Rendering on the Web

One of the core decisions web developers must make is where to implement logic and rendering in their application. This can be difficult because there are so many ways to build a website.

Our understanding of this space is informed by our work in Chrome talking to large sites over the past few years. Broadly speaking, we encourage developers to consider server-side rendering or static rendering over a full rehydration approach.

To better understand the architectures we're choosing from when we make this decision, we need a solid understanding of each approach and consistent terminology to use when speaking about them. The differences between rendering approaches help illustrate the tradeoffs of rendering on the web from the perspective of page performance.



Server-side rendering (SSR)
Rendering a client-side or universal app to HTML on the server.
Client-side rendering (CSR)
Rendering an app in a browser, using JavaScript to modify the DOM.
"Booting up" JavaScript views on the client so they reuse the server-rendered HTML's DOM tree and data.
Running a client-side application at build time to capture its initial state as static HTML.


Time to First Byte (TTFB)
The time between clicking a link and the first byte of content loading on the new page.
First Contentful Paint (FCP)
The time when requested content (article body, etc) becomes visible.
Interaction to Next Paint (INP)
A representative metric that assesses whether a page consistently responds quickly to user inputs.
Total Blocking Time (TBT)
A proxy metric for INP that calculates how long the main thread was blocked during page load.

Server-side rendering

Server-side rendering generates the full HTML for a page on the server in response to navigation. This avoids additional round trips for data fetching and templating on the client, because the renderer handles them before the browser gets a response.

Server-side rendering generally produces a fast FCP. Running page logic and rendering on the server lets you avoid sending lots of JavaScript to the client. This helps to reduce a page's TBT, which can also lead to a lower INP, because the main thread isn't blocked as often during page load. When the main thread is blocked less often, user interactions have more opportunities to run sooner. This makes sense, because with server-side rendering, you're really just sending text and links to the user's browser. This approach can work well for a variety of device and network conditions, and opens up interesting browser optimizations like streaming document parsing.

    showing server-side rendering and JS execution affecting FCP and TTI.
FCP and TTI with server-side rendering.

With server-side rendering, users are less likely to be left waiting for CPU-bound JavaScript to run before they can use your site. Even when you can't avoid third-party JS, using server-side rendering to reduce your own first-party JavaScript costs can give you more budget for the rest. However, there is one potential trade-off with this approach: generating pages on the server takes time, which can increase your page's TTFB.

Whether server-side rendering is enough for your application largely depends on what type of experience you're building. There's a long-standing debate over the correct applications of server-side rendering versus client-side rendering, but you can always choose to use server-side rendering for some pages and not others. Some sites have adopted hybrid rendering techniques with success. For example, Netflix server-renders its relatively static landing pages, while prefetching the JS for interaction-heavy pages, giving these heavier client-rendered pages a better chance of loading quickly.

Many modern frameworks, libraries and architectures let you render the same application on both the client and the server. You can use these techniques for server-side rendering. However, architectures where rendering happens both on the server and on the client are their own class of solution with very different performance characteristics and tradeoffs. React users can use server DOM APIs or solutions built on them like Next.js for server-side rendering. Vue users can use Vue's server-side rendering guide or Nuxt. Angular has Universal. Most popular solutions use some form of hydration, though, so be aware of the approaches your tool uses.

Static rendering

Static rendering happens at build time. This approach offers a fast FCP, and also a lower TBT and INP, as long as you limit the amount of client-side JS on your pages. Unlike server-side rendering, it also achieves a consistently fast TTFB, because the HTML for a page doesn't have to be dynamically generated on the server. Generally, static rendering means producing a separate HTML file for each URL ahead of time. With HTML responses generated in advance, you can deploy static renders to multiple CDNs to take advantage of edge caching.

    showing static rendering and optional JS execution affecting FCP and TTI.
FCP and TTI with static rendering.

Solutions for static rendering come in all shapes and sizes. Tools like Gatsby are designed to make developers feel like their application is being rendered dynamically, not generated as a build step. Static site generation tools such as 11ty, Jekyll, and Metalsmith embrace their static nature, providing a more template-driven approach.

One of the downsides to static rendering is that it must generate individual HTML files for every possible URL. This can be challenging or even infeasible when you can't predict what those URLs will be ahead of time, or for sites with a large number of unique pages.

