How to host Google fonts locally

In response to our article Smart WebFont loading for better performance, we were asked what exact steps are to host Google webfonts locally. That is why we created this all inclusive tutorial on how to self-host Google fonts.

Why should I self-host Google fonts?

Why would you want to self-host Google fonts? Are Google fonts are fun, easy and fast enough? Well, not quite. They are fun and easy but never fast enough. There are 4 good reasons to host google fonts yourself:

  1. More control over fonts
    Google fonts change regularly. With remote Google fonts, your font may look slightly different from one day to the next. To prevent this, you should download and host the font yourself to insure that fonts never change.
  2. Faster loading times
    Google's super fast edge servers can deliver a web font font to you at lightning speed. Unfortunately even the Google servers are never as fast as reusing the existing connection to your server that has already been established anyway.
  3. More control over caching
    Because Google hosted fonts can change regularly, Google sets the cache time (the time that your browser can locally store the font and the CSS) to only half an hour. Every half hour, an extra connection has to be set up again. With self hosted fonts you have full control over the cache time.
  4. Effective pre-loading
    Preloading indicates to a browser that a resource, in this case a font file, should be fetched as soon as possible with high priority. Preloading wil be unreliable when using Google fonts since the font url may change from day to day.

Self host Google fonts!

In this article we will show you in a few, easy to follow, steps how to self-host Google fonts. Hosting your own fonts should not take more than a few minutes. After this tutorial you will immediately enjoy a faster website. Don't want to follow the steps? Try this this handy tool that will do most of the work for you but you will not learn as much.

1. Select and use the font

First choose the font you want to use. Navigate to Google fonts  and choose a font. To get started, let's choose Open Sans 400.

Now click on embed to see the code you should place on your website. Copy the embed code and paste it in the head of your page. Next, to activate the font, add the font to the CSS on your page. For example  body{font-family: 'Open Sans', sans-serif;}.

Great, you have successfully activated the Google-hosted webfont Open Sans on your page. That is a good first step. We can now download the font and start self-hosting it.

2. Inspect and download the font

The embed code contains a link to a google-hosted CSS file. Copy that linkd and use your browser to navigate to the link. You will now see the font-face declarations used for the font. You might notice there is more then 1 font declaration. There are different font faces for different text encodings.

How do you know which of these font face declarations you need? You can easily check this via the devtools inspector. Use the shortcut Ctrl-Shift-I to open devtools. Naviagate to the network tab and click Font. Now refresh the page (Ctrl-r) to see which font is being loaded.

Compare this font to the list of fonts in the CSS file. There is only one match. That is thw font we need. Usually this is the latin version. Now download the font by copying it and pasting the url of the Google-hosted font in your browser. This will start a download of the font file.

3. Host and activate the font yourself

You are almost done. Now you only have to upload the font to your own server. Open your FTP program. Upload the font to your custom folder, for example '/fonts'.

Then copy the relevant font-face declaration from the original Google hosted CSS file and change the reference to the font until it looks like this:

Paste this code into your CSS file and remove the Google hosted CSS file reference. We will not be using it anymore. 

4. Pre-loading

From now on, you can implement preloading because you are hosting the font locally yourself. This ensures that the font is downloaded with priority and is available to the browser as quickly as possible.

<link rel="preload" href="/fonts/mem8YaGs126MiZpBA-UFVZ0b.woff2" as="font" type="font/woff2" crossorigin>

5. Woff / woff2 and other formats

We have just downloaded and set up self hosting for the woff2 format from Google Font. All modern browsers (except internet explorer) support woff2. Woff2 is faster and smaller than all other font formats.

For internet explorer support you also need to download the woff file and link it in your CSS. Repeat steps 1 to 3 but this time use internet explorer as your browser. Checkthat, instead of a .woff2 font, Google now references a .woff font in the CSS. Download this font, upload it to your server and link it in the CSS like this:

@font-face {  
src: local('Open Sans Regular'),
url('/fonts/opensans.woff2') format('woff2'), url('/fonts/opensans.woff') format('woff');
That's it, in just a few minutes time you have sucesfully hosted your webfont locally and made sure that your page loads just a little bit faster!

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