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Easy to use Javascript Compression with PHP

Here is a class that I wrote to compress JavaScript. I’m going to describe how I did it so that you can write your own, or modify what I’ve done easily. If there is any real interest in this, I’ll put it on GitHub.

First, lets talk about best practices. To speed up downloading and make your site more efficient, all the javascript for a site should be served in a single, compressed, static .JS file that is separate from your HTML. That way your users can quickly download the file once, the first time they visit the site. There are several reasons why you might resist this at first, such as the difficulty dealing with debugging and refactoring compressed code, as well as dealing with third party libraries. I’ll address these as I go through how the compressor works, and I believe this class has allowed me the best of both world.

Another issue is how to deal with page-level code. You may have code you only want to run on a specific page. I always use the page’s name as a class for the html element, for instance:

<html class="contact_us">

I then have one JS file for with all the code that is specific and unique for that site or project, which I usually name after the project, generally the client name, for instance “acme_motors.js”.

$(function(){
    if ( $("html").hasClass('contact_us') ) {
        //run code here specific to the contact_us page.
    } else if ( $("html").hasClass('home') {
        // and so forth...
    }
});

Sometimes, these blocks of code might have a few pieces that are dynamically constructed by the server at the time of request. Usually, you can narrow this down to a list of variables, assembled into an object, and pass that to the script using a function call in your html. Basically, you need to separate you’re static script as much as possible from the dynamic properties in order to optimize your site. If you’re using PHP, that function call in your file might look something like this:

<script type="text/javascript">// <![CDATA[
	shoppingCart.setup({
		items: <?=json_encode($cart->get_items()) ?>
		total: <?=$cart->get_total() ?>
	});
// ]]></script>

There is one other case where you might have inline JavaScript as event handlers written directly into your HTML elements. Such as:

<a onmouseover="myMouseOverEffect(0)" href="javascript:doAjaxRequest('myAjaxPage.php');">
 Click Here!
</a>

This is just wrong. It prevents you from being able to do multiple things with the event and it makes refactoring impossible. Never do this. When you see this replace it with correct event listeners that are attached from the Javascript. (Also, every time I see a link labeled “Click Here” it makes me cringe.)

Now, on to the the actual JS_Compressor class.
I like to keep all my scripts provided as separate, uncompressed files while in development, so I can easily find the line number and read the code that is causing an error from the debugging console. This is also important when it comes to updating libraries. I also wanted to be able to try out different compression schemes and bench test them against each other.

HTML5 Boilerplate recommends running an ANT build script at deployment, but that’s an extra step and it doesn’t allow for you to use different compression schemes. You are are pretty much stuck with YUI, which appears to be inferior. They recommend loading jQuery from the Google CDN, but that can be a loosing strategy once the rest of your code gets up to around 200K. I’ll describe why in my findings at the end of this article.

Good JavaScript compression has 5 parts:

  1. Concatenation:
    All the javascript files and libraries are added together into one .JS file to minimize server requests.
  2. Minification:
    All the unnecessary white space and comments are removed.
  3. Obfuscation:
    All the variable names are replaced with the shortest possible names.
  4. Caching:
    The compressed file is cached to speed access to it.
  5. Binary Compression:
    The file is served to the user using gzip or deflate.

Concatenation

The concatenation is pretty simple. We retrieve the contents of all the JS files and concatenate them together. In this case, $jsfiles is an array containing the paths to the JS files. There is one catch here. The last statement in a JS file does not necessarily have to have a semicolon to execute, so we append a semicolon. It needs to be on its own line, just incase the last line of the file has an inline comment, “// comment;”. Thankfully, placing multiple semicolons between statements doesn’t cause any error in JS.

foreach ($js_files AS $js_filename)
{
  $jscode = @file_get_contents($js_filename);
  if ($jscode !== false)
  {
    $js .= $jscode . "\n ; \n";
  } else
  {
    $err .= $js_filename . '\n';
  }
}

Minification and Obfuscation
Minification is simply removing all unnecessary whitespace this just makes the code look alot smaller, but generally doesn’t save much space.
Obfuscation is more complex, but in it’s simplest form it means shortening variable name as much as possible. There are several schemes out there. This class can currently use five of them. All of these schemes do both minification and obfuscation:

