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News

Poll: ¿Is animation-direction a good idea?

¿animation-direction?

Lets assume you have a CSS animation for background-color that goes from a shade of yellow (#cc0) to a shade of blue (#079) and repeats indefinitely. The code could be something like this:

@keyframes color {
  from { background: #cc0 }
  to { background: #079 }
}

div {
  animation: color 3s infinite;
}

If we linearize that animation, the progression over time goes like this (showing 3 iterations):

As you can see, the change from the end state to the beginning state of a new iteration is quite abrupt. You could change your keyframes to mitigate this, but there’s a better way. A property with the name animation-direction gives a degree of control on the direction of the iterations to smooth this out. It also reverses your timing functions, which makes it even smoother.

In early drafts, only the values normal and alternate were allowed. normal results in the behavior described above, whereas alternate flips every other iteration (the 2nd, the 4th, the 6th and so on), resulting in a progression like this (note how the 2nd iteration has been reversed):

The latest draft also adds two more values: reverse which reverses every iteration and alternate-reverse, which is the combination of both reverse and alternate. Here is a summary of what kind of progression these four values would create for the animation above:

The problem

I was excited to see that reverse and alternate-reverse were finally added to the spec, but something in the syntax just didn’t click. I initially thought the reason was that these four values essentially set 2 toggles:

  • ¿Reverse all iterations? yes/no
  • ¿Reverse even iterations? yes/no

so it’s pointless cognitive overhead to remember four distinct values. I proposed that they should be split in two keywords instead, which would even result to a simpler grammar too.

The proposal was well received by one of the co-editors of the animations spec (Sylvain Galineau), but there was a dilemma as to whether mixing normal with alternate or reverse would make it easier to learn or more confusing. This is a point where your opinion would be quite useful. Would you expect the following to work, or would you find them confusing?

  • animation-direction: normal alternate; /* Equivalent to animation-direction: alternate; */
  • animation-direction: alternate normal; /* Equivalent to animation-direction: alternate; */
  • animation-direction: normal reverse; /* Equivalent to animation-direction: reverse; */
  • animation-direction: reverse normal; /* Equivalent to animation-direction: reverse; */

A better (?) idea

At some point, in the middle of writing this blog post (I started it yesterday), while gazing at the graphic above, I had a lightbulb moment. ¡These values are not two toggles! All four of them control one thing: which iterations are reversed:

  • normal reverses no iterations
  • reverse reverses all iterations
  • alternate reverses even iterations
  • alternate-reverse reverses odd iterations

The reason it’s so confusing and it took me so long to realize myself, is that the mental model suggested by these keywords is detached from the end result, especially in the case of alternate-reverse. You have to realize that it works as if both alternate and reverse were applied in sequence, so reverse first reverses all iterations and then alternate reverses the even ones. Even iterations are reversed twice, and are therefore equivalent to the original direction. This leaves the odd ones as being reversed. It’s basically a double negative, making it hard to visualize and understand.

I thought that a property that would reflect this in a much more straightforward way, would be animation-reverse (or animation-iteration-reverse), accepting the following values:

  • none (equivalent to animation-direction: normal)
  • all (equivalent to animation-direction: reverse)
  • even (equivalent to animation-direction: alternate)
  • odd (equivalent to animation-direction: alternate-reverse)

Not only this communicates the end result much better, but it’s also more extensible. For example, if in the future it turns out that reversing every 3rd iteration is a common use case, it will be much easier to add expressions to it, similar to the ones :nth-child() accepts.

I knew before proposing it that it’s too late for such drastic backwards-incompatible changes in the Animations module, however I thought it’s so much better that it’s worth fighting for. After all, animation-direction isn’t really used that much in the wild.

Unfortunately, it seems that only me and Sylvain thought it’s better, and even he was reluctant to support the change, due to the backwards compatibility issues. So, I started wondering if it’s really as much better as I think. ¿What are your thoughts? ¿Would it make it simpler for you to understand and/or teach? Author feedback is immensely useful for standardization, so please, ¡voice your opinion! Even without justifying it if you don’t have the time or energy. Gathering opinions is incredibly useful.

