Primer to Measuring Page Speed

12 Dec 2018

That are many different things that contribute to the speed of a page load. The amount of javascript that is being loading, the code that is being run in javascript, or even how assets are being loaded. Understanding the things that impact a page load can be overwhelming, but making small improvements can make a gradual impact towards making pages load faster.

But how do you know if your site is slow or fast?

Measuring is a key component of helping to make sites faster. Without having some baseline measurements to compare changes against, or knowing what performance targets you want to hit - it's very difficult to actually know if the changes being made are having a positive effect.

Key Terms

In order to first measure something, one must understand the different terms of measurement. A page load isn't made up of a single specific metric as there are different aspects of loading that happen over a span of time. Understanding these measurements help point out specific areas to profile and improve.

However, what we particularly care about are the measurements that are directly related to how a user perceives how fast a given page is.

Time to First Byte (TTFB)

TTFB is a key metric for measuring server performance. This metric measures the time from the initial client request, to when the client receives its first byte. It's important to note the user will never see content during this phase.

First Contentful Paint (FCP)

After the initial request starts to return content, FCP helps to measure when the user first sees some meaningful content, such as text or images. This is the first indication to the user that something is happening.

First Meaningful Paint (FMP)

FMP this is the first paint activity that is actually meaningful and contains content that is useful to the user. There's no standard definition of when this happens, as the content that is meaningful to the user can very from page to page. In order to track FMP, you will need to place specific user timings to track what you would consider to be the first meaningful paint to be, such as above the fold content or specific hero elements.

Time to Interactive (TTI)

TTI happens after the first bit of content renders, and when the page responds to user interactions within 50ms. Long gaps between FCP or FMP and TTI can lead to a bit of an "uncanny valley" experience for users, since a page may appear to be ready but user interactions are slow or unresponsive.

DOM Content Loaded

DOMContentLoaded is an event when the DOM is ready and there are no more stylesheets blocking javascript execution. This may not be a significant metric for users since it may not actually mirror the experience of when it appears to a user that a page is loaded.


Finally, the load event that happens after everything on a page has completely loaded. However, a user may be able to interact and view meaningful content well before this event occurs.

Here's a simplified visualization of what these events might look like on a timeline:

timeline performance metrics

Of these events, the ones we care about are the ones that help answer how a user might perceive the given speed of a page:

Now that we know a little bit more about some of the different page speed metrics, let's take a look at some sample of tools that help to profile and provide insights into your page speed.


Lighthouse is built into Google Chrome's developer tools along with being available as a CLI or via a node module. Lighthouse is a great place to start to capture a quick overview of common performance metrics as well as scoring a lot of other useful things. lighthouse audit results

Using Lighthouse directly from Chrome's devtools is the easiest way to get started, and provides the 3 key metrics we're looking for: FCP, FMP, and TTI. From the report, you can view tips and suggestions on things to improve to help make your page faster along with viewing the trace to dig into the details.

Since you are likely running Lighthouse locally, the results can vary from what real users may experience. Results can be skewed by other Chrome extensions, background programs, or even network behavior. For the cleanest results it's recommended to run Lighthouse in either an incognito window or in a separate Chrome profile without any Chrome extensions enabled.

As previously mentioned, Lighthouse is a great place to start - but may not accurate reflect what your real-world users are experiencing. Which brings us to our next tool... is a great tool for measuring speed from real world locations with real user connection speeds on a variety of different browsers and devices.

web page test site

Since WebPageTest runs on real devices there's a limited pool available so test times may vary depending on the number of people running tests.

Given the variety of options, it's easy to configure the different options to get a ballpark metric of what real world users are seeing:

web page test results

The output from WebPageTest provides a cornucopia of results and metrics, along with a resource of other items to review. The 2 of the 3 key metrics are provided as well, Start Render (FCP) and First Interactive (TTI). In the results you can review your page's waterfall, which mirrors what you would see in Chrome's dev tools.

For more advanced metrics (such as FMP) there is a custom metrics option that allows you to run arbitrary javascript at the end of a test to collect custom metrics. From here you could retrieve a specific user timing to be returned to the WebPageTest front-end.

There are limitations to the public version of WebPageTest, as you are sharing instances with other users but there is a self hosting option if you need more custimization or reliability.


Puppeteer is a node library that provides a high-level API to control Chrome/Chromium and allows for the ultimate flexibility in capturing page speed metrics. While Puppeteer may not be as simple to use as the previous tools, it does offer an extended ability to track additional custom metrics.

Getting Started with Puppeteer

To get started with Puppeteer, you either need to have it installed globally (npm install -g puppeteer) or locally inside of a project (npm install puppeteer).

With Puppeteer you have access to the browser to control the Chrome instance, and page allowing you to control various page aspects such as the viewport size, or navigation. Additionally creating a CDPSession is used to access the Chrome Devtools Protocol for things that are not natively available through the Puppeteer api.

