Increase mobile performances by implementing transparent redirects

Most of you are aware that one of the biggest problems while developing mobile apps / websites, is the reduced bandwidth / connectivity that the user has on his phone compared to traditional devices connected to a solid WiFi or via cable.

How can you actually improve connectivity to the app? There are tricks to improve performances, like transparent redirects.

An heavy stack

The stack on which your web apps will run will be heavy, by definition: HTTP wasn’t built with performances in mind1, and you might want to add SSL, to provide your users with an additional security layer, on top of that.

Now imagine your users requesting GET /my-page and you serving a redirect:

HTTP/1.1 302 Moved temporarily
Location: /my-new-page

Even though, semantically, this is a logic operation, it doesnt work well with the demand of great performances, since the user will need to make nother roundtrip connection to get the new resource

Transparent redirects

What you can do, instead, is to serve a transparent redirect to the user, so that there is no additional request to be made:

HTTP/1.1 200 Ok
Transparent-Status-Code: 302 Moved temporarily
Transparent-Location-Location: /my-new-page

<html ...

In this way the client already has all the information it needs in order to show the user the data he requested.

Even better: if you are serving contents from an API you can have your main application handle the transparent redirect with the history.pushState(...) API of HTML5.

Current implemetation

At the moment you will have to be cautious with it, as current browsers (or, at least, a few of them) treat non 2XX status codes as errors, thing that becomes tricky when you handle things with JS callbacks / promises:

http.get(..., onSuccess, onError)

// the browser will call onError if the response status code is
// different than 2XX

I remember banging our heads over our desks here at the Namshi office, so we decided to use a very simple approach, using custom headers with a 200 Ok: if the response ends up in a redirect, we use 2 custom headers (N-Status-Code and N-Location), intercept the response in our frontends and do our trick with #pushState(...).

Future considerations

It would be nice if, one day, the HTTP spec would be able to incorporate this behavior natively, with a status code like 308 Transparent redirect, so that browser will be able to automatically update the state of the apps and the user wouldn’t need to wait for another roundtrip connection to see the data they have been requesting, no matter the location.

  1. We’re talking about raw performances, scalability is another matter, which is implemented almost flawlessy in the protocol

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