request.

In HTTP 1.1, keep-alive is the default behavior, unless the client explicitly asks the server to close the connection by including a Connection: close header in its request, or the server decides to includes a Connection: close header in its response.