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​Chrome, Firefox, Facebook work together for a faster web

You may not care what browser caching is, but you will appreciate how refinements to it speed up Facebook and other websites.

A promotional sticker shows Facebook's thumbs-up graphic.
Faster Facebook? Thumbs up.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

Browser makers pay lots of attention to speeding up all the parts of loading a website -- downloading a page's programming instructions, running JavaScript code, pushing graphics and words to the screen -- to spare us annoying waits.

By contrast, refreshing a page you've already loaded seems pretty ho-hum. But programmers for Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome browsers have been cooperating with Facebook to speed up that process too because it's actually all pretty important, they said Thursday. For example, Google said, more than one in 20 page views on Chrome come from reloading. That means a speedup to refreshing can pay off.

The two years of cooperation for Facebook, Chrome and Firefox has improved a technique called caching, which refers to storing data on your phone or PC so it can be quickly fetched when it's needed again. That reduces battery drain, mobile data usage and page-load delays.

Browser makers and web developers often communicate, but this level of cooperation is unusual. It's possible it will result in new standards, too. The Internet Engineering Task Force has also adopted Mozilla's approach to the technology.

Making browsers faster is a thankless, never-ending job, yet it makes the web tick. Faster page-load times mean people read more pages, buy more products online and update their social media status more often.

With the new refinements to caching, browsers don't need to waste resources checking whether web elements like graphics and fonts need to be downloaded again because the web site is communicating that they won't change.

On Chrome, the new technique has cut Facebook page reload times by 28 percent, said Chrome team member Takashi Toyoshima. The speedup can help other sites, too. The BBC's site reloads about 50 percent more quickly than before, said Firefox team member Patrick McManus, and testing has shown strong results.

"This has enough experience in the wild now to heartily recommend its use," McManus said.

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