TL;DR

  1. ¿Is alternate reverse and reverse alternate (either would be allowed) a better value for animation-direction over alternate-reverse?
  2. ¿If so, should redundant combinations of normal with alternate or reverse also be allowed, such as normal alternate?
  3. ¿Or maybe we should ditch it altogether and replace it with animation-reverse, accepting values of none, all, even, odd?

Side note: If you’re wondering about the flipped question and exclamation marks (¿¡) it’s because I believe they improve the usability of the language if widely adopted, so I’m doing my part for it 😉 And no, I don’t speak Spanish.

Categories
Replies Tips

Text masking — The standards way

As much as I like .net magazine, I was recently outraged by their “Texturizing Web Type” article. It features a way to apply a texture to text with -webkit-mask-image, presenting it as an experimental CSS property and misleading readers. There are even -moz-, -o- and -ms- prefixes for something that is not present in any specification, and is therefore unlikely to ever be supported by any non-WebKit browser, which further contributes to the misdirection. A while back, I wrote about how detrimental to our work and industry such proprietary features can be.

A common response to such complaints is that they are merely philosophical and who cares if the feature works right now and degrades gracefully. This argument could be valid for some cases, when the style is just a minor, gracefully degrading enhancement and no standards compliant alternative is present (for example, I’ve used ::-webkit-scrollbar styles myself). However, this is not the case here. We have had a standards compliant alternative for this for the past 11 years and it’s called SVG. It can also do much more than masking, if you give it a chance.

Categories
Personal

Vendor prefixes, the CSS WG and me

The CSS Working Group is recently discussing the very serious problem that vendor prefixes have become. We have reached a point where browsers are seriously considering to implement -webkit- prefixes, just because authors won’t bother using anything else. This is just sad. 🙁 Daniel Glazman, Christian Heilmann and others wrote about it, making very good points and hoping that authors will wake up and start behaving. If you haven’t already, visit those links and read what they are saying. I’m not very optimistic about it, but I’ll do whatever I can to support their efforts.

And that brings us to the other thing that made me sad these days. 2 days ago, the CSS WG published its Minutes (sorta like a meeting) and I was surprised to hear that I’ve been mentioned. My surprise quickly turned into this painful feeling in your stomach when you’re being unfairly accused:

tantek: Opposite is happening right now. Web standards activists are teaching
 people to use -webkit-
tantek: People like Lea Verou.
tantek: Their demos are filled with -webkit-. You will see presentations
 from all the web standards advocates advocating people to use
 -webkit- prefixes.

Try to picture being blamed of the very thing you hate, and you might understand how that felt. I’ve always been an advocate of inclusive CSS coding that doesn’t shut down other browsers. It’s good for future-proofing, it’s good for competition and it’s the right thing to do. Heck, I even made a popular script to help people adding all prefixes! I’m even one of the few people in the industry who has never expressed a definite browser preference. I love and hate every browser equally, as I can see assets and defects in all of them (ok, except Safari. Safari must die :P).

When Tantek realized he had falsely accused me of this, he corrected himself in the #css IRC room on w3.org:

[17:27] <tantek> (ASIDE: regarding using -webkit- prefix, clarification re: Lea Verou - she's advocated using *both* vendor prefixed properties (multiple vendors) and the unprefixed version after them. See her talk http://www.slideshare.net/LeaVerou/css3-a-practical-introduction-ft2010-talk from Front-Trends 2010 for example. An actual example of -webkit- *only* prefix examples (thus implied advocacy) is Google's http://slides.html5rocks.com/ , e.g.
[17:27] <tantek> http://slides.html5rocks.com/#css-columns has three -webkit- property declarations starting with -webkit-column-count )

That’s nice of him, and it does help. At least I had a link to give to people who kept asking me on twitter if I was really the prefix monster he made me out to be. 😛 The problem is that not many read the IRC logs, but many more read the www-style archives. Especially since, with all this buzz, many people were directed into reading this discussion by the above articles. I don’t know how many people will be misled by Tantek’s uninformed comment without reading his correction, but I know for sure that the number is non-zero. And the worst of all is that many of them are people in the CSSWG or in the W3C in general,  people who I have great respect and admiration for. And quite frankly, that sucks.

