Assist the browser with resource hints

In the last module about optimizing resource loading, you learned how various page resources such as CSS and JavaScript can affect page load speed, and how you can optimize them and their delivery to speed up the rendering of a page. This is the perfect time to move into a more advanced aspect of resource loading, and that involves helping the browser to load them faster by using resource hints.

Resource hints can help developers further optimize page load time by informing the browser how to load and prioritize resources. An initial set of resource hints such as preconnect and dns-prefetch were the first to be introduced. Over time, however, preload, and the Fetch Priority API have followed to provide additional capabilities.

Resource hints instruct the browser to perform certain actions ahead of time that could improve loading performance. Resource hints can perform actions such as performing early DNS lookups, connecting to servers ahead of time, and even fetching resources before the browser would ordinarily discover them.

Resource hints may be specified in HTML—most often early on in the <head> element—or set as an HTTP header. For the scope of this module, preconnect, dns-prefetch, and preload are covered, as well as the speculative fetching behaviors that prefetch provides.


The preconnect hint is used to establish a connection to another origin from where you are fetching critical resources. For example, you may be hosting your images or assets on a CDN or other cross-origin:

<link rel="preconnect" href="">

By using preconnect, you anticipate that the browser plans to connect to a specific cross-origin server in the very near future, and that the browser should open that connection as soon as possible, ideally before waiting for the HTML parser or preload scanner to do so.

If you have a large amount of cross-origin resources on a page, use preconnect for those resources which are the most critical to the current page.

A screenshot of connection timings for a resource in the network panel of Chrome DevTools. The connection setup includes stall time, proxy negotiation, DNS lookup, connection setup, and TLS negotiation.
A visualization of connection timings as seen in the network panel of Chrome DevTools. The timings within the red box are those involved in setting up a connection with a cross-origin server, which preconnect can alleviate by establishing connections sooner, rather than at the time of discovery of the cross-origin resource.

A common use case for preconnect is Google Fonts. Google Fonts recommends that you preconnect to the domain that serves the @font-face declarations and to the domain that serves the font files.

<link rel="preconnect" href="">
<link rel="preconnect" href="" crossorigin>

The crossorigin attribute is used to indicate whether a resource must be fetched using Cross-Origin Resource Sharing (CORS). When using the preconnect hint, if the resource being downloaded from the origin uses CORS—such as font files—then you need to add the crossorigin attribute to the preconnect hint.


While opening connections to cross-origin servers early can significantly improve initial page load time, it may not be either reasonable or possible to establish connections to many cross-origin servers at once. If you're concerned that you may be overusing preconnect, a much less costly resource hint is the dns-prefetch hint.

Per its name, dns-prefetch doesn't establish a connection to a cross-origin server, but rather just performs the DNS lookup for it ahead of time. A DNS lookup occurs when a domain name is resolved to its underlying IP address. While layers of DNS caches at the device and network levels help to make this a generally fast process, it still takes some amount of time.

<link rel="dns-prefetch" href="">
<link rel="dns-prefetch" href="">

DNS lookups are fairly inexpensive, and because of their relatively small cost, they may be a more appropriate tool in some cases than a preconnect. In particular, it may be a desirable resource hint to use in cases of links that navigate to other websites that you think the user is likely to follow. dnstradamus is one such tool that does this automatically using JavaScript, and uses the Intersection Observer API to inject dns-prefetch hints into the current page's HTML when links to other websites are scrolled into the user's viewport.


The preload directive is used to initiate an early request for a resource required for rendering the page:

<link rel="preload" href="/lcp-image.jpg" as="image">

preload directives should be limited to late-discovered critical resources. The most common use cases are font files, CSS files fetched through @import declarations, or CSS background-image resources that are likely to be Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) candidates. In such cases, these files wouldn't be discovered by the preload scanner as the resource is referenced in external resources.

Similarly to preconnect, the preload directive requires the crossorigin attribute if you are preloading a CORS resource—such as fonts. If you don't add the crossorigin attribute—or add it for non-CORS requests—then the resource is downloaded by the browser twice, wasting bandwidth that could have been better spent on other resources.

<link rel="preload" href="/font.woff2" as="font" crossorigin>

In the preceding HTML snippet, the browser is instructed to preload /font.woff2 using a CORS request—even if /font.woff2 is on the same domain.


The prefetch directive is used to initiate a low priority request for a resource likely to be used for future navigations:

<link rel="prefetch" href="/next-page.css" as="style">

This directive largely follows the same format as the preload directive, only the <link> element's rel attribute uses a value of "prefetch" instead. Unlike the preload directive, however, prefetch is largely speculative in that you're initiating a fetch for a resource for a future navigation that may or may not happen.

There are times when prefetch can be beneficial—for example, if you've identified a user flow on your website that most users follow to completion, a prefetch for a render-critical resource for those future pages can help to reduce load times for them.

Fetch Priority API

You can use the Fetch Priority API through its fetchpriority attribute to increase the priority of a resource. You can use the attribute with <link>, <img>, and <script> elements.

<div class="gallery">
  <div class="poster">
    <img src="img/poster-1.jpg" fetchpriority="high">
  <div class="thumbnails">
    <img src="img/thumbnail-2.jpg" fetchpriority="low">
    <img src="img/thumbnail-3.jpg" fetchpriority="low">
    <img src="img/thumbnail-4.jpg" fetchpriority="low">

By default, images are fetched with a lower priority. After layout, if the image is found to be within the initial viewport, the priority is increased to High priority. In the preceding HTML snippet, fetchpriority immediately tells the browser to download the larger LCP image with a High priority, while the less important thumbnail images are downloaded with a lower priority.

Modern browsers load resources in two phases. The first phase is reserved for critical resources and ends once all blocking scripts have been downloaded and executed. During this phase, Low priority resources may be delayed from downloading. By using fetchpriority="high" you can increase the priority of a resource, enabling the browser to download it during the first phase.

Resource hints demos

Test your knowledge

What does the preconnect resource hint do?

Opens a connection to a cross-origin server, including the DNS lookup, as well as connection and TLS negotiation ahead of when the browser would otherwise discover it.
Performs only a DNS lookup for the cross-origin server.
Try again.

What does the Fetch Priority API let you do?

Specify the priority at which the current page's HTML is downloaded.
Try again.
Specify the relative priority for <link>, <img>, and <script> elements.

When should you use the prefetch hint?

For any and all resources or pages the user could need, whether or not they actually need them in the future.
Try again.
When you have high confidence that the resources or pages you intend to prefetch are needed by the user.
If the user has not stated an explicit preference for reduced data usage.

Up next: Image performance

By now, you're probably starting to feel pretty confident about your knowledge of general performance considerations when it comes to page HTML, the <head> element, and resource hints. However, there are additional optimizations that are specific to different resource types that pages commonly load. Next up, image performance is covered in the next module, which can help you to get your website's images loading as fast as they possibly can, regardless of the user's device.