Tag Archives: Web application

More on CSS Optimization

As CSS files are first downloaded to the client and then executed, the main optimization is to make those files smaller. But that doesn’t mean only minifing!


The Minification Process

While with minification you can strip all the symbols that only take space, but are useless when the browser parses the file, there are some other techniques, which in fact aren’t so simple, to speed up the loading process. By minification you get rid of the white spaces, tabs, new lines, etc., but the file may remain too large.

Useless Rules

Yes, sadly the browser doesn’t need all those white spaces, actually web developers need them. Just because this makes the file more readable, or readable at all. However most of the web applications have one large CSS file, typically named layout.css, main.css or whatever, that contains all the rules for the entire application. In many of the cases one page of a site doesn’t need all the rules for the site, so a possible solution is to remove all of the rules that aren’t used.

There are tools that may help you do the job. Such a tool, that I’m using is the Firefox add-on – Dust-Me Selectors. Of course there are a lot other tools doing the same job, so it’s up to you to pick up one.

After removing all those useless rules you’ll see that the size of the file can be something like 20% of the size of the source file. This is interesting to note, because most of the time the minification cannot give you such performance benefit. In fact this comes with some issues.

One Request or What?

This is the dilemma of the web programming, isn’t it? However thus you can split the main CSS file to few smaller files, but they are named differently so you cannot expect the browser to cache them when the user visits the site for the first time.

The case must be, of course, tested against various situations, so you can decide what suits you. However the typical scenario is to optimize only few of the pages, as they might be the most visited – as for example the homepage. If two of the pages are mainly visited, than you can make custom, small, CSS files for them with only the necessary rules, and let the other pages with the main CSS file. If you’ve a lot of returning visitors, you can be sure the custom files will be cached (if the client cache is turned on) and the second time somebody visits the “homepage” for example the page will load faster.

Speed up the JavaScript. It can change dramatically the user experience.

JavaScript in a modern web application

If someone asks you what is the javascript in modern web developer, probably you should answer it’s almost the half of the traffic of your site and it’s almost everything when dealing with user experience.

Today’s big web apps are useless without it AJAX/JS part. Think about Facebook, Google products, Twitter, Yahoo!, Youtube.

Actually they made this a standart. The times when you used to use JavaScript as a helper language just to figure out how a drop down menu will work are far way in the past. Now JavaScript is everything in a rich web sites. With no JS they will be no rich at all! Then it comes the question how to improve sites with lots of javascript. Actually one of the main problems in the web now is that JavaScript is blocking content.

Blocked by the JavaScript

What that means at all is that until the browser receives and parses the JavaScript file/s it doesn’t process anything else, it even doesn’t load any other resources. Now you can imagine how big the problem is. When it comes to large files more than 100K the user experience will be very bad!

Optimize the web? What about optimizing JavaScript!

If the problem is so big as I described above why should we doubt about where to start with the optimization process? But of course with the JavaScript and the natural question that rises is how this can be optimized at all?

Three steps

Like me, many of you may heart of some techniques that improve javascript performance. Here are some I was able to select as important:

1. minify/compress

That’s rule number one. If everything that is a JavaScript file is processed once it arrives to the client than make it smaller and make it go faster trough the wire. Actually one technique to speed up things more is to concatenated all the files you have into one single big file. Although this will not spend you some space will reduce the HTTP requests and therefore speed up the loading process. Good tools that you can use to minify javascript files are the Yahoo’s YUI Compressor, that beside that compresses CSS and Google Closure Compiler. Both are extremely useful and by the last measurements the Google’s Compiler is even better, but it’s up to you to decide which one to pick up.

2 .write fast and smart code

You can minify everything that’s JavaScript and the code may remain slow. But why is that? That’s because the JavaScript is written in a bad way. You know there are many resources in the web describing what is a bad and what is a good practice when writing JS. Even more you can measure it by yourself if you’d like to use the Firebug’s profiler. That’s a good start to avoid bad practices.

3. improve loading – lazy loading

That’s a bit more complicated. If there’s a really big javascript file after compressing and concatenating all the JS functionality remains big. How to avoid that? Simply let’s the user to see the most important functionality and than load the entire app. Some good tutorials about lazy loading again can be found online. Don’t hesitate to search about.

Beside this really basic advices I’ll continue to write in my blog about specific techniques how to improve the JavaScript as this is one of the most interesting parts of web development by me.