I don’t think Tantek had bad intentions. I’ve met him multiple times and I know he’s a nice guy. Maybe he was being lazy by making comments he didn’t check, but that’s about it. It could happen to many people. My main frustration is that it feels there is nothing I can do about it, besides answering people when they take the time to talk to me about it. I can do nothing with the ones that won’t, and that’s the majority. At least, if a forum was used over a mailing list, this could’ve been edited or something.

Categories
Apps & scripts Original

Exactly how much CSS3 does your browser support?

This project started as an attempt to improve dabblet and to generate data for the book chapter I’m writing for Smashing Book #3. I wanted to create a very simple/basic testsuite for CSS3 stuff so that you could hover on a e.g. CSS3 property and you got a nice browser support popup. While I didn’t achieve that (turns out BrowserScope doesn’t do that kind of thing), I still think it’s interesting as a spin-off project, especially since the results will probably surprise you.

How it works

css3test (very superficially) tests pretty much everything in the specs mentioned on the sidebar (not just the popular widely implemented stuff). You can click on every feature to expand it and see the exact the testcases run and whether they passed. It only checks what syntax the browser recognizes, which doesn’t necessarily mean it will work correctly when used. WebKit is especially notorious for cheating in tests like this, recognizing stuff it doesn’t understand, like the values “round” and “space” for background-repeat, but the cheating isn’t big enough to seriously compromise the test.

Whether a feature is supported with a prefix or not doesn’t matter for the result. If it’s supported without a prefix, it will test that one. If it’s supported only with a prefix, it will test the prefixed one. For properties especially, if an unprefixed one is supported, it will be used in all the tests.

Only stuff that’s in a W3C specification is tested. So, please don’t ask or send pull requests for proprietary things like -webkit-gradient() or -webkit-background-clip: text; or -webkit-box-reflect and so on.

Every feature contributes the same to the end score, as well as to the score of the individual spec, regardless of the number of tests it has.

Crazy shit

Chrome may display slightly different scores (1% difference) across pageloads. It seems that for some reason, it fails the tests for border-image completely on some pageloads, which doesn’t make any sense. Whoever wants to investigate, I’d be grateful.
Edit: Fixed (someone found and submitted an even crazier workaround.).

Browserscope

This is the first project of mine in which I’ve used browserscope. This means that your results will be sent over to its servers and aggreggated. When I have enough data, I’m gonna built a nice table for everyone to see 🙂 In the meantime, check the results page.

It doesn’t work on my browser, U SUCK!

The test won’t work on dinosaur browsers like IE8, but who cares measuring their CSS3 support anyway? “For a laugh” isn’t a good enough answer to warrant the time needed.

If you find a bug, please remember you didn’t pay a dime for this before nagging. Politely report it on Github, or even better, fix it and send a pull request.

Why did you build it?

To motivate browsers to support the less hyped stuff, because I’m tired of seeing the same things being evangelized over and over. There’s much more to CSS3.

Current results

At the time of this writing, these are the results for the major modern browsers:

  • Chrome Canary, WebKit nightlies, Firefox Nightly: 64%
  • Chrome, IE10PP4: 63%
  • Firefox 10: 61%
  • Safari 5.1, iOS5 Safari: 60%
  • Opera 11.60: 56%
  • Firefox 9: 58%
  • Firefox 6-8: 57%
  • Firefox 5, Opera 11.1 – 11.5: 55%
  • Safari 5.0: 54%
  • Firefox 4: 49%
  • Safari 4: 47%
  • Opera 10: 45%
  • Firefox 3.6: 44%
  • IE9: 39%

Enjoy! css3test.com Fork css3test on Github Browserscope results

Categories
Rants

What we still can’t do client-side

With the rise of all these APIs and the browser race to implement them, you’d think that currently we can do pretty much everything in JavaScript and even if we currently can’t due to browser support issues, we will once the specs are implemented. Unfortunately, that’s not true. There are still things we can’t do, and there’s no specification to address them at the time of this writing and no way to do them with the APIs we already have (or if there is a way, it’s unreasonably complicated).

