Speculative Loading in WordPress

The WordPress Performance Team recently published a new plugin called “Speculative Loading” which enables a new technology of the same name to automatically prerender certain URLs on the page, which can lead to near-instant page load times. The functionality is powered by the Speculation Rules APIAPI An API or Application Programming Interface is a software intermediary that allows programs to interact with each other and share data in limited, clearly defined ways., a new web API that allows defining rules for which kinds of URLs to prefetch or prerender.

Please install and test the pluginPlugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory https://wordpress.org/plugins/ or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party to provide feedback to inform further improvements before a potential consideration to include such a feature in WordPress coreCore Core is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress.. You can install the plugin by searching “speculative loading” in WP Adminadmin (and super admin), or via the Performance Lab plugin.

A brief history of prefetch and prerender in WordPress

WordPress core has for several years provided a simple Resource Hints API which allows injecting <link> tags into the HTMLHTML HyperText Markup Language. The semantic scripting language primarily used for outputting content in web browsers. document that can be used to prefetch or prerender certain resources, among other actions. While prefetching can be useful for certain sub-resources of an HTML document, such as third-party script providers, prerendering goes as far as processing the resource and already performing some rendering offscreen and thus can be useful for entire web pages.

However, using the approach of injecting link[rel="prefetch|prerender"] tags is not very flexible, as the URLs to prefetch or prerender need to be defined as soon as the HTML is loaded. Providing a <link> tagtag A directory in Subversion. WordPress uses tags to store a single snapshot of a version (3.6, 3.6.1, etc.), the common convention of tags in version control systems. (Not to be confused with post tags.) for every potential anchor link a user may click on the page would be wasteful, while not providing any misses a great opportunity for performance optimization. So far, solutions like Quicklink could be used to dynamically insert <link> tags to prefetch resources in the user’s viewport, which is more flexible, but still far from ideal as it may still excessively prefetch too many resources and requires a JavaScriptJavaScript JavaScript or JS is an object-oriented computer programming language commonly used to create interactive effects within web browsers. WordPress makes extensive use of JS for a better user experience. While PHP is executed on the server, JS executes within a user’s browser. https://www.javascript.com/. library.

More importantly though, link[rel="prerender"] does not actually support prerendering, as the “prerender” value is in fact used for something called NoState Prefetch, which means it is still only prefetching certain resources rather than prerendering them, which for instance would include running JavaScript. Last but not least, the “prerender” value is deprecated at this point.

Introducing the Speculation Rules API

The Speculation Rules API is a new web API that solves the above problems. It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSONJSON JSON, or JavaScript Object Notation, is a minimal, readable format for structuring data. It is used primarily to transmit data between a server and web application, as an alternative to XML. syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation. This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them. Also, with the Speculation Rules API, “prerender” actually means to prerender the entire page, including running JavaScript. This can lead to near-instant load times once the user clicks on the link as the page would have most likely already been loaded in its entirety. However that is only one of the possible configurations.

The following code example shows the general syntax of the Speculation Rules API JSON spec and outlines a configuration where any links other than WP Admin or login URLs are prerendered.

<script type="speculationrules">
	"prerender": [
			"source": "document",
			"where": {
				"and": [
						"href_matches": "/*"
						"not": {
							"href_matches": [
			"eagerness": "moderate"

The Speculation Rules API allows defining URL patterns for which kind of URLs should be eligible for speculative loading. Rules can be configured to either prefetch or prerender certain URLURL A specific web address of a website or web page on the Internet, such as a website’s URL www.wordpress.org patterns. A so-called “eagerness” value can also be specified which dictates how eagerly the prefetching or prerendering should be applied. For example, a value of “moderate” triggers the speculative loading when the user hovers over the link. A value of “conservative” delays this until the user clicks on the link (which still provides a decent performance benefit), while a value of “eager” acts as soon as there is the slightest suggestion a user may click the link. Note that caution is advised with the “eager” configuration in particular as it increases the likelihood of loading URLs wastefully.

Browser support

While the Speculation Rules API has been available in Chrome and Edge since version 109 in general, the particular subfeature needed to unlock the aforementioned functionality is called “document rules”, which was only recently added in version 121. This post describes the latest enhancements to the API in more depth.

In other words, at the time of writing this post end users will need to use either Chrome 121+ or Edge 121+ to get the benefits of this feature. However there are no adverse effects for users on other browsers, as this is a progressive enhancementenhancement Enhancements are simple improvements to WordPress, such as the addition of a hook, a new feature, or an improvement to an existing feature.. Therefore using the Speculation Rules API on your website is safe regardless of the user base.

The Speculation Rules API was presented at the W3C web standards conference TPAC 2023, with positive reception. At this point, the standard is in draft stage. Positions regarding the API by Firefox and Safari have been requested. To keep track of specifically the required subfeatures for the functionality outlined in this post, you can refer to this “Can I use” table.

The Speculative Loading WordPress plugin

As mentioned in the beginning of this post, the WordPress Performance Team recently published a new feature plugin “Speculative Loading” which enables speculative loading of other frontend URLs linked on the page. It inserts a JSON script similar to the previous code example. By default, any URLs linked on the page are prerendered with an eagerness configuration of “moderate”, which typically triggers when hovering over a link. As such, you don’t need to do anything after activating the plugin: it just works out of the box. The plugin also provides a few customization options to tweak the behavior to the site owner’s preference.

The Speculative Loading plugin’s settings UIUI User interface

The default behavior can be modified via a new “Speculative Loading” section in the Settings > Reading screen. For example, if the site is using JavaScript that is not yet adapted for being loaded while prerendering, the plugin could be configured to only prefetch documents. One could set the eagerness to “conservative” to reduce the likelihood of URLs being loaded without the user navigating to them. Or one could set it to “eager” to increase the chance of the speculative loading already being completed by the time the user lands on the linked URL, which however runs at the risk of wastefully loading several resources. The default of “moderate” strikes a good balance between sustainability and performance.

The rules for which kinds of URLs to speculatively preload can be customized using a filterFilter Filters are one of the two types of Hooks https://codex.wordpress.org/Plugin_API/Hooks. They provide a way for functions to modify data of other functions. They are the counterpart to Actions. Unlike Actions, filters are meant to work in an isolated manner, and should never have side effects such as affecting global variables and output. called “plsr_speculation_rules_href_exclude_paths”. For example, plugins that add URLs to a WordPress site which modify user state just from being loaded could use that filter to exclude those URLs from being prerendered or prefetched. 

Here is a code example which would would ensure that URLs like https://example.com/cart/ or https://example.com/cart/foo/ would be excluded from prefetching and prerendering:


    function ( $exclude_paths ) {
        $exclude_paths[] = '/cart/*';
        return $exclude_paths;

Please refer to the plugin’s FAQ for details on the filter.

Potential next steps

At the moment, the plugin should be used to test the feature, and the Performance Team is eager to receive feedback as well as analyze the plugin’s performance benefits on load times.

Down the road, as the browser API and the plugin mature, the possibility of including the feature in WordPress core will be explored. However, in order to get there, additional feedback is needed.

Testing and feedback

Your testing and feedback is crucial to improve the feature ahead of exploring its potential usage in WordPress core. Please consider the following ways to help:

The WordPress performance team is excited to learn more about how the Speculation Rules API is being used in WordPress sites. Please try the plugin and share your feedback!

Props @adamsilverstein @domenicdenicola @jeremyroman @swissspidy @tunetheweb @tweetythierry @westonruter for review and proofreading.

#feature-projects, #performance, #performance-lab, #speculative-loading