Category: web

The cost of HTTP redirects

We all know HTTP redirects are costly. But how costly ?

I had this conversation at work. To serve different images for different platforms (desktop, mobile, tablet, …) we have to introduce a level of indirection between the image URL and the actual file. For example, the URL will resolve to a file called 456.png. Pretty standard, should be easy. Unfortunately, we use a framework that will make us write pretty ugly code to achieve this server side. The question was asked: “Could we not use HTTP redirect? This is a standard web technique…”.

I dont think we should ever expose crap to our clients, even if it allow us to write cleaner code. In this world appearence is key, not inner beauty. Still the question was asked: “How much would those redirects cost?”. Should be simple to test …

An evening of coding in front of the TV later, I have a very simple test case, which is probably wrong on so many levels that Christopher Nolan might have written it himslef, but still, I have numbers:

Downloading 10 images to my desktop with an HTTP redirect each time takes on the order of 450ms, while downloading the same images without the redirects takes about 250ms. On my mobile phone on a 3G connection, the number climb to 1200ms and 750ms respectively. Not the end of the world, but still, we could do a lot of better things in those 100s of milliseconds.

The test is available on CloudBees, go see for yourself (your numbers may vary). The source is available on GitHub. The implementation is very simple :

  • a servlet redirecting all requests
  • a servlet serving always the same image (different URL, so no caching)
  • an HTML page loading images with Javascript and publishing the time it took