Considerations for Making a CSS Framework

Around eight months ago, I started building a framework which would eventually go on to become Halfmoon. I made a post on this very website announcing the launch of the very first version. Halfmoon has been billed as a Bootstrap alternative with a built-in dark mode feature, that is especially good when it comes to building dashboards and tools. All of this still applies to the framework.

However, today I would like to talk about an area of the framework that is a bit understated. I believe our industry as a whole seriously underestimates the value of customization and user personalization, i.e. users being able to set their own design preferences. Chris has written before about knowing who a design system is made for, pointing out a spectrum of flexibility depending on who a system is meant to help.

But it’s more than design systems. Let’s talk about how Halfmoon addresses these issues because they’re important considerations for knowing which framework works best for your specific needs.

Dashboard built using Halfmoon

Who is Halfmoon for?

Before diving in, let’s address an important question: Is Halfmoon the right framework for you? Here’s a list of questions to help you answer that:

  • Are you building a dashboard, tool, or even a documentation website? Halfmoon has many unique components and features that are specific to these use cases.
  • Are you familiar with Bootstrap’s class names, but wish that the design was a bit more premium-looking?
  • Does your users want or expect a dark mode on your website?
  • Do you dislike dependencies? Halfmoon does not use jQuery, and also has no build process involving CSS preprocessors. Everything is pure, vanilla CSS and JavaScript.
  • Are you tired of dealing with complex build systems and front-end tooling? This ties in to the previous point. Personally, I find it difficult to deal with front-end tooling and build processes. As mentioned above, Halfmoon has no build process, so you just pull in the files (local, CDN, or npm), and start building.

If you answered yes to any (or all) of these questions, you should probably give Halfmoon a try. It is important to note however, that Halfmoon is not a UI component library for React/Vue/Angular, so you shouldn’t go into it expecting that. Moreover, if you are more fond of purely utility driven development, then Tailwind CSS is a better option for you. When it comes to CSS utilities, Halfmoon takes a middle of the road approach – there are utilities plus semantic classes for common components.

Using CSS custom properties

First, let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. CSS custom properties are incredible, and I expect them to completely replace preprocessor variables in the future. Browser support is already at a solid ~96%, and with Internet Explorer being phased out by Microsoft, they are expected to become a standard feature.

Halfmoon is built entirely using CSS variables because they provide a huge degree of customization. Now, you might immediately think that all this means is that there are a few custom properties for colors sprinkled in there, but it’s more than that. In fact, there are over 1,500 global variables in Halfmoon. Almost everything can be customized by overriding a property. Here’s a nifty example from the docs:

Halfmoon customization using CSS variables
Swapping out a few custom property values opens up a ton of possibilities in Halfmoon, whether it’s theming things for a brand, or tweaking the UI to get just the right look.

That’s what we’re talking about here when it comes to customization: does the system still stand up and work well if the person using it overrides anything. I have written extensively about this (and much more) in the official Halfmoon docs page.

Variables aren’t a new concept to frameworks. Many frameworks actually use Sass or Less variables and have done so for quite a while. That’s still a good and effective way to establish a customizable experience. But at the same time, those will lock into a preprocessor (which, again, doesn’t have to be a bad thing). By relying instead on CSS custom properties — and variable-izing all the things — we are relying on native CSS, and that doesn’t require any sort of build dependency. So, not only can custom properties make it easier to customize a framework, but they are much more flexible in terms of the tech stack being used.

There is a balance to be had. I know I suggested creating variables for everything, but it can be equally tough to manage and maintain scores and scores of variables (just like anything else in the codebase). So, lean heavily on variables to make a framework or design system more flexible, but also be mindful of how much flexibility you need to provide and whether adding another variable is part of that scope.

Deciding what components to include

When it comes to building a CSS framework, deciding what components to include is a big part of that ordeal. Of course, for a developer working on a passion project, you want to include everything. But that is simply not feasible, so a few decisions were made on my part.

As of right now, Halfmoon has most of the components you can find in similar frameworks such as Bootstrap or Bulma. These frameworks are great and widely used, so they are a good frame of reference. However, as I have mentioned already, a unique thing about Halfmoon is the focus on building tools and dashboards on the web. This niche, if you could call it that, has led me to build some unique components and features:

  • 5 different types of sidebars, with built-in toggle and overlay handlers. Sidebars are very important for most dashboards and tools (and a pain to get right), so this was a no brainer.
  • 2 different types of navbars. There is one that sticks to the bottom of the page, which can be used to great effect for action buttons. Think about the actions that pop up when you select items on data-table. You could place those action buttons here.
  • Omni-directional dropdowns (with 12 different placements, 3 for each direction).
  • Beautiful form components.
  • Built-in keyboard shortcut system, with an easy way to declare new ones for your tool.
  • Tons of utilities. Of course, this is not comparable to Tailwind CSS, but Halfmoon has enough responsive utility classes to handle a lot of use cases right out of the box.

Moreover, the built-in dark mode, huge customizability, and the standard look and feel to the components, should all work together to make Halfmoon a great tool for building web tools and dashboards. And I am hopefully nowhere close to being done! The next updates will bring in a form validator (demo video), more form components, multi-select component, date and time picker, data-table component, etc.

So what is exactly missing from Halfmoon? Well the most obvious ones are tabs, list group, and spinners. But all of these are planned to be added in v1.2.0, which is the next update. There are also other missing components such as carousels, tree navigation, avatars, etc, which are slightly out of scope.

Providing user preferences

Giving end users the ability to set their preferences is often overlooked by frameworks. Things like setting the font size of an article, or whether to use a dark or light theme. In some ways, it’s sort of funny, because the web is catching up to what operating systems have allowed users to do for decades.

