Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mini-Me ... please

Suppose that you are a programmer working with Web pages. Your job is to reduce the size of the Web page -- that is, of the HTML that defines the Web page -- to the absolute minimum. (Smaller Web pages are faster to download and thus display.) As part of this process, you get rid of all extraneous white space, extra line breaks (the browser doesn't care about those), etc.

What might you call this process? Well, here are some candidates:
  • Minimize. Possible; however, "minimizing a Web page" already means something else in the world of Windows and GUIs.
  • Compress. This term has a technical meaning (as in, compressing to a .zip file) that isn't exactly what you're doing here.
  • Condense. Ooh, nice … that's what you're doing, condensing the page to its essence, sort of.

All possible, but not what it's called. The word is … ta-da! … minify; the nounification is minification. This page provides a nice definition:
Minification is the practice of removing unnecessary characters from code to reduce its size thereby improving load times. When code is minified all comments are removed, as well as unneeded white space characters (space, newline, and tab). […] This improves response time performance because the size of the downloaded file is reduced.
My first reaction, which might also have been yours, was to say "Huh, strange-sounding word." Perhaps you (but not me) further thought "Those darn programmers are always making up wacky new terms!" Ah, but it turns out that minify has been around longer than, say, anyone currently writing about how English is being ruined. RHD's etymology says it appeared in the 1670s. The etymology further suggests that the term was modeled on magnify. Well, that makes sense, I guess.

But wait, there's more. Another term that's used for minification is crunching. (One tool that can do this for you is named the Crunchinator.) In at least one usage I know of, crunching is a little more, um, intimate than minification … it isn't just crowding everyone together on the bus, it's giving some folks a haircut:"Crunching scripts happens when scripts are built, and removes whitespace and condenses local variable names to further reduce the size of the script files."

The Google search "minification html whitespace" yields about 2,230 hits; the search "crunching html whitespace" yields 7,340. Based on this and a few other not-very-rigorous search tests, I'd posit that the more popular term is in fact crunch.


Anonymous said...

I am not a programmer but I really liked this post. I have added you on to my blogroll.

Stacy said...

I've heard the word minification in the context of optometry.