  • YUI Compressor (YUI)
    This is the only “safe” compressor, so it’s the default. If you are using external resources, such as pulling jQuery from Google’s CDN you will need to use this scheme. It’s the least efficient though.
  • Minify (minify)
    I have to say that Minify has the most sophisticated caching and binary compression scheme. However, I am not currently taking advantage of it at this time.
  • Google’s Closure compiler (google)
    I started this little project by reading a tutorial titled How to Roll Your Own JavaScript Compressor with PHP and the Closure Compiler. The conclusion was pretty ridiculous. There was no caching in place, client or server side. So, every time a user accessed the file, it would have to make an extra round through the compiler on a remote server. This could only have the resulted in increase load times.
  • Dean Edwards’ Packer (packer)
    In my real-world bench test, this scheme proved to be the most effective by far. It lacks some of the sophistication of the other schemes, but in terms of shrinking text file sizes, it’s the most effective.

(The names in parenthesis are the accepted by my classes set_scheme() method)

In order to test which scheme is the most effective, I created a test() method. This method generates a cached version using each scheme, checks the of the file, and then deletes the cached file. It returns an associative array of the file sizes in bytes keyed by the names of the schemes. Here is the output from my project:

with jQuery:
[YUI]      => 465234
[minify] => 465800
[google]   => 342325
[packer]   => 292261
[none]     => 599866

without jQuery (loading from CDN):
[YUI]      => 327216
[minify] => 326090
[google]   => 258084
[packer]   => 213908
[none]     => 351626

jQuery alone:
Array
(
    [YUI] => 138017
    [minify] => 139709
    [google] => 83575
    [packer] => 76544
    [none] => 248240
)

So, as you can see here, the YUI compressor is the most inferior scheme (besides not using compression at all), but YUI is required if your are loading jQuery externally. The jQuery 1.7.1 weighs in around 76K when packed. In my tests, Packer compressed JS to around 60% the size of what YUI would output. So, if you’re site just requires a few lines of jQuery code, go ahead and load it from the CDN, because most users will already have it cached, so it’s free. However, it’s worth testing once your local JS code gets to be about 100K – 200K. If it’s over 200K you can be pretty certain that it’ll be faster to just use packer and include your local copy of jQuery.

Caching

Caching is done by checking running an MD5 hash on a string containing the meta data (file size, date modified and file name) for all the files. At first I was just doing a hash on the full concatenated code, but having the server read all the files on every request to inefficient to me. So, now I do it this way which saves about 20 milliseconds, and I can sleep a little easier at night. This works pretty well for now, but I’d eventually like to use Memcache instead of file based caching.

foreach ($js_files AS $js_file)
{
	$stats = stat($js_file);
	$meta_data .= "$js_file : {$stats['size']}-{$stats['mtime']} \n";
}
$filename = md5($meta_data);
$file_path = $this->dest_path . $filename . '.js';

if ( ! file_exists($file_path) OR ! $this->cache)
{
 // Some Magic happens
  //output the cached file
  $handle = fopen($file_path, "w");
  fwrite($handle, $compressed_js);
  fclose($handle);
}

Client-side Caching

Nothing is more infuriating for a developer than unknowingly having headers set that are caching your code on your ISP or having to constantly clear your cache to see changes. I always implement client side caching in a way so that it will only be used on the production server. In my scheme, aggressive caching is only set on files being served from the compressed directory.

Binary Compression

Client side caching and binary compression is where you are going to make the most optimization. Currently I’m using the technique described by Patrick Lin, GZip files with .htaccess and PHP. It’s pretty simplistic, though. In the future, I’d like to implement a system that will inspect the request headers to see what compression would work best and use Deflate if possible.

Below is the full code for the JS_Compressor class. You’ll need the appropriate compressor libraries in the same directory (or another include path) as well. Here is where you can find them.


