Massive Web Tech Survey Shows How Bad Habits Persist — and WebAssembly May Be Too Hyped • DEVCLASS


The HTTP Archive has released the bulk of its 2022 Web Technology Report, called the Web Almanac, based on a survey of over 8 million websites. Among its findings, “WebAssembly is not widely used, and rather than seeing usage growth, we are seeing a modest contraction.”

The report also shows how seemingly unnecessary bad habits hurt web performance, like using old and inefficient image formats, or relying on too many third-party scripts that slow down web pages, or using the API deprecated document.write for dynamic content, or blocking page loading with embedded YouTube videos.

Websites are those analyzed by Google’s Chrome UX report which covers publicly accessible sites that are “popular enough”, although the exact minimum number of visitors is not disclosed. According to Netcraft monthly survey there are over 1.1 billion sites, although many are inactive, so this report is based only on the most active ones.

There is, however, an important caveat, especially when it comes to the technology used in web applications. Web crawlers usually do not connect to a web application, only seeing the public content of a website. The survey therefore does not cover the use of web technology in these applications. This could skew the results when it comes to more application-centric technologies, including WebAssembly.

Still, tech blogger Colin Eberhardt, who wrote the WebAssembly analysis in the report, doesn’t hold back, noting that the amount of wasm (compiled WebAssembly code) in web pages is miniscule. “We found 3,204 confirmed WebAssembly requests on desktop and 2,777 on mobile. These modules are used on 2,524 domains on desktop and 2,216 domains on mobile, representing 0.06% and 0.04% of all domains on desktop and mobile, respectively.” he wrote.

Analysis of this wasm shows that by far the largest share is for something called Amazon IVS (Interactive Video Service), a library module used by the AWS Chime service to optimize video communications. Rather than being a conscious developer choice, it is simply a consequence of using that particular AWS service. Perhaps more significant is the appearance of Microsoft’s Blazor framework in third place for most popular Wasm usage, as it will be code written by the developer for a specific site.

Eberhardt however considers that “there is simply no compelling reason to use WebAssembly at this time”, the reason being that Wasm code cannot replace JavaScript, only supplement it. He thinks the future of WebAssembly may not be “as a niche web technology, but as a fully mainstream runtime environment on a wide range of other platforms.”

There is much more interest in the full report, which deserves careful consideration by web developers who care about delivering the best performance and experience to their users. Most of the 26 chapters have been published, but we are awaiting reports on topics such as privacy, structured data, and Jamstack.

A notable point is that most of the code on websites today comes from third parties, either in libraries, imported third-party scripts, or because the site is based on a CMS (Content Management System). It also follows that the use of technology (like that of WebAssembly) can change dramatically if adopted by a widely used library or CMS.

CMS adoption is stable, according to the report, at 45-47% of desktop and mobile sites. The change in popularity of the different systems is small but significant, with WordPress continuing to grow. “Year-over-year comparison, Drupal and Joomla continue to lose market share, while Squarespace remains flat and Wix grows. WordPress continues to climb, growing 1.4% vs. 2021 on mobile and 0.2% from 2021 on desktop,” the report said.

WordPress is the worst performing CMS on average

It is therefore unfortunate that WordPress is on average among the worst performing CMS systems – although it depends on how it is implemented and the plugins used, it may partly be a victim of its own popularity in this regard. Only 30% of WordPress sites achieved a “passing grade” in Google’s Core Web Vitals score, WordPress specialist Jonathan Wold reported in the analysis. Specifically, a passing grade means LCP (Largest Contentful Paint) of 2.5 seconds or less, FID (First Input Delay) of 100ms or less, and CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift) of 0.1 or less.

Old Image Formats Still Dominate, Despite Their Inefficiency

There are also a number of bad habits or old technologies that continue to hurt web performance, the report suggests. One is the use of old image formats. WebP or better yet AVIF perform best, but PNG, JPG and GIF remain more popular. Analysts Eric Porter and Akshay Ranganath to complain on the “frustrating aspects” of using media on the web, “including the almost total absence of wide-gamut color spaces; the perennial zombie format that is the GIF (both in its animated and , more surprisingly, in its non-animated form); and how the sizes attribute and lazy loading – two features designed for performance – hurt (through misuse) performance on a significant number of pages.

JavaScript usage is another area where there are handy fruits for web developers: “The median mobile page loads 162 KB of unused JavaScript. At the 90th percentile, 604 KB of JavaScript is unused. That’s up slightly from last year,” said Jeremy Wagner, technical writer at Google, in his report. Another problem is the prevalence of third-party scripts.

“Third-party JavaScript itself can be a significant source of performance issues, as third-party vendors may not prioritize optimizing their JavaScript resources over adding new features to serve business functions. extra for their customers,” he said.


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