General

Moving to Go

During the last few months we have systematically improved both front-end user interface, and backend server code for the Toggl main time tracking page. It was motivated by the fact that we found it increasingly hard to cope with the steady growth of users and traffic, resulting in serious slowdowns of the system and in some cases even downtime.

The majority of Toggl program code originated from the time when our user base was 10x smaller, so the system needed a major overhaul. There were also several functional shortcomings, for example entries were not refreshed automatically when changes were made elsewhere (e.g. mobile phone). Also we had no offline support of any kind on the web.

Our situation in May this year

  • It took 5-7 seconds to load a time tracking page in Toggl, quite often even up to 20 seconds and more. Most of the time was spent by the server to compile the necessary dataset of time entries, but also related data.
  • The whole backend was based on Ruby on Rails, we used Ruby 1.8 at that time.
  • User interface could not be used offline.
  • Javascript code was bloated and contained a lot of unnecessary code (for example we had multiple date parsing/formatting libraries, etc).
  • The loading and parsing of Javascript started to block our UI because of its size.
  • Backend API calls were not optimized for the purpose, we requested too much data which strained both the database and bandwidth.

New implementation

After careful consideration we decided to re-use the offline-enabled time tracking code that is also used in our mobile apps and in Toggl Desktop, only retaining the visual of the existing time tracking page. So basically we decided to replace the whole backend code of that page.

We had run some experiments with the Go programming language (http://golang.org/) before, and decided that we should re-implement some parts of our backend with this new platform. So far, it has paid off, as the development process was fast, and deployment surprisingly simple. The resulting code is a big improvement in terms of speed. We’ll continue to replace our backend code with Go.

Secondly we implemented a Redis-backed (http://redis.io/) WebSocket server in Go to enable realtime synchronization between different Toggl clients – so your time entries, projects etc. would be updated automatically if you use Toggl on multiple devices.

Thirdly we added HTML5 manifest and local storage to support offline usage of Toggl. This served also as the speed enabler. Offline was already implemented with our mobile interface m.toggl.com, so we reused a lot of that.

In frontend Javascript code, we’re moving to Backbone.js (http://backbonejs.org/). As the amount of Javascript code is increasing fast, this library enables to structure it better. For parsing, formatting and manipulating dates in Javascript, we’ve moved to Moment.js (http://momentjs.com/) It has simplified our code a lot.

Following Google Page Speed (https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/) tips, we’ve started to use a Javascript loader to reduce resource blocking. At the moment, we’re using LABjs (http://labjs.com/).

Another update we made was to upgrade to Ruby 1.9. The upgrade gave the system another speed boost.

Finally we spent time measuring HTML/CSS/JS load times and optimizing the milliseconds there. Our goal was to get the load time to under 1 second, or even faster. While the tracking page now loads faster, it’s still a work in progress as we’re doing too many API requests when loading the timer. Also, we’re still using Javascript libraries that are quite bloated – for example for the sidebar report charts.

We still like Ruby on Rails a lot, and at the moment, will continue using it for serving user interface. Go will be used together with PostgreSQL and Redis for backend data crunching and efficient API calls.

Incremental launch

These changes encompassed several risks, as there were a lot of potential critical bugs associated. That’s why we decided to roll the update out incrementally. We started in early July, and slowly and cautiously added new users until we had approximately 10% using it. This amount of users gave us enough feedback on system stability and bugs. After 4 weeks it had stabilized enough to start rolling it out more aggressively. By now all users have been converted to the new version.

As mentioned before, speed is an important feature in Toggl. Robustness and speed is something you, our users, keep telling us if we ask what are the most important things you need from Toggl. We have gained some valuable lessons with the latest upgrade, and will continue implementing those also in other parts of Toggl.

By On September 18, 2012

  1. I don’t know if it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else experiencing
    problems with your site. It looks like some of the written
    text within your posts are running off the screen.
    Can someone else please comment and let me know if this
    is happening to them too? This may be a problem with my internet browser
    because I’ve had this happen before. Cheers

  2. Nope… just did a quick test.

    Started toggl on the Mac, then put it to sleep; stopped toggl on my iPhone.

    When I started my Mac back up, toggl was still running both on the desktop and at http://www.toggl.com.

    Any ideas?

  3. I still have an issue with starting toggl on my Mac and stopping it on my iPhone.

    Invariably, when I come back to the Mac, toggl is still running… though if I check on http://www.toggl.com, the timer has stopped.

    Still love it though! 🙂

  4. […] months ago we wrote about moving to the Go programming language and replacing our Ruby on Rails backend. Step-by-step we have done that and now most of the ajax […]

  5. This presentation transparency: quite professional, helpful. And am learning new tech (Go, Robis, etc) in process that might be used in some of my projects–especially good stuff. The back-end sync/speed/pageload across all client mechanisms (I use all of web, iPhone, and Desktop) is quite remarkable.

    What’s possibility of single-client updates “pushing refreshes” to other clients? (having to continually click the refresh button is sub-optimal…)

  6. Brilliant. Look forward to seeing it.

    On the topic of speed:
    I’ve noticed the sidebar charts sometimes take a while to load.

    If you made the chart display optional; allowing users to toggle (hehehe) the display on and off, that might save you some load time.

    I like the sidebar charts, but don’t always need to see them. There are many times I would trade charts for faster load times. Some users may not look at the charts at all. Might be worth a user poll.

    Anyhow, thanks for taking the time to communicate!
    Best of luck with your epic quest for speed.

  7. I am not a technical person, just a lawyer who finds Toggl to be a simple and inexpensive option for time tracking. I had been in an email conversation with a Toggl person about a problem I’ve been having with the system that has not been resolved, and I wonder if it’s related to this posting. I am no longer able to add a new client matter from the time tracking page. I need to go to the settings page, add the client, and then go back to the tracking page. If I add it on the tracking page, it simply disappears. Any information about this issue would be helpful – this problem is an irritation because it slows me down. Thanks!

  8. I would strongly recommend looking at using require.js with Backbone.js. They work really well together, remove namespace issues and also provide a great minification process (plus much more!). LMK if you have any questions or would like to see use-cases.

  9. Thank you for being so frank about the performance challenges with Toggl and the steps you have taken to address it. This is refreshing in the software industry. Even more impressive, how this has virtually had no disruption to me using toggl everyday. Please continue with this approach and I will continue to support and let my clients know what great product Toggl is.