<?php

/*
Deveploper: Robert Williams <rob@simplyinteractive.com>
*
* This class compiles, compresses and caches all of the javascript files list
* in the $scripts array.
*
* Usage: near the top of the PHP template execute
*
* $js_compressor = new JS_Compressor();
*
* If the $compressing property is TRUE it compiles all of the files into one compressed file
* and caches it in $dest_path. If $compress is FALSE it just outputs all the
* files as normally as individual extrnal scripts.
*
* Make sure there as a folder located at the $dest_path ('js/compressed/' by default) in
* production, and that it is writable by Apache/PHP.
*
* Now, you can add new scripts by calling set_scripts()
* with an array of strings .
* paths should be relative to the requested document.
*
*
* Scripts can be added to this array for specific sections:
* $js_compressor->add_script('js/script_for_this_page.js');
*
* Optionally, set the scheme. Default is 'YUI' as only the YUI compressor provides
* "safe" linkage to external resources, such as jQuery loaded from the google CDN.
* You can alternatively use 'google' for Google Closure, 'minify', or 'packer'.
*
* Near the bottom of the template, just before your </body> tag, execute:
* $js_compressor->render();
* This will output the appropriate script tags, and compress and cache the
* javascript if neccessary.
*/

class JS_Compressor
{

private $scripts = array();
private $dest_path = 'js/compressed/';
private $scheme = 'YUI';
private $compressing = TRUE;
private $caching = TRUE;

/**
*
* @param array $scripts
* @return JS_Compressor
*/
public function set_scripts($scripts)
{
$this->scripts = $scripts;
return $this;
}

/**
*
* @param string $script
* @return JS_Compressor
*/
public function add_script($script)
{
$this->scripts .= $script;
return $this;
}

/**
*
* @return array of strings
*/
public function get_scripts()
{
return $this->scripts;
}

/**
*
* @param string $dest_path
* @return JS_Compressor
*/
public function set_dest_path($dest_path)
{
$this->dest_path = $dest_path;
return $this;
}

/**
*
* @param string $scheme
* @return JS_Compressor
*/
public function set_scheme($scheme)
{
$this->scheme = $scheme;
return $this;
}

/**
*
* @param bool $compressing
* @return JS_Compressor
*/
public function set_compressing($compressing)
{
$this->compressing = $compressing;
return $this;
}

/**
*
* @param bool $caching
* @return JS_Compressor
*/
public function set_caching($caching)
{
$this->caching = $caching;
return $this;
}

public function render()
{
if (!$this->compress)
{
foreach ($this->scripts AS $script)
{
echo "<script src=\"$script\"></script>\n";
}
return false;
} else
{
$js_files = $this->scripts;

// fetch JavaScript files
// First get and test against headers first.
foreach ($js_files AS $js_file)
{
$stats = stat($js_file);
$meta_data .= "$js_file : {$stats['size']}-{$stats['mtime']} \n";
}
$filename = md5($meta_data);
$file_path = $this->dest_path . $filename . '.js';

if (!file_exists($file_path) OR !$this->cache)
{
$full_js = '';     // code to compress
$compressed_js = ''; // compressed JS
$err = '';  // error string
foreach ($js_files AS $js_filename)
{
$js_code = @file_get_contents($js_filename);
if ($js_code !== false)
{
$full_js .= $js_code . "\n ; \n";
} else
{
$err .= $js_filename . '\n';
}
}
if ($err != '')
{
// error: missing files
echo '<script>throw "The following JavaScript files \n\
could not be read by JS Compressor:\n' . $err . ' ";</script>';
}
if ($full_js != '')
{
// compress
switch ($this->scheme)
{
case "google": $compressed_js = $this->google_compress($full_js);
break;
case 'minify':
include_once('classes/helpers/min/lib/JSMin.php');
$compressed_js = JSMin::minify($full_js);
break;
case 'packer':
include_once 'JavaScriptPacker.php';
$packer = new JavaScriptPacker($full_js, 'Normal', true, false);
$compressed_js = $packer->pack();
break;
case 'YUI':
include_once('YUICompressor.php');
Minify_YUICompressor::$jarFile = $_SERVER['DOCUMENT_ROOT'] . 'classes/helpers/yuicompressor-2.4.6/build/yuicompressor-2.4.6.jar';
Minify_YUICompressor::$tempDir = '/tmp';
$compressed_js = Minify_YUICompressor::minifyJs(
$full_js
, array('nomunge' => true, 'line-break' => 1000)
);
break;
default:
$compressed_js = $full_js;
break;
}
//output the cached file
$handle = fopen($file_path, "w");
fwrite($handle, $compressed_js);
fclose($handle);
}
}
// output single script link.
echo '<script defer src="' . $file_path . '"></script>';

return $file_path;
}
}

//end render();

