How to improve site speed - Part 2: Network

The network is always the slowest part of viewing a web page. When developing a website locally, it is all too easy to include a lot of resources without realising the impact that it has on page load times.

For every resources that is required, the browser has to connect to the appropriate server and download the resource. If the browser has not seen the server before, the browser will also have to do a DNS lookup. DNS lookups and establishing a connection all take time. Doing it once is generally very quick (tens to hundreds of milliseconds). However if there are a lot of request to a lot of servers, this can all add up to a significant amount of time wasted.

Connections

According to the HTTP 1.1 specification, the maximum number of concurrent connections per host is two (although most modern browser increase this limit to four or six). Having too few connections can cause the download to stall, as the browser waits idly for the connections to be freed up. To get round this bottle-neck, serve media from several domains. This increases the amount of connections the browser will make to the website. This can speed up the delivery of resources, as the bottle-neck moves from number of connections to the server to the bandwidth of the connection. Experimental evidence suggests that the ideal number of media domains is currently three.

Cookies

When you are serving media resources from their own domains, you do not need to send cookies with the request. This will speed up the time it takes to transfer the resources as you won't have to wait for the browser to send the sites cookie with each request. If your cookie is 500 bytes in size and you have 25 resources on your page, you can save 112.5 Kilobytes per page load.

In-line JavaScript and CSS

It is a good idea to remove any in-line JavaScript or CSS, as the browser cannot cache these separately from the document. This increases the page size unnecessarily, and can cause the browser to re-flow the content.

Avoid bad requests (404) wherever possible. They are essentially wasted requests that stop the page from being loaded. The return value of 404 resources is never cached, just in case the resource is made available at a later date. This increases the amount of round trips to the server. 404 pages are also often quite large as they can be used to give the user a descriptive message. While this is a good idea for web pages that a user is likely to see, when it is a media resource it just wastes time and bandwidth.

3rd Party Resources

Resources that are hosted on 3rd party servers can also add to the total time and size downloaded for a web site. If the 3rd party component is slow, or down for some reason, this will impact the speed and usability of your website. For this reason, you should consider the value of the 3rd party components before you use them on your website. The P3PC project aims to score the impact of 3rd party components. It is worthwhile checking out if the component you want to use is scored there and what impact it will have on your website.


Read the first part of this article in How to improve site speed - Part 1: Rendering.


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