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300ms Faster: Reducing Wikipedia's Total Blocking Time

Nicholas Ray
· ·
8 min read
Clock lying on pink and blue pastel background

Have you ever been frustrated from interacting with a website that was slow to respond to your clicks or had jerky scrolling? Performance flaws like these can lead to the following:

For more than three years, Wikipedia’s mobile site suffered from a piece of JavaScript that could take over 600ms to execute during page load on low-end devices, effectively blocking user interactions.

In this article, we’ll walk through a couple of easy steps I took to reduce the execution time of this task by about 50%.

Total Blocking Time: Why long tasks matter

600ms of synchronous JavaScript execution may not sound like a long time, but imagine if a user tried to click a button during page load when the 600ms of JavaScript began executing. Because only one task can be processed on the browser’s main thread at any given time, the user would need to wait for the following steps to finish before they see a visual update:

  1. The 600ms JavaScript task executes
  2. The relevant click handler task executes
  3. The browser performs the necessary rendering steps to update the page visually
Main thread timeline showing a click occurring at the beginning of a long task. The click callback executes after completing the long task, followed by a browser paint. A visual update only appears after the paint.
A long task can delay the execution of a click handler that produces a visual update.

Each step takes time, and the user can perceive any interaction that takes longer than 100ms to produce a visual update as slow. Because of this, Google considers any task that takes more than 50ms a “long task” that can affect the page’s responsiveness to user input. They even developed a metric for this called “Total Blocking Time” (TBT).

A timeline from first contentful paint to time to interactive showing a 80ms task, a 30ms task, and a 100ms task on the main thread.
There are two long tasks (> 50ms) — the 80ms task and the 100ms task.

What is Total Blocking Time?

TBT measures the sum of the blocking portion of all long tasks on the browser’s main thread between First Contentful Paint (FCP) and Time to Interactive (TTI). The “blocking portion” is the time after 50ms of each long task.

Let’s try calculating the TBT in the example below:

Main thread tasks
  1. The 80ms task is 30ms longer than 50ms so contributes 30ms to TBT.
  2. The 30ms task doesn’t contribute to TBT since it is less than 50ms and NOT a long task.
  3. The 100ms task is 50ms longer than 50ms so contributes 50ms to TBT.

Since TBT is the sum of the time exceeding 50ms of each long task, the TBT for this example is 30ms + 50ms = 80ms.

When tested on average mobile hardware, Google recommends sites have a TBT of less than 200 milliseconds. But Wikipedia had one task that could take over 600 milliseconds — roughly 3x the recommended TBT limit for this one task alone.

How do we improve TBT?

How to reduce Total Blocking Time

To decrease TBT, we need to either:

  • Do less work on the main thread between First Contentful Paint and Time to Interactive
  • Do the same amount of work, but break up long tasks into smaller tasks that don’t exceed 50ms

This article focuses on making gains from the first bullet point.

Step 1: Remove unnecessary JavaScript

While many things run on the main thread, including HTML parsing, paints, and garbage collection, long JavaScript execution is frequently the culprit of TBT problems. After all, JavaScript is the fastest way to slow down a site.

Chrome performance profile showing that a `_enable` method took 475ms to execute.

When I profiled Wikipedia’s mobile site, I found that an _enable method was responsible for most of the execution time. This method initialized the mobile site’s section expansion and collapsing behavior. The profile also showed that, within the _enable method, a call to jQuery’s .on("click") method was slow.

function _enable( $container, prefix, page, isClosed ) {
  // Restricted to links created by editors and thus outside our control
  // T166544 - don't do this for reference links - they will be handled elsewhere
  var $link = $container.find("a:not(.reference a)");
  $link.on("click", function () {
    // the link might be an internal link with a hash.
    // if it is check if we need to reveal any sections.
    if (
      $link.attr("href") !== undefined &&
      $link.attr("href").indexOf("#") > -1
    ) {
  util.getWindow().on("hashchange", function () {

The .on("click") call attached a click event listener to nearly every link in the content so that the corresponding section would open if the clicked link contained a hash fragment. For short articles with few links, the performance impact was negligible. But long articles like ”United States” included over 4,000 links, leading to over 200ms of execution time on low-end devices.

