Boosting Website Performance with BigPipe in Drupal

By Avinash Meena 6 min read

The internet has changed how businesses and customers interact. However, as brands move from traditional retail to online stores, they are faced with a whole new set of customer experience challenges.

There can be several parameters to judge a website’s customer experience. However, the first step to delivering an engaging online customer experience is a faster webpage response. While techniques such as page caching help businesses reduce the page load time and provide a high-performance page, there are other limitations. Many areas on a web page cannot be cached. Some areas show real-time content, and caching them is not the right approach. Such restrictions result in a slower page load.

My website is slow

Ever wondered why your website’s performance results are not promising, even though it is skilfully designed and developed? There can be many reasons for this, such as:

  1. The coding standards are not as per the best practices
  2. The system server is not set up properly
  3. The configurations (third party services) are not up to the mark
  4. The CDN (content delivery network) is wrongly configured
  5. Usage of inappropriate image size, etc.

This means a lot of work is needed to improve page performance.

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Generic ways to improve website performance

The real test of site performance is when a website performs well while handling a large traffic volume. If the site performs well in this scenario, it is probably using all the appropriate methods to achieve better site performance. If not, then it probably needs fine-tuning to achieve the desired result.

When we talk about page performance, the first thing that comes to mind is caching. If the data is coming from the caching layer, the site will perform faster as an extra call to the server is skipped. But there are many other ways to improve site performance like:

  1. Better system architecture
  2. Proper use of coding standards
  3. Avoid using lazy load techniques for image/video load on the page, etc.

How caching plays a significant role

Caching plays a pivotal role in page performance. Whenever a webpage is requested, it contains some computation and database queries. This type of request requires time to calculate the requested data, which results in a longer page load time. To reduce this page load time, we use a caching layer.

The cache is temporary storage, which is situated in the front of the server. It contains the computed data that is requested earlier. The data stored in the cache is used to serve requests with faster responses. The reason why caching is used to improve the performance is that it reduces the extra calculation to re-fetch the original data, which is already stored in the cache.

Hurdles while implementing caching strategies

While caching provides us with an improved performance system, there are so many areas that we need to consider before implementing caching in our overall strategy, as ignoring them will reverse the results.

  1. Issues with user-specific system
  2. Caching on the webserver (Drupal)
  3. Hosting related issues
  4. Load balancer sync issue
  5. The server is not synced with the primary server

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Why is caching not able to resolve the page performance completely?

As a site visitor, our foremost expectation from a site is that it should start interacting once the webpage is open. But till the time the webpage is not loaded completely, it does not respond to the site visitor. To understand this unresponsiveness, we need to understand the server response and browser rendering process.

Whenever we visit a webpage, there are a large number of processes that are executed in the backend. These include steps such as:

  1. A request is sent to the server by the browser.
  2. The server makes the calls to the database and third-party APIs and generates the data.
  3. Generated data is being sent back to the browser for processing.
  4. The browser renders the received response by generating the HTML and displays the data on the webpage.

In this entire process, the browser is sitting idle until it gets the complete response from the server. This idleness of the browser makes the webpage slow and unresponsive, as the browser is not rendering anything on the frontend, even though the server is fast enough to respond to the request.

Origin of BigPipe

Page performance can be improved by using the appropriate server configuration and by using an advanced cache system. However, the performance or readiness of the site is not as per the client’s expectations. During its research, Facebook found that even after using the best caching system and infrastructure for the server, the slowness or browser idleness was not getting resolved. To resolve this problem, Facebook discovered a new technology called BigPipe.

What is BigPipe?

BigPipe is a page rendering mechanism that resolves the problem of page interaction. The basic idea behind it is to split the web page into small chunks called pagelets and pass them on to servers and web-browsers in a streamlined manner.

In other words, every time a request is sent to open the webpage, the server sends the response in the form of chunks for the active section of the page, and the browser starts rendering the HTML for the received chunks, instead of waiting for the complete response.

Through this process, the user starts seeing the responsive webpage, which mimics the webpage that is loaded, but behind the scene, the server is still sending the response in chunks for the remaining page. This entire process resolves the problem of initial unresponsiveness of the page, and the user can see the functioning webpage in the early stage of page load.

How BigPipe can support

As per the above explanation, BigPipe divides the web page into chunks and increases the page performance? The answer is No, the load time of the web page will remain the same, but the current section of the webpage is ready to be interacted by the user, which gives a good impact on the user.

This process is also known as perceived performance, which allows the user to start interacting with the webpage before the complete page is loaded.

Boosting website performance with BigPipe in Drupal

Myths about BigPipe

BigPipe is a kind of caching mechanism which reduces the page load time and increases the performance of the page. The biggest myth about BigPipe is that it increases the page performance. But the actual reason why BigPipe was developed was to enable parallel processing between server and browser so that the user can start seeing the initial page in considerably less time.

BigPipe in Drupal

BigPipe was introduced in Drupal 8.1 as an experimental module. The pilot module allowed developers and contributors to test out the functionality and provide feedback in terms of issues or improvement. Later on, this module was moved to the core and is being used widely on the sites today. In Drupal, BigPipe worked based on placeholders. As mentioned earlier, many page sections can’t be cached. In Drupal, we provide some conditions like max-Age, Cardinality, and invalidation rate. Once the requirements are in place for the specific regions, Drupal automatically detects them and replaces them with appropriate placeholders. This process allows Drupal to render the place holders for non-cached regions till the time it didn’t receive the response from the server for the dynamic data.

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Integration with Drupal

The integration of BigPipe in Drupal is simple. BigPipe is now part of Drupal 8 core modules. We just need to enable the module with an additional required module, ‘Dynamic Page Cache’.

How we do it at TA Digital

At TA Digital, the focus is always on delivering the best and optimized solution. Our main focus while delivering the system is to meet client expectations with an extremely scalable system, which can be expanded in the near future. These are the few techniques we mostly focused on while designing the system:

  1. Usage of coding standards and best practices from the industry
  2. Caching system
  3. Different performance tactics like
  4. JS, CSS Compressions
  5. Using of place holders for images
  6. Lazy load on the page
  7. Big Pipe
  8. Optimized CDN configuration
  9. Highly optimized infrastructure for server and load balancer

Conclusion

BigPipe is available out of the box with Drupal 8. Using BigPipe in the site provides a better user experience. By using this technology, we can achieve parallel processing of server and browser, which results in high perceived performance.

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Avinash Meena

Written By

Avinash Meena