CSS sprites group multiple images into one composite image and display them using CSS background positioning. You can save a significant amount of HTTP requests by consolidating your images into one or more composite sprites and using CSS to selectively display parts of the sprite within your web page. Now that the major browsers have evolved enough to support CSS backgrounds and positioning, more sites are adopting this performance technique. In fact, some of the busiest sites on the Web use CSS sprites to save HTTP requests. In this article we’ll expand on our mini-CSS sprite example (mono-image CSS rollovers) to show how Yahoo! and AOL use sprites to improve performance.
CSS is traditionally used to create rollover effects with two or more images for menus and other elements. Menus can use on, off, or visited images to signify the state of the menu. Typically menus are created using multiple background images, however. The problem with this method is that it doubles the necessary HTTP requests and can cause flickering problems when the “off” image is not preloaded. A better way is to combine the on and off state images into one mini-sprite and switch the background position on rollover (see Figure 1).