Worse yet, this behavior was unnecessary. The downstream code that listened to the hashchange event already called the same method that the click event listener called. Unless the window’s location already pointed at the link’s destination, clicking a link called the checkHash method twice — once for the link click event handler and once more for the hashchange handler.

Chrome performance profile showing that an `on` method took 264ms to execute. All of this code was removed.

Therefore, in this case, the best approach was to simply remove this block of JavaScript and free up nearly 200ms from the main thread with virtually the same functionality.

When profiling, always check where the most time is spent. Then, see if there is code you can either optimize or, better yet, remove.

Remember, the fastest way to speed up a site is to remove JavaScript.

Step 2: Optimize existing JavaScript

Chrome performance profile showing that an `initMediaViewer` method took 114ms to execute.

An additional performance review revealed that an initMediaViewer method took ~100ms to execute . This method was responsible for attaching a click event listener to each thumbnail in the content so that a click to a thumbnail would open a media viewer:

 * Event handler for clicking on an image thumbnail
 * @param {jQuery.Event} ev
 * @ignore
function onClickImage(ev) {
 * Add routes to images and handle clicks
 * @method
 * @ignore
 * @param {jQuery.Object} [$container] Optional container to search within
function initMediaViewer($container) {
  currentPageHTMLParser.getThumbnails($container).forEach(function (thumb) {
    thumb.$"thumb", thumb).on("click", onClickImage);

Similar to the link example in step 1, attaching an event listener to each thumbnail on the page doesn’t scale well. Editors of Wikipedia articles can (and do) make articles with thousands of images. When this block of code ran, it could take well over 100 milliseconds to execute for pages with a lot of images and increase the TBT of the page. What is an alternative approach?

Use event delegation.

Event delegation is a powerful technique that lets us attach a single event listener to an element that is the common ancestor of many elements. Using event delegation is often more efficient when dealing with user-generated content that could add any number of elements. It takes advantage of event bubbling and works like this:

  1. Attach an event listener to a container element.
  2. Using the event param in the event handler, check the property to see the source of the event. Optionally use the API to check for an ancestor element.
  3. If the source of the event is an element or the child of an element we’re interested in, handle it.

The updated code looked like the following:

 * Event handler for clicking on an image thumbnail
 * @param {MouseEvent} ev
 * @ignore
function onClickImage(ev) {
  var el =;
  if (!el) {
  var thumb = currentPageHTMLParser.getThumbnail($(el));
  if (!thumb) {
 * Add routes to images and handle clicks
 * @method
 * @ignore
 * @param {HTMLElement} container Container to search within
function initMediaViewer(container) {
  container.addEventListener("click", onClickImage);

In this case:

  1. I revised the initMediaViewer method to attach one click event listener to a single container element that contained all the images.
  2. In the onClickImage method, I used the API to check if the click originated from a thumbnail or a child of a thumbnail element. If it didn’t, the code returns early since we only care about clicks to thumbnails. If it did, the code handles the event.

But what were the results of this work?


We released the optimizations outlined in steps 1 and 2 to production in two deploys — step 1 followed by step 2.

According to Wikipedia’s synthetic performance test data, the first deployment resulted in a reduction of TBT by approximately 200ms, while the second deployment improved TBT by around 80ms when testing on a real Moto G (5) phone. Overall, these two steps reduced TBT by nearly 300ms on devices like the Moto G (5) phone visiting long articles.

Synthetic test graph showing a 200ms decrease in Total Blocking Time after the first deploy and a 100ms decrease in Total Blocking Time on a Moto G (5) phone after the second deploy.
Wikipedia's Moto G (5) synthetic performance test visiting the "Sweden" article on English Wikipedia

While there is still room for further improvement, with the task still exceeding the recommended limit on low-end devices, the progress made so far is significant. To achieve even greater reductions in TBT, it may be necessary to break up the task into smaller tasks.

What this experience demonstrates is that significant performance improvements can be achieved through small, targeted optimizations. By removing or optimizing specific sections of code, even seemingly minor changes can have a substantial impact on a website’s overall performance. It serves as a reminder that delivering a more responsive browsing experience that can work on any device doesn’t always require complex and extensive changes to the codebase. Sometimes, it’s the smaller wins that make the biggest difference.

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