Optimize inlined SVG on developer.mozilla.org

04 April 2019   0 comments   Web development, Web Performance

tl;dr We could make the initial HTML document 40% smaller if moved from inline SVG to external, optimized, .svg static assets. But there are lots of caveats unless the SVG can be used as an image.

One of the many goals of MDN Web Docs this year is to make it faster. That makes users happier and as a side-effect, it makes Google happier. And hopefully, being faster will mean Google ranks us higher.

I'm still new to the MDN code base and there are many things we can do. One thing I noticed is that the site uses inline SVG. E.g.

<a href="/en-US/docs/Learn">References &amp; Guides
    <svg class="icon icon-caret-down" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" width="16" height="28" viewBox="0 0 16 28">
      <path d="M16 11a.99.99 0 0 1-.297.703l-7 7C8.516 18.89 8.265 19 8 19s-.516-.109-.703-.297l-7-7A.996.996 0 0 1 0 11c0-.547.453-1 1-1h14c.547 0 1 .453 1 1z"/>
    </svg>
</a>

The site uses HTTP/2 so the argument of reducing the number of requests is not valid. Well, with caveats. Browser support for HTTP/2 is getting really good. Definitely good enough to make it worth betting on.
It used to be that there's a trade-off for making static assets external: you can potentially avoid downloads, at all, by browser caching and the initial HTML document becomes smaller. But all, at the cost of more requests.

There are other, more subtle, differences with SVG. For example, the content of the SVG might depend on dynamic data. There might be others that I'm not aware and I'm quick to admit that I don't know much about use and stuff but this article might be full of those details.

The Experiment

I wrote a script that opens https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/ and extracts every <svg> tag and puts them on disk. E.g. svg.icon.icon-smile_fbf6292.svg. They have a hash checksum on the content in case two <svg>s are different (but with the same classList). Then it does the following:

  1. Run svgo on each .svg to create a .min.svg.
  2. Run zopfli on each .min.svg to create a .min.svg.gz
  3. Run brotli on each .min.svg to create a .min.svg.br
  4. Sum all inline ones total size, sum the size of all .min.svg, sum the size of all .min.svg.gz, sum the size of all .min.svg.br.

Results

Technique Number Total Bytes
Inline 27 22,142 (21.6KB)
Optimized with svgo 15 14,566 (14.2KB)
Zopfli compressed 15 6,236 (6.1KB)
Brotli compressed 15 5,789 (5.7KB)

Conclusions and Caveats

For every single MDN page, we stand to make the initial HTML document 22KB smaller. Every time. Most web developers I know often Google for something and end up on MDN and do so frequently enough that there's a good chance for a warm browser cache.

But! This 22KB is uncompressed. Since the HTML documents are served gzipped, at a ratio of about 1:4, the total inline SVGs is roughly 5.6KB. At the time of writing the MDN home page is 58,496 bytes decompressed and 14,570 bytes gzipped. So that means that we stand to potentially strip away 40% of the document size!

Second but! There are some non-trivial differences in usage of SVG. You can't simply replace...

<a href="/en-US/docs/Learn">References &amp; Guides
  <svg class="icon icon-caret-down" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" width="16" height="28" viewBox="0 0 16 28">
    <path d="M16 11a.99.99 0 0 1-.297.703l-7 7C8.516 18.89 8.265 19 8 19s-.516-.109-.703-.297l-7-7A.996.996 0 0 1 0 11c0-.547.453-1 1-1h14c.547 0 1 .453 1 1z"/>
  </svg>
</a>

...with...

<a href="/en-US/docs/Learn">References &amp; Guides
  <img src="/static/icon-caret.914d0e4.min.svg">
</a>

(Compare this and this)

You can, instead, use <svg><use xlink:href="/static/icon-caret.914d0e4.min.svg".></svg> but it comes with its own host of challenges and problems (styling and IE support) and you still need this <svg> tag to do the wrapping in the first place which adds bytes.

It's not always worth compressing tiny static assets. And it might be worth experimenting with what the CPU cost is for a low-performance mobile device to decompress the asset versus just eating the extra network download cost of leaving it uncompressed.

HTTP/2 is great in that it allows the browser to download external assets earlier, on the same open connection, as the initial HTML document. But it's not without risks and costs that need to be carefully considered.

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