/**
* Uses google closure's compression through a rest API.
* This includes obfuscation, which breaks some dependencies.
*
* @param string $js
* @return string
*/
public function google_compress($js)
{
// REST API arguments
$apiArgs = array(
'compilation_level' => 'ADVANCED_OPTIMIZATIONS',
'output_format' => 'text',
'output_info' => 'compiled_code'
);
$args = 'js_code=' . urlencode($js);
foreach ($apiArgs as $key => $value)
{
$args .= '&' . $key . '=' . urlencode($value);
}
// API call using cURL
$call = curl_init();
curl_setopt_array($call, array(
CURLOPT_URL =>
'http://closure-compiler.appspot.com/compile',
CURLOPT_POST => 1,
CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS => $args,
CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER => 1,
CURLOPT_HEADER => 0,
CURLOPT_FOLLOWLOCATION => 0
));
$jscomp = curl_exec($call);
curl_close($call);
return $jscomp;
}

/**
* The function provides a way for benchmark testing. *Spoiler alert* Packer
* is the smallest.
*
* @return array
*/
public function test()
{
$schemes = array(
'YUI',
'minify',
'google',
'packer',
'none'
);
$output = array();
// turn off cache checking.
$this->compress = true;
$this->cache = false;
// Consume data.
ob_start();
foreach ($schemes AS $scheme)
{
$this->scheme = $scheme;
$file = $this->render();
$output[$scheme] = filesize($file);
unlink($file);
}
ob_end_clean();
return $output;
}

}

LESS / CSS Style Sheet coding standard

First off, HTML should be semantic. There should be no styling in the HTML markup. There should be no <style> tags, as they will be difficult to override from external CSS.

There should be no style properties in any of the HTML tags. When these are used the only way to override them is to use !important.

!impotant should never be used. !important is like a jack-hammer, it punches a hole through the inheritance structure upon which clean CSS relies. You can’t build a house with a jack-hammer and you build a maintainable site using !imporant. If you do need to use !important, and can’t find any way around it, there should be a comment explaining right afterwards in detail why there was no other choice.

When you use these methods it just makes the work of the CSS developer more difficult. They are useful for injecting styles through JavaScript (JS) after the page is loaded but should never be included in the raw HTML. If styling needs to be inserted dynamically on the server, at the time of the request, it should be done by inserting semantic classes that implement styles in the style sheet.

Tabs should be used instead of spaces to indent lines. Using spaces makes un-identing cumbersome. When tabs are used the programmer can set the tab width larger or smaller depending on their personal preference and to compensate for the depth of the tab-structure. Tabs also make for smaller file sizes (but we’re compressing out uninterpreted white space anyways).

To increase readability, words in class-names should be separated_by_underscores, as opposed to camelCase or dashes.

All class names should be semantic. They should contain no aesthetic or visual visual references, such as .blue_rounded_box {}.

Classes should be used whenever possible instead of IDs, in order to simplify inheritance.

Each rules should be written on a new, single line with a space before the opening curly bracket, a space after each colon and semi-colon, but no spaces on the directly on the inside of the brackets.

This differs from the usual standard, but it makes it easier to find the selector you’re looking for with less scrolling around. In the usual format with each rule on a separate line, you end up with a very narrow column of information and everything gets too spread out horizontally to see the overall structure.

LESS

The big problem with CSS is that there is no inherent structure to the files. They’re just long lists of selectors with list of rules inside. When a new CSS developer comes to a project he will often just add style rules to the end of the file because he doesn’t want to mess up anything that’s already there. If he’s any good, he’ll find the selector and rule that he wants to edit, but there’s no obvious place place to put new selectors when they need to be added. The only way to structure things is by using block comments and maybe some tab structuring, but this is difficult to enforce in a large project with say six-thousand lines or more, and when the site is refactored, it becomes nearly impossible to remove all the dead selectors.

LESS is a dynamic, procedural language for creating CSS that is based on CSS. It’s elegant and resolves a lot of the issues of having to type the same thing over and over again, and it makes refactoring your styles a breeze. More information can be found at the LESS website, http://lesscss.org/.