Here are some examples of user personalization on the web:

  1. Being able to select your preferred color mode. And, even better, the website automatically saves and respects your preference when the page is loaded. Or better yet, looking at your operating system preferences and automatically accommodating them.
  2. Setting the default size of elements. Especially font size. A small font might look good in a design, but allowing users to set their ideal font size makes the content actually readable. Technically, every modern browser has an option to zoom into content, but that is often unwieldy, and does not actually save your settings.
  3. Setting the compactness of elements. For example, some people prefer large padding with rounded corners, while others find it a waste of space, instead preferring a tighter UI. Sort of like how Gmail lets you decide whether you want a lot of breathing room in your inbox or make it as small and tight as possible to see more content.
  4. Setting the primary color on the website. While this is entirely cosmetic, it is still charming to be able to set your favorite color on every button and link on a website.
  5. Enabling a high contrast mode. Someone pointed this out to me on GitHub. Apparently, many (and I mean many) CSS frameworks often fail the minimum contrast recommended between foreground and background colors on common elements, such as buttons. That list includes Halfmoon. This is often a tradeoff, because overly contrastive elements often look worse (purely in terms of aesthetic). User personalization can allow you to turn on a high contrast mode, if you have difficulty with the default contrast.

Allowing for user personalizations can be really difficult to pull off — especially for a framework — because that would could mean swapping out huge parts of CSS to accommodate the different personalization settings and combinations. However, with a framework like Halfmoon (i.e. built entirely using CSS variables), this becomes trivial as CSS variables can be set and changed on run-time using JavaScript, like so:

// Get the <html> tag (for reading and setting variables in global scope) var myElement = document.documentElement;  // Read CSS variable getComputedStyle(myElement).getPropertyValue("--variable-name");  // Set CSS variable myElement.style.setProperty("--variable-name", "value");

Therefore, user personalization can be implemented using Halfmoon in the following way:

  • The user sets a preference. That basically means a variable value gets changed. The variable is set with JavaScript (as shown above), and the new value is stored in a cookie or local storage.
  • When the user comes back to the website, their preferences are retrieved and set using JavaScript (again, as shown above) once the page is loaded.

Here are visual examples to really hammer the point home.

Setting and saving the default font size

In the example above, whenever the range slider is changed, the variable --base-font-size is updated to the slider’s value. This is great for people who prefer larger text. As explained in the previous section, this new value can be saved in a cookie or local storage, and the next time the user visits the website, the user preference can be set on page load.

Setting the compactness of content

Compact theme using CSS variables
Because there are CSS custom properties used as utilities, like spacing and borders, we can remove or override them easily to create a more compact or expanded component layout.

Only two variables are updated in this example to go from an expanded view to a compact one:

  • --content-and-card-spacing changed from 3rem (30px) to 2rem (20px).
  • --card-border-radius changed from 0.4rem (4px) to 0.2rem (2px).

For a real life scenario, you could have a dropdown that asks the user whether they prefer their content to be Default or Compact, and choosing one would obviously set the above CSS variables to theme the site. Once again, this could be saved and set on page load when the user visits the website on their next session.

Wait, but why?

Even with all the examples I have shown so far, you may still be asking why is this actually necessary. The answer is really simple: one size does not fit all. In my estimate, around half of the population prefers a dark UI, while the other half prefers light. Similarly, people have wild variations about the things they like when it comes to design. User personalization is a form of improving the UX, because it lets the user choose what they prefer. This may not be so important on a landing page, but when it comes to a tool or dashboard (that one has to use for a long time to get something done), having a UI that can be personalized is a boon to productivity. And knowing that is what Halfmoon is designed to do makes it ideal for these types of use cases.

Moreover, you know how people often complain that websites made with a certain framework (eg Bootstrap) all look the same? This is a step toward making sure that websites built with Halfmoon will always look distinct, so that the focus is on the website and content itself, and not on the framework that was used to build it.

Again, I am not saying that everything should be allowed to be personalized. But knowing who the framework is for and what it is designed to do helps make it clear what should be personalized.

Looking ahead

I strongly feel that flexibility for customization and accounting for user preferences are often overlooked on the web, especially in the framework landscape. That’s what I’m trying to address with Halfmoon.

In the future, I want to make it a lot easier for developers to implement user preferences, and also promote diversity of design with new templates and themes. That said, here are some things on the horizon for Halfmoon:

  • A form validator (demo video)
  • New components, including range sliders, tabs and spinners
  • High contrast mode user preference
  • Multi-select component (like Select2, only without jQuery)
  • A date and time picker
  • A data-table component
  • A GUI-based form builder
  • More themes and templates

You can, of course, learn more about Halfmoon in the documentation website, and if you want to follow the project, you can give it a star on GitHub.


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5 Photo Composition Tips to Improve Your Content

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Useful Tools and Accessories for Voice Transcription

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Rendering Spectrum

Here are the big categories of rendering websites:

  • Client: ship a <div id="root"></div> and let a JavaScript template render all of it.
  • Static: pre-render all the HTML.
  • Server: let a live server process requests and generate the HTML response.

They are not mutually exclusive.

  • A website could statically pre-render 75% of it’s pages (say, blog posts), but the other 25% have a server respond to (say, forums).
  • A website could statically pre-render all the pages, but have a couple of empty <div>s in there that have client-side rendered content in them (e.g. a dynamically generated menu based on the logged-in user).
  • A website could be primarily server-rendered, but has caching in front of it such that it behaves statically.
  • A website could render statically, but then “hydrate” itself into an entirely client-rendered site.
  • A website could be a mix of server and static rendering, but have dynamic parts similar to client-side rendering, but actually happen in an edge function, so it ends up more like server-side rendering.