We can’t do templating across pages

Before rushing to tell me “no, we can”, keep reading. I mean have different files and re-use them accross different pages. For example, a header and a footer. If our project is entirely client-side, we have to repeat them manually on every page. Of course, we can always use (i)frames, but that solution is worse than the problem it solves. There should be a simple way to inject HTML from another file, like server-side includes, but client-side. without using JavaScript at all, this is a task that belongs to HTML (with JS we can always use XHR to do it but…). The browser would then be able to cache these static parts, with significant speed improvements on subsequent page loads.

Update: The Web Components family of specs sort of helps with this, but still requires a lot of DIY and Mozilla is against HTML imports and will not implement them, which is one main component of this.

We can’t do localization

At least not in a sane, standard way. Client-side localization is a big PITA. There should be an API for this. That would have the added advantage that browsers could pick it up and offer a UI for it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought a website didn’t have an English version just because their UI was so bad I couldn’t find the switcher. Google Chrome often detects a website language and offers to translate it, if such an API existed we could offer properly translated versions of the website in a manner detectable by the browser.

Update: We have the ECMAScript Globalization API, although it looks far from ideal at the moment.

We can’t do screen capture

And not just of the screen, but we can’t even capture an element on the page and draw it on a canvas unless we use huge libraries that basically try to emulate a browser or SVG foreignObject which has its own share of issues. We should have a Screen Capture API, or at the very least, a way to draw DOM nodes on canvas. Yes, there are privacy concerns that need to be taken care of, but this is so tremendously useful that it’s worth the time needed to go intro researching those.

We can’t get POST parameters and HTTP headers

There’s absolutely NO way to get the POST parameters or the HTTP response headers that the current page was sent with. You can get the GET parameters through the location object, but no way to get POST parameters. This makes it very hard to make client-side applications that accept input from 3rd party websites when that input is too long to be on the URL (as is the case of dabblet for example).

We can’t make peer to peer connections

There is absolutely no way to connect to another client running our web app (to play a game for example), without an intermediate server.

Update: There’s RTCPeerConnection in WebRTC, though the API is pretty horrible.

_________

Anything else we still can’t do and we still don’t have an API to do so in the future? Say it in the comments!

Or, if I’m mistaken about one of the above and there is actually an active spec to address it, please point me to it!

Why would you want to do these things client-side?!

Everything that helps take load away from the server is good. The client is always one machine, everything on the server may end up running thousands of times per second if the web app succeeds, making the app slow and/or costly to run. I strongly believe in lean servers. Servers should only do things that architecturally need a server (e.g. centralized data storage), everything else is the client’s job. Almost everything that we use native apps for, should (and eventually will) be doable by JavaScript.

Categories
Thoughts

Vendor prefixes have failed, what’s next?

Edit: This was originally written to be posted in www-style, the mailing list for CSS development. I thought it might be a good idea to post it here as other people might be interested too. It wasn’t. Most people commenting didn’t really get the point of the article and thought I’m suggesting we should simply drop prefixes. Others think that it’s an acceptable solution for the CSS WG if CSS depends on external libraries like my own -prefix-free or LESS and SASS. I guess it was an failure of my behalf (“Know your audience”) and thus I’m disabling comments.

Discussion about prefixes was recently stirred up again by an article by Henri Sivonen, so the CSS WG started debating for the 100th time about when features should become unprefixed.

I think we need to think out of the box and come up with new strategies to solve the issues that vendor prefixes were going to fix. Vendor prefixes have failed and we can’t solve their issues by just unprefixing properties more early.

Issues

The above might seem a bold statement, so let me try to support it by recapping the serious issues we run into with vendor prefixes:

1. Unnecessary bloat

Authors need to use prefixes even when the implementations are already interoperable. As a result, they end up pointlessly duplicating the declarations, making maintenance hard and/or introducing overhead from CSS pre- and post-processors to take care of this duplication. We need to find a way to reduce this bloat to only the cases where different declarations are actually needed.

2. Spec changes still break existing content

The biggest advantage of the current situation was supposed to be that spec changes would not break existing content, but prefixes have failed to even do this. The thing is, most authors will use something if it’s available, no questions asked.  I doubt anyone that has done any real web development would disagree with that. And in most cases, they will prefer a slightly different application of a feature than none at all, so they use prefixed properties along with unprefixed. Then, when the WG makes a backwards-incompatible change, existing content breaks.