React users might be familiar with Gatsby, Next.js static export, or Navi, all of which make it convenient to create pages from components. However, static rendering and prerendering behave differently: statically rendered pages are interactive without needing to execute much client-side JavaScript, whereas prerendering improves the FCP of a Single Page Application that must be booted on the client to make pages truly interactive.

If you're unsure whether a given solution is static rendering or prerendering, try disabling JavaScript and load the page you want to test. For statically rendered pages, most interactive features still exist without JavaScript. Prerendered pages might still have some basic features like links with JavaScript disabled, but most of the page is inert.

Another useful test is to use network throttling in Chrome DevTools and see how much JavaScript downloads before a page becomes interactive. Prerendering generally needs more JavaScript to become interactive, and that JavaScript tends to be more complex than the progressive enhancement approach used in static rendering.

Server-side rendering versus static rendering

Server-side rendering isn't the best solution for everything, because its dynamic nature can have significant compute overhead costs. Many server-side rendering solutions don't flush early, delay TTFB, or double the data being sent (for example, inlined states used by JavaScript on the client). In React, renderToString() can be slow because it's synchronous and single-threaded. Newer React server DOM APIs support streaming, which can get the initial part of an HTML response to the browser sooner while the rest of it is still being generated on the server.

Getting server-side rendering "right" can involve finding or building a solution for component caching, managing memory consumption, using memoization techniques, and other concerns. You're often processing or rebuilding the same app twice, once on the client and once on the server. Server-side rendering showing content sooner doesn't necessarily give you less work to do. If you have a lot of work on the client after a server-generated HTML response arrives on the client, this can still lead to higher TBT and INP for your website.

Server-side rendering produces HTML on demand for each URL, but it can be slower than just serving static rendered content. If you can put in the additional legwork, server-side rendering plus HTML caching can significantly reduce server render time. The upside to server-side rendering is the ability to pull more "live" data and respond to a more complete set of requests than is possible with static rendering. Pages that need personalization are a concrete example of the type of request that doesn't work well with static rendering.

Server-side rendering can also present interesting decisions when building a PWA: is it better to use full-page service worker caching, or just server-render individual pieces of content?

Client-side rendering

Client-side rendering means rendering pages directly in the browser with JavaScript. All logic, data fetching, templating, and routing are handled on the client instead of on the server. The effective outcome is that more data is passed to the user's device from the server, and that comes with its own set of tradeoffs.

Client-side rendering can be difficult to make and keep fast for mobile devices. With a little work to keep a tight JavaScript budget and deliver value in as few round-trips as possible, you can get client-side rendering to almost replicate the performance of pure server-side rendering. You can get the parser to work for you faster by delivering critical scripts and data using <link rel=preload> We also recommend considering using patterns like PRPL to ensure that initial and subsequent navigations feel instant.

    showing client-side rendering affecting FCP and TTI.
FCP and TTI with client-side rendering.

The primary downside to client-side rendering is that the amount of JavaScript required tends to grow as an application grows, which can impact a page's INP. This becomes especially difficult with the addition of new JavaScript libraries, polyfills, and third-party code, which compete for processing power and must often be processed before a page's content can render.

Experiences that use client-side rendering and rely on large JavaScript bundles should consider aggressive code-splitting to lower TBT and INP during page load, as well as lazy-loading JavaScript to serve only what the user needs, when it's needed. For experiences with little or no interactivity, server-side rendering can represent a more scalable solution to these issues.

For folks building single page applications, identifying core parts of the user interface shared by most pages lets you apply the application shell caching technique. Combined with service workers, this can dramatically improve perceived performance on repeat visits, because the page can load its application shell HTML and dependencies from CacheStorage very quickly.

Rehydration combines server-side and client-side rendering

Rehydration is an approach that tries to smooth over the tradeoffs between client-side and server-side rendering by doing both. Navigation requests like full page loads or reloads are handled by a server that renders the application to HTML, then the JavaScript and data used for rendering is embedded into the resulting document. When done carefully, this achieves a fast FCP like server-side rendering, then "picks up" by rendering again on the client. This is an effective solution, but it can have considerable performance drawbacks.

The primary downside of server-side rendering with rehydration is that it can have a significant negative impact on TBT and INP, even if it improves FCP. Server-side rendered pages can appear to be loaded and interactive, but can't actually respond to input until the client-side scripts for components are executed and event handlers have been attached. On mobile, this can take minutes, confusing and frustrating the user.