The LESS website recommends linking directly to .LESS style sheets from the HTML and using the JavaScript interpreter on client side. However, this can be problematic. First, it goes against the concept of progressive degradation; if a user has JS disabled, or their client doesn’t support JS, or if there’s an error before the LESS stylesheet is interpreted, the page will fail to be styled. It places additional load on the user’s JS engine which can slow down performance. Finally, when the page loads it is displayed with no styling at first. Generally the interpreter is pretty fast, but if you have a long stylesheet the page might be displayed before it’s styled. For these reasons, I’ve decided that it’s best to compile the stylesheet first and send them plain old CSS. If you’re a linux type, you can just install less from the command line, as described on their site under server-side usage. For Mac OSX there’s a great compiler available at incident57.com/less and a Windows version at winless.org.

Don’t worry about it slowing down your process, it will compile the stylesheet in the background every time you save, and t will be ready by the time you switch to your browser to test. If you write an error into your stylesheet, the compiler will find it for you and fail. I found this pretty annoying at first. With plain old CSS my errors were just glossed over, and and everything else worked fine. But now I love it because I always catch my mistakes right away. You can think of it as an instant validator.

To minimize load times and server requests, the stylesheet should be served as a single, minified file. This is right out of the YUI guidelines. There should be one main stylesheet for each project/website. The main stylesheet should be named after the project or client to avoid any confusion.

The LESS compiler handles all the concatenation and compressions for you by default. Any file stylesheet I need to include, I convert into .less, just by changing the file extension. Then, use the @import directive in your main stylesheet for each extra stylesheet you need to add. For example you will often need to add third-party stylesheets:

@import "jquery-ui-1.8.16.less";

However, there is some invalid CSS in the jquery-ui stylesheet (as in most stylesheets) that will kill the compiler. The compiler will dies at rules with things like:

.ui-helper-zfix { width: 100%; height: 100%; opacity: 0; filter: Alpha(Opacity=0); }

…But the compiler will notify you exactly where the issue is, and it’s pretty quick and easy to find and escape these with:

filter: ~"Alpha(Opacity=0)";

Alternatively, if you don’t want to mess with all that, you can just escape the whole file. Now, you’re compiling and compressing like a pro. File Structure: First, there should be block quote at the top of every file to identify the file.:

/*
Document   : calumet.less
Company    : Simply Intereactive
Created on : Oct 20, 2011, 4:33:11 PM
Author     : Robert Williams 
Description:
This file is the main styling source for the calumet site. It should be
compiled and compress before serving the the client.
*/

Each subsequent block of code should have a comment before it preceded by a blank line. If any @font-face declarations are used, they should come immediately after the block quote.

/* @font-face declarations */
/* first for IE 4–8 */
@font-face {font-family: DINWeb; src: url("FF-DIN/DINWeb.eot");}
/* then for WOFF-capable browsers */
@font-face {font-family: DINWeb; src: url("FF-DIN/DINWeb.woff") format("woff";}

This will allow the browser to load the fonts while the CSS is still loading, thereby minimizing the dreaded FOUT. Next, comes the @import directives, all of which should all be .LESS files.

/* import styles */
@import “lib.less”
@import "normalize.less"; //normalize css
@import "jquery-ui-1.8.16.custom.less"; //ui-lightness modified for less

The first of these should be a lib.less file that includes all the standard utility mix-ins and functions that you will want for any project. Dash-separated words should used be reserved for mix-ins and functions when they are named after specific dash-separated CSS properties or values, such as .border-radius or .inline-block.:

/*
Document:   lib.less
....
Description:
This file is to hold some standard, generic utility functions and mix-ins.
*/

.border-radius (@radius: 5px) {border-radius: @radius; -webkit-border-radius: @radius; -moz-border-radius: @radius;
}
.box-shadow (@x: 0, @y: 0, @blur: 1px, @color: #000) {box-shadow: @arguments; -moz-box-shadow: @arguments; -webkit-box-shadow: @arguments;}
.inline-block {display: inline-block; _display: inline; zoom: 1;}
...

I recently discovered LESS Elements, which I am considering either including into my lib.less file or using in its place.

