WebPageTest enables anyone to test the client-side performance on a range of browsers from anywhere in the world for free. Not only does it provide a range of mobile/desktop browsers and locations, but it also shows a waterfall timeline and a video of the rendering.
Running a Performance Test
Enter The Page URL:
The first thing you need to do is decide on a page to test. Most people start with the main page for their site (but don’t neglect the other pages people visit either). Once you have decided on a page you’d like to test you go to WebPagetest and give it the URL for the page you want tested:
Select a Location:
Next you should decide where you want the test to be run from. WebPagetest has test machines that are physically located around the world and you should test from a location that is close to where your users are visiting from. You can either pick a location from the list or if you click on the change button you can pick a location from a map view (just click on a balloon to select a location and then click ok). If you hold the pointer over the bubbles they will display a message telling you where the location is:
Select a Browser:
Finally, you need to decide what browser to use for the test. Different locations support different browsers so if a given location doesn’t have the browser you are looking for, you can try a different location. The Dulles, VA USA location supports all of the browsers that WebPagetest works with (Internet Explorer 6, 7, 8 and 9). We usually recommend using IE7 for initial testing because it’s pretty much the worst-case scenario and makes it easier to see a lot of issues so if you’re not sure what browser to start with just use IE7.
Submit the Test
After everything is configured the way you like, click on the button in WebPageTest page and your request will be sent to the test location for testing. The test may take a while to run depending on how many tests are ahead of yours (figure at least one minute for each test ahead of yours but it’s not unusual for it to be even longer than that). Once the test is complete you will be presented with the results.
Interpreting the Results
The results screen can be a bit intimidating, in WebPageTest, the first time you see it because there is a lot of information to consume but there are some key pieces of information to look at first.
At the top of the results page, in WebPageTest, are a set of grades for the most critical performance optimizations. These cover the basic optimizations that apply to just about all sites and anything that isn’t an A or a B justifies some serious scrutiny and investigation.
The image compression check just looks at photo images (JPEG files) and makes sure the quality isn’t set too high. JPEG images can usually be compressed pretty substantially without any noticeable reduction in visual quality. We use a standard of compressing the images at a quality level of “50” in Photoshop’s “Save for Web” mode but generally you should compress them as much as you can before they start to look bad. It’s also not uncommon for other data to be included in photos, particularly if they came from a digital camera (information about the camera, lens, location, even thumbnail images) and some of that should be removed from images before being published to a web page (be careful to retain any copyright information).
Cache Static Content:
Combine JS/CSS Files:
Use of CDN:
Each request for a piece of content to the web server has to travel from the user’s browser all the way to the server and back. As you get further and further from the server this can become a significant amount of time (which adds up quickly as there are more requests on the page). Ultimately the time it takes is limited by the speed of light so there’s not much you can do except to move your server closer to the users. That is exactly what a Content Distribution Network (CDN) does. They have servers all over the world that are close to users and they can serve a web site’s static content from servers close to users. The only case where it doesn’t make sense to use a CDN is if all of the users for a web site are close to the web server already (like for a community web site).
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