A rehydration problem: one app for the price of two

For the client-side JavaScript to accurately "pick up" where the server left off, without re-requesting all the data the server rendered its HTML with, most server-side rendering solutions serialize the response from a UI's data dependencies as script tags in the document. Because this duplicates a lot of HTML, rehydration can cause more problems than just delayed interactivity.

HTML document
    containing serialized UI, inlined data and a bundle.js script
Duplicated code in the HTML document.

The server is returning a description of the application's UI in response to a navigation request, but it's also returning the source data used to compose that UI, and a complete copy of the UI's implementation which then boots up on the client. The UI doesn't become interactive until after bundle.js has finished loading and executing.

Performance metrics collected from real websites using server-side rendering and rehydration indicate that it's rarely the best option. The most important reason is its effect on the user experience, when a page looks ready but none of its interactive features work.

    showing client rendering negatively affecting TTI.
The effects of client-side rendering on TTI.

There's hope for server-side rendering with rehydration, though. In the short term, only using server-side rendering for highly cacheable content can reduce TTFB, producing similar results to prerendering. Rehydrating incrementally, progressively, or partially might be the key to making this technique more viable in the future.

Stream server-side rendering and rehydrate progressively

Server-side rendering has had a number of developments over the last few years.

Streaming server-side rendering lets you send HTML in chunks that the browser can progressively render as it's received. This can get markup to your users faster, speeding up your FCP. In React, streams being asynchronous in renderToPipeableStream(), compared to synchronous renderToString(), means backpressure is handled well.

Progressive rehydration is also worth considering, and React has implemented it. With this approach, individual pieces of a server-rendered application are "booted up" over time, instead of the current common approach of initializing the entire application at once. This can help reduce the amount of JavaScript needed to make pages interactive, because it lets you defer client-side upgrading of low-priority parts of the page to prevent it from blocking the main thread, letting user interactions happen sooner after the user initiates them.

Progressive rehydration can also help you avoid one of the most common server-side rendering rehydration pitfalls: a server-rendered DOM tree gets destroyed and then immediately rebuilt, most often because the initial synchronous client-side render required data that wasn't quite ready, often a Promise that hasn't resolved yet.

Partial rehydration

Partial rehydration has proven difficult to implement. This approach is an extension of progressive rehydration that analyzes individual pieces of the page (components, views, or trees) and identifies the pieces with little interactivity or no reactivity. For each of these mostly-static parts, the corresponding JavaScript code is then transformed into inert references and decorative features, reducing their client-side footprint to nearly zero.

The partial hydration approach comes with its own issues and compromises. It poses some interesting challenges for caching, and client-side navigation means we can't assume that server-rendered HTML for inert parts of the application are available without a full page load.

Trisomorphic rendering

If service workers are an option for you, consider trisomorphic rendering. It's a technique that lets you use streaming server-side rendering for initial or non-JS navigations, and then have your service worker take on rendering of HTML for navigations after it has been installed. This can keep cached components and templates up to date and enable SPA-style navigations for rendering new views in the same session. This approach works best when you can share the same templating and routing code between the server, client page, and service worker.

Diagram of Trisomorphic rendering, showing a browser and service worker communicating with the server.
A diagram of how trisomorphic rendering works.

SEO considerations

When choosing a web rendering strategy, teams often consider the impact of SEO. Server-side rendering is a popular choice for delivering a "complete looking" experience that crawlers can interpret. Crawlers can understand JavaScript, but there are often limitations to how they render. Client-side rendering can work, but often needs additional testing and overhead. More recently, dynamic rendering has also become an option worth considering if your architecture depends heavily on client-side JavaScript.

When in doubt, the mobile friendly test tool is a great way to test that your chosen approach does what you're hoping for. It shows a visual preview of how any page appears to Google's crawler, the serialized HTML content it finds after JavaScript is executed, and any errors encountered during rendering.

Screenshot of the Mobile Friendly Test UI.
The Mobile-Friendly Test UI.


When deciding on an approach to rendering, measure and understand what your bottlenecks are. Consider whether static rendering or server-side rendering can get you most of the way there. It's fine to mostly ship HTML with minimal JavaScript to get an experience interactive. Here's a handy infographic showing the server-client spectrum:

Infographic showing the spectrum of options described in this article.
Rendering options and their tradeoffs.


Thanks to everyone for their reviews and inspiration:

Jeffrey Posnick, Houssein Djirdeh, Shubhie Panicker, Chris Harrelson, and Sebastian Markbåge