Saturday, January 19, 2008

Site performance - javascript & css aggregation, and CSS sprites

About a month ago we started working hard on improving the performance of our Traxtuff website. After some research we came to the conclusion that it was our many css and javascript files that were causing most of the performance problems. Also - every css and javascript file were called many times on each page, causing very strange firebug problems. So we decided to add a javascript and css aggregation mechanism to our project.

Basically how it should work is by replacing all the calls to javascript and css by one call to a file containing all the concatenated javascript and css files. It should recognize when the cache is out of date and regenerate it. It should include each javascript and css only once inside of the cache.

Now, I am very loath to write "frameworks". Why? Because I would much rather find someone else's framework and use it. Most likely they already went through all the debugging and testing of the framework. Still, I couldn't find someone else's php code that does this. Drupal 5 has css aggregation, and Drupal 6 has css and js aggregation, but since we don't use Drupal in Traxtuff, I wanted to write clean code that would do this for me.

So after a long and arduous debugging process where almost every day I received an emotional email from Yonatan about another bug in the caching mechanism, I finished writing our very own javascript and css aggregator for PHP (Amazing how many bugs 175 lines of code can contain).

I released it in google code here. There are many problems with this project, it is not really a "framework" yet, but more ugly patchy code. But I feel it is good enough to let other programmers look at, and maybe copy paste relevant portions into their projects. I hope to "componentize" this code in the near future.

I can safely say our site now loads about 5 times faster than it did before we introduced this caching mechanism.

However, as our site's design gets more complex, we bumped into another problem - the site is starting to slow down again because of having too many images (many of them quite small). The best solution for this kind of problem is to use sprites (basically a technique of slapping all of your images into one large image and using CSS to display only the appropriate portions). You can read about it in A List Apart. We haven't done this yet, but I found a really cool sprite and css generator we can use.

To learn about improving your site's performance, I really recommend reading Yahoo's best practices for speeding up your website, and also installing the really really cool YSlow firefox plugin to check how well you applied those practices to your site.


Uzbekjon said...

Great write up.

For those of you who is interested in your own javascript code performance testing you can find a nice article here:

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