Friday, September 23, 2011

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Speed Up Your Javascript Load Time

Javascript is becoming increasingly popular on websites, from loading dynamic data via AJAX to adding special effects to your page.

Unfortunately, these features come at a price: you must often rely on heavy Javascript libraries that can add dozens or even hundreds of kilobytes to your page.

Users hate waiting, so here are a few techniques you can use to trim down your sites.

Find The Flab

Like any optimization technique, it helps to measure and figure out what parts are taking the longest. You might find that your images and HTML outweigh your scripts. Here’s a few ways to investigate:

1. The Firefox web-developer toolbar lets you see a breakdown of file sizes for a page (Right Click > Web Developer > Information > View Document Size). Look at the breakdown and see what is eating the majority if your bandwidth, and which files:

2. The Firebug Plugin also shows a breakdown of files – just go to the “Net” tab. You can also filter by file type:

3. OctaGate SiteTimer gives a clean, online chart of how long each file takes to download:

Disgusted by the bloat? Decided your javascript needs to go? Let’s do it.

Compress Your Javascript

First, you can try to make the javascript file smaller itself. There are lots of utilities to “crunch” your files by removing whitespace and comments.

You can do this, but these tools can be finnicky and may make unwanted changes if your code isn’t formatted properly. Here’s what you can do:

1. Run JSLint (online or downloadable version) to analyze your code and make sure it is well-formatted.

2. Use Rhino to compress your javascript. There are some online packers, but Rhino actually analyzes your source code so it has a low chance of changing it as it compresses, and it is scriptable.

Install Rhino (it requires Java), then run it from the command-line:
java -jar custom_rhino.jar -c myfile.js > myfile.js.packed 2>&1

This compresses myfile.js and spits it out into myfile.js.packed. Rhino will remove spaces, comments and shorten variable names where appropriate. The “2>&1″ part means “redirect standard error to the same location as the output”, so you’ll see any error messages inside the packed file itself (cool, eh? Learn more here.).

Using Rhino, I pack the original javascript and deploy the packed version to my website.

Debugging Compressed Javascript

Debugging compressed Javascript can be really difficult because the variables are renamed. I suggest creating a “debug” version of your page that references the original files. Once you test it and get the page working, pack it, test the packed version, and then deploy.

If you have a unit testing framework like jsunit, it shouldn’t be hard to test the packed version.

Eliminating Tedium

Because typing these commands over and over can be tedious, you’ll probably want to create a script to run the packing commands. This .bat file will compress every .js file and create .js.packed:
for /F %%F in ('dir /b *.js') do java -jar custom_rhino.jar -c %%F > %%F.packed 2>&1