High Performance Web Sites

Author: Steve Souders
Publisher: O'Reilly, 2007
Pages: 168
Aimed at: Beginners and those who have not optimized their website
Rating: 3.5
Pros: Includes practical advice and points to interesting examples
Cons: Repetitive and most of its message is aready well known
Reviewed by: Ian Elliot

How do you make a web site run faster? This is the topic of this book and it's a very thin book - 137 pages if you don't count the preface and so on. Surely there must be a lot to say on the subject? Not when the content boils down to: find a way to cache things and make stuff smaller.

This is perhaps an unfair summary of the contents, but it's accurate. The information is split into 14 steps to faster loading and each comes with an analysis of the problem, mostly using Firebug profiles of how various, often well-known, websites perform. This is followed by the presentation of a solution and then a discussion.

Most the time there are also URLs that you can use to try out the proposed solutions so that you can compare and contrast. It has to be said that some of the chapters are a bit repetitive - but in the main you can forgive the book its faults. The analysis of what well known websites are doing wrong is almost worth the cover price.

On the other hand after collecting data the author presents us with the conclusion that response time and page size are correlated - well yes bigger files do take longer to download. It would be more startling if there wasn't a clear correlation but you can't modify the universe just to make it more interesting.

What is missing from the book is any consideration of optimization of the wider server side system. There is nothing on database or web server optimization, Nothing on optimizing PHP or any server side language and nothing on optimizing client side Javascript once it has been delivered. The entire focus of the book is on making best use of the available bandwidth either by using compression, concurrent downloading or caching.

As to the actual rules - well they are all good stuff, but unless you are a beginner you should know most of it. However, even if you do know it there is no guarantee that you have acted on your knowledge, the book might just be a rallying cry for you to actually get round to optimizing that site. On the other hand if you install Yslow, the Firefox plug-in used to measure a site's performance, then you can read most of the ideas in its documentation. The bottom line is - if you are too busy to find this information on the web then buy a copy of this book.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 18 November 2009 )