Next.js is interesting in that it can do all three. Here’s Tim Neutkens in a recent interview:

Next.js allows you to pre-render pages. It creates HTML on a server at build time with static site generation or uses run-time rendering on the server side. Next allows you to do a hybrid of those. Unlike most other frameworks, you are not bound by, oh, I’m going to build my app completely statically generated. Instead, you’re allowed to have some pages be server-side rendered and some pages be statically generated.

In the new release we make it possible to update these statically generated pages without having to run a new build, rebuilding your whole app.

Cool. Love to see that happening at the framework level. Seems like having to go all-in on one rendering style isn’t practical for a lot of sites.

Client rendering is the most flexible, but comes with all these serious downsides like worse performance, worse reliability, more strain on devices, bad SEO, etc. Static pre-rendering is the most robust, speedy, and secure, but is the most limited. Edge functions on top of static is starting to open doors, but server-rendering is the classic mix of flexibility and speed that has dominated the web for good reason.

Client rendering also opens the door for that “SPA” (Single Page App) feel. I still like that, personally. I like the no-page-refresh feel. It’s makes a site feel snappy and opens the door for page transitions. Gatsby is famous for popularizing hydration, where you get the pre-rendered static bonus, but then the upgrade into SPA as the JavaScript downloads.

I’d love to see the web get to the point where we get all that “good feel” bonus of an SPA without actually having to build an SPA. It’s notable when frameworks provide SPA feels without having to manage much of that yourself, but still, something is managing it and that something is a bunch of JavaScript.

Tom MacWright wrote about that recently in his “If not SPAs, What?” post. Some of today’s alternatives:

Turbolinks … what is the bare minimum you need to do to get the SPA experience without any cooperation from your application?

Turbolinks is like… click link, click is intercepted, Ajax request for new page is made, JavaScript flops out the content on the page with the new content. Super easy to implement, but it’s still JavaScript, and not particularly intelligent about sending less data across the wire.

barba.js and instant.page are alternative approaches to the same sort of problem.

Barba is all about getting page transitions going (more detail on that concept). instant.page is all about pre-loading/rendering pages right before you click then, so even though you get a page refresh, it feels less intrusive (particularly with paint holding). Both are cool, but not quite one-to-one replacements for an SPA. (Even with paint holding, pre-rendering, and lightweight pages, I still don’t think the experience is quite a smooth as an SPA. For example, you still get the page loading spinner.)

So… is the anything else cooking? Kinda. There is <portal>. Possibly too simplified, but here goes: portals are like iframes. They can even be visually displayed just like an iframe. That means the rendering of the URL in the portal is already done. Then you can “promote” the portal to be the active page, and even animate the portal itself while doing so.

I don’t hate it. I can imagine someone building a turbolinks-like library on portals so they are “easy to use” and make a site more SPA-like.

Still, animating a rectangle into position isn’t often what is desired from animated page transitions. Just look at Sarah’s “Native-Like Animations for Page Transitions on the Web” article. That’s what the people want (at least the possibility of it). That’s why Jeremy said not portals the other day when he cheekily said that “[m]ost single page apps are just giant carousels.” He also points to Jake’s navigation-transitions proposal from a few years back.

I love this proposal. It focuses on user needs. It also asks why people reach for JavaScript frameworks instead of using what browsers provide. People reach for JavaScript frameworks because browsers don’t yet provide some functionality: components like tabs or accordions; DOM diffing; control over styling complex form elements; navigation transitions. The problems that JavaScript frameworks are solving today should be seen as the R&D departments for web standards of tomorrow. (And conversely, I strongly believe that the aim of any good JavaScript framework should be to make itself redundant.)

So what’s the best rendering method? Whatever works best for you, but perhaps a hierarchy like this makes some general sense:

  1. Static HTML as much as you can
  2. Edge functions over static HTML so you can do whatever dynamic things
  3. Server generated HTML what you have to after that
  4. Client-side render only what you absolutely have to

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The Core Web Vitals hype train

Some baby bear thinking from Katie Sylor-Miller:

my excitement for Core Web Vitals is tempered with a healthy skepticism. I’m not yet convinced that Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) are the right metrics that all sites should be measuring themselves against. I worry that the outsized emphasis placed on Core Web Vitals by including them in SEO scoring will result in developers focusing solely on those three numbers without truly understanding what they mean and, more importantly, what they don’t mean.

Katie is pro-Web Core Vitals because of their correlation with real user experiences, but there is a lot more to think about. If we focus only on these metrics (because we have now an extremely strong incentive to do so) we’re missing out on a lot. They may not be the analytics that matter most to us or that correlate with business goals.

The horse’s mouth says the SEO implications don’t start until May 2021.

I admit I’ve been on the hype train myself a little bit. I like all of Katie’s points but I think I’ll still call it a step forward for web analytics. Robin also mentioned Sentry could do the tracking the other day.

Jeremy mentions the proliferation of initials:

Personally, my beef with core web vitals is that they introduce even more uneccessary initialisms (see, for example, Harry’s recent post where he uses CWV metrics like LCP, FID, and CLS—alongside TTFB and SI—to look at PLPs, PDPs, and SRPs. I mean, WTF?).

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How to Load Fonts in a Way That Fights FOUT and Makes Lighthouse Happy

A web font workflow is simple, right? Choose a few nice-looking web-ready fonts, get the HTML or CSS code snippet, plop it in the project, and check if they display properly. People do this with Google Fonts a zillion times a day, dropping its <link> tag into the <head>.

Let’s see what Lighthouse has to say about this workflow.

Stylesheets in the <head> have been flagged by Lighthouse as render-blocking resources and they add a one-second delay to render? Not great.

We’ve done everything by the book, documentation, and HTML standards, so why is Lighthouse telling us everything is wrong?

