Using a Phing filter to flush browser caches

A quick Phing tip that’s made my life easier when deploying new versions of commandlinefu.com.

One of the key performance recommendations from Steve Souders’ excellent “High Performance Websites” is to use Expires HTTP headers to set far-future expiration dates for your site components (such as images, Javascript files and CSS stylesheets). This way, browsers can cache the files between requests giving a performance boost to your site. Assuming you’re using Apache for serving, the following settings can be used to set these headers for all Javascript and CSS files (there are a few alternative ways of achieving the same result):

<FilesMatch "\.(ico|pdf|flv|jpg|jpeg|png|gif|js|css|swf)$">
    Header set Expires "Thu, 15 Apr 2010 20:00:00 GMT"
</FilesMatch>

The main issue to be aware of using this technique is that, when your components change, you need to ensure your visitors are forced to download the latest version rather than using the one cached by their browser. The only way to ensure this happens is to use a different URL for the assets in question. One option might be to rename the files themselves but a more convenient alternative is to include a query string as part of the request URL (eg <script src="/js/behaviour.js?2009-03-15" type="text/javascript" />). Then changing the query string component is sufficient to force browsers to make a full request for the new component.

This works well but is an easy-to-forget overhead for deployment. However, this substitution can be automated by making use of the Filters that Phing provides. Doing so is trivial: simply insert a tokenised string as the query string after your asset URLs. That is:

<link rel="stylesheet" href="/css/styles.css?~~CACHEBUSTER~~" type="text/css" /> where the ~~ delimiter indicates the token. Then include something like the following snippet in your Phing deployment script.

<tstamp>
    <format property="build.datetimestring" pattern="%Y-%m-%d-%H-%M" />
</tstamp>
...
<target name="create-temp-build" description="Creates a temporary copy of the source files">    
    <echo msg="Copying deployment files into temporary directory" />
    <copy todir="${dev.folder.temp}">
        <filterchain>
            <replacetokens begintoken="~~" endtoken="~~">
                <token key="CACHEBUSTER" value="${build.datetimestring}" />
            </replacetokens>
        </filterchain>
        <fileset refid="deployment-files" />
    </copy>
</target>

The filterchain component of the copy task parses the given fileset for matching tokens that match and replaces them with the given value. In this example, I’m using timestamps as the replacements as these will ensure a different query string on each deployment. Doing so ensures that the deployed HTML includes the lines:

<link rel="stylesheet" href="/css/styles.css?2008-03-15-21-51" type="text/css" />
<script type="text/javascript" src="/js/site-behaviour.js?2008-03-15-21-51">

which then ensure that all subsequent visitors download the latest versions of the CSS and javascript files. The above target is taken from a deployment script I use which creates a temporary snapshot of the codebase that I want to deploy, but the basic principle of using the replacetokens filter is easily transferable to any deployment script.

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Tagged with: phing
Filed in: tips
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