Faster Web Pages Using CSS/JavaScript Minification and Consolidation
page 1 of 1
Published: 12 Oct 2010
Unedited - Community Contributed
Abstract
About 70-90% of the time spent waiting for a page on the average web site is actually due to the number of HTTP requests required for images, JavaScript, and CSS files! A key step in improving load times is reducing the number of these requests. Another is reducing the amount of information that has to be transmitted. This article explains how to minify and consolidate CSS and JavaScript files.
by Robert Boedigheimer
Feedback
Average Rating: This article has not yet been rated.
Views (Total / Last 10 Days): 12779/ 31

Background

About 70-90% of the time spent waiting for a page on the average web site is actually due to the number of HTTP requests required for images, JavaScript, and CSS files!  A key step in improving load times is reducing the number of these requests. Another is reducing the amount of information that has to be transmitted.  This article explains how to minify and consolidate CSS and JavaScript files.

Sample Project

The sample is created with Visual Studio 2010 and requires AjaxMinifier and MSBuild Extension Pack 4.0.  [Download Sample]

Minification

Minification is the process of reducing the size of a CSS or JavaScript file by removing whitespace, removing comments, and many other optimizations.  Microsoft provides a free tool called Ajax Minifier for this purpose.  Ajax Minifier can be run on the command line, used from a .NET program via an assembly, or using MSBuild tasks. 

Consolidation

Consolidation is the process of combining multiple files into a single file.   

Philosophy

The goal is to improve performance as much as possible without disrupting the developer's normal processes.  The ideal result is that in development the original CSS and JavaScript files are used, but in production there would be a single CSS file and a single JavaScript file for the entire site.  Sometimes people break up styles or script code into separate files and only include specific files on specific pages, my approach instead was to simplify by using the consolidated file(s) on all pages.  Since the files will be minimized, consolidated, compressed, and using expirations for effective browser caching, it could be both easy to use and perform extremely well.  The minification and consolidation are done at project build time so there is no impact on runtime performance (unlike some script combining technologies).  

Versioning and Expirations

When a user visits a web site for the first time the browser cache will not have any of the site's files.  On a subsequent visit to the web site it would be great if the browser used the files in its cache and did not have to ask the server for them.  Sadly, by default, that is not what happens.  Since the browser does not know if the file is "fresh", it asks the server if it has a newer copy of the file.  If not, the server returns a 304 status code and no content.  Unfortunately, the trip to the server to find out the file has not changed is wasted time, especially when it is doing it for lots of files.  The server can setup expirations (using IIS response headers) to indicate that a given file won't be changed for X days.  Now the browser can just use the content from the cache and not need to talk to the server at all!  What happens when you need to update a file?  To force the browser to request the new file, just update the file's name by adding a version number (like jQuery, with "jquery-1.4.2.min.js").  The page references the new file which won't be in the cache, so the browser will request the updated version.

Minifying and Consolidating Process

The first step is to download and install AjaxMinifier (http://ajaxmin.codeplex.com/) and the MSBuild Extension Pack (http://msbuildextensionpack.codeplex.com/).  The web site project file (.csproj in downloaded sample) is adjusted using Notepad.  Here are the steps involved:

1.    Create a folder named "client" to host the combined files

2.    Create a class file "forceRebuild.cs".  It is "touched" during each build to ensure that a new version number is generated (even when only .css or .js files are changed).

3.    Open the "properties\assemblyInfo.cs" file, change the AssemblyVersion from the default 1.0.0.0 to 1.0.* (this will create a new version number each time the project is built)

4.    Open the sample file BuildInfo.txt, copy its contents and paste them into your website project just under the "<!-- To modify your build process," comment (need to either replace your BeforeBuild and AfterBuild or combine with things you already have there)

5.    Adjust the "NetAssembly" attribute from the <MSBuild.ExtensionPack.Framework.Assembly> element to point at your web site code behind assembly

6.    Adjust the list of CSS files and JavaScript files that need to be minimized, and the files that need to be combined

7.    The <AjaxMin> element invokes the Ajax Minifier MSBuild task which performs the actual minification tasks.  The minified versions of the files will be in the original folders with a ".min.js" or ".min.css" file suffix

8.    The standard <ReadLinesFromFile> and <WriteLinesToFile> MSBuild tasks are then used to combine the listed files.  The combined versions are placed in the "client" folder and are named with the version number from the assembly

9.    The <ItemGroup> at the bottom temporarily includes the new combined files into the project so the Visual Studio Publish feature will move them

Referencing Combined Files

Since the combined files will be used on every page, it is added to the master page <head>.  The sample code in the Site.Master uses PlaceHolders to include either the individual files in Debug mode or combined files in Release mode.  The links are created based on the assembly version of the site and will automatically pull the correct version after each build.

Expirations

Since the combined files have specific versions and are changed on each build, you can setup very long expirations on the "client" folder (year or more) because any time you modify that files they will have a different filename and will force a request to the server.  To set expirations in IIS 7 you use the Internet Information Services Manager and click on the "client" folder for the web site, double click the "HTTP Response Headers", and on the right click the "Set Common Headers…", then set the desired number of days for the expiration:

Notes

·         You can only move changes to files that are combined by building and moving the entire web site.  If you want to be able to move just a new combined .css or .js file, then do not use versioning for the combined file and don't use expirations on the "client" folder.  In that case your clients will always call the server to see if they have the latest file which will cause unnecessary requests and 304 responses, but you can move just the changed files.

·         If you don't want to list all of the source files for minification or consolidation you can, you can use wildcards.

·         Not all CSS files can be consolidated.  Ones that contain styles for a specific browser version accessed by IE conditional comments would not be good candidates for consolidation.

·         If you require references to file names that don't change (reference from HTML pages or 3rd party sites), create an additional folder that does not use expirations, and copy the combined files to that folder and don't use version numbers in the file names.  

Test!!!

Make sure that your new minified and consolidated files still work the way they did before!  No one likes a faster site that doesn't work!

Conclusion

This article shows a very detailed use of minification and consolidation that supplies many benefits.  Our site users saw pages load anywhere from 25-40% faster using these techniques.  Your mileage, of course, will vary.  This technique uses all free tools and is easy to implement.  Try it out and see if your gain in performance is worth the effort!



User Comments

Title: Updated Link for AjaxMinifier   
Name: Robert Boedigheimer
Date: 2010-10-13 9:00:18 AM
Comment:
Please use http://aspnet.codeplex.com/releases/view/40584 to get a setup for AjaxMinifer

Product Spotlight
Product Spotlight 





Community Advice: ASP | SQL | XML | Regular Expressions | Windows


©Copyright 1998-2017 ASPAlliance.com  |  Page Processed at 2017-10-19 5:36:53 PM  AspAlliance Recent Articles RSS Feed
About ASPAlliance | Newsgroups | Advertise | Authors | Email Lists | Feedback | Link To Us | Privacy | Search