Railgun and Auto-Minify in Cloudflare – Their Role in Web Page Load Speed (Case-Study)

The importance of web page loading speed can be seen in Google rankings. The holy grail of every web site and blog is to reduce the page load speed to below 3 secs. As you have seen in my other case-study, a 1 second delay in loading speed can take away millions of dollars or even billions.

Bloggers who are using WordPress know the importance of web page optimization. If they can reduce the number of JS,CSS, HTML, Images and other scripts during the loading of a web page, they can drastically reduce the loading speed of a page.

But it’s not possible always. There has to be a balance between user experience and speed optimization. If you want better look and feel of your page, the number of requests and resources will definitely increase. This again becomes a burden on the server and increases the page loading time.

This is where cache mechanism and CDN (Content delivery network) play a major role in web site loading speed optimization. These two methods can improve the efficiency of loading time and can serve your static files from the nearest locations. For example, an effective CDN if has a server close to the Asian region, the users from Singapore, India and Bangladesh will see a quick loading of their pages.

Similarly, if you have lot of static resources, a cache plugin can serve the same resources to different users reducing the page loading time. There are different cache mechanisms like page cache, browser cache, database cache etc. So each one can have its own effect however small or large it may be.

In this context, the minify option of certain CDN servers play a major role in reducing the page loading time.

What is Auto-Minify in Cloudflare?

According to this Wikipedia page, minification is the process of minimizing the redundant characters from source code without changing the intended functionality it’s supposed to do. This applies to scripting languages like JS, where there are lot of unnecessary characters like space characters, new line characters, comments and block delimiters etc.

This minify process is very useful to WordPress pages and posts, because it reduces the amount of data to be transferred over the internet. In Cloudflare, there is an Auto Minify option, where you can minify the resources like JS, CSS and HTML (even dynamic version).

The options are available on the “Speed Settings” page for your site on the Cloudflare Admin panel.

What is RailGun technology in Cloudflare?

Railgun is a technology developed by Cloudflare for accelerated delivery of dynamic content. It requires a piece of software called Railgun Listener to be installed on your host server network. This is a WAN optimization technology developed to speed up web page load times.

The options to activate are available on the “Speed Settings” page of Cloudflare panel. You can just enable and disable it with ease if you are using SiteGround GoGeek hosting.

Since these options are available to increase the speed of your web page or site, I wanted to test whether these options have any effect on page load speed. So I decided to do a case-study to test both these options with a test web page of one of my sites.

I preferred to not to use any cache-plugin so that I can see better results and the efficiency of both these options. So I decided to de-activate the W3TC plugin and also emptied all the cache stored by this plugin.

My Case-Study on Railgun and Auto-Minify Options in Cloudflare?

The following is the test page I used for testing Auto Minify and Railgun options in Cloudflare.

http://www.seotipsit.com/affiliate-marketing-programs/

The following are the list of WordPress plugins used on the test site.

  • Akismet

  • Contextual Related Posts

  • EWWW Image Optimizer

  • Limit Login Attempts

  • Media Tools

  • Monarch Plugin

  • Quick Adsense

  • ThirstyAffiliates

  • Wordfence Security

  • WordPress Importer

  • Yoast SEO

I used the Chrome browser and emptied the cache before testing the web page in the case-study. This was done before each case.

I was also using an Adsense Ad of size 336*280 on this web page. So this also had to play a role in the loading time of resources. Generally, Adsense Ads take lot of loading time. But here it’s only one, so that should not affect the page load speed much. But this parameter can also be considered, of how Railgun and Auto Minify function.

The Rocket Loader which was in beta stage while writing of this article, was in “OFF” mode. So this had no effect on the load speed of the test web page.

I under-took two cases, to check the functionality and efficiency of Railgun and Auto-Minify. For both the cases, I used the “pingdom” tool to test the page loading speed, size of the web page, number of resources and comparison of speed with other world wide sites.

Case #1 – Railgun and Auto-Minify Options Enabled

In the first case, I de-activated the W3TC plugin and emptied it cache completely.

The hosting server I was using was SiteGround GoGeek plan. The default compression and other options that come with this plan are activated. These settings also play a major role in the loading speed of the web page as can be seen in another case-study.

The following are the results of the first-case of the case-study.

Tested from

Page Size

Load Time

Requests

Faster than of tested websites

melbourne

2.3mb

8.38s

207

17%

dallas

2.2mb

2.90s

204

56%

new york

2.4mb

3.00s

226

54%

stockholm

2.2mb

4.15s

210

40%

Case #2 – Railgun and Auto-Minify Options Disabled

In the second case also, there was no W3TC plugin. But here I de-activated both the options of Auto-Minify and Railgun. I also emptied the Cloudflare cache in full.

The test results were as follows.

Tested from

Page Size

Load Time

Requests

Faster than of tested websites

melbourne

2.3mb

7.50s

207

20%

dallas

2.3mb

2.99s

204

54%

new york

2.4mb

3.14s

226

52%

stockholm

2.3mb

4.49s

212

37%

Conclusion

In this case-study we can observe the following salient points.

I have used the same test web-page of the same website without any modification. The testing tool to test the page loading times is also the same in both the cases. The number of plugins were the same in both the cases. The test servers used to test the page were also the same in both the versions. Also the tests for both the cases, were done in a span of an hour.  So this reduces any discrepancy in server load, resources, testing tool time, server location time etc

  1.    As expected, the first-case with Railgun and Auto-Minify options activated took less time to load the page compared to the second-case (except for Melbourne server).

2.   The important point is that, the difference in page load times for both the cases is not much.

In the case of US, Sweden, Australia servers this point can be clearly seen.

Note: My test web page does not have much dynamic content. It consists mainly of static resources like text, images and HTML code.

3. It can be said that Railgun, is of not that much use if you don’t have any dynamic content.

4.  More test sites and web pages are to be tested with dynamic content to see the efficiency of Railgun.

5.   But another significant point is that of Auto-Minify option. Though we have JS, CSS and HTML code on the test web page, it didn’t make much difference in the speed of the test web page. Just from this single site, we can confirm that the Auto-Minify option doesn’t have much effect either.

6. The page size and the number of requests also did not much change in both the cases.

In general, for this discrete case-study we can say that Auto-Minify and RailGun don’t have much effect on the page load speed of the site. It is to be seen if the amount of dynamic content and number of minifiable resources if high, will there be any effect.

I hope you loved this case-study on cloudflare speed options efficiency. If you have any comments, please share it below. Also, use your social circles to share this case-study.