Test Drive of the Google Hosted Ajax Libraries

calendarJuly 8, 2008 in Caching , HttpWatch , Javascript , Optimization

The recently announced Google Ajax Libraries API caught our attention because it offers some significant performance improvements if you use a popular Javascript library (e.g. JQuery, prototype, script_aculo_us, MooTools or dojo)  on your site. You can now reference these libraries at Google rather than having to host your own copy. The benefits of this approach are:

  • The libraries are hosted on Google’s high speed global network providing fast access from most locations world wide
  • HTTP compression minimizes the size of the download
  • Minimized versions of the each library are available to further reduce download size
  • The library that your site uses may already be in the user’s browser cache if the user has visited another site that uses the Google hosted libraries
  • You can specify which version of a library should be used with a hard coded URL or allow for automatic version upgrades using the google.load() function
  • Downloading from a different hostname (i.e. ajax.googleapis.com) frees up an HTTP connection in the browser that can be used to download other resources from your site
  • Google picks up the bandwidth bill for the hosted Javascript libraries

Based on these benefits, we decided to upgrade our Ajax gallery page to use the Google hosted version of jQuery. To do this we simply changed the script tag to use the URL of the minimized version of jQuery 1.2.6 at Google:

<script src="http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.2.6/jquery.min.js">                                                                                                  

The Google hosted version of the jQuery library gave us a consistent decrease in page load time of about 0.5 seconds. This benefit was largely achieved through the use of a different hostname (ajax.googleapis.com) which avoided Blocked time on the library download. You can see this clearly by first looking at the HttpWatch time chart of the Ajax page load in IE 7 using our own hosted copy of jQuery:

jQuery at httpwatch.com

and then the time chart of the page load using the Google hosted version:

jQuery at googleapis.com

We also saw a reduction in the Wait time displayed in HttpWatch. It reduced from about 150 ms with our hosted version to about 60 ms from Google. This was probably due to the use of Google’s Content Delivery Network (CDN). Our web server is hosted in Dallas, Texas and has a ping time of about 140 ms from our office in the UK. The Google host ajax.googleapis.com has a much lower ping time of 29 ms from here in the UK.

However, the overall response time for the library download, ignoring Blocked time, was slightly longer from Google because it incurred an extra DNS look-up and TCP connection. Here is the request level time chart for our hosted version of the library:

Time chart for jQuery at httpwatch.com

and the Google hosted version:

Time chart for jQuery at Google

One slight disappointment was that Google has set the cache expiration time of the library to one year in the future:

Cache Expiration Date

On most other Google sites they use very long expiration times as described in our Two Simple Rules for HTTP Caching post. They could have done this here, but it probably helps them to gather some usage statistics on these libraries and the chances of a cached Javascript library surviving in a browser cache for more than a year are fairly low.

In the end though, we hit one problem that stopped us using the Google hosted library. There appears to be no support for using HTTPS to download the library. Our Ajax page can be used in HTTP and HTTPS mode. If we simply hard-coded the HTTP download URL for Google we would end up with the dreaded ‘Do you want to display nonsecure items ?’ that we described in a previous post:

Non secure items warning in IE

So, if you are only using HTTP there are some excellent performance benefits from using the Google hosted Javascript libraries, but if your site needs HTTPS you’ll be forced to use your own hosted version on secure pages. Let’s hope that Google adds SSL support to ajax.googleapis.com.


calendarNovember 20, 2007 in HttpWatch , Internet Explorer , Javascript

Some customers contacted us recently to ask why they were seeing http://:/ recorded in HttpWatch. This URL produces an ‘Error 0x57’ in IE 6 and ERROR_INTERNET_INVALID_URL on IE 7.

The sites causing these errors had one thing in common. They were either using the jQuery or YUI javascript libraries. It was not immediately obvious where this URL was being generated because there was nothing in the DOM with that URL when we checked with the IE Developer Toolbar.

We set up a simple test page using the commented version of the jQuery library. If you access this page using HttpWatch you will see http://:/ being recorded as the page is loaded:

jQuery Demo

Then we searched for //:  guessing that IE was adding the http: prefix and the trailing forward slash.  HttpWatch highlighted the following piece of code in jquery.js. It is used on IE to generate an event that is equivalent to Firefox’s DOMContentLoaded:

IE Defer Script Hack

The jQuery library avoids using the standard window.onload event because it doesn’t fire until the page and all its images have been completely downloaded. This can lead to significant delays in providing javascript based functionality on a page. The advantage of using the DOMContentLoaded event is that it fires as soon as the page’s DOM elements can be safely accessed from javascript.

The workaround for the lack of the DOMContentLoaded event in IE uses a temporary <script> block to generate an event. However, the onreadystatechanged event of the <script> block will only fire at the correct time if the defer attribute is used and the script block has a src attribute. The value used in the src attribute causes the invalid URL that was recorded in HttpWatch.

The temporary <script> block is deleted when the event is triggered leaving no trace in the page’s DOM.

A similar workaround for IE is used in the YUI library:

YUI Defer Script Hack

You can see the resulting http://:/ if you go to the YUI Event Example:

YUI Event Example

The //: value in the src attribute is a compromise solution. If it contained a real URL it would trigger an extra network round-trip. The invalid URL used does cause the error seen in HttpWatch but the effect on performance if minimal. In the YUI Event Example shown above it only adds 3 milliseconds to the download time of the whole page.

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