HTTP Compression Speeds up the Web: Page 3: WebReference.com
HTTP Compression Speeds up the Web
The short answer is "only if it can get there quicker." In 99% of all cases it makes sense to compress the data. However there are several problems that need to be solved to enable seamless transmission from the server to the consumer.
- Compression should not conflict with MIME types
- Dynamic compression should not effect server performance
- Server should be smart enough to know whether the user's browser can decompress the content
Let's create a simple scenario. An HTML file which contains a large music listing in the form of a table.
The file is 679,188 bytes in length.
Let's track this download over a 28K modem and then compare the results before and after compression. The theoretical throughput over a 28K modem is 3,600 bytes per second. Reality is more like 2,400 bytes per second but for the sake of this article we will work at the theoretical maximum. If there was no modem compression then the file would download in 188.66 seconds. On the average with modem compression running we can expect a download time of about 90 seconds which indicates about a 2:1 compression factor. The total number of packets transmitted from modem to modem effectively "halved" the file size. But note that the server still had to keep open the TCP/IP sub system to "send" all the bytes to the modem for transmission. What happens if we can compress the data prior to transmission from the server. The file is 679,188 bytes in length. If we can compress it using standard techniques (which are not optimized for HTML) then we can expect to see the file be compressed down to 48,951 bytes. This is a 92.8% compression factor. We are now transmitting only 48,951 bytes (plus some header information which should also be compressed but that's another story). Modem compression no longer plays a factor because the data is already compressed.
Where are the performance improvements?
- Bandwidth is conserved
- Compression consumes only a few milliseconds of CPU time
- The server's TCP/IP subsystem only has to serve 48,851 bytes to the modem
- At a transfer rate of 3,600 bytes per second the file arrives in 13.6 seconds instead of 90 seconds
Compression clearly makes sense as long as it's seamless and doesn't kill server performance.
What else remains to be done?
A lot! Better algorithms need to be invented that compress the data stream more efficiently than gzip. Remember gzip was designed before HTML came along. Any technique which adds a new compression algorithm will require a thin client to decode and possibly tunneling techniques to enable it "firewall friendly." To sum up we need:
- Improved compression algorithms optimized specifically for HTML/XML
- Header compression. Every time a browser requests a page it sends a header file. In the case of WAP browsers header information can be as high as 900 bytes. With compression this can be reduced by 20-25%, to less than 700 bytes, as the redundancy in these headers is very low.
- Compression for WAP. (Currently WAP/WML does not support a true entropy encoding technique. It uses binary encoding to compress the tags while ignoring the content.)
- Dynamic compression for caching servers. (Download RCTPD Web Accelerator for all caching servers. http://www.remotecommunications.com/rctpd/)
- Real time compression/encryption with tunneling.
- comp.compression FAQ
- GZIP home page
- HTTP Compression Resources Lists other HTTP compression products
- Hyperspace Communications also eHyperspace.com - Acquired Remote Communications, offers mod_gzip for free and improved payware compression products.
- mod_gzip project - Some documentation about mod_gzip and its effects. By Michael Schröpl.
- RFC's (Request for Comments)
- RFC 1951 DEFLATE Compressed Data Format Specification version 1.3 Describes a lossless compressed data format that compresses data using a combination of the LZ77 algorithm and Huffman coding. Not encumbered by patents.
- RFC 1952 GZIP file format specification Describes the GZIP file format specification that is used to compress and decompress files.
- RFC 1945: HTTP 1.0 The HTTP 1.0 Protocol Specification (includes content encoding in section 10.3 in early form)
- RFC 2616: HTTP 1.1 The official HTTP 1.1 Protocol Specification
- Remote Communications - Acquired by Hyperspace Communications
- Vigos AG - has a payware mod_gzip
- WebSiteOptimization.com - Has information about HTTP compression on this companion book site.
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About the author: Peter Cranstone was a Co-Founder and the Chief Software Architect of HyperSpace Communications, Inc., a software company dedicated to data acceleration technology. He was also a Founder and Principal of The James Group, another company engaged in the development of advanced data compression algorithms. Mr. Cranstone has spent most of his professional career as a technological innovator and inventor. Mr. Cranstone is the co-inventor of two patent-pending applications covering the HyperSpaceR smart engine and the ElseWare Messaging Alert System which allows for Web-enabled devices to be controlled via simple e-mail. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments are welcome
Created: Oct. 20, 2000
Revised: Mar. 4, 2003