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InfoQ Homepage News Airbnb Improves Web Performance with HTTP Streaming

Airbnb Improves Web Performance with HTTP Streaming

Airbnb introduced HTTP streaming to improve the page-loading performance of their website. They reduced the First Contentful Paint (FCP) metric by around 100 milliseconds on every page tested, including the homepage. They also minimized the impact of slow backend queries on the loading times.

Airbnb has been looking for possible improvements in presenting content to their website users as quickly as possible and identified that sending the page body only after it has been fully rendered is not offering the best user experience, particularly if the body content depends on backend queries. Additionally, web pages usually require many additional resources, such as CSS files and external Javascript files, to be downloaded by the browser to display the content to the user correctly. These dependencies often result in cascades of resource requests, best illustrated in the network sequence view, such as Chrome’s Waterfall.


A well-known practice to allow the browser to download external resources earlier is placing all tags referencing them inside the <head> tag near the beginning of the HTML document. The browser downloads external resources when it reads the <head> tag. Typically, that only happens once the entire HTML document is delivered, which can take some time if the content is based on slow backend queries.

Early flush is one technique that utilizes HTTP streaming to make the browser aware of external resources even earlier. It requires splitting the HTML document into two portions and sending them separately using chunked transfer encoding. The browser can start downloading external resources as soon as the initial chunk, containing only the beginning of the HTML document, is received and parsed.

Even though the early flush technique isn’t new, it hasn’t been widely used as it requires rendering and sending incomplete portions of HTML without closing tags. Airbnb employs an Express-based NodeJS server to render web pages using React and had to rework the single React component previously used to render the entire HTML document into three separate ones.

Using the early flush helps optimize network waterfall for CSS and Javascript resources but doesn’t deal with delays in rendering the page body. With modern web app frameworks, it’s possible to render the content on the client or the server side (Server-Side Render) and fetch the data separately, but this requires another network request.

Airbnb took their streaming approach further by introducing the third chunk, which they called the deferred data chunk, containing the data required by the page. They used MutationObserver to detect when the deferred data is loaded and injected the data into the application’s network data store, essentially replacing the additional network request.

Server-side Rendering (SSR) and client-side data fetch executed in parallel


The team had to resolve some issues to enable HTTP streaming in their technology stack. They turned off response buffering in NGINX and Nagle’s algorithm in their haproxy load balancer to allow chunked responses to reach the browser unaltered.

Victor Lin, a software engineer at Airbnb, summarizes his team’s experiences and a growing ecosystem supporting HTTP streaming:

While there were challenges along the way, we found that adapting our existing React application to support streaming was very feasible and robust, despite not being designed for it originally. We’re also excited to see the broader frontend ecosystem trend in the direction of prioritizing streaming, from @defer and @stream in GraphQL to streaming SSR in Next.js.

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