JavaScript
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Automate Performance Testing with Grunt.js

By Catherine Farman

In this age of 2 MB web pages, performance budgets are becoming necessary parts of our web development process. Working with your project’s stakeholders, it’s become everyone’s responsibilty – designers and developers both – to set targets for the performance of your website.

You might set budgets for a number of different metrics: for example, a target page weight of 500 kilobytes, which no single page in your project can exceed. Elements that would be added to the page to exceed 500kb would need to be evaluated against other elements on the page to determine their inclusion in the design. As Tim Kadlec describes, your decision must take one of 3 paths:

  1. Optimize an existing feature or asset on the page
  2. Remove an existing feature or asset from the page
  3. Don’t add the new feature or asset

You can also set budgets for the total images downloaded in kilobytes, the number of product images per request, or the average download time for your site according to WebPageTest.org.

Once you’ve set your budget though, it’s a whole extra task just to measure your site’s performance throughout the development phase. How can you achieve this without adding onerous manual testing to your QA process? Enter Grunt.js!

Grunt.js + WebPageTest.org = Automated Performance Testing Bliss

While there are a number of Grunt plugins that help you measure your website performance, I’m focusing on the most accurate one I’ve found: Grunt Perfbudget. This wonderful Grunt task uses the WebPageTest.org API to measure your site against a ton of useful metrics like page weight, image sizes, script weight, and rendering time. You can also set explicit budgets for these metrics that the plugin will then measure your site against!

Acquire an API Key

Before you can get your Grunt task set up, you need to email WebPageTest.org for an API key to include in your Gruntfile. (Good news: there’s an alternative to this process in the works!)

Install the Grunt Perfbudget plugin

If this is your first time using Grunt, check out my tutorial on getting up and running with Grunt.

If you already have Grunt installed on your computer, you just need to install the Perfbudget plugin before we set up our performance tests. Navigate to your project folder via the command line and run:

npm install grunt-perfbudget --save-dev

Or if you’d like a sample project to work with, fork my Github repository, grunt-perfbudget-demo and run npm install to get going.

Configure the Perfbudget Task

Once you’ve installed the plugin, you’ll need to setup your plugin options and create a task in your Gruntfile.js. I’ve created a demo Gruntfile which runs the perfbudget task as part of the default Grunt command, with just the bare minimum of options to begin – a URL to test and your API key:

module.exports = function(grunt){
  require("matchdep").filterDev("grunt-*").forEach(grunt.loadNpmTasks);

  grunt.initConfig({
    pkg: grunt.file.readJSON('package.json'),

    perfbudget: {
      default: {
        options: {
          url: 'http://cfarman.com',
          key: 'APIKEY'
        }
      }
    }
  });

  grunt.registerTask('default', ['perfbudget']);
};

When I run the default grunt task with my API key set, I get the following output in the console:

perfbudget task failed

Why did my task fail? Because my website didn’t pass the default budget: render in less than 1000ms. It also failed on a metric called “SpeedIndex.” How do I find out more about my web page’s performance? Luckily, WebPageTest has a very detailed URL I can reference, linked directly from the console in my Perfbudget test!

In order to get my website to pass and not cause the Grunt task to fail (therefore stopping any website builds in an automated build environment), I have two options: I can edit my budgets until I pass (useful for testing, not so much for performance!) or I can follow my performance budget rules: optimize, remove stuff or stop adding stuff until I pass the default metrics. For now, let’s play with our Grunt task to see what a passing test looks like.

Perfbudget Options and WebPageTest Metrics

Like most Grunt tasks, the Perfbudget task lets me customize a range of options. And because of the amazingly detailed metrics measured by WebPageTest, I can test all kinds of metrics for my performance budget to see whether I pass or fail.

First, I’m going to change my options so that my website stops failing and the Grunt task reports I’m under budget. This requires an additional property in my perfbudget task called ‘budget’:

perfbudget: {
  default: {
    options: {
      url: 'http://cfarman.com',
      key: 'APIKEY',
      budget: {
        render: '3000',
        SpeedIndex: '5500'
      }
    }
  }
}

My site’s pretty slow at this point so my values are high in order to pass the test.

The results? I PASSED!

perfbudget task passed

This means the Grunt task doesn’t fail and if I have other tasks in my Gruntfile, they’ll proceed as normal – success!

Besides the default metrics, what else can we measure? All kinds of stuff, including:

  • loadTime: The total load time in milliseconds
  • requests: The total number of files requested
  • bytesIn: The total page weight in bytes

The last metric is the one I most commonly report and want to track for budgeting purposes, so let’s look at how to measure it:

perfbudget: {
  default: {
    options: {
      url: 'http://cfarman.com',
      key: 'APIKEY',
      budget: {
        render: '3000',
        SpeedIndex: '5500',
      bytesIn: '2000000'
      }
    }
  }
}

I chose a total bytes budget of 2 million, since the average page weight at this time hovers around just under 2 megabytes. Once I edit the budget options, I can see how I do by running the grunt task again:

site too big

My website clocks in at 3+ megabytes, putting it way over budget! Looks like I have some work to do. But, having this information at hand is incredibly useful to me as a developer. No other Grunt plugin provides information about total page weight in such a lightweight, easy-to-test manner. Measuring these important metrics allows me to see the real impact of development decisions as I’m coding – and helps me to improve performance as a result.

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  • Daniela

    Is it possible to test a site that is running locally (eg: http://localhost:8080) or does it have to be deployed?

    • Kalpit

      You can test local site as well…

      • Daniela

        Great, thanks!

      • Cat

        Yep, I’ve mainly used this on local sites!

      • rhewitt

        How would that work?? Localhost isn’t available to the public internet… how would the pagetest API get to it?

  • http://www.merchantguru.com/ Joe Fletcher

    This is awesome! Thanks for the tutorial on setting this up. I used your starter project and was testing my sites in no time. I can’t wait to implement it into my workflow. Anything like this with Gulp? I also came across this gulp plugin that seems to output to a visual log. Haven’t tested yet.
    https://www.npmjs.com/package/grunt-wpt

  • smartyshal

    this is great! Thank you, It works like a charm. How about for authenticated sites? I’m curious how would this work?

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