Posts that hold POTENTIALLY original content, partially or totally. Content that I came up and haven’t read about somewhere else. It might not be actually original, as people often have the same ideas, it’s just original as far as my knowledge goes, which isn’t infinite :P. IF it its actually original, then it’s licensed through the MIT license.
Recently, when I was making the minisite for markapp.io, I realized a neat trick one can do with CSS variables, precisely due to their dynamic nature. Let’s say you want to use a property that has multiple versions: an unprefixed one and one or more prefixed ones. In this example we are going to use clip-path, which currently needs both an unprefixed version and a -webkit- prefixed one, however the technique works for any property and any number of prefixes or different property names, as long as the value is the same across all variations of the property name.
The first part is to define a --clip-path property on every element with a value of initial. This prevents the property from being inherited every time it’s used, and since the * has zero specificity, any declaration that uses --clip-path can override it. Then you define all variations of the property name with var(--clip-path) as their value:
Even !important should work, because it affects the cascading of CSS variables. Furthermore, if for some reason you want to explicitly set -webkit-clip-path, you can do that too, again because * has zero specificity. The main downside to this is that it limits browser support to the intersection of the support for the feature you are using and support for CSS Variables. However, all browsers except Edge support CSS variables, and Edge is working on it. I can’t see any other downsides to it (except having to use a different property name obvs), but if you do, let me know in the comments!
I think there’s still a lot to be discovered about cool uses of CSS variables. I wonder if there exists a variation of this technique to produce custom longhands, e.g. breaking box-shadow into --box-shadow-x, --box-shadow-y etc, but I can’t think of anything yet. Can you? 😉
To encourage libraries with HTML APIs, i.e. libraries that can be used without writing a line of JS, I made a website to list and promote them: markapp.io. The list is currently quite short, so I’m counting on you to expand it. Seen any libraries with good HTML APIs? Add them!
Ticks that snap via the list attribute and the <datalist> element. This is fairly decently implemented, except labelled ticks, which is not supported anywhere.
Vertical sliders when height > width, implemented nowhere (instead, browsers employ proprietary ways for making sliders vertical: An orient=vertical attribute in Gecko, -webkit-appearance: slider-vertical; in WebKit/Blink and writing-mode: bt-lr; in IE/Edge). Good ol’ rotate transforms work too, but have the usual problems, such as layout not being affected by the transform.
Two-handle sliders for ranges, via the multiple attribute.
I made a quick testcase for all three, and to my disappointment (but not to my surprise), support was extremely poor. I was most excited about the last one, since I’ve been wanting range sliders in HTML for a long time. Sadly, there are no implementations. But hey, what if I could create a polyfill by cleverly overlaying two sliders? Would it be possible? I started experimenting in JSBin last night, just for the lolz, then soon realized this could actually work and started a GitHub repo. Since CSS variables are now supported almost everywhere, I’ve had a lot of fun using them. Sure, I could get broader support without them, but the code is much simpler, more elegant and customizable now. I also originally started with a Bliss dependency, but realized it wasn’t worth it for such a tiny script.
Anyone who follows this blog, my twitter, or my work probably is aware that I’m not a huge fan of big libraries. I think wrapper objects are messy, and big libraries are overkill for smaller projects. On large projects, one uses frameworks like React or Angular anyway, not libraries.
Anyone who writes Vanilla JS on a daily basis probably is aware that it can sometimes be, ahem, somewhat unpleasant to work with. Sure, the situation is orders of magnitude better than it was when I started. Back then, IE6 was the dominant browser and you needed a helper function to even add event listeners to an element (remember element.attachEvent?) or to get elements by a class!
Sadly, jAsset died the sad inevitable death of all unreleased projects: Without external feedback, I had nobody to hold me back from adding to its API every time I personally needed a helper function. And adding, and adding, and adding… Until it became 5000+ loc long and its benefit of being lightweight or comprehensible had completely vanished. It collapsed under its own weight before it even saw the light of day. I abandoned it and went through a few years of using jQuery as my preferred helper library. Eventually, my distaste for wrapper objects, the constantly improving browser support for new APIs that made Vanilla JS more palatable, and the decline of overly conspicuous browser bugs led me to give it up.
It was refreshing, and educational, but soon I came to realize that while Vanilla JS is orders of magnitude better than it was when I started, certain APIs are still quite unwieldy, which can be annoying if you use them often. For example, the Vanilla JS for creating an element, with other elements inside it, events and inline styles is so commonly needed, but also so verbose and WET, it can make one suicidal.
However, Vanilla JS does not mean “use no abstractions”. Programming is all about abstractions! The Vanilla JS movement, is about favoring speed, smaller abstractions and understanding of the Web Platform, over big libraries that we treat as a black box. It’s about using libraries to save time, not to skip learning.
