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High Performance Websites

S Sounders
Published by O'Reilly Media
ISBN:978-0-596-52930-7
168 pages
£ 18.50
Published: September 2007
reviewed by Mike Smith
   in the December 2007 issue (pdf), (html)
bookcover  

With less than 140 pages of content and just 14 ``rules'' this is no tome, but it is an interesting little book that could almost fit into the hacks series (... if there were 100 tips, rather than just the 14). These 14 rules are recommendations on how to improve the performance of a website at the front-end. That is, optimising the page; the HTML code; scripts etc rather than the database or other back-end infrastructure.

I know a couple of website performance measurement tools/services -- Site Confidence is one example. These tools display a bar chart indicating the download time of each component of the web page under scrutiny. Output similar to that provided by such tools is used throughout the book to show the download and processing time of various page elements. I believe in this case they were produced using IBM's Page Detailer, which can be downloaded from Alphaworks.

Interestingly (but perhaps not surprisingly) only 20% of page rendering time is attributed to the actual download of the HTML. The rest of the time is spent download other elements and local processing.

Without giving too much away, the rules cover the following topics: HTTP requests, Content Delivery Networks, Caching, Compression, Stylesheets, Scripts, CSS Expressions, Use of external files, DNS, Script ``Minification'', Redirection, ETags and Ajax.

Minification is the process of reducing the size of code, for example by removing white space and shortening variable names.

The book closes off with a chapter documenting the analysis of 10 top websites using a tool developed at Yahoo! (the author works for Yahoo!) based around the optimisation recommendations made in the book.

All-in-all I found the book interesting and useful. It has some worthwhile recommendations -- common sense in most cases, but I like the way the recommendations are backed up with examples and justification.

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