14 golden rules for site optimization

golden rules

1: Minimize HTTP Requests

80% of the end-user response time is spent on the front-end. Most of this time is tied up in downloading all the components in the page: images, stylesheets, scripts, Flash, etc. Reducing the number of components in turn reduces the number of HTTP requests required to render the page. This is the key to faster pages.

2: Use a Content Delivery Network

The user’s proximity to your web server has an impact on response times. Deploying your content across multiple, geographically dispersed servers will make your pages load faster from the user’s perspective.

3: Add an Expires Header

Web page designs are getting richer and richer, which means more scripts, stylesheets, images, and Flash in the page. A first-time visitor to your page may have to make several HTTP requests, but by using the Expires header you make those components cacheable. This avoids unnecessary HTTP requests on subsequent page views. Expires headers are most often used with images, but they should be used on all components including scripts, stylesheets, and Flash components.

4: Gzip Components

The time it takes to transfer an HTTP request and response across the network can be significantly reduced by decisions made by front-end engineers. It’s true that the end-user’s bandwidth speed, Internet service provider, proximity to peering exchange points, etc. are beyond the control of the development team. But there are other variables that affect response times. Compression reduces response times by reducing the size of the HTTP response.

5: Put Stylesheets at the Top

Front-end engineers that care about performance want a page to load progressively; that is, we want the browser to display whatever content it has as soon as possible. This is especially important for pages with a lot of content and for users on slower Internet connections. The importance of giving users visual feedback, such as progress indicators, has been well researched and documented. In our case the HTML page is the progress indicator! When the browser loads the page progressively the header, the navigation bar, the logo at the top, etc. all serve as visual feedback for the user who is waiting for the page. This improves the overall user experience.

6: Put Scripts at the Bottom

Rule 5 described how stylesheets near the bottom of the page prohibit progressive rendering, and how moving them to the document HEAD eliminates the problem. Scripts (external JavaScript files) pose a similar problem, but the solution is just the opposite: it’s better to move scripts from the top to as low in the page as possible. One reason is to enable progressive rendering, but another is to achieve greater download parallelization.

7: Avoid CSS Expressions

The problem with expressions is that they are evaluated more frequently than most people expect. Not only are they evaluated when the page is rendered and resized, but also when the page is scrolled and even when the user moves the mouse over the page. Adding a counter to the CSS expression allows us to keep track of when and how often a CSS expression is evaluated. Moving the mouse around the page can easily generate more than 10,000 evaluations.

8: Make JavaScript and CSS External

Using external files in the real world generally produces faster pages because the JavaScript and CSS files are cached by the browser. JavaScript and CSS that are inlined in HTML documents get downloaded every time the HTML document is requested. This reduces the number of HTTP requests that are needed, but increases the size of the HTML document. On the other hand, if the JavaScript and CSS are in external files cached by the browser, the size of the HTML document is reduced without increasing the number of HTTP requests.

9: Reduce DNS Lookups

The Domain Name System (DNS) maps hostnames to IP addresses, just as phonebooks map people’s names to their phone numbers. When you type http://www.yahoo.com into your browser, a DNS resolver contacted by the browser returns that server’s IP address. DNS has a cost. It typically takes 20-120 milliseconds for DNS to lookup the IP address for a given hostname. The browser can’t download anything from this hostname until the DNS lookup is completed.

10: Minify JavaScript

Minification is the practice of removing unnecessary characters from code to reduce its size thereby improving load times. When code is minified all comments are removed, as well as unneeded white space characters (space, newline, and tab). In the case of JavaScript, this improves response time performance because the size of the downloaded file is reduced.

11: Avoid Redirects

Redirects are accomplished using the 301 and 302 status codes. Here’s an example of the HTTP headers in a 301 response:

      HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently

      Location: http://example.com/newuri

      Content-Type: text/html

The browser automatically takes the user to the URL specified in the Location field. All the information necessary for a redirect is in the headers. The body of the response is typically empty. Despite their names, neither a 301 nor a 302 response is cached in practice unless additional headers, such as Expires or Cache-Control, indicate it should be. The meta refresh tag and JavaScript are other ways to direct users to a different URL, but if you must do a redirect, the preferred technique is to use the standard 3xx HTTP status codes, primarily to ensure the back button works correctly.

12: Remove Duplicate Scripts

It hurts performance to include the same JavaScript file twice in one page. This isn’t as unusual as you might think. A review of the ten top U.S. web sites shows that two of them contain a duplicated script. Two main factors increase the odds of a script being duplicated in a single web page: team size and number of scripts. When it does happen, duplicate scripts hurt performance by creating unnecessary HTTP requests and wasted JavaScript execution.

13: Configure ETags

The problem with ETags is that they typically are constructed using attributes that make them unique to a specific server hosting a site. ETags won’t match when a browser gets the original component from one server and later tries to validate that component on a different server, a situation that is all too common on Web sites that use a cluster of servers to handle requests. By default, both Apache and IIS embed data in the ETag that dramatically reduces the odds of the validity test succeeding on web sites with multiple servers.

14: Make Ajax Cacheable

One of the cited benefits of Ajax is that it provides instantaneous feedback to the user because it requests information asynchronously from the backend web server. However, using Ajax is no guarantee that the user won’t be twiddling his thumbs waiting for those asynchronous JavaScript and XML responses to return. In many applications, whether or not the user is kept waiting depends on how Ajax is used. For example, in a web-based email client the user will be kept waiting for the results of an Ajax request to find all the email messages that match their search criteria. It’s important to remember that “asynchronous” does not imply “instantaneous”.

More details about the 14 rules can be found here: http://developer.yahoo.com/performance/rules.html

It is also possible to try all these rules on practice at http://stevesouders.com/examples/rules.php

A great web based tool for site loading time analyze is available at http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/

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3 Responses to “14 golden rules for site optimization”

  1. Arun Says:

    Nice post. These are all very useful steps to optimize a website. You may also try out Web Page Analyzer – a free online tool to analyze more about site loading times

    http://site24x7.com/web-page-analyzer.html

    Arun
    http://site24x7.com

  2. Bob Says:

    You could try implementing these principles on this page.

  3. Nick Says:

    Great stuff, thank you


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