Let’s talk about eliminating font stylesheets as a render-blocking resource, and walk through an optimal setup that not only makes Lighthouse happy, but also overcomes the dreaded flash of unstyled text (FOUT) that usually comes with loading fonts. We’ll do all that with vanilla HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, so it can be applied to any tech stack. As a bonus, we’ll also look at a Gatsby implementation as well as a plugin that I’ve developed as a simple drop-in solution for it.

What we mean by “render-blocking” fonts

When the browser loads a website, it creates a render tree from the DOM, i.e. an object model for HTML, and CSSOM, i.e. a map of all CSS selectors. A render tree is a part of a critical render path that represents the steps that the browser goes through to render a page. For browser to render a page, it needs to load and parse the HTML document and every CSS file that is linked in that HTML.

Here’s a fairly typical font stylesheet pulled directly from Google Fonts:

@font-face {   font-family: 'Merriweather';   src: local('Merriweather'), url(https://fonts.gstatic.com/...) format('woff2'); }

You might be thinking that font stylesheets are tiny in terms of file size because they usually contain, at most, a few @font-face definitions. They shouldn’t have any noticeable effect on rendering, right?

Let’s say we’re loading a CSS font file from an external CDN. When our website loads, the browser needs to wait for that file to load from the CDN and be included in the render tree. Not only that, but it also needs to wait for the font file that is referenced as a URL value in the CSS @font-face definition to be requested and loaded.

Bottom line: The font file becomes a part of the critical render path and it increases the page render delay.

Critical render path delay when loading font stylesheet and font file 
(Credit: web.dev under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License)

What is the most vital part of any website to the average user? It’s the content, of course. That is why content needs to be displayed to the user as soon as possible in a website loading process. To achieve that, the critical render path needs to be reduced to critical resources (e.g. HTML and critical CSS), with everything else loaded after the page has been rendered, fonts included.

If a user is browsing an unoptimized website on a slow, unreliable connection, they will get annoyed sitting on a blank screen that’s waiting for font files and other critical resources to finish loading. The result? Unless that user is super patient, chances are they’ll just give up and close the window, thinking that the page is not loading at all.

However, if non-critical resources are deferred and the content is displayed as soon as possible, the user will be able to browse the website and ignore any missing presentational styles (like fonts) — that is, if they don’t get in the way of the content.

Optimized websites render content with critical CSS as soon as possible with non-critical resources deferred. A font switch occurs between 0.5s and 1.0s on the second timeline, indicating the time when presentational styles start rendering.

The optimal way to load fonts

There’s no point in reinventing the wheel here. Harry Roberts has already done a great job describing an optimal way to load web fonts. He goes into great detail with thorough research and data from Google Fonts, boiling it all down into a four-step process:

  • Preconnect to the font file origin.
  • Preload the font stylesheet asynchronously with low priority.
  • Asynchronously load the font stylesheet and font file after the content has been rendered with JavaScript.
  • Provide a fallback font for users with JavaScript turned off.

Let’s implement our font using Harry’s approach:

<!-- https://fonts.gstatic.com is the font file origin --> <!-- It may not have the same origin as the CSS file (https://fonts.googleapis.com) --> <link rel="preconnect"       href="https://fonts.gstatic.com"       crossorigin /> 
 <!-- We use the full link to the CSS file in the rest of the tags --> <link rel="preload"       as="style"       href="https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Merriweather&display=swap" /> 
 <link rel="stylesheet"       href="https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Merriweather&display=swap"       media="print" onload="this.media='all'" /> 
 <noscript>   <link rel="stylesheet"         href="https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Merriweather&display=swap" /> </noscript>

Notice the media="print" on the font stylesheet link. Browsers automatically give print stylesheets a low priority and exclude them as a part of the critical render path. After the print stylesheet has been loaded, an onload event is fired, the media is switched to a default all value, and the font is applied to all media types (screen, print, and speech).

Lighthouse is happy with this approach!

It’s important to note that self-hosting the fonts might also help fix render-blocking issues, but that is not always an option. Using a CDN, for example, might be unavoidable. In some cases, it’s beneficial to let a CDN do the heavy lifting when it comes to serving static resources.

Even though we’re now loading the font stylesheet and font files in the optimal non-render-blocking way, we’ve introduced a minor UX issue…

Flash of unstyled text (FOUT)

This is what we call FOUT:

Why does that happen? To eliminate a render-blocking resource, we have to load it after the page content has rendered (i.e. displayed on the screen). In the case of a low-priority font stylesheet that is loaded asynchronously after critical resources, the user can see the moment the font changes from the fallback font to the downloaded font. Not only that, the page layout might shift, resulting in some elements looking broken until the web font loads.

The best way to deal with FOUT is to make the transition between the fallback font and web font smooth. To achieve that we need to:

  • Choose a suitable fallback system font that matches the asynchronously loaded font as closely as possible.
  • Adjust the font styles (font-size, line-height, letter-spacing, etc.) of the fallback font to match the characteristics of the asynchronously loaded font, again, as closely as possible.
  • Clear the styles for the fallback font once the asynchronously loaded font file has has rendered, and apply the styles intended for the newly loaded font.

We can use Font Style Matcher to find optimal fallback system fonts and configure them for any given web font we plan to use. Once we have styles for both the fallback font and web font ready, we can move on to the next step.

Merriweather is the font and Georgia is the fallback system font in this example. Once the Merriweather styles are applied, there should be minimal layout shifting and the switch between fonts should be less noticeable.

We can use the CSS font loading API to detect when our web font has loaded. Why that? Typekit’s web font loader was once one of the more popular ways to do it and, while it’s tempting to continue using it or similar libraries, we need to consider the following:

  • It hasn’t been updated for over four years, meaning that if anything breaks on the plugin side or new features are required, it’s likely no one will implement and maintain them.
  • We are already handling async loading efficiently using Harry Roberts’ snippet and we don’t need to rely on JavaScript to load the font.

