DEV Community 👩‍💻👨‍💻

Cover image for Why your website should be under 14kb in size
Nathaniel
Nathaniel

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at endtimes.dev

Why your website should be under 14kb in size

Having a smaller website makes it load faster — that's not surprising.

What is surprising is that a 14kB page can load much faster than a 15kB page — maybe 612ms faster — while the difference between a 15kB and a 16kB page is trivial.

This is because of the TCP slow start algorithm. This article will cover what that is, how it works, and why you should care. But first we'll quickly go over some of the basics.

What is TCP?

Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is a way of using the Internet Protocol (IP) to send packets of data reliably — sometimes this is referred to as TCP/IP.

When a browser requests your website (or an image or a stylesheet) it makes that request using HTTP.

HTTP is built on top of TCP and a single HTTP request is usually made up of many TCP packets.

On its own IP is just a system for sending packets of data from one location on the internet to another. IP doesn't have a way of checking if a packet has successfully arrived at its destination.

When it comes to websites, knowing that all the data has arrived is important — otherwise we could end up with missing chunks of web page. There are other uses of the web where this doesn't matter so much — like streaming live video.

TCP is an extension of IP that allows a browser and your website's server to tell each other which packets have successfully arrived.

The server sends some packets, then waits for a response from the browser saying it has received the packets (this is called an acknowledgement or ACK), then it sends some more — or if it hasn't received an ACK it can send the packets again.

What is TCP slow start?

TCP slow start is an algorithm used by servers to find out how many packets it can send at a time.

When a browser first makes a connection to your server — the server has no way of knowing the amount of bandwidth between them.

Bandwidth is how much data can be transmitted over a network per unit of time. Usually it's measured in bits per second (b/s). Plumbing is a common analogy — think of bandwidth as how much water can come out of a pipe per second.

Your server doesn't know how much data the connection can handle — so it starts by sending you a small and safe amount of data — usually 10 TCP packets.

If those packets successfully reach your site's visitor, their computer sends back an acknowledgement (ACK) saying the packets have been received.

Your server then sends more data back, but this time it doubles the amount of packets.

This process is repeated until packets are lost and your server doesn't receive an ACK. (At which point the server continues to send packets but at a slower rate).

That's the gist of TCP slow start — in real life the algorithm varies, but that's essentially how it works.

So where does 14kB come from?

Most web servers TCP slow start algorithm starts by sending 10 TCP packets.

The maximum size of a TCP packet is 1500 bytes.

This maximum is not set by the TCP specification, it comes from the ethernet standard

Each TCP packet uses 40 bytes in its header — 16 bytes for IP and an additional 24 bytes for TCP

That leaves 1460 bytes per TCP packet. 10 x 1460 = 14600 bytes or roughly 14kB!

So if you can fit your website — or the critical parts of it — into 14kB, you can save visitors a lot of time — the time it takes for one round trip between them and your website's server.

How bad can one round trip be?

People are very impatient — and one round trip can be surprisingly long. How long depends on latency…

Latency is the time it takes a packet of data to travel from its source to it's destination. If bandwidth is how much water can go through a pipe per second — latency is the time it takes a droplet of water to enter the pipe and then exit the other end.

Here's a fun example of how bad latency can be:

Satellite internet

Satellite internet is provided by a satellite in orbit around the earth. It's used by people in very unpopulated areas, on oil rigs, cruise ships, and for inflight WiFi on airlines.

To illustrate this example of bad latency, let's imagine a bunch of oil rig bros have forgotten their dice at home and need to use the excellent (under 14kB) missingdice.com to play Dungeons & Dragons.

First one of them uses their phone to make a request for the web page…

The phone sends that request to the rig's WiFi router — which sends that data to the on-rig satellite dish — lets be nice and say that takes 1ms.

The satellite dish then has to send that data to the satellite in orbit above the earth.

Typically, this is achieved using a satellite in geostationary orbit at 35786km above the earths surface. The speed of light travels at 299792458 m/s, so a message sent from earth to the satellite takes 120ms. The satellite then sends the message back to a ground station, which takes another 120ms.

Then the ground station has to send the request to wherever the server is on earth (light slows down to 200000000 m/s when it's in a fibre optic cable). If the distance between the ground station and the server is the same as the distance between New York and London it'll take about 28ms — but if it's more like the distance between New York and Sydney it'll take 80ms — so we'll call it 60ms (a convenient number for our math)

Then the request needs to be processed by the server which could take maybe 10ms then the server sends it back again.

