Easy Website Tuning

Sun 08/25/13   20:12  in  technical

Having recently moved to Pelican [1], I found myself interested in seeing how I could coerce my server (runing Apache [2]) into taking proper advantage of the bulk of the website being static.

There’s lots of information on the subject out there, but below I describe the few easy changes I made to greatly improve performance of my website.


Enable gzip compression

Ensure you have mod_deflate available and add the following to your httpd.conf:

<IfModule mod_deflate.c>
  AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/text text/html text/plain text/xml text/css application/x-javascript application/javascript application/json

Which enables gzip compression on the listed file types, which is simple and appropriate for a Pelican [1]-based website.

While trimming some of my larger dependencies (such as the bootstrap js and css) would be useful, gzip compression is simple and very effective on text-based formats such as these.

Since compression support is used automatically in response to the client’s reported support for it, I was happy to note that mod_deflate automaticaly adds an appropriate Vary: Accept-Encoding header to enable correct functionality even when accessed through a proxy.

Set the “Cache-Control” header

This header is used to specify the caching behavior of the client, and when used properly can greatly reduce accesses made to unchanging files while browsing your site.

To add these headers, one can make use of mod_expires or by simply adding something like the following:

<FilesMatch "\.(ico|pdf|flv|jpg|jpeg|png|gif|js|css|swf)$">
  Header set Cache-Control "max-age=29030400, public"

This example says the content is public, which allows any intermediate host to cache the contents. For static resources like those matched by this directive, this is reasonable behavior. You would not want this to be set for content generated for a particular user.

The max-age component specifies how long (in seconds) the content can be cached.

Use a CDN

From Wikipedia, a CDN [3] is:

A content delivery network or content distribution network (CDN) is a large distributed system of servers deployed in multiple data centers across the Internet. The goal of a CDN is to serve content to end-users with high availability and high performance.

In short, CDN’s are used to provide high-speed access to a file by providing the data from a server “close” to the user accessing it.

Outsourcing Dependency Hosting

While the content of my blog is small (text mostly), it does have some moderately hefty dependencies:

Luckily there are a number of free CDN’s that host very common files such as these. These are maintained by large companies with the explicit purpose of being highly available and very fast, enabling users accessing my site to get copies of these dependencies much faster than I’d be able to provide them otherwise.

The CDN’s I’m now using are:

CDN Example

An example of rewriting some self-hosted dependencies to use CDN-hosted sources is shown below:


<link rel="stylesheet" href="{{ SITEURL }}/theme/css/bootstrap.min.css" type="text/css" />


<link href="//netdna.bootstrapcdn.com/bootstrap/2.3.2/css/bootstrap.min.css" rel="stylesheet">

Where {{ SITEURL }} is part of the templating done by Pelican [1], and the // prefix to the CDN source is a trick to use http or https dependencing on how the current page is loaded.

Tools to Spot Easy Tunables

While investigating how to improve my website’s loading times, I ran into three tools that were particularly useful.


GTMetrix [11]

Providing a page load waterfall graph, YSlow/PageSpeed scores with detailed explanations, this was my favorite as the most comprehensive of these tools.


Pingdom Website Speed Test [10]

Also offers a waterfall, and another “Page Speed” analysis that found other problems not reported by GTMetrix.


Google PageSpeed Insights [12]

Google’s offering based on its PageSpeed [13] service, this was particularly helpful in identifying issues for mobile users. They also offer plugins that run on your server and automatically optimize your website. While very cool and appealing, I didn’t explore this route since I was interested in the learning to be had by exploring this by hand.


This blog now loads quite a bit faster, and ignoring time happily spent reading up on the various topics discussed here the actual changes were straightforward and easy. Hope this helps!

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