Please read Improving web site performance with Apache .htaccess for an updated version of this article.

Last week I changed my hosting provider from Site5 to NearlyFreeSpeech.NET. NFSN is a lot more cheaper (I only pay for what I really use).

So in order to speed up my site and save bandwidth (the more I use the more I pay) I use .htaccess file to gzip my text based files and optimize cache HTTP headers. Although this site is powered by Wordpress which has some really great plugins to optimize PHP output I wanted a more generic solution which can be applied to all PHP web applications.

I also try to follow as much as I can the rules for high performance web sites so don’t be surprised if some Expires header seems too long (far future Expires header rule requires at least 172801 seconds).

Turn on compression

mod_gzip is an external extension module for Apache that allows you to quickly and easily compress your files before you send them to the client. This speeds up your site like crazy!

If your hosting provider has mod_gzip module enabled, the best way to compress your content is to add the following lines to your .htaccess file:

<ifModule mod_gzip.c>
  mod_gzip_on Yes
  mod_gzip_dechunk Yes
  mod_gzip_item_include file .(html?|txt|css|js|php|pl)$
  mod_gzip_item_include handler ^cgi-script$
  mod_gzip_item_include mime ^text/.*
  mod_gzip_item_include mime ^application/x-javascript.*
  mod_gzip_item_exclude mime ^image/.*
  mod_gzip_item_exclude rspheader ^Content-Encoding:.*gzip.*

unfortunately my provider doesn’t have this module enabled. If you have the same problem, you can add the following line instead:

php_value output_handler ob_gzhandler

this makes PHP to compress your PHP files (be cautious, this is very CPU intensive).

To compress other static content you can use Ali Farhadi’s JSmart Compressor which compress CSS and JavaScript files.

Setup JSmart

Note: This section is outdated. JSmart Compressor has been renamed and updated as SmartOptimizer.

  • Assuming your application resides in your web root, simply place the JSmart files into /jsmart.
  • Edit /jsmart/config.php if you like, though the default settings should work fine. Mine looks like:
//JSmart Configuration File

//Show error messages if any error occurs (true or false)
define('JSMART_DEBUG_ENABLED', false);

//Encoding of your js and css files. (utf-8 or iso-8859-1)
define('JSMART_CHARSET', 'utf-8');

//Base dir for javascript files
define('JSMART_JS_DIR', '../');

//Base dir for css files
define('JSMART_CSS_DIR', '../');

//Change it to false only for debugging purposes
define('JSMART_CACHE_ENABLED', true);

//JSmart cache dir
define('JSMART_CACHE_DIR', 'cache/');
  • Create and chmod 777 /jsmart/cache
  • Add the following lines into your .htaccess in your web root:
<ifModule mod_rewrite.c>
  RewriteEngine on
  RewriteRule ^(.*.(js|css))$ jsmart/load.php?file=$1

Add future Expires and Cache-Control headers

A first-time visitor to your page will make several HTTP requests to download all your sites files, but using the Expires and Cache-Control headers you make those files cacheable. This avoids unnecessary HTTP requests on subsequent page views.

To set your Expires headers add these lines to your .htaccess:

<ifModule mod_expires.c>
  ExpiresActive On
  ExpiresDefault "access plus 1 seconds"
  ExpiresByType text/html "access plus 1 seconds"
  ExpiresByType image/gif "access plus 2592000 seconds"
  ExpiresByType image/jpeg "access plus 2592000 seconds"
  ExpiresByType image/png "access plus 2592000 seconds"
  ExpiresByType text/css "access plus 604800 seconds"
  ExpiresByType text/javascript "access plus 216000 seconds"
  ExpiresByType application/x-javascript "access plus 216000 seconds"

and to set Cache-Control headers add:

<ifModule mod_headers.c>
  <filesMatch "\.(ico|pdf|flv|jpg|jpeg|png|gif|swf)$">
    Header set Cache-Control "max-age=2592000, public"
  <filesMatch "\.(css)$">
    Header set Cache-Control "max-age=604800, public"
  <filesMatch "\.(js)$">
    Header set Cache-Control "max-age=216000, private"
  <filesMatch "\.(xml|txt)$">
    Header set Cache-Control "max-age=216000, public, must-revalidate"
  <filesMatch "\.(html|htm|php)$">
    Header set Cache-Control "max-age=1, private, must-revalidate"

Now all your files must have the right headers and be cacheable except the CSS and JavaScript files processed by JSmart. This is because JSmart overrides the cache headers when gzipping these files.

To fix this you have to edit /jsmart/load.php file and change the block code

  if (isset($headers['If-Modified-Since']) && $headers['If-Modified-Since'] == $mtimestr)
    header_exit('304 Not Modified');

  header("Last-Modified: " . $mtimestr);
  header("Cache-Control: must-revalidate", false);
} else header_nocache();


  if (isset($headers['If-Modified-Since']) && $headers['If-Modified-Since'] == $mtimestr)
    header_exit('304 Not Modified');

  if ($file_type=='js') {
    header("Expires: " . gmdate("D, d M Y H:i:s", $mtime + 216000) . " GMT");
    header("Cache-Control: max-age=216000, private, must-revalidate", true);
  } else {
    header("Expires: " . gmdate("D, d M Y H:i:s", $mtime + 604800) . " GMT");
    header("Cache-Control: max-age=604800, public, must-revalidate", true);
} else header_nocache();

Turn off ETags

By removing the ETag header, you disable caches and browsers from being able to validate files, so they are forced to rely on your Cache-Control and Expires header. Entity tags (ETags) are a mechanism to check for a newer version of a cached file.

Add these lines to .htaccess:

<ifModule mod_headers.c>
  Header unset ETag
FileETag None

Remove Last-Modified header

If you remove the Last-Modified and ETag header, you will totally eliminate If-Modified-Since and If-None-Match requests and their 304 Not Modified responses, so a file will stay cached without checking for updates until the Expires header indicates new content is available!

Add these lines to .htaccess:

<ifModule mod_headers.c>
  Header unset Last-Modified


With these settings you should have your site a lot faster and your file’s size greatly reduced.


Some descriptions are based on .htaccess (Hypertext Access) Articles from AskApache. mod_gzip settings are taken from Highub - Web Development Blog.


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