Delay loading your print CSS

June 17th, 2007. Tagged: CSS, performance

So you have two stylesheets on your page, like this:

<link type="text/css" rel="stylesheet" href="screen.css" 
      media="screen" />
<link type="text/css" rel="stylesheet" href="print.css" 
      media="print" />

The first one is used to render the page on screen, the other one is used for printing the page and print previewing it. Good.

The thing is, when it comes to performance, the browser won't render any part of the page, until all stylesheets are downloaded (fiddled with here). That includes, unfortunately, stylesheets not designed for the currently rendered media. In other words, the browser won't display your page, until the print stylesheet is also downloaded, although it's not used at all for displaying the page. That sucks and should really be addressed in future browser versions.

Test

I did a test page to check this, it's here - print.php. It includes two stylesheets, the first one intentionally sleep()s for 5 seconds, the second one - for 10 seconds.

The result is that in both Firefox and IE it takes 15 seconds for this page to be rendered. Here's the Firebug picture:

media-print.png

In Safari on Windows, it only took 10 seconds the first time around, as both stylesheets were downloaded simultaneously. Good. The bad is that after refresh, the first CSS was not even requested, I tried it a few times, actually sometimes I got the error "The error was: “unknown error” ((null):10053) ", but hey, this is the first release of the browser, it can't be perfect. Actually after I shut down Fiddler, which is what I used to monitor the HTTP traffic, the page was back to normal, so it's not clear who's to blame.

So?

Well, in order to increase rendering performance, all stylesheets not absolutely needed to initially render a page should be loaded after the page load, in the background. Once the user has a fast rendered page to interact with, you can load the additional CSS (and JavaScripts for that matter) in the background, using script and style DOM includes.

Update: From my comment bellow - a better option is to include the print css as part of the main css:
@media print {…}

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