I don’t think this can really be addressed in any way except disabling the feature by default in public builds. Any kind of prefix or notation is pointless to stop this, we’ll always run into the same issue. If we disable the feature by default, almost nobody will use it since they can’t tell visitors to change their browser settings. Do we really want that? Yes, the WG will be able to make all the changes they want, but then then who will give feedback for these changes? Certainly not authors, as they will effectively have zero experience working with the feature as most of them don’t have the time to play around with features they can’t use right now.

I think we should accept that changes will break *some* existing content, and try to standardize faster, instead of having tons of features in WD limbo. However, I still think that there should be some kind of notation to denote that a feature is experimental so that at least authors know what they’re getting themselves into by using it and for browsers to be able to experiment a bit more openly. I don’t think that vendor prefixes are the right notation for this though.

3. Web development has become a popularity contest

I’ll explain this with an example: CSS animations were first supported by WebKit. People only used the -webkit- prefix with them and they were fine with it. Then Firefox also implemented them, and most authors started adding -moz- to their use cases. Usually only to the new ones, their old ones are still WebKit only. After a while, Microsoft announced CSS animations in IE10. Some authors started adding -ms- prefixes to their new websites, some others didn’t because IE10 isn’t out yet. When IE10 is out, they still won’t add it because their current use cases will be for the most part not maintained any more. Some authors don’t even add -ms- because they dislike IE. Opera will soon implement CSS animations. Who will really go back and add -o- versions? Most people will not care, because they think Opera has too little market share to warrant the extra bloat.

So browsers appear to support less features, only because authors have to take an extra step to explicitly support them. Browsers do not display pages with their full capabilities because authors were lazy, ignorant, or forgetful. This is unfair to both browser vendors and web users. We need to find a way to (optionally?) decouple implementation and browser vendor in the experimental feature notation.

Ideas

There is a real problem that vendor prefixes attempted to solve, but vendor prefixes didn’t prove out to be a good solution. I think we should start thinking outside the box and propose new ideas instead of sticking to vendor prefixes and debating their duration. I’ll list here a few of my ideas and I’m hoping others will follow suit.

1. Generic prefix (-x- or something else) and/or new @rule

A generic prefix has been proposed before, and usually the argument against it is that different vendors may have incompatible implementations. This could be addressed at a more general level, instead of having the prefix on every feature: An @-rule for addressing specific vendors. for example:

@vendor (moz,webkit,o) {
    .foo { -x-property: value; }
}

@vendor (ms) {
    .foo { -x-property: other-value; }
}

A potential downside is selector duplication, but remember: The @vendor rule would ONLY be used when implementations are actually incompatible.

Of course, there’s the potential for misuse, as authors could end up writing separate CSS for separate browsers using this new rule. However, I think we’re in a stage where most authors have realized that this is a bad idea, and if they want to do it, they can do it now anyway (for example, by using @-moz-document to target Moz and so on)

2. Supporting both prefixed and unprefixed for WD features

This delegates the decision to the author, instead of the WG and implementors. The author could choose to play it safe and use vendor prefixes or risk it in order to reduce bloat on a per-feature basis.

I guess a problem with this approach is that extra properties mean extra memory, but it’s something that many browsers already do when they start supporting a property unprefixed and don’t drop the prefixed version like they should.

Note: While this post was still in draft, I was informed that Alex Mogilevsky has suggested something very similar. Read his proposal.

3. Prefixes for versioning, not vendors

When a browser implements a property for the first time, they will use the prefix -a-. Then, when another browser implements that feature, they look at the former browser’s implementation, and if theirs is compatible, they use the same prefix. If it’s incompatible, they increment it by one, using -b- and so on.

A potential problem with this is collisions: Vendors using the same prefix not because their implementations are compatible but because they developed them almost simultaneously and didn’t know about each other’s implementation. Also, it causes trouble for the smaller vendors that might want to implement a feature first.

We need more ideas

Even if the above are not good ideas, I’m hoping that they’ll inspire others to come up with something better. I think we need more ideas about this, rather than more debates about fine-tuning the details of one bad solution.