If you ask me, using a Typekit-like library is just too much JavaScript for a simple task like this. I want to avoid using any third-party libraries and dependencies, so let’s implement the solution ourselves and try to make it is as simple and straightforward as possible, without over-engineering it.

Although the CSS Font Loading API is considered experimental technology, it has roughly 95% browser support. But regardless, we should provide a fallback if the API changes or is deprecated in the future. The risk of losing a font isn’t worth the trouble.

The CSS Font Loading API can be used to load fonts dynamically and asynchronously. We’ve already decided not to rely on JavaScript for something simple as font loading and we’ve solved it in an optimal way using plain HTML with preload and preconnect. We will use a single function from the API that will help us check if the font is loaded and available.

document.fonts.check("12px 'Merriweather'");

The check() function returns true or false depending on whether the font specified in the function argument is available or not. The font size parameter value is not important for our use case and it can be set to any value. Still, we need to make sure that:

  • We have at least one HTML element on a page that contains at least one character with web font declaration applied to it. In the examples, we will use the &nbsp; but any character can do the job as long it’s hidden (without using display: none;) from both sighted and non-sighted users. The API tracks DOM elements that have font styles applied to them. If there are no matching elements on a page, then the API isn’t be able to determine if the font has loaded or not.
  • The specified font in the check() function argument is exactly what the font is called in the CSS.

I’ve implemented the font loading listener using CSS font loading API in the following demo. For example purposes, loading fonts and the listener for it are initiated by clicking the button to simulate a page load so you can see the change occur. On regular projects, this should happen soon after the website has loaded and rendered.

Isn’t that awesome? It took us less than 30 lines of JavaScript to implement a simple font loading listener, thanks to a well-supported function from the CSS Font Loading API. We’ve also handled two possible edge cases in the process:

  • Something goes wrong with the API, or some error occurs preventing the web font from loading.
  • The user is browsing the website with JavaScript turned off.

Now that we have a way to detect when the font file has finished loading, we need to add styles to our fallback font to match the web font and see how to handle FOUT more effectively.

The transition between the fallback font and web font looks smooth and we’ve managed to achieve a much less noticeable FOUT! On a complex site, this change would result in a fewer layout shifts, and elements that depend on the content size wouldn’t look broken or out of place.

What’s happening under the hood

Let’s take a closer look at the code from the previous example, starting with the HTML. We have the snippet in the <head> element, allowing us to load the font asynchronously with preload, preconnect, and fallback.

<body class="no-js">   <!-- ... Website content ... -->   <div aria-visibility="hidden" class="hidden" style="font-family: '[web-font-name]'">       /* There is a non-breaking space here here */   </div>   <script>      document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].classList.remove("no-js");   </script> </body>

Notice that we have a hardcoded .no-js class on the <body> element, which is removed the moment the HTML document has finished loading. This applies webfont styles for users with JavaScript disabled.

Secondly, remember how the CSS Font Loading API requires at least one HTML element with a single character to track the font and apply its styles? We added a <div> with a &nbsp; character that we are hiding from both sighted and non-sighted users in an accessible way, since we cannot use display: none;. This element has an inlined font-family: 'Merriweather' style. This allows us to smoothly switch between the fallback styles and loaded font styles, and make sure that all font files are properly tracked, regardless of whether they are used on the page or not.

Note that the &nbsp; character is not showing up in the code snippet but it is there!

The CSS is the most straightforward part. We can utilize the CSS classes that are hardcoded in the HTML or applied conditionally with JavaScript to handle various font loading states.

body:not(.wf-merriweather--loaded):not(.no-js) {   font-family: [fallback-system-font];   /* Fallback font styles */ } 
 .wf-merriweather--loaded, .no-js {   font-family: "[web-font-name]";   /* Webfont styles */ } 
 /* Accessible hiding */ .hidden {   position: absolute;    overflow: hidden;    clip: rect(0 0 0 0);    height: 1px;   width: 1px;    margin: -1px;   padding: 0;   border: 0;  }

JavaScript is where the magic happens. As described previously, we are checking if the font has been loaded by using the CSS Font Loading API’s check() function. Again, the font size parameter can be any value (in pixels); it’s the font family value that needs to match the name of the font that we’re loading.

var interval = null; 
 function fontLoadListener() {   var hasLoaded = false; 
   try {     hasLoaded = document.fonts.check('12px "[web-font-name]"')   } catch(error) {     console.info("CSS font loading API error", error);     fontLoadedSuccess();     return;   }      if(hasLoaded) {     fontLoadedSuccess();   } } 
 function fontLoadedSuccess() {   if(interval) {     clearInterval(interval);   }   /* Apply class names */ } 
 interval = setInterval(fontLoadListener, 500);

What’s happening here is we’re setting up our listener with fontLoadListener() that runs at regular intervals. This function should be as simple as possible so it runs efficiently within the interval. We are using the try-catch block to handle any errors and catch any issues so that web font styles still apply in the case of a JavaScript error so that the user doesn’t experience any UI issues.

Next, we’re accounting for when the font successfully loads with fontLoadedSuccess(). We need to make sure to first clear the interval so the check doesn’t unnecessarily run after it.  Here we can add class names that we need in order to apply the web font styles.

And, finally, we are initiating the interval. In this example, we’ve set it up to 500ms, so the function runs twice per second.

Here’s a Gatsby implementation

Gatsby does a few things that are different compared to vanilla web development (and even the regular create-react-app tech stack) which makes implementing what we’ve covered here a bit tricky.

To make this easy, we’ll develop a local Gatsby plugin, so all code that is relevant to our font loader is located at plugins/gatsby-font-loader in the example below.

