Would you give the Amazon Prime delivery robot the key to your house, just because it stops by to deliver delicious packages every day? Even if you would, do you still have 100% confidence that it wouldn’t accidentally drag in some mud, let the neighbor in, steal your things, or burn your house down? Worst-case scenarios such as these are what you should be planning for when deciding whether or not to include third-party libraries and services on your website. While most libraries have good intentions, by including them on your site, you have given them complete control over the kingdom. Once on your site, they can provide all of the great services you want—or they can destroy everything you’ve worked so hard to build.
It’s prudent to be cautious: we’ve all heard stories about how third-party libraries have caused slowdowns, broken websites, and even led to downtime. But how do you evaluate the actual costs and potential risks of a third-party library so you can balance that against the service it provides? Every library requires nonzero overhead to provide the service it claims. In many cases, the overhead is minimal and justified, but we should quantify it to understand the real cost. In addition, libraries need to be carefully crafted so they can avoid causing additional pain when the stars don’t align and things go wrong.
With all of the great performance tools available to developers today, we’ve gained a lot of insight into just how much third-party libraries are impacting our websites. Nic and Charles detail tools to help you decide if a library’s risks and unseen costs are worth it. While you may not have the time to perform a deep dive into every third-party library you want to include on your site, you’ll leave with a checklist of the most important best practices third-parties should be following for you to have confidence in them.
Nic Jansma is a software developer at Akamai building high-performance websites, apps, and open source tools.
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