Using gzip_static in nginx to cache gzip files

Recently I've been working on speeding up the homepage of beeets.com. Most speed tests say it takes between 4-6 seconds. Obviously, all of them are somehow fatally flawed. I digress, though.

Everyone (who's anyone) knows that gzipping your content is a great way to reduce download time for your users. It can cut the size of html, css, and javascript by about 60-90%. Everyone also knows that gzipping can be very cpu intensive. Not anymore.

I just installed nginx's Gzip Static Module (compile nginx with --with-http_gzip_static_module) on beeets.com. It allows you to pre-cache your gzip files. What?

Let's say you have the file /css/beeets.css. When a request for beeets.css comes through. the static gzip module will look for /css/beeets.css.gz. If it finds it, it will serve that file as gzipped content. This allows you to gzip your static files using the highest compression ratio (gzip -9) when deploying your site. Nginx then has absolutely no work to do besides serving the static gzip file (it's very good at serving static content).

Wherever you have a gzip section in your nginx config, you can do:

gzip_static on;

That's it. Note that you will have to create the .gz versions of the files yourself, and it's mentioned in the docs that it's better if the original and the .gz files have the same timestamp; so it may be a good idea to "touch" the files after both are created. It's also a good idea to turn the gzip compression down (gzip_comp_level 1..3). This will minimally compress dynamic content without putting too much strain on the server.

This is a great way to get the best of both worlds: gzipping (faster downloads) without the extra load on the server. Once again, nginx pulls through as the best thing since multi-cellular life. Keep in mind that this only works on static content (css, javascript, etc etc). Dynamic pages can and should be gzipped, but with a lower compression ratio to keep load off the server.