2013-12-01

Book Review: “Éco-conception web. Les 100 bonnes pratiques”

The last few days, I enjoyed the French paperback “Eco-conception web. Les 100 bonnes pratiques: doper son site et réduire son empreinte écologique” by Frédéric Bordage (“Green web design. 100 best practices: boost your site and reduce your environmental footprint”).

Despite the fact that the book is only available in French and that my last French lessons are years ago, it was easy to follow (for some more grammatical constructions beyond my limited school knowledge, an automatic web translation service was very helpful). Regarding the technological background, readers should already have some consolidated knowledge in applying and developing web technologies.

Frédéric Bordage, a former developer and software architect, is a pioneer and leading expert in Green IT in France. He is a co-founder of the “Green Code Lab” (http://greencodelab.fr/en) and the “Alliance Green IT” (http://www.alliancegreenit.org/). He advises companies and governmental organizations during green IT audits and in consulting assignments regarding green software designs.

The editorial and the introduction shortly discuss the origin of the book project, its motivation, and some fundamental facts and issues related to effects and impacts of computer and web usage on the environment.

These are followed by the presentation of the 100 practices, announced in the book title. The practices were applied in a pilot scheme at Cantonal Bank of Fribourg (Switzerland), where the bank’s web site was renewed under its Green IT program.

Each practice is described on its own page and is classified according to the following categories:
  • priority (values: major, recommended, or minor)
  • level of difficulty (values: difficult, standard, or easy)
  • environmental impact (values: strong, average, or low)
  • saved resources (targets: processor, RAM, storage, network, and requests)

The practices are grouped in different chapters, regarding their focus of optimization: conception, templating, client code, server code, hosting, and content.

The conception chapter presents six practices dealing with architecture and design considerations.

The templating chapter comes with 17 practices focusing on HTML, CSS, policies (regarding web browsers, usage of operating system standards, e.g. fonts), and images (size reduction, CSS sprites, etc.).

The client code chapter includes 20 recommendations that primarily focus on the optimization of JavaScript code, on using the web browser’s history for page navigation, and on efficient ways of manipulating the browser’s DOM to avoid expensive repaint and reflow operations.

Further 20 recommendations are presented in the server code chapter, which focus on the web server tier of web sites and web applications. The chapter discusses source code optimizations for PHP, how to efficiently access relational databases, and it shows how to use caches on different application tiers to decrease the overall response time and to increase efficiency.

The hosting chapter presents 24 practices regarding the procurement of green hardware and electrical energy for data centers, data center and server infrastructure, server virtualization, cloud storage, web server configuration (caches, proxies, logs, etc.), and CDN usage for static and small but frequently requested web artifacts.

The content chapter gives 13 recommendations on how to optimize textual content, videos, images, sound, and documents to achieve a smaller ecological footprint. The usage of Flash and double opt-in e-mail messages are also addressed.

The book comes with a promotion web site (http://ecoconceptionweb.com/) where you can download some extracts in PDF format and where you have the possibility to propose unrecognized new practices. Needless to say that the web site’s purpose is to sell and promote the book, so you will neither find a complete list of the practices nor their explanation (except for those in the extracts).

In my opinion, the 100 practices are a very good and extensive reference manual for all who want an easy to understand hands on introduction on how to achieve an ecologically sound web design. It is also important to mention that most of the practices are also useful to achieve a high performing site.

Unfortunately, from a scientific point of view, the book does not give any proof or measurement that the application of any of its recommendations actually results in a smaller ecological footprint. There is also no hint on how much carbon dioxide or energy was saved in the pilot scheme at Cantonal Bank of Fribourg.

Nevertheless, I recommend that the book should be in every bookcase of responsible web developers but also computer science students and IT trainees who have basic French language skills.

Reference

Bordage, F.: Eco-conception web. Les 100 bonnes pratiques: doper son site et réduire son empreinte écologique. Eyrolles, Paris (2012)