Stephen has written this article to explain how the Apache 2.0.x Web Server can compress web output. Read more.
In a previous paper, the use of mod_gzip to dynamically compress the output from an Apache server. With the growing use of the Apache 2.0.x family of Web servers, the question arises of how to perform a similar GZIP-encoding function within this server. The developers of the Apache 2.0.x servers have included a module in the codebase for the server to perform just this task.
mod_deflate is included in the Apache 2.0.x source package, and compiling it in is a simple matter of adding it to the configure command.
When the server is made and installed, the GZIP-encoding of documents can be enabled in one of two ways: explicit exclusion of files by extension; or by explicit inclusion of files by MIME type. These methods are specified in the httpd.conf file.
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/*
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/ms*
Both methods enable the automatic GZIP-encoding of all MIME-types, except image and PDF files, as they leave the server. Image files and PDF files are excluded as they are already in a highly compressed format. In fact, PDFs become unreadable by Adobe's Acrobat Reader if they are further compressed by mod_deflate or mod_gzip.
On the server used for testing mod_deflate for this article, no Windows executables or compressed files are served to visitors. However, for safety's sake, please ensure that compressed files and binaries are not GZIP-encoded by your Web server application.
For the file-types indicated in the exclude statements, the server is told explicitly not to send the Vary header. The Vary header indicates to any proxy or cache server which particular condition(s) will cause this response to Vary from other responses to the same request.
If a client sends a request which does not include the Accept-Encoding: gzip header, then the item which is stored in the cache cannot be returned to the requesting client if the Accept-Encoding headers do not match. The request must then be passed directly to the origin server to obtain a non-encoded version. In effect, proxy servers may store 2 or more copies of the same file, depending on the client request conditions which cause the server response to Vary.
Removing the Vary response requirement for objects not handled means that if the objects do not vary due to any other directives on the server (browser type, for example), then the cached object can be served up without any additional requests until the Time-To-Live (TTL) of the cached object has expired.
In examining the performance of mod_deflate against mod_gzip, the one item that distinguished mod_deflate from mod_gzip in versions of Apache prior to 2.0.45 was the amount of compression that occurred. The examples below demonstrate that the compression algorithm for mod_gzip produces between 4-6% more compression than mod_deflate for the same file.
Table 1 — Large HTML Document
29% of original
35% of original
Table 2 — Postscript File
31% of original
37% of original
Attempts to increase the compression ratio of mod_deflate in Apache 2.044 and lower using the directives provided for this module produced no further decrease in transferred file size. A comment from one of the authors of the mod_deflate module stated that the module was written specifically to ensure that server performance was not degraded by using this compression method. The module was, by default, performing the fastest compression possible, rather than a mid-range compromise between speed and final file size.
Starting with Apache 2.0.45, the compression level of mod_deflate is configurable using the DeflateCompressionLevel directive. This directive accepts values between 1 (fastest compression speed; lowest compression ratio) and 9 (slowest compression speed; highest compression ratio), with the default value being 6. This simple change makes the compression in mod_deflate comparable to mod_gzip out of the box.
Using mod_deflate for Apache 2.0.x is a quick and effective way to decrease the size of the files that are sent to clients. Anything that can produce between 50% and 80% in bandwidth savings with so little effort should definitely be considered for any and all Apache 2.0.x deployments wishing to use the default Apache codebase.
 A note on the compression in mod_deflate for Apache 2.044 and lower:
The level of compression can be modified by changing the ZLIB compression setting in mod_deflate.c from Z_BEST_SPEED (equivalent to "gzip -1") to Z_BEST_COMPRESSION (equivalent to "gzip -9").
These defaults can also be replaced with a numeric value between 1 and 9. A "hacked" version of the mod_deflate.c code is available here; the compression level has been set to "6", which is regarded as a good balance between speed and compression.
More info on hacking mod_deflate for Apache 2.0.44 and lower can be found here.
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