Back to the ground station, up into space, back down to the satellite dish, then to the wifi router, and back again to our oilers phone.

phone -> WiFi router -> satellite dish -> satellite -> ground station -> server -> ground station -> satellite -> satellite dish -> WiFi router -> phone
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

If we do the math that's 10 + ( 1 + 120 + 120 + 60 ) x 2 = 612ms.

That's an extra 612ms every round trip — perhaps that doesn't seem like a long time to wait but your website could easily have many round trips just to fetch it's first resource.

Also HTTPS requires two additional round trips before it can do the first one — which gets us up to 1836ms!

What about latency for people who live on dry land?

Satellite internet might seem like a deliberately bad example — I chose it because it illustrates the point and is weird — but for landlubbers latency can get worse than that for lots of reasons:

  • 2g mobile typically has latency between 300ms and 1000ms
  • 3g networks can have anywhere between 100ms and 500ms latency
  • Noisy mobile networks — say in an unusually crowded place like a music festival.
  • Servers dealing with high amounts of traffic
  • Bad stuff

Spotty connections can also cause packets to be lost — resulting in another round trip to get the lost packets.

Now that you know about the 14kB rule, what can you do?

Of course, you should make your website as small as possible — you love your visitors and you want them to be happy. Aiming for each page to fit in under 14kB is good target.

That 14kB includes compression — so it could actually be more like ~50kB of uncompressed data — which is generous. Consider that the Apollo 11 guidance computers only had 72kB of memory.

Once you lose the autoplaying videos, the popups, the cookies, the cookie consent banners, the social network buttons, the tracking scripts, javascript and css frameworks, and all the other junk nobody likes — you're probably there.

But, assuming you've tried your very best to fit everything into 14kB, and can't — the 14kB rule is still useful.

If you Make sure the first 14kB of data you send to your visitors can be used to render something useful — for instance some critical CSS, JS and the first few paragraphs of text explaining how to use your app.

Note — The 14kB rule includes **HTTP headers* — which are uncompressed (even with HTTP/2 on the first response) — it also includes Images, so load only what's above the fold and keep them very small, or use placeholders so your visitors know they're waiting for something good.*

Some caveats to the rule

The 14kB rule is more like a rule of thumb, than a fundamental law of computing:

  • Some servers have increased the TCP slow start initial window to 30 packets instead of 10
  • Sometimes the server knows it can start with a larger number of packets because it's used the TLS handshake to establish a larger window can be used.
  • Servers can cache how many packets a route can manage, and send more next time it connects.
  • There's other caveats too — here's a more in depth article about why the 14kB rule isn't always the case

HTTP/2 and the 14kB rule

There is an idea that the 14kB rule no longer holds true when using HTTP/2. I've read all I can about this without boring myself to death — but I haven't seen any evidence that servers using HTTP/2 have stopped using TCP slow start beginning with 10 packets.

HTTP/3 and QUIC

Similarly to HTTP/2, there is a notion that HTTP/3 and QUIC will do away with the 14kB rule — this is not true. QUIC recommends the same 14kB rule.

Further reading

Much of the content of this post comes from the following resources:

Top comments (28)

Collapse
 
ricky11 profile image
Rishi U

Streaming data like videos are sent not over TCP but UDP, UDP is fast because it does not require a three way handshake ACK/SYN/ACK/ACK/FIN.... you dont mind dropped frames in your videos which is why videos over UDP dont need ACK .

Collapse
 
tuxio profile image
Tuxio

That's not correct. When you buffer your videos, they are also sent via TCP and not UDP.
For livestreams that would be correct. But implementations are different on any website..

Collapse
 
nicolus profile image
Nicolas Bailly

you dont mind dropped frames in your videos.

Seriously ? We went to the trouble of making TVs that display 23.976 fps (not 25, not 24, 23.976) so that there wouldn't be any judder when playing a 24p videos, so yeah, I would mind a lot if Netflix started dropping frames when there's some packet loss on the connection.

Collapse
 
basel_arafat_e7bf68b223ee profile image
Basel Arafat

what about dropped frames !

Collapse
 
jwenjian profile image
Jiang Wenjian

Hi, thanks for the post, it is interesting.

