I’ve had this (mt) DV box for quite some time, mostly use it for staging, small WordPress gigs and running a qmail server that forwards mail elsewhere. It’s reliable, has lots of client-friendly features like Plesk, and can host a zillion websites. But it was always kinda slow, especially from the eastern hemisphere, and executing otherwise simple server admin stuff (like adding ssh keys) was always a bit perverted by the finicky complexities that come with Plesk. So, it wasn’t really my go-to for builds with serious production needs.

Recently I’ve embarked on a mission: give out 100 free websites, to raise awareness about the benefits of quality web development in Nepal. The allure of having them all live in one central community, flexible enough to provide features like email and separate client hosting logins when needed, along with he infamous Plesk Command Line Utilities provided sufficient temptation to get toolin’. First stop: HTTP compression.

Well, two hours later, blatantly violating my 20 minute commit rule, there is fruit at the end of the tunnel. At first it seemed as simple as finding some good Apache mod_deflate rules, appending to httpd.conf and watching the PageSpeed rank soar. I followed (mt)’s knowledge base article on compressing web pages with mod_deflate to the letter, no luck - Content-Encoding:gzip was no where to be found in my response headers.

Here’s the QA session that ensued:

Is .htaccess negating whatever I just did?

No, even after removing the boilerplate compression rules, still nothing.

What about removing (mt)’s content type rules and sticking with the .htaccess?


I remembered to restart apache, right?

Once more for good measure… nope.

Are there separate apache configs for the Plesk vhosts overwriting httpd.conf?


Google: “mediatemple dv mod_deflate not working”

Aha, someone in the (mt) community forums mentioned “I’m willing to bet you’re running Nginx as a reverse proxy on your (dv) box.”

A quick peek into /etc/nginx/nginx.conf shows that not only are there ready-made gzip switches in place, they’ve been commented out.

#gzip on;
#gzip_disable "MSIE [1-6]\.(?!.*SV1)";

After uncommenting and service nginx restarting, gzip compression was working… for only for index.html! js, css, etc were still missing the elusive Content-Encoding:gzip header. Time to crack a second litre of whiskey.

My mod_deflate rules included all the correct content types. I even added redundant declarations in both httpd.conf and the indigenous .htaccess.

    AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/atom+xml \
                                  application/javascript \
                                  application/json \
                                  application/ld+json \
                                  application/rss+xml \
                                  application/vnd.ms-fontobject \
                                  application/x-font-ttf \
                                  application/x-web-app-manifest+json \
                                  application/xhtml+xml \
                                  application/xml \
                                  font/opentype \
                                  image/svg+xml \
                                  image/x-icon \
                                  text/css \
                                  text/html \
                                  text/plain \
                                  text/x-component \

So, back to Google, wherein lies a kick ass post about the woes of compression on a Mediatemple DV, along with a more iterative solution:

    gzip on;
    gzip_http_version 1.1;
    gzip_types text/plain text/html text/css text/javascript application/x-javascript text/xml application/xml application/xml+rss;

gzip was on, but nginx also controls which file types will be compressed. Ok, so just service nginx restart right quick, pop back to dev tools, refresh… Huh? CSS is gzipped, and JS isn’t. So did I misspell javacsritp in nginx.conf? No, but as it turns out, if you check the response header of a .js file in any browser since the dark ages, the term is Content-Type:text/javascript;, not text/javascript. One more round of restart/refresh, and gzip goodness was fully functional.

So all those neglected sites on my DV are running pretty fast now, even despite the heinously slow internet speeds in Nepal, on par with a dial up modem that’s having a really good day.

If you’re thinking about hopping aboard the HTTP compression love boat, be sure to keep your packages safe from uncool browsers with Vary: Accept-Encoding. MaxCDN has a nice write up on why it’s vary important.