So, I used my own tiny helpers, on every project. They were small and easy to understand, instead of several KB of code aiming to fix browser bugs I will likely never encounter and let me create complex nested DOM structures with a single JSON-like object. Over time, their API solidified and improved. On larger projects it was a separate file which I had tentatively codenamed Utopia (due to the lack of browser bug fixes and optimistic use of modern APIs). On smaller ones just a few helper methods (I could not live without at least my tiny 2 sloc $() and $$() helpers!). Here is a sample from my open source repos:
I never mentioned Utopia.js anywhere, besides silently including it in my projects, so it went largely unnoticed. Sometimes people would look at it, ask me to release it, I’d promise them I would and then nothing. A few years ago, someone noticed it, liked it and documented it a bit (site is down now it seems). However, it was largely my little secret, hidden in public view.
For the past half year, I’ve been working hard on my research project at MIT. It’s pretty awesome and is aimed at helping people who know HTML/ CSS but not JS, achieve more with Web technologies (and that’s all I can say for now). It’s also written in JS, so I used Utopia as a helper library, naturally. Utopia evolved even more with this project, got renamed to Bliss and got chainability via my idea about extending DOM prototypes without collisions (can be disabled and the property name is customizable).
All this worked fine while I was the only person working on the project. Thankfully, I might get some help soon, and it might be rather inexperienced (the academia equivalent of interns). Help is very welcome, but it did raise the question: How will these people, who likely only know jQuery, work on the project? 
The answer was that the time has come to polish, document and release Bliss to the world. My plan was to spend a weekend documenting it, but it ended up being a little over a week on and off, when procrastinating from other tasks I had to do. However, I’m very proud of the resulting docs, so much that I gifted myself a domain for it. They are fairly extensive (though some functions still need work) and has two things I always missed in other API docs:
Recommendations about what Vanilla JS to use instead when appropriate, instead of guiding people into using library methods even when Vanilla JS would have been perfectly sufficient.
A “Show Implementation” button showing the implementation, so you can both learn, and judge whether it’s needed or not, instead of assuming that you should use it over Vanilla JS because it has magic pixie dust. This way, the docs also serve as a source viewer!
So, enjoy Bliss. The helper library for people who don’t like helper libraries. 🙂 In a way, it feels that a journey of 8 years, finally ends today. I hope the result makes you blissful too.
The one thing I can mention about my project is that it involves a lot of editing of Web content. And since contentEditable is a mess, as you all know, I decided to use form controls styled like the content being edited. This meant that I needed a good script for form control autosizing, one that worked on multiple types of form controls (inputs, textareas, even select menus). In addition, I needed the script to smoothly work for newly added controls, without me having to couple the rest of my code with it and call API methods or fire custom events every time new controls were added anywhere. A quick look at the existing options quickly made it obvious that I had to write my own.
After writing it, I realized this could be released entirely separately as it was a standalone utility. So Stretchy was born 🙂 I made a quick page for it, fixed a few cross-browser bugs that needed fixing anyway, put it up on Github and here it is!
Unsubscribe links are crucial to promotional emails. They are not just another menu item. They are not something that should be hidden in a blurb of tiny low contrast text. Unsubscribe links should be immediately obvious to anyone looking for them. You want people to be reading your email because they’re interested, not because they can‘t find the way out. Otherwise you are the digital equivalent of those annoying door-to-door salesmen who just won’t go away.
On the spur of the moment, after yet another email newsletter with a hard to find Unsubscribe link, I decided to quickly put together a tumblog about this UX pet peeve of mine, called Spot the Unsubscribe!. In less than an hour, it was ready and had a few posts as well 🙂
Hopefully if this bothers others as well, there will be submissions. Otherwise, new posts will be rather infrequent.
It’s no secret that I like conical gradients. In as early as 2011, I wrote a draft for conical-gradient() in CSS, that Tab later said helped him when he added them in CSS Image Values Level 4 in 2012. However, almost three years later, no progress has been made in implementing them. Sure, the spec is still relatively incomplete, but that’s not the reason conical gradients have gotten no traction. Far more underspecified features have gotten experimental implementations in the past. The reason conical gradients are still unimplemented, is because very few developers know they exist, so browsers see no demand.
Another reason was that Cairo, the graphics library used in Chrome and Firefox had no way of drawing a conical gradient. However, this changed a while ago, when they supported mesh gradients, of which conical gradients are a mere special case.