Our font loader code and config will be split across the three main Gatsby files:

  • Plugin configuration (gatsby-config.js): We’ll include the local plugin in our project, list all local and external fonts and their properties (including the font name, and the CSS file URL), and include all preconnect URLs.
  • Server-side code (gatsby-ssr.js): We’ll use the config to generate and include preload and preconnect tags in the HTML <head> using setHeadComponents function from Gatsby’s API. Then, we’ll generate the HTML snippets that hide the font and include them in HTML using setPostBodyComponents.
  • Client-side code (gatsby-browser.js): Since this code runs after the page has loaded and after React starts up, it is already asynchronous. That means we can inject the font stylesheet links using react-helmet. We’ll also start a font loading listener to deal with FOUT.

You can check out the Gatsby implementation in the following CodeSandbox example.

I know, some of this stuff is complex. If you just want a simple drop-in solution for performant, asynchronous font loading and FOUT busting, I’ve developed a gatsby-omni-font-loader plugin just for that. It uses the code from this article and I am actively maintaining it. If you have any suggestions, bug reports, or code contributions, feel free to submit them on on GitHub.

Conclusion

Content is perhaps the most component to a user’s experience on a website. We need to make sure content gets top priority and loads as quickly as possible. That means using bare minimum presentation styles (i.e. inlined critical CSS) in the loading process. That is also why web fonts are considered non-critical in most cases — the user can still consume the content without them — so it’s perfectly fine for them to load after the page has rendered.

But that might lead to FOUT and layout shifts, so the font loading listener is needed to make a smooth switch between the fallback system font and the web font.

I’d like to hear your thoughts! Let me know in the comments how are you tackling the issue of web font loading, render-blocking resources and FOUT on your projects.


References


The post How to Load Fonts in a Way That Fights FOUT and Makes Lighthouse Happy appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

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A Printed Tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Work

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Graphery SVG

I’ve compared SVG and Canvas before. If you’re trying to decide between them, read that. I’d say the #1 difference between them is vector (SVG) versus raster (Canvas). But the #2 difference is how you work with them. SVG is declarative, as in, literal elements that express what they are through attributes and content. Canvas […]

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Creating UI Components in SVG

I’m thoroughly convinced that SVG unlocks a whole entire world of building interfaces on the web. It might seem daunting to learn SVG at first, but you have a spec that was designed to create shapes and yet, still has elements, like text, links, and aria labels available to you. You can accomplish some of the same effects in CSS, but it’s a little more particular to get positioning just right, especially across viewports and for responsive development.

What’s special about SVG is that all the positioning is based on a coordinate system, a little like the game Battleship. That means deciding where everything goes and how it’s drawn, as well as how it’s relative to each other, can be really straightforward to reason about. CSS positioning is for layout, which is great because you have things that correspond to one another in terms of the flow of the document. This otherwise positive trait is harder to work with if you’re making a component that’s very particular, with overlapping and precisely placed elements.

Truly, once you learn SVG, you can draw anything, and have it scale on any device. Even this very site uses SVG for custom UI elements, such as my avatar, above (meta!).

That little half circle below the author image is just SVG markup.

We won’t cover everything about SVGs in this post (you can learn some of those fundamentals here, here, here and here), but in order to illustrate the possibilities that SVG opens up for UI component development, let’s talk through one particular use case and break down how we would think about building something custom.

The timeline task list component

Recently, I was working on a project with my team at Netlify. We wanted to show the viewer which video in a series of videos in a course they were currently watching. In other words, we wanted to make some sort of thing that’s like a todo list, but shows overall progress as items are completed. (We made a free space-themed learning platform and it’s hella cool. Yes, I said hella.)

Here’s how that looks:

So how would we go about this? I’ll show an example in both Vue and React so that you can see how it might work in both frameworks.

The Vue version

We decided to make the platform in Next.js for dogfooding purposes (i.e. trying out our own Next on Netlify build plugin), but I’m more fluent in Vue so I wrote the initial prototype in Vue and ported it over to React.

Here is the full CodePen demo:

Let’s walk through this code a bit. First off, this is a single file component (SFC), so the template HTML, reactive script, and scoped styles are all encapsulated in this one file.

We’ll store some dummy tasks in data, including whether each task is completed or not. We’ll also make a method we can call on a click directive so that we can toggle whether the state is done or not.

<script> export default {   data() {     return {       tasks: [         {           name: 'thing',           done: false         },         // ...       ]     };   },   methods: {     selectThis(index) {       this.tasks[index].done = !this.tasks[index].done     }   } }; </script> 

Now, what we want to do is create an SVG that has a flexible viewBox depending on the amount of elements. We also want to tell screen readers that this a presentational element and that we will provide a title with a unique id of timeline. (Get more information on creating accessible SVGs.)

<template>   <div id="app">     <div>       <svg :viewBox="`0 0 30 $ {tasks.length * 50}`"            xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg"             width="30"             stroke="currentColor"             fill="white"            aria-labelledby="timeline"            role="presentation">            <title id="timeline">timeline element</title>         <!-- ... -->       </svg>     </div>   </div> </template>

The stroke is set to currentColor to allow for some flexibility — if we want to reuse the component in multiple places, it will inherit whatever color is used on the encapsulating div.

Next, inside the SVG, we want to create a vertical line that’s the length of the task list. Lines are fairly straightforward. We have x1 and x2 values (where the line is plotted on the x-axis), and similarly, y1 and y2.

<line x1="10" x2="10" :y1="num2" :y2="tasks.length * num1 - num2" />

The x-axis stays consistently at 10 because we’re drawing a line downward rather than left-to-right. We’ll store two numbers in data: the amount we want our spacing to be, which will be num1, and the amount we want our margin to be, which will be num2.

data() {   return {     num1: 32,     num2: 15,     // ...   } }

The y-axis starts with num2, which is subtracted from the end, as well as the margin. The tasks.length is multiplied by the spacing, which is num1.

