Snippets

These snippets are my attempt to save and organize various bits of code, best practices, and resources relating to web development and design. They also function as a to do list of sorts, for things I want to implement in my own code, but haven't yet. The concept is inspired by Jeremy Keith's links and CSS-Tricks, among other things. Enjoy.

Old browsers are not your fault, but they are your responsibility

The fact old browsers exist is not your fault. Don’t start these discussions by acting as if it is your failing that you can’t get the site looking identical in all browsers released in the last 10 years, while using technology only released this year. It’s not your fault, but it is your problem. It is your problem, your responsibility as a web professional to get yourself into a position where you can take the right course of action for each project.

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Intersection Observer

What do infinite scrolling, lazy loading, and online advertisements all have in common?

They need to know about—and react to—the visibility of elements on a page!

Unfortunately, knowing whether or not an element is visible has traditionally been difficult on the Web. Most solutions listen for scroll and resize events, then use DOM APIs like getBoundingClientRect() to manually calculate where elements are relative to the viewport. This usually works, but it’s inefficient and doesn’t take into account other ways in which an element’s visibility can change, such as a large image finally loading higher up on the page, which pushes everything else downward.

Things get worse for advertisements, since real money is involved. As Malte Ubl explained in his presentation at JSConf Iceland, advertisers don’t want to pay for ads that never get displayed. To make sure they know when ads are visible, they cover them in dozens of tiny, single-pixel Flash movies whose visibility can be inferred from their framerate. On platforms without Flash, like smartphones, advertisers set up timers to force browsers to recalculate the position of each ad every few milliseconds.

These techniques kill performance, drain batteries, and would be completely unnecessary if the browser could just notify us whenever an element’s visibility changed.

That’s what IntersectionObserver does.

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Musings on HTTP/2 and Bundling

In the nooks and crannies of the web performance discipline there are no simple answers, except "do your research". Rely on analytics to decide if bundling is a good idea for your HTTP/2-driven site. Do you have a lot of users that only go to one or two pages and leave? Maybe don't waste your time bundling stuff. Do your users navigate deeply throughout your site and spend significant time there? Maybe bundle.

This much is clear to me: If you move your HTTP/1-optimized site to an HTTP/2 host and change nothing in your client-side architecture, it's not going to be a big deal. So don't trust blanket statements some web developer writing blog posts (i.e., me). Figure out how your users behave, what optimizations makes the best sense for your situation, and adjust your code accordingly. Good luck!

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Flash is in the pan

Now browsers have audio. They have video. They even have WebGL and VR. And all those technologies work on mobile. The writing’s been on the wall for Flash for a while. Yet still, I’m sad to see it go. It was a brilliant crucible of creativity. A forge for many emerging artists in the field of creative coding, and many of the concepts from Flash and ActionScript were the proving grounds for their modern browser equivalents.

I’ll be looking back fondly on those years, rather than spitting on Flash’s grave. And as we see the last of the great browser plugins disappear* I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the creative culture that it nurtured.

*RealPlayer 4eva!

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Introducing sphinx-js, a better way to document large JavaScript projects

Until now, there has been no good tool for documenting large JavaScript projects. JSDoc, long the sole contender, has some nice properties:

  • A well-defined set of tags for describing common structures
  • Tooling like the Closure Compiler which hooks into those tags

But the output is always a mere alphabetical list of everything in your project. JSDoc scrambles up and flattens out your functions, leaving new users to infer their relationships and mentally sort them into comprehensible groups. While you can get away with this for tiny libraries, it fails badly for large ones like Fathom, which has complex new concepts to explain. What I wanted for Fathom’s manual was the ability to organize it logically, intersperse explanatory prose with extracted docs, and add entire sections which are nothing but conceptual overview and yet link into the rest of the work.

The Python world has long favored Sphinx, a mature documentation tool with support for many languages and output formats, along with top-notch indexing, glossary generation, search, and cross-referencing. People have written entire books in it. Via plugins, it supports everything from Graphviz diagrams to YouTube videos. However, its JavaScript support has always lacked the ability to extract docs from code.

Now sphinx-js adds that ability, giving JavaScript developers the best of both worlds.

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Solutions for creating more accessible SVGs

We’ve been working with SVGs a lot recently, which has led our developers down a rabbithole of discovery! Here are some things to consider when it comes to SVGs and accessibility.

[...]

1. <img> tags and SVGs

When SVGs are implemented as <img> tags with an .svg as the source, we’ve encountered a few issues for VoiceOver and TalkBack users. These issues occur when those <img> tags don’t also have an ARIA role=”img” attribute.

[...]

2. <title> tags and SVGs

We often see examples of making SVGs accessible by simply adding a <title> element within the inline <svg>. While this does help in some situations, like a lone SVG icon within a link, adding a <title> element doesn’t make SVGs accessible in all browsing environments.

[...]

For example, when using Firefox and NVDA, a link containing an SVG would be recognized as a link, but the text within the <title> element would not be announced. NVDA announces the path within the href attribute only.

Adding an aria-labelledby attribute to the SVG can help expose the text within the <title> element to the browser’s accessibility API. However, even with this in place, NVDA does not announce the <title> text as we might expect.

Our most recommended approach when it comes to browser support and consistency across screen readers is to add a visually-hidden element as a sibling element to the <svg>. With this implementation, we’ve found that all browser and screen reader combinations tested were able to announce the link with the expected text announcement.

We also recommend adding aria-hidden=”true” to the <svg> element itself. This is to help prevent having any other text that may be embedded within the SVG be announced by screen readers. Then, the only text that should be announced would be the content within that visually-hidden element.

[...]

7. Colour contrast

While not a bug per se, we also see a lot of cases where designers and developers don’t plan for colour contrast issues for SVGs. Since SVGs function just like transparent GIFs in how they are displayed, different page background colors and effects can cause unanticipated issues for low vision users.

For example, a black SVG icon that’s perfectly visible with a white page background is going to be invisible in a Windows High Contrast theme that uses a black background. This is a common use case for users who use High Contrast settings due to light sensitivity or related issues. When you provide a solid background or contrasting border for SVGs, you can help avoid those kinds of problems.

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