Recently, I was giving a talk on creating pie charts with CSS on a few conferences, and yet again, I was reminded of how useful conical gradients can be. While every CSS or SVG solution is several lines of code with varying levels of hackiness, conical gradients can give us a pie chart with a straightforward, DRY, one liner. For example, this is how to create a pie chart that shows 40% in gold and 60% in #f06:
padding: 5em; /* size */
background: conic-gradient(gold 40%, #f06 0);
border-radius: 50%; /* make it round */
So, I decided to take matters in my own hands. I wrote a polyfill, which I also used in my talk to demonstrate how awesome conical gradients can be and what cool things they can do. Today, during my CSSConf talk, I released it publicly.
In addition, I mention to developers how important speaking up is for getting their favorite features implemented. Browsers prioritize which features to implement based on what developers ask for. It’s a pity that so few of us realize how much of a say we collectively have in this. This is more obvious with Microsoft and their Uservoice forum where developers can vote on which features they want to see worked on, but pretty much every major browser works in a similar way. They monitor what developers request and what other browsers implement, and decide accordingly. The squeaky wheel will get the feature, so if you really want to see something implemented, speak up.
Since “speaking up” can be a bit vague (“speak up where?” I can hear you asking), I also filed bug reports with all major browsers, that you can also find in the polyfill page, so that you can comment or vote on them. That doesn’t mean that speaking up on blogs or social media is not useful though: That’s why browsers have devrel teams. The more noise we collectively make about the features we want, the more likely it is to be heard. However, the odds are higher if we all channel our voices to the venues browser developers follow and our voice is stronger and louder if we concentrate it in the same places instead of having many separate voices all over the place.
Also, I’m using the term “noise” here a bit figuratively. While it’s valuable to make it clear that we are interested in a certain feature, it’s even more useful to say why. Providing use cases will not only grab browsers’ attention more, but it will also convince other developers as well.
So go ahead, play with conic gradients, and if you agree with me that they are fucking awesome and we need them natively on the Web, make noise.
Sorry for the lack of posts for the past 7 (!) months, I’ve been super busy working on my book, which up to a certain point, I couldn’t even imagine finishing, but I’m finally there! I’ve basically tried to cram all the CSS wisdom I’ve accumulated over the years in it 😛 (which is partly why it took so long, I kept remembering more things that just *had* to be in it. Its page count on the O’Reilly website had to be updated 3 times, from 250 to 300 to 350 and it looks like the final is gonna be closer to 400 pages) and it’s gonna be super awesome (preorder here!) 😀 . I have been posting a few CSS tricks now and then on my twitter account, but haven’t found any time to write a proper blog post.
Anyhow, despite being super busy with MIT (which btw is amazing, challenging in a good way, and full of fantastic people. So glad to be here!) and the book, I recently needed an autocomplete widget for something. Surprisingly, I don’t think I ever had needed to choose one in the past. I’ve worked with apps that had it, but in those cases it was already there.
At first, I didn’t fret. Finally, a chance to use the HTML5 <datalist>, so exciting! However, the more I played with it, the more my excitement was dying a slow death, taking my open web standards dreams and hopes along with it. Not only it’s incredibly inconsistent across browsers (e.g. Chrome matches only from the start, Firefox anywhere!), it’s also not hackable or customizable in any way. Not even if I got my hands dirty and used proprietary CSS, I still couldn’t do anything as simple as changing how the matching happens, styling the dropdown or highlighting the matching text!
So, with a heavy heart, I decided to use a script. However, when I looked into it, everything seemed super bloated for my needs and anything with half decent usability required jQuery, which results in even more bloat.
So, I did what every crazy person with a severe case of NIH Syndrome would: I wrote one. It was super fun, and I don’t regret it, although now I’m even more pressed for time to meet my real deadlines. I wrote it primarily for myself, so even if nobody else uses it, ho hum, it was more fun than alternative ways to take a break. However, it’s my duty to put it on Github, in case someone else wants it and in case the community wants to take it into its loving, caring hands and pull request the hell out of it.
To be honest, I think it’s both pretty and pretty useful and even though it won’t suit complex needs out of the box, it’s pretty hackable/extensible. I even wrote quite a bit of documentation at some point this week when I was too sleepy to work and not sufficiently sleepy to sleep — because apparently that’s what was missing from my life: even more technical writing.
I saved the best for last: It’s so lightweight you might end up chasing it around if there’s a lot of wind when you download it. It’s currently a little under 1.5KB minified & gzipped (the website says 2KB because it will probably grow with commits and I don’t want to have to remember to update it all the time), with zero dependencies! 😀
And it’s even been verified to work in IE9 (sorta), IE10+, Chrome, Firefox, Safari 5+, Mobile Safari!
