Take the 2-minute tour ×
Server Fault is a question and answer site for professional system and network administrators. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've seen a few random pages mention using empty gif images to somehow increase performance. I've also found the nginx has a module for just this purpose. What I can't figure out, is exactly how serving this small file is supposed to boost performance or perceived responsiveness from a web server. Can anyone help me understand the benefits?

share|improve this question
1  
I would love to know this too. I've always seen em around but never thought to question why... –  Mark Henderson Aug 24 '09 at 1:51
add comment

5 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

1x1 gif files are used by some websites to set spacing between elements (particularly on older websites, made when browsers' interpretations of HTML/CSS were more divergent coughIE*cough*

They are also used more often today as a request target for "tracking pixels", which are used as a tool for gathering usage stats, etc., especially for email/marketing campaigns.

The reason you'd provide a special module for this file is that (a) it's requested often, and (b) it returns the same thing every time, so you don't want to have to go to disk for the file if you can avoid it.

share|improve this answer
    
I'd always heard it was primarily for tracking users, so the shadowy "they" would embed it as a pull from another server or location for easy tracking of hits and also email it embedded in html mails to know if you read the message or not; spammer's version of read receipt on people who don't disable HTML/RTF messages and thus harvest them as successful addresses to sell to other spammers. –  Bart Silverstrim Aug 24 '09 at 12:13
    
That's a common use in e-mail, yeah. For websites, that technique has been mostly replaced with JavaScript like Google Analytics. –  ceejayoz Aug 24 '09 at 14:17
add comment

I'm not sure about increasing performance, but 1x1 pixel images are commonly used in tracking. Commonly known as a web bug (or beacon), this image causes the browser to make an HTTP request to the server from which the image originates. This request can then be examined for tracking information (e.g. IP, browser, referrer, etc).

share|improve this answer
add comment

Doing a Google search for "one pixel gif" or "single pixel gif" returns many articles that discuss the technique of using that file for positioning elements of a web page.

From Optimizing Design: One-pixel GIFs (January 1, 2000):

In the early days of web design, HTML limitations inspired designers to find all sorts of workarounds in order to have control over the layout of pages. One of the most significant of these workarounds was the single pixel GIF trick, using a single pixel GIF and modifying it with the height, width, hspace, and vspace attributes of the IMG tag.

The GIF itself is tiny and requires virtually no download time. And, depending on whether the single pixel is transparent or not, the result can be used as a spacer, or as a horizontal or vertical rule.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Including 1x1 images doesn't increase performance, it decreases it - it's an extra HTTP request, a small amount of extra bandwidth, etc.

That module is simply intended to make the decrease in performance smaller (by serving the image more efficiently), as the 1x1 pixel technique for positioning elements on the page can be useful.

share|improve this answer
    
Maybe it was a misunderstanding that the 1x1 nature of the image is optimized to do its job, whatever it might be (tracking, spacing, etc.), with the most optimal performance. –  Xonatron Feb 29 '12 at 14:29
add comment

They are also used for image spriting; a small transparent image is used as the src attribute of an image tag, and the real image is a CSS background image. The performance advantage comes from the CSS background being only part of a single image which combines many images from the page, reducing the number of overall requests.

See for example:

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.