Now, we’ll need the circles that lie on the line. Each circle is an indicator for whether a task has been completed or not. We’ll need one circle for each task, so we’ll use v-for with a unique key, which is the index (and is safe to use here as they will never reorder). We’ll connect the click directive with our method and pass in the index as a param as well.

CIrcles in SVG are made up of three attributes. The middle of the circle is plotted at cx and cy, and then we draw a radius with r. Like the line, cx starts at 10. The radius is 4 because that’s what’s readable at this scale. cy will be spaced like the line: index times the spacing (num1), plus the margin (num2).

Finally, we’ll put use a ternary to set the fill. If the task is done, it will be filled with currentColor. If not, it will be filled with white (or whatever the background is). This could be filled with a prop that gets passed in the background, for instance, where you have light and dark circles.

<circle    @click="selectThis(i)"    v-for="(task, i) in tasks"   :key="task.name"   cx="10"   r="4"   :cy="i * num1 + num2"   :fill="task.done ? 'currentColor' : 'white'"   class="select"/>

Finally, we are using CSS grid to align a div with the names of tasks. This is laid out much in the same way, where we’re looping through the tasks, and are also tied to that same click event to toggle the done state.

<template>   <div>     <div        @click="selectThis(i)"       v-for="(task, i) in tasks"       :key="task.name"       class="select">       {{ task.name }}     </div>   </div> </template>

The React version

Here is where we ended up with the React version. We’re working towards open sourcing this so that you can see the full code and its history. Here are a few modifications:

  • We’re using CSS modules rather than the SCFs in Vue
  • We’re importing the Next.js link, so that rather than toggling a “done” state, we’re taking a user to a dynamic page in Next.js
  • The tasks we’re using are actually stages of the course —or “Mission” as we call them — which are passed in here rather than held by the component.

Most of the other functionality is the same 🙂

import styles from './MissionTracker.module.css'; import React, { useState } from 'react'; import Link from 'next/link';  function MissionTracker({ currentMission, currentStage, stages }) {  const [tasks, setTasks] = useState([...stages]);  const num1 = [32];  const num2 = [15];   const updateDoneTasks = (index) => () => {    let tasksCopy = [...tasks];    tasksCopy[index].done = !tasksCopy[index].done;    setTasks(tasksCopy);  };   const taskTextStyles = (task) => {    const baseStyles = `$ {styles['tracker-select']} $ {styles['task-label']}`;     if (currentStage === task.slug.current) {      return baseStyles + ` $ {styles['is-current-task']}`;    } else {      return baseStyles;    }  };   return (    <div className={styles.container}>      <section>        {tasks.map((task, index) => (          <div            key={`mt-$ {task.slug}-$ {index}`}            className={taskTextStyles(task)}          >            <Link href={`/learn/$ {currentMission}/$ {task.slug.current}`}>              {task.title}            </Link>          </div>        ))}      </section>       <section>        <svg          viewBox={`0 0 30 $ {tasks.length * 50}`}          className={styles['tracker-svg']}          xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg"          width="30"          stroke="currentColor"          fill="white"          aria-labelledby="timeline"          role="presentation"        >          <title id="timeline">timeline element</title>           <line x1="10" x2="10" y1={num2} y2={tasks.length * num1 - num2} />          {tasks.map((task, index) => (            <circle              key={`mt-circle-$ {task.name}-$ {index}`}              onClick={updateDoneTasks(index)}              cx="10"              r="4"              cy={index * +num1 + +num2}              fill={                task.slug.current === currentStage ? 'currentColor' : 'black'              }              className={styles['tracker-select']}            />          ))}        </svg>      </section>    </div>  ); }  export default MissionTracker;

Final version

You can see the final working version here:

This component is flexible enough to accommodate lists small and large, multiple browsers, and responsive sizing. It also allows the user to have better understanding of where they are in their progress in the course.

But this is just one component. You can make any number of UI elements: knobs, controls, progress indicators, loaders… the sky’s the limit. You can style them with CSS, or inline styles, you can have them update based on props, on context, on reactive data, the sky’s the limit! I hope this opens some doors on how you yourself can develop more engaging UI elements for the web.


The post Creating UI Components in SVG appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

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How to Create a Timeline Task List Component Using SVG

I’m thoroughly convinced that SVG unlocks a whole entire world of building interfaces on the web. It might seem daunting to learn SVG at first, but you have a spec that was designed to create shapes and yet, still has elements, like text, links, and aria labels available to you. You can accomplish some of the same effects in CSS, but it’s a little more particular to get positioning just right, especially across viewports and for responsive development.

What’s special about SVG is that all the positioning is based on a coordinate system, a little like the game Battleship. That means deciding where everything goes and how it’s drawn, as well as how it’s relative to each other, can be really straightforward to reason about. CSS positioning is for layout, which is great because you have things that correspond to one another in terms of the flow of the document. This otherwise positive trait is harder to work with if you’re making a component that’s very particular, with overlapping and precisely placed elements.

Truly, once you learn SVG, you can draw anything, and have it scale on any device. Even this very site uses SVG for custom UI elements, such as my avatar, above (meta!).

That little half circle below the author image is just SVG markup.

We won’t cover everything about SVGs in this post (you can learn some of those fundamentals here, here, here and here), but in order to illustrate the possibilities that SVG opens up for UI component development, let’s talk through one particular use case and break down how we would think about building something custom.

The timeline task list component

Recently, I was working on a project with my team at Netlify. We wanted to show the viewer which video in a series of videos in a course they were currently watching. In other words, we wanted to make some sort of thing that’s like a todo list, but shows overall progress as items are completed. (We made a free space-themed learning platform and it’s hella cool. Yes, I said hella.)

