Minifying or Munging Code for Faster Website Page Speed

Posted by in Sustainability, Web Development tagged with ,

In this post, we explore how minifying page scripts can help increase performance, improve user experience, and burn less energy in the process.

When it comes to sustainable web design, optimizing performance is key. Simply put, the faster a web page downloads to your laptop or mobile device, the less energy it uses. There are dozens of techniques for speeding up website performance. In this post, we’re going to talk about two of those techniques: minifying code and obfuscation, which works through a process called munging.

Minifying Code

The average amount of JavaScript and CSS on web pages increased 44.7% and 25% respectively in a one year period from November 2010 to November 2011, according to a blog post on Pingdom.

Here is a recent comparison of the average bytes per page by content type for all websites in the Alexa Top 1,000,000 Sites from HTTP Archive. These snapshots were taken on April 1, 2012 and April 1, 2013.

pie graph of Average bytes per page by content type for April 2012
Average bytes per page by content type for April 2012
pie graph of Average bytes per page by content type for April 2013
Average bytes per page by content type for April 2013

As you can see, the amount of these two content types on web pages is on the rise with scripts increasing by an average of 50kb per page just over the past year.

In their resource “Best Practices for Speeding up Your Website“, Yahoo! advises developers that minification, the practice of removing unnecessary characters and white-space from source code without changing functionality, can offer significant performance enhancements because it reduces the size of a script file.

These unnecessary characters usually include white space characters, new line characters, comments, and sometimes block delimiters, which are used to make the code more readable by human programmers but not required for the script to run.

Tools for Minifying JavaScript and CSS

JavaScript or CSS files can be minified using simple tools like the ones listed below. This list is taken from Scott Hanselman’s blog post “The Importance (and Ease) of Minifying your CSS and JavaScript and Optimizing PNGs for your Blog or Website.”

Here are some JavaScript-specific compressors:

Here are some CSS compressors:

To use these tools, you copy and paste your scripts into the appropriate field, then press a button, and optimized scripts are returned to you to re-incorporate to your website. Though file sizes are smaller, none of the source code is actually changed.

Obfuscation: Munging Code

Similar to minification, another practice for increasing script performance is obfuscation. Unlike minification, obfuscation actually alters code through a process called munging. Munged code is typically harder to reverse engineer because function and variable names are converted into smaller strings, making the code more compact (and harder to read by humans).

Need to obfuscate some code? is one of many tools that can be used to obfuscate scripts.

Faster Pages = Happier Users, Less Energy

Both minification and obfuscation pertain to external scripts and inline script blocks. So which technique is better? It depends on your needs. According to one of Steve Souders’ post on the Yahoo! Developer Network blog:

In a survey of ten top U.S. web sites, minification achieved a 21% size reduction versus 25% for obfuscation.

Based on this, one might think obfuscation could be the better option. However, if you need to reverse engineer your code every time you want to make changes, it could require more effort on your team’s part.

If you want to understand more about how to improve your website and increase performance, check out our free web sustainability tool, Ecograder.

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Tim Frick founded Mightybytes in 1998 to help mission-driven organizations solve problems, amplify their impact, and meet business and marketing goals. He is the author of four books, including Designing for Sustainability: A Guide to Building Greener Digital Products and Services from O'Reilly Media. Connect with Tim on LinkedIn.