These examples are heavily dependant upon async and await so for native Node support, you will need to be using Node 8 or greater.

const puppeteer = require('puppeteer');

(async function() {
  const browser = await puppeteer.launch();
  const page = await browser.newPage();
  const client = await;

  // capture results
await page.goto('');
view navigating to a page example

The above step works for pages where no authentication or user interaction is required. For more complex steps, Puppeteer allows for complete control of the page to perform any interactions that typically require a user.

await page.goto('');
await page.type('#username', 'username');
await page.type('#password', 'password');
await page.$eval('#login', form => form.submit());
await page.waitForNavigation();
view authentication example

Simulating Network Speed

For more "real world" page speed metrics, we need to simulate slower network conditions. Puppeteer can emulate these conditions using the Chrome Devtools Protocol and Network.emulateNetworkConditions. Network.emulateNetworkConditions expects throughput in bits vs bytes, so you will need to divide any byte value by 8 for accurate results.

// Simulate 3G Conditions
await client.send('Network.emulateNetworkConditions', {
  offline: false,
  downloadThroughput: 1.6 * 1024 * 1024 / 8, // 1.6 mb/s
  uploadThroughput: 768 * 1024 / 8, // 400 kb/s
  latency: 300 // 300ms
view simulate network speed example

Tracking Cached vs First View

For measuring a first view request, there's two things that need to happen: prevent requests from being fetched from the cache and preventing requests from being fetched via a service worker (if available). There's no direct access (yet) to shutting down a service worker, but service workers can be unregistered using the Chrome Devtools Protocol. Service workers need to be unregistered per page request, so the protocol will need to be called for each iteration.

Whether you want cached or first view speed metrics is dependant on the type of your application and how your users use it. For applications with heavy repeat usage, it's likely knowing cached times will be a better measurement of real world usage.

const metrics = []; // array for collecting metrics per iteration
const runs = 10;
const useCache = false;
const useServiceWorker = false;

await page.setCacheEnabled(useCache);

async function disableServiceWorker(disable) {
  if(disable) {
    await client.send('ServiceWorker.enable');
    await client.send('ServiceWorker.unregister', {
      scopeURL: new URL(page.url()).origin

for(let i = 0; i < runs; i++) {
  await disableServiceWorker(!useServiceWorker);

  // capture metrics per iteration

Tracking Page Metrics

Page speed metrics need to be captured over multiple iterations to minimize any natural variations that might occur. We can collect these metrics using the Performance API. This allows us to collect the native measurements we're interesting in, such as navigation and paint as well as custom measurements.

To track custom measurements, you will need to create measurements with Performance.mark() or Performance.measure().

Tracking First Meaningful Paint

Since there is no standardized measurement for FMP, you will need to manually include a performance mark to indicate where the first meaningful paint should happen.

<div class="hero">

Tracking Time to Interactive

While puppeteer doesn't provide TTI, there are other things that you can track that can still provide some indication of interactiveness. If you're using a javascript library such as React or Vue, you could use lifecycle hooks inside of an important component to indicate that things are ready.

React Example

class ImportantComponent extends React.Component {
  componentDidMount() {
    performance.mark('important component mounted');

Vue Example

export default {
  mounted() {
    this.$nextTick(() => performance.mark('important component mounted'));

Since these measurements will largely be app specific, there's no standard way to set where these measurements should be placed.

With puppeteer, we can use page.evaluate() to run a function inside the context of the page. This can be used to access the performance api and return the results to our script.

In addition, for each iteration we likely want to wait some time between requests to not introduce significant load to the server. Using page.waitFor() between iterations will allow for some time to ease the load.

for(let i = 0; i < runs; i++) {
  await disableServiceWorker(!useServiceWorker);

  // Allow time between requests
  await page.waitFor(500);

  await page.reload({ waitUntil: 'networkIdle0' });

  let navigationMetrics = JSON.parse(
    await page.evaluate(() =>

  let firstContentfulPaint = JSON.parse(
    await page.evaluate(() =>

  let firstMeaningfulPaint = JSON.parse(
    await page.evaluate(() =>

  // any other additional custom metrics can be included and tracked

    responseEnd: navigationMetrics[0].responseEnd,
    loaded: navigationMetrics[0].domContentLoadedEventEnd,
    complete: navigationMetrics[0].domComplete,
    firstContentfulPaint: firstContentfulPaint[0].startTime,
    firstMeaningfulPaint: firstMeaningfulPaint[0].startTime

// Do something with the results

await browser.close();
view full puppeteer example

Once you've collected all of the metric results that your heart desires, be sure to call browser.close() to ensure you don't keep your Puppeteer instance running.

Analyzing Puppeteer's Results

There's a number of things you could do to analyze the results from Puppeteer:

Since you have near complete control over Chrome using puppeteer's api, there's few limitations in what speed metrics you can track provided you have placed useful marks in places that matter.

Measure, Measure, Measure (and measure again)

Knowing how fast or slow your site is important, and it's impossible to know without continually measuring and monitoring changes. For users that use your site every day, they feel pain when things don't appear to be responsive. The tools listed above are by no means an exhaustive list, but are just a starting point to begin having a better understanding of the different metrics that affect your users. From this, hopefully you will feel more empowered to start tracking and measuring leading to a better experience for all of your users.