Whenever you load JavaScript from an HTML page, it’s important to be mindful of the loading performance of the page. The page-load time largely depends on where and how you add scripts to your HTML page.

In this article, we’re going to look at how we can use async and defer to control the execution order of our scripts & optimize our page load speed!

Today, all modern browsers support the async and defer attributes on scripts. These attributes tell the browser it's safe to continue loading the page, while the scripts are being downloaded.


Let’s start by defining how <script> works without any attributes applied. The HTML file will load (aka be “parsed”) until the script file is found. At that point, parsing will stop and a request will be made to fetch the file (if it’s located externally). The script will then be executed before parsing is resumed.

script async

By adding the async attribute, the browser will download the file during HTML parsing and it will pause the HTML parser to execute it when it has finished downloading.

<script src="directory/script1.js" async></script>
<script src="directory/script2.js" async></script>

Essentially, scripts with the async attribute are executed asynchronously. Meaning the script is executed as soon as it’s downloaded, without blocking the browser.

It’s also possible that (in the above example) script 2 could download and execute before script 1.

script defer

When the defer attribute is added, the browser downloads the file during HTML parsing and will only execute it after the parser has completed. defer scripts are guaranteed to execute in the order that they appear in the document (i.e. first script 1, then script 2). This also does not block the browser.

<script src="directory/script1.js" defer></script>
<script src="directory/script2.js" defer></script>

Unlike async scripts, defer scripts are only executed after the entire document has been loaded.

So when should I use each method?

Typically you’ll want to use async whenever possible, followed by defer in certain circumstances. Here are some general rules to follow:

  • If the script is modular and does not rely on any scripts then use async.
  • If the script relies upon or is relied upon by another script then use defer.
  • If the script is small and is relied upon by an async script then use an inline script with no attributes placed above the async scripts.

When it comes to the actual script placement within your document. The current state-of-the-art is to put scripts in the <head> tag and use the async or defer attributes. This allows your scripts to be downloaded ASAP without blocking your browser!

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Hey, I’m Tim! 👋

I’m a freelance business owner, web developer & author. I teach both new and experienced freelancers how to build a sustainable and successful freelancing business. Check out my Complete Guide to Freelancing if you'd like to find out more.

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