So What Really Happens When You Load a Webpage?

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Web Developer
Jan 22, 2021

You’re sitting at your computer. You type something into your browser. You hit “enter.” And a page appears.

You may not think much about it — unless the page is loading exceptionally slowly, for instance — but the web development technology that allows a page to load is more complex than you may realize. 

What It Takes For a Webpage to Load

Let’s take a super high-level look at the five steps of how loading a page works. (Side note: be sure to check out our breakdown of web technology if any of the terms confuse you!)

Step 1

The user types a URL or site address into the browser address bar or clicks on a link from another source (Google search results, from an email marketing campaign, or a social media post, for instance).

Step 2

The browser (or client) finds the IP address for the domain name using the DNS. The DNS translates the website domain name (i.e. google.com) into an actual address.

Step 3

The browser/client sends an HTTP request to the site or server asking for the site content.

Step 4

The server then sends back an HTTP response to the user’s browser and starts sending packets of data to the browser/client. If everything is fine, it receives a “200 OK” response.

Step 5

The browser starts rendering the HTML and continues downloading the page’s images, CSS and Javascript. 

Common Reasons for Slowly Loading Websites

For many sites, the above steps don’t happen nearly as quickly as they should. Here are some potential causes for slow page load issues.

Unoptimized Images

This is typically the number-one problem with slow websites. If your site has tons of images that haven’t been optimized or use a non-ideal format, then this is something to check into. Keep images to less than 1MB and use JPG for larger images instead of PNG/GIF. 

Too Many HTTP Requests

The more JavaScript, CSS and image files you have, the more HTTP requests your browser may be making. Reducing your files and minifying CSS and Javascript can help. 

Unclean Code

Unnecessary elements of a site, like excessive white space, inline CSS stylings and extraneous comments, weigh down the site. Cleaning up the code can boost load time and your SEO rankings as well.

No Caching Capabilities

Caching can dramatically improve your site’s performance by storing frequently-used data points in a site’s cached memory that can then get quickly retrieved. 

Excess Flash Content

If your site still uses Flash content, there’s a chance it’s causing the site to load more slowly than it needs to. It tends to be bulky, so reducing or removing Flash files altogether is the best route to take.

Why It’s Important to Know the Page Load Process

While your page may load so quickly that you don’t have time to think about the process itself, it’s good to understand for a few reasons.

First, as an end-user who may or may not be technically savvy, getting more familiar with the technical aspects of websites can allow you to better understand where an issue may be occurring or, at the very least, why it might be occurring.

For developers or technical users, having a better understanding of this process helps you to know what is happening in the backend of a site to improve the experience for the end-user. For instance, if the page is only displaying images, how might you troubleshoot that? Does the page have to make calls to a backend, server-side application? 

Knowing the procedures for fixing a slow site is a great way to keep all users happy.

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Those five steps we listed above may just change the way you interact with websites. And it may change the way you look at your own site.

When you work with a web consulting team like Integrity, you can be assured that your site is designed and developed for optimized speed and performance — and that we will regularly maintain it to ensure that stays the case.

Whether you’re in need of a company to support your site’s maintenance or want to redesign your site altogether — or if you’re a developer ready for your new opportunity, let our web consulting company help. Get in touch with Integrity today.

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