New in Varnish 3.0 was native support for compression, using gzip encoding. Before 3.0, Varnish would never compress objects.

In Varnish 3.0 compression defaults to "on", meaning that it tries to be smart and do the sensible thing.

If you don't want Varnish tampering with the encoding you can disable compression all together by setting the parameter http_gzip_support to false. Please see man varnishd for details.

Default behaviour

The default for Varnish is to check if the client supports our compression scheme (gzip) and if it does it will override the Accept-Encoding header and set it to "gzip".

When Varnish then issues a backend request the Accept-Encoding will then only consist of "gzip". If the server responds with gzip'ed content it will be stored in memory in its compressed form. If the backend sends content in clear text it will be stored like that.

You can make Varnish compress content before storing it in cache in vcl_fetch by setting do_gzip to true, like this:

 sub vcl_fetch {
      if (beresp.http.content-type ~ "text") {
              set beresp.do_gzip = true;

Please make sure that you don't try to compress content that is incompressable, like jpgs, gifs and mp3. You'll only waste CPU cycles. You can also uncompress objects before storing it in memory by setting do_gunzip to true but I have no idea why anybody would want to do that.

Generally, Varnish doesn't use much CPU so it might make more sense to have Varnish spend CPU cycles compressing content than doing it in your web- or application servers, which are more likely to be CPU-bound.


If you are using Edge Side Includes you'll be happy to note that ESI and GZIP work together really well. Varnish will magically decompress the content to do the ESI-processing, then recompress it for efficient storage and delivery.

Clients that don't support gzip

If the client does not support gzip the Accept-Encoding header is left alone and we'll end up serving whatever we get from the backend server. Remember that the Backend might tell Varnish to Vary on the Accept-Encoding.

If the client does not support gzip but we've already got a compressed version of the page in memory Varnish will automatically decompress the page while delivering it.

A random outburst

Poul has written How GZIP, and GZIP+ESI works in Varnish which talks abit more about how the implementation works.

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