The Right Tool…

I’ve been reading High Performance Web Sites and started thinking about how to apply the guidelines to my own sites (not to mention stuff for work). A lot of them are things I already do: minimize external resources, use compression & cache control, etc. Others are a bit out of reach for a personal site [edit: not anymore], like using a content delivery network. It got me looking at the way I use scripts, and reminded me of a change I made about a year and a half ago.

Way back when, I put a simple app on my Flash site: a team-name generator for teams of speedsters. It randomly generated a name from two lists, and provided a button to generate another one. I originally wrote it in PHP.

The funny thing was that it was the most-hit page on the site, because people would sit there and hit the button to generate a new name half a dozen times before moving on. And because it was a sever-side script, that meant not just another HTTP hit, but re-downloading the entire web page with only 2 words being different.

Eventually I realized it was much better suited to a client-side app. I rewrote the whole thing in JavaScript, using DOM functions to replace the name on the current page instead of reloading. I left the hooks to the PHP in place, so that it would still work for clients with JavaScript disabled.

  • It was much faster — practically instantaneous, in fact.
  • It used a lot less bandwidth — 40 KB (5 KB × 8 ) vs. 6 KB (5 KB + 1 KB) for a typical 8-name* scenario.
  • Traffic stats more accurately reflected the page’s popularity, as it dropped from #1 to around #30–50.

* Based on a drop from 32,000 hits/month in July 2006 to 4,000 hits/month in September, with the rest of the site staying about the same, it seems people were hitting reload 7 times.

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