Steve Souders, Head Performance Engineer, Google, 2013

“Good developers know how things work. Great developers know why things work.”

We all resonate with this adage. We want to be that person who understands and can explain the underpinning of the systems we depend on. And yet, if you’re a web developer, you might be moving in the opposite direction.

Web development is becoming more and more specialized. What kind of web developer are you? Frontend? Backend? Ops? Big data analytics? UI/UX? Storage? Video? Messaging? I would add “Performance Engineer” making that list of possible specializations even longer.

It’s hard to balance studying the foundations of the technology stack with the need to keep up with the latest innovations. And yet, if we don’t understand the foundation our knowledge is hollow, shallow. Knowing how to use the topmost layers of the technology stack isn’t enough. When the complex problems need to be solved, when the inexplicable happens, the person who understands the foundation leads the way.

That’s why High Performance Browser Networking is an important book. If you’re a web developer, the foundation of your technology stack is the Web and the myriad of networking protocols it rides on: TCP, TLS, UDP, HTTP, and many others. Each of these protocols has its own performance characteristics and optimizations, and to build high performance applications you need to understand why the network behaves the way it does.

Thank goodness you’ve found your way to this book. I wish I had this book when I started web programming. I was able to move forward by listening to people who understood the why of networking and read specifications to fill in the gaps. High Performance Browser Networking combines the expertise of a networking guru, Ilya Grigorik, with the necessary information from the many relevant specifications, all woven together in one place.

In High Performance Browser Networking, Ilya explains many whys of networking: Why latency is the performance bottleneck. Why TCP isn’t always the best transport mechanism and UDP might be your better choice. Why reusing connections is a critical optimization. He then goes even further by providing specific actions for improving networking performance. Want to reduce latency? Terminate sessions at a server closer to the client. Want to increase connection reuse? Enable connection keep-alive. The combination of understanding what to do and why it matters turns this knowledge into action.

Ilya explains the foundation of networking and builds on that to introduce the latest advances in protocols and browsers. The benefits of HTTP/2 are explained. XHR is reviewed and its limitations motivate the introduction of Cross-Origin Resource Sharing. Server-Sent Events, WebSockets, and WebRTC are also covered, bringing us up to date on the latest in browser networking.

Viewing the foundation and latest advances in networking from the perspective of performance is what ties the book together. Performance is the context that helps us see the why of networking and translate that into how it affects our website and our users. It transforms abstract specifications into tools that we can wield to optimize our websites and create the best user experience possible. That’s important. That’s why you should read this book.