How Can I Reduce Server Response Times (TTFB)?

Gary Green
Gary Green
September 14, 2022

When visitors arrive at your webpage they want to enjoy a speedy and responsive experience, so reducing your server response time is essential. To do this, you need to be aware of your site’s Time to First Byte (or TTFB). This is the length of time taken for the visitor’s browser to receive their initial byte of your page’s content.

Since a slow server response time will affect your site’s performance, it’s imperative to determine whether your webpage has a long TTFB and, if so, to take action to rectify the problem. Here, we take a look at how you can improve your server response times to create an optimal user experience for your site’s visitors.

How Does A Slow Server Response Time Affect Performance?

It goes without saying that users don’t want to wait for a long time for their page to load. Wait times of over 600 ms for servers to respond will cause many visitors to go elsewhere. A slow server response time is a primary cause of longer page loading times.

When a user navigates in a web browser to their chosen URL, their browser will make a request to the network to fetch the content. The server then receives that request before returning the requested content.

While this sounds simple, in fact the server often has to do a substantial amount of work to return the page along with all the content the user desires. As an example, if a user wants to see their order history, then the server has to not only fetch that user’s history from the database, but also insert the content into the requested page.

If you can optimise your server to carry out this work as speedily as possible, users will spend less time waiting for their chosen page to load.

How Can My Server Response Time Be Improved?

The very first step to improve your server response time is identifying the primary conceptual tasks which the server has to complete to return the page content. Next, the time taken to complete each task must be measured. Once the tasks that take the longest amount of time have been identified, you then need to find ways of speeding those tasks up.

There are a number of causes for slow server response, so there are also a number of ways you can improve the situation. Here are a few to consider implementing:

Using A CDN

Content delivery networks (or CDNs) are geographically distributed networks of servers which enable users to download the data from the sites they visit by using the nearest network node. This allows the site to not only have faster downloading and page loading times, but the user experience will also be improved.

Optimising Your Application Code

Application code represents a vital element of your website’s optimisation. There are several actions that can assist to speed the TTFB up when it comes to application code. You can cache dynamic and static content and add a load balancer, you can update the software which is installed on the server, you can use Reverse Proxy Servers to speed applications as well as secure them, you can compress data then implement HTTP/2, and you can monitor the performance of your web server to identify possible bottlenecks.

Optimising Database Queries

You can optimise your database queries by properly creating indexes and only retrieving the most essential data. You should also avoid to use functions on the operator’s left hand side so there’s no need to read the whole database in order to answer a query. You should also avoid any correlated subqueries since they depend on other queries, slowing the process down exponentially.

Reducing HTTP Requests

You can reduce your HTTP requests by first checking on the number of requests currently made by your website and removing any unnecessary images. After this has been accomplished, the file size of your remaining essential images should be reduced and factors that could affect load speed should also be analysed. You can also make JavaScript asynchronous to optimise TTFB, and combine together CSS files.

Ensuring Faster Server Response Times

Intervening on JavaScript and CSS files and combining external ones is important. Sometimes, it’s possible to use small inline JavaScript and CSS files, putting them into the HTML file so there’s no need for any additional calls or external resources. Deferring images is also important to save on bandwidth and thus reduce the page loading times.

Using RFPL Cache

The Respond First, Process Later cache method (otherwise known as RFPL) allows the user to see a previously cached response immediately while the server is still processing their request in the background. Users, therefore, don’t need to wait for a response.

WordPress Optimisation

Server specifications, plugins and themes all add to the server response time, so you should consider finding a theme that is better optimised, selecting an optimisation plugin carefully and upgrading the server.

Drupal Optimisation

Since server specifications, modules and themes contribute to your server response times, again you should consider finding a theme that is more optimised, selecting an optimisation module more carefully or upgrading the server. You should also ensure your hosting server makes use of memory caching systems such as Redis or Memcached and PHP opcode caching to reduce the database query times, and optimised application logic for preparing pages more rapidly.

Optimising Magento

Using Magento’s Varnish integration will help to optimise your response times if you’re using Magento.

Optimising React Components

If any React components are being rendered on the server-side, you should consider using renderToStaticNodeStream() or rendertoNodeStream() to allow reception and hydration of different elements of the markup by the client rather than simultaneously.

Improving TTFB

If you follow the steps and suggestions outlined above, you’ll find that you can reduce your server response times, leading to a far improved user experience for your website’s visitors. Since a better user experience equates to higher revenue, you can enjoy greater profitability as a benefit.

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