And I have a question, I checked this page and found 2 size number in developer tools

Image description

The first one is 2.6MB is called Size.
The 136.83KB is called "Transferred size of all requests"

Which kind of size should smaller than 14KB to make page load more faster?

Collapse
 
shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author

Hi, thanks, the transferred size is the one — meaning the size of the site while it's compressed.

Collapse
 
jwenjian profile image
Jiang Wenjian

Thanks, glad to know~

Collapse
 
rabeeh profile image
Rabeeh Ebrahim

Where did you get these details?

Collapse
 
jwenjian profile image
Jiang Wenjian

browser developer tool

Collapse
 
aileenr profile image
Aileen Rae

Wow, thanks for this! This is closer to the metal than I typically think for web development so I really appreciate how you've written this.

The explanation, the end users that are affected, and the further reading... I really learned a lot, so thank you.

Collapse
 
focus97 profile image
Michael Lee

Fantastic article! Never got that detailed into how with respect to packet size and how to optimize for it. The Dice site indeed loaded incredibly fast.

Small pedantic note: the speed of light is 299792458 in a vacuum. The actual signal would move slower from Earth to a satellite since it has to pass through air, so the latency would in fact be a tad longer.

Collapse
 
shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author

haha, yes of course, I think you could also take into account how far from the equator you are!

Collapse
 
unthrottled profile image
Alex Simons • Edited on

Neat! Didn't think I'd be loading up wireshark ( wireshark.org/) this morning.

It appears that the average packet size my server sends to my computer is 1494 bytes. Here's a small snippet of the traffic I saw from opening unthrottled.io

Image description

I doubt that I have much influence of the TCP transmission (I use AWS Cloudfront), but do you know if there are various factors that affect max packet size? Such as TLS? (this conversation was in TLSv1.2). I know when I saw the initial Client Hello, it asked for ALPN Next Protocol: http/1.1 , so I'll assume this might be a http/1.1 conversation. 🤷 (if that helps)

Collapse
 
shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author

I’m not sure, I know the maximum of 1500 bytes is a limitation of Ethernet - and that doesn’t change no matter what protocol you’re using. but that leaves you 6 missing bytes!

Collapse
 
habibmanjotha profile image
Habib Manjotha

Thank you for this great article. I'll try to use this rule in my next project.

Collapse
 
matiashiltunen profile image
MatiasHiltunen

Interesting article! Does http3 quick protocol which is built on top of UDP have any similar quirks?

Collapse
 
shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author

Hello, thanks! Yes apparently it does use the same 14kB window. I'm not entirely up to date on how HTTP/3, but my understanding is it similar but more efficient.

I've updated the article with a small paragraph about it, but you can read more about it here: QUIC Loss Detection and Congestion Control.

Collapse
 
okeken profile image
okeken

This is awesome! thanks for sharing.

Collapse
 
midka profile image
Midka

Wow, never though in depth why website size matters 👏

Collapse
 
kissu profile image
Konstantin BIFERT

Interesting post. 👌🏻
I will continue to use Astro and try to keep my JS tidy as much as possible.

Collapse
 
ravavyr profile image
Ravavyr

14kb is a cool concept, a nice idea and definitely fun when you can actually test things on the network at the scale of having to think about how long light takes to travel down the line.

Sadly, this isn't something day-to-day devs can be bothered with.
Content/Marketing teams don't care about this kinda performance, they want their fancy images, animations and tracking scripts so they can boost conversions.

In reality, keeping a site loading in under 1-2 seconds is a far more attainable goal, and sometimes even that is tricky when non-techy people are making the decisions.

Still, the 14kb thing is a neat challenge

Collapse
 
rickdelpo1 profile image
Rick Delpo

I am wondering if u can also write a piece about time to first byte vs first contentfull paint and why load time is different from page speed, not sure I fully get this part. Does loading page scripts impact speed?

Collapse
 
1coma21 profile image
1coma21

Try do to this with ReactJS

Collapse
 
westtrade profile image
Gennadiy Popov

Use SolidJS )

Collapse
 
abhay07 profile image
Abhay Srivastav

This is good. You should probably make a video for it.

Collapse
 
michaelllls profile image
Michaelllls

He admits it's quite important.

What image format should you use in your next project? 🤔