Today, I was giving the opening keynote at Codemania in Auckland, New Zealand. It was a talk about color from a math/dev perspective. It went quite well, despite my complete lack of sleep. I mean that quite literally: I hadn’t slept all night. No, it wasn’t the jetlag or the nervousness that kept me up. It was my late minute decision to replace the static, low-res image of an RGB cube I was using until then with a 3D cube generated with CSS and animated with CSS animations. Next thing I knew, it was light outside and I had to start getting ready. However, I don’t regret literally losing sleep to make a slide that is only shown for 20 seconds at most. Not only it was super fun to develop, but also yielded a few things that I thought were interesting enough to blog about.
The most challenging part wasn’t actually the 3D cube. This has been done tons of times before, it was probably the most common demo for CSS 3D transforms a couple of years ago. The only part of this that could be of interest is that mine only used 2 elements for the cube. This is a dabblet of the cube, without any RGB gradients on it:
The challenging part was creating the gradients for the 6 sides. These are not plain gradients, as you can see below:
These are basically two linear gradients from left to right, with the topmost one being masked with a gradient from top to bottom. You can use CSS Masking to achieve this (for Chrome/Safari) and SVG Masks for Firefox, but this masks the whole element, which would hide the pseudo-elements needed for the sides. What I needed was masks applied to backgrounds only, not the whole element.
However, I didn’t want to have 6 separate SVG files, especially with this kind of repetition (cross-linking to reuse gradients and masks across different files is still fairly buggy in certain browsers). I wanted to be able to edit this straight from my CSS. And then it hit me: I was using SASS already. I could code SASS functions that generate SVG data URIs!
Here’s the set of SVG generating SASS functions I ended up writing:
I’ve been interested in digital color for a long time, and this year I decided to risk giving a technical talk about color some of the conferences I’m speaking at. “Why is that risky?” you might ask. Well, it might end up being really interesting, or it may end up alienating both designers because it’s too technical and developers because it’s about a “designery” topic.
In preparation for this talk, I decided to make a simple game to see how well I and other web developers understand color, and especially CSS notations of color. Meet Whathecolor!
The idea is simple: You are presented with a color and you try to type in a CSS color that matches it. It could be anything, from hsl() or rgb() to even named colors (although that would be stupid). It would be interesting to see what averages people get by trying hsl() vs rgb() and whether the former is as easier for web developers as we think. Feel free to post your results here or on twitter! Perhaps in the future, something like this could be used by the CSS WG to test the usability of color notations we’re thinking of adding to CSS instead of speculating about it.
Disclaimer: This is a quick hack. Please don’t complain that it doesn’t look great on your phone and stuff like that.
Also, yes, if you want to cheat, it’s super easy, but I have no idea why somebody would cheat on something like this.
A challenging part in developing this was calculating the proximity of two colors to show the user how close they are getting. My first thought was to use the Euclidean distance of the two colors in the RGB cube and divide it by the maximum distance the color could have from any other RGB color. However, this proved out to be inaccurate in many cases, probably due to the lack of perceptual uniformity in RGB. As an example, try #f0f and #ff80ff. Although they are quite similar visually, the reported proximity was around 66% (1 – 128/382).
So I researched existing algorithms to get the proximity of two colors. Like most things color-related, it looks like Color Difference is not quite as simple as I thought, and is considered a topic of interest in Color Science. However, converting to L*a*b* and using the CIE94 and CIEDE2000 formulas seemed a bit of an overkill for this and I wasn’t terribly impressed with the CIE76 formula after trying the results out online for some sample pairs (e.g. it gives ~60% for the aforementioned pair, which is even lower than what I got with my naïve RGB method!).
So I experimented a bit and ended up using an average of my original idea and a sum of the HSL differences (divided by the max differences), which seems to work relatively ok. There are still cases where it’s off, but ho hum. After all, the proximity is mainly useful when you get close enough to the color (>90%), as until then you tend to play it by eye. Any improvements on the algorithm used are welcome. Or if enough people think it’s not working very well, I’ll bite the bullet and end up using DeltaE.
You do not need a proximity of 100% to win, since rounding errors might prevent you from matching the exact color if you’re using HSL. Also, because matching the exact same color isn’t really important, as long as you get close enough that any difference is imperceptible.
I wrote a Color “class” for this, which you can find in color.js. Like most of my open source stuff, it’s MIT licensed. Maybe it could be useful in some other color-related project, who knows.
My original idea was to have “levels”, where the color would get increasingly more difficult to get. For example, in the first level, you’d only have to guess simple colors whose RGB coordinates were either 0, 128 or 255. So, my Color.random() method accepts an entropy parameter, for that level. However, when I tested the game with truly random colors (any integer from 0 to 255), it turned out it wasn’t really that hard (it took me about a minute to guess each color), so I ditched the idea of levels early on. The code is still there though.
An idea about making it harder in the future would be to introduce semi-transparent (RGBA/HSLA) colors. That would be fun :evil_grin:
PS: The times in this screenshot aren’t real, I wanted to take one quickly, so I used the dev tools.