The second file, normalize.less is identical to normalize.css, which eliminates the need for a base.css and reset.css as prescribed by the YUI guidelines. http://necolas.github.com/normalize.css/The next block contains global variables specific to the entire site, such as the colors for their identitiy:

/* global variables */
@red: #ee3124;
@blue: #5cafdc;

Next, we have mixins. In LESS reusable aesthetic-named classes can be defined and then used as mix-ins for the semantic named classes. Example:

/* mixins */
.rounded_grey_box {background-color: #1a1a1a; .border-radius(8px); padding: 20px 10px; border: 1px solid @blue;}

Next, we have a block for base styles that includes all custom styles applied to html elements in the site. No classes or IDs belong in this section.

/* html elements */
body, html {font-family: DINWeb, helvetica, arial, sans-serif; font-weight: 100; background-color: #333; color: #fff; font-weight: 100; font-size: 16px;}
a, a:visited {color: #fff; text-decoration: none; outline: 0;}

The next block is /* global */, which should include styles that should be applied throughout the site. All the other blocks are for styles that are associated with a specific page (or section if applicable). The page name should be inserted by the server as a class on the <html> element automatically.

<html class="home">

…Thus, they can be immediately available when styling. All the styles that are applied to a specific selector should be written on the same line as the selector (see “html.home”). Each nested rule should be placed on a new next line down and indented one tab, such as the “h4″ here which sill expand to “html.home h4″. Rules that include nested rules should have their closing bracket place alone on a line indented to the same amount.

/* Home */
html.home {color: #ededed; background: url(../img/mountains_bg.jpg) no-repeat top center #666;
	h4 {color: @red;}
	.supporting {text-transform: none;}
	.sections {
		a {display: block; float: left; width: 30%; padding-left: 35px;
			&:first-child {padding-left: 0;}
			h2 {color: #fff;  display: block; font-size: 19px; line-height: 1; height: 28px; width: 265px; padding: 107px 0 0 10px; background: url(../img/lenses_bg.png) no-repeat;}
			h4 {font-size: 16px; text-align: right; padding-right: 25px; padding: 5px 25px 0; background: url(../img/double_angle) no-repeat right;}
		}
		a.simulator h2 {background-image: url(../img/simulator_bg.png);}
		a.decision h2 {background-image: url(../img/decision_bg.png);}
	}
} // end home

Development Philosophy

I have a specific philosophy in regards to web development and coding. I’m going to break it all down here. I’m open to arguments and I plan to revise this as my philosophy evolves. I’m sure some people who read this will disagree strongly with some of my points, especially when I get to my preferred coding standards.

The primary concern for everything I do is that it be easy to understand, to refactor, and to rework. The products I build should work efficiently, but not at the price of being unable to be refactored. To me programming is one of the most creative of mediums. When I read a great piece of programming it’s a similar experience to reading a great poem or a piece of music on paper. It expends in my mind and makes me reconsider what I thought I knew.

My main concern with my coding standards is that they be easily readable. I also use different coding standards for each language I work in. Originally , I tried to use the same standard for all languages, but I eventually found that it just wast applicable everywhere. In PHP, I prefer the Kohana standard. For javaScript I’ve adopted the jQuery standard. For CSS and LESS I use a my own standard. Mostly I use LESS to write stylesheets these days. At some point I’d like to document those standards, though I’m not sure if anyone would be interested. Coding standards are also exceptionally boring, because much or is just the display level of the code tot the programmer. It should be as simple in an IDE to swap between different styles as it is to swap change the width of a tab.

I guess the best place to start is to talk about the process from start to finish. I’d like to have a process in place that makes it easy for work to be swapped among developers. This is one of the core principles in the Japanese management philosophies of Kaizen and Kanban.

First post

I plan to write at least once a week about what’s going on in my world and what I am learning and working on. Right now I’m working on a couple cool HTML5 sites at Simply Interactive.

As part of that work, I’m also working on a new sort of framework. I think I’ll call it PHP5 Boilerplate for now. I’ve taken the best ideas from PHP5 Boilerplate, tossed the ANT compiler, and built my own dynamic Javascript compressor on top of it. I’m using a .LESS compiler to compile and compress the CSS. From there the files are gzipped or deflated when they’re served to the user. I plan to make it available in the near future, as an opensource project, especially if there is any interest.