Sunday, April 15, 2012

High Performance Webapps. Use Data URIs. Practice.

This post continues the started discussion about data URIs. The first question is if it's worth to put data URIs in style sheets? Yes, it's worth. First, I would like to point you to this great article "Data URIs for CSS Images: More Tests, More Questions" where you can try to test all three scenarios for your location. Latency is different depending on your location. But you can see a tendency that a web page containing data URIs is loaded faster. We can see one of the main tricks to achieve better performance with data URIs:

Split your CSS in two files - one with main data and one with data URIs only and place the second one in the footer. "In the footer" means close to the HTML body tag. Page rendering feels faster then because of the progressive rendering. In the second article you can see that this technique really accelerates page rendering. Style sheet in footer leads to a nice effect that large images download in parallel with the data URI style sheet. Why? Well, browser thinks stuff placed in footer can not have any impact on page structure above included files and doesn't block resource loading. I also read that in this case all browsers (except old IE versions) render a page immediately without waiting until CSS with data URIs has been loaded. The same is valid for JavaScript files, as far as I know. Is it valid at all to put CSS files in page footer? Well, it's not recommended in the HTML specification. But it's valid in practice and it's not bad at all in special cases. There is an interesting discussion on Stackoverflow "How bad is it to put a CSS include in the middle of the body?"

The second tip is to use data URIs for small images, up to 1-2 KB. It's not worth to use data URIs for large images. A large image has a very long data URI string (base64 encoded string) which can increase the size of CSS file. Files with a big size can block loading of other files. Remember, browsers have connection limitations. They can normally open 2-8 conection to the same domain. That means only 2-8 files can be loaded parallel at the same time. After reading some comments in internet I got an acknowledge about my assumption with 1-2 KB images.

We can soften this behavior by using of GZIP filter. A GZIP filter reduces size of resources. I have read that sometimes the size of an image encoded as data URI is even smaller than the size of original image. A GZIP filter is appled to web resources like CSS, JavaScript and (X)HTML files. But it's not recommended to apply it to images and PDF files e.g. So, not encoded images aren't going through the filer, but CSS files are going through. In 99%, if you gzip your CSS file, the resulting size is about the same as the regular image URL reference! And that was the third tip - use a GZIP filter.

I would like to show now my test results. My test environment: Firefox 11 on Kubuntu Oneiric. I prepared the showcase of PrimeFaces Extensions with 31 images which I added to the start page. These images display small themes icons in PNG format. Every image has the same size 30 x 27 px. Sizes in kilobytes lie in range 1.0 - 4.6 KB. CSS file without data URIs was 4.8 KB and with data URIs 91,6 KB. CSS files were included quite normally in HTML head section, by the way. I deployed showcases with and without data URIs on my VPS with Jetty 8 server. First without a GZIP filer. I cleared browser cache and opened Firebug for each showcase. Here results:

Without data URIs:

65 requests. Page loading time 3.84s (onload: 4.14s).

That means, document ready event occured after 3.84 sek. and window onload after 4.14 sek. Subsequent calls for the same page (resources were fetched from browser cache) took 577 ms, 571 ms, 523 ms, ...

With data URIs:

34 requests. Page loading time 3.15s (onload: 3.33s).

That means, fewer requests (remember 31 embedded images), document ready event occured after 3.15 sek. and window onload after 3.33 sek. Subsequent calls for the same page (resources were fetched from browser cache) took 513 ms, 529 ms, 499 ms, ...

There isn't much difference for subsequent calls (page refreshes), but there is a significant difference for the first time visiting. Especially onload event occurs faster with data URIs. No wonder. Images being loading after document is ready. Because they can not be loaded parallel (number of opened connection is limited), they get blocked. I took some pictures from Google Chrome Web Inspector. Below you can see timing for an image (vader.png) for the first (regular) case without data URI.

And the second case for the same image encoded as data URI.

You see in the second picture there isn't any blocking at all. Tests with a GZIP Filter didn't have much impact in my case (don't know why, maybe I haven't too much resources). Average times after a couple of tests with empty cache:

Without data URIs:

65 requests. Page loading time 3.18s (onload: 3.81s).

With data URIs:

34 requests. Page loading time 3.03s (onload: 3.19s).

Any questions?


  1. Now in web page developing HTML5 and CSS3 Design is lame light in all over the world and as we all know that the new progress in any thing is also add some complexity.

  2. thanks. v interesting and well researched. appreciate.