Web site performance has become an increasingly important issue over the last few years. Part of the reason is the push for a faster web by actors like Yahoo and Google – including Google’s somewhat problematic statement that web site speed was to be a determinant among many in sites’ Google ranking.
Even more important than that, however, has been the huge shift in consumer’s browsing habits: from desktops, laptops and notebooks over to smartphones. And as smartphones are slower and smaller than computers, all factors affecting the speed of page loading have become much more important.
I have been very concerned with this issue for several years now, ever since I read the seminal works on web site performance by Steve Sounders (High Performance Websites), and I have spent a lot of time making web sites faster: working with code, working on how to write efficient CSS, optimizing images and page loading, looking at waterfall charts, testing, and so on. So I was very much looking forward to a new advanced level book on this topic.
Peter Smith’s book, with the title Professional Website Performance, and with the relatively ambitious subtitle «Optimizing the Front End and the Back End,» is a big and thick book, over 400 pages. And it is full of great advice: Peter Smith is a Linux consultant, Web developer and system administrator who seems to be very widely read and has tons of relevant experience.
The second part is about back-end techniques. This, of course, is a vast subject. The section contains a discussion on working with web servers and a chapter each on SSL and PHP. Apart from that, the focus is on MySQL and NoSQL alternatives. This, to me, is a little disappointing. While alternatives to Apache are mentioned, the advice on Nginx and lighttpd, for instance, is quite cursory and of very limited value. Yet Nginx is the third most used web server in the world. While the book generally is very good on caches and e-accelerators, I missed a good discussion of Varnish, which is hardly mentioned.
I also think it is a weakness that the book contains relatively little of data, measurements, benchmark tests and other «hard facts» that can back up some of the authors’ statements: While I feel the book is solid and gives sound advice, I do not feel that it brings much new or more solid evidence to the table.
Overall, though, the book has much to offer for people struggling to improve or optimize web site performance. Peter Smith is very insightful and knowledgeable, and gives lots of great advice. This is a big field with a large number of different techniques and affecting a number of different applications. It will be especially useful for administrators of fairly big sites – sites filling a server and perhaps needing multiple servers. To really master all of the various elements involved is virtually impossible for any single person. Therefore books like Professional Website Performance: Optimizing for the Front end and the Back End are important – they help us do necessary and fairly smart tweaks and changes even to programs and settings we are not quite experts on.
Professional Website Performance covers all aspects of building and maintaining websites that deliver peak performance on all levels. For such purposes, this is a good book to have at your side, both to read and understand and as a reference.