tl;dr: browsers now prevent layout shifting when images load using the inline
height values, provided that you use the correct CSS properties when making images responsive.
Layout shifts are very disrupting to the user, especially if you have already started reading the article and suddenly you are thrown off by a jolt of movement, and you have to find your place again. This also puts extra work on the browser to recalculate the page layout as each image arrives across the internet. On a complex page with a lot of images this can place a considerable load on the device at a time when it’s probably got a lot of better things to deal with!
The traditional way to avoid this was to provide
heightattributes in the
<img>markup so even when the browser has just the HTML, it is still able to allocate the appropriate amount of space[:]
Then the render [should happen] like below, where the appropriate amount of space is set aside for the image when it arrives, and there is no jarring shift of the text as the image is downloaded:
Even ignoring the annoying impact to the user in content jumping around (which you shouldn’t!), the impact on the CPU [of layout shifts] can also be quite substantial.
So, once we add the dimensions and [
max-width: 100%; height: auto;], we get the best of both worlds, right? No layout shifts, but also the ability to resize images using CSS? Well until very recently you might have been surprised to find out the answer was in fact: no (I was — hence why I decided to write this article).
This affects any page where we constrain the image size in a responsive manner — i.e. small screen mobile devices. These are likely to be the very users suffering with network constraints and limited processing power that will suffer most from layout shifts! Of course, we ideally should be delivering appropriately sized images for the screen size, but you cannot cover every device size, so often images will need some resizing by the browser, particularly on mobile.
[I]f the following four conditions are true, then the correct image dimensions could be calculated without needing to wait for the images to download, and so without the need of a content layout shift:
heightis set on the element in HTML
widthis set on the element in HTML
width) is set in the CSS — including using percentage values like
height) is set to
autoin the CSS.
If any one of these were not set, then the calculation would not be possible, and so would fail and be ignored and have to wait for the image to be downloaded.
So instead [of waiting for a new CSS property], [browsers] could implement the equivalent logic deep in rendering code rather than exposing it via the user-agent stylesheet, but the effect is the same.
Firefox went ahead and did this as an experiment and then turned it on by default for Firefox 71. Once that was released, then your site may well have just got faster for free — thanks Mozilla!
After Firefox’s successful experimentation, Chrome also decided to implement this (again using the layout coded method for now rather than default user-agent stylesheet), and rolled it out by default in Chrome 79. This also took care of the other chromium-based browsers (Edge, Opera and Brave, for example). More recently, in January 2020, Apple added it to their Tech Preview edition of Safari, meaning it should hopefully be coming to the production version of Safari soon, and with that, the last of the major browsers will have implemented this and the web will become better and less jolty for a huge number of sites.