Here’s how that looks:

So how would we go about this? I’ll show an example in both Vue and React so that you can see how it might work in both frameworks.

The Vue version

We decided to make the platform in Next.js for dogfooding purposes (i.e. trying out our own Next on Netlify build plugin), but I’m more fluent in Vue so I wrote the initial prototype in Vue and ported it over to React.

Here is the full CodePen demo:

Let’s walk through this code a bit. First off, this is a single file component (SFC), so the template HTML, reactive script, and scoped styles are all encapsulated in this one file.

We’ll store some dummy tasks in data, including whether each task is completed or not. We’ll also make a method we can call on a click directive so that we can toggle whether the state is done or not.

<script> export default {   data() {     return {       tasks: [         {           name: 'thing',           done: false         },         // ...       ]     };   },   methods: {     selectThis(index) {       this.tasks[index].done = !this.tasks[index].done     }   } }; </script> 

Now, what we want to do is create an SVG that has a flexible viewBox depending on the amount of elements. We also want to tell screen readers that this a presentational element and that we will provide a title with a unique id of timeline. (Get more information on creating accessible SVGs.)

<template>   <div id="app">     <div>       <svg :viewBox="`0 0 30 $ {tasks.length * 50}`"            xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg"             width="30"             stroke="currentColor"             fill="white"            aria-labelledby="timeline"            role="presentation">            <title id="timeline">timeline element</title>         <!-- ... -->       </svg>     </div>   </div> </template>

The stroke is set to currentColor to allow for some flexibility — if we want to reuse the component in multiple places, it will inherit whatever color is used on the encapsulating div.

Next, inside the SVG, we want to create a vertical line that’s the length of the task list. Lines are fairly straightforward. We have x1 and x2 values (where the line is plotted on the x-axis), and similarly, y1 and y2.

<line x1="10" x2="10" :y1="num2" :y2="tasks.length * num1 - num2" />

The x-axis stays consistently at 10 because we’re drawing a line downward rather than left-to-right. We’ll store two numbers in data: the amount we want our spacing to be, which will be num1, and the amount we want our margin to be, which will be num2.

data() {   return {     num1: 32,     num2: 15,     // ...   } }

The y-axis starts with num2, which is subtracted from the end, as well as the margin. The tasks.length is multiplied by the spacing, which is num1.

Now, we’ll need the circles that lie on the line. Each circle is an indicator for whether a task has been completed or not. We’ll need one circle for each task, so we’ll use v-for with a unique key, which is the index (and is safe to use here as they will never reorder). We’ll connect the click directive with our method and pass in the index as a param as well.

CIrcles in SVG are made up of three attributes. The middle of the circle is plotted at cx and cy, and then we draw a radius with r. Like the line, cx starts at 10. The radius is 4 because that’s what’s readable at this scale. cy will be spaced like the line: index times the spacing (num1), plus the margin (num2).

Finally, we’ll put use a ternary to set the fill. If the task is done, it will be filled with currentColor. If not, it will be filled with white (or whatever the background is). This could be filled with a prop that gets passed in the background, for instance, where you have light and dark circles.

<circle    @click="selectThis(i)"    v-for="(task, i) in tasks"   :key="task.name"   cx="10"   r="4"   :cy="i * num1 + num2"   :fill="task.done ? 'currentColor' : 'white'"   class="select"/>

Finally, we are using CSS grid to align a div with the names of tasks. This is laid out much in the same way, where we’re looping through the tasks, and are also tied to that same click event to toggle the done state.

<template>   <div>     <div        @click="selectThis(i)"       v-for="(task, i) in tasks"       :key="task.name"       class="select">       {{ task.name }}     </div>   </div> </template>

The React version

Here is where we ended up with the React version. We’re working towards open sourcing this so that you can see the full code and its history. Here are a few modifications:

  • We’re using CSS modules rather than the SCFs in Vue
  • We’re importing the Next.js link, so that rather than toggling a “done” state, we’re taking a user to a dynamic page in Next.js
  • The tasks we’re using are actually stages of the course —or “Mission” as we call them — which are passed in here rather than held by the component.

Most of the other functionality is the same 🙂

import styles from './MissionTracker.module.css'; import React, { useState } from 'react'; import Link from 'next/link';  function MissionTracker({ currentMission, currentStage, stages }) {  const [tasks, setTasks] = useState([...stages]);  const num1 = [32];  const num2 = [15];   const updateDoneTasks = (index) => () => {    let tasksCopy = [...tasks];    tasksCopy[index].done = !tasksCopy[index].done;    setTasks(tasksCopy);  };   const taskTextStyles = (task) => {    const baseStyles = `$ {styles['tracker-select']} $ {styles['task-label']}`;     if (currentStage === task.slug.current) {      return baseStyles + ` $ {styles['is-current-task']}`;    } else {      return baseStyles;    }  };   return (    <div className={styles.container}>      <section>        {tasks.map((task, index) => (          <div            key={`mt-$ {task.slug}-$ {index}`}            className={taskTextStyles(task)}          >            <Link href={`/learn/$ {currentMission}/$ {task.slug.current}`}>              {task.title}            </Link>          </div>        ))}      </section>       <section>        <svg          viewBox={`0 0 30 $ {tasks.length * 50}`}          className={styles['tracker-svg']}          xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg"          width="30"          stroke="currentColor"          fill="white"          aria-labelledby="timeline"          role="presentation"        >          <title id="timeline">timeline element</title>           <line x1="10" x2="10" y1={num2} y2={tasks.length * num1 - num2} />          {tasks.map((task, index) => (            <circle              key={`mt-circle-$ {task.name}-$ {index}`}              onClick={updateDoneTasks(index)}              cx="10"              r="4"              cy={index * +num1 + +num2}              fill={                task.slug.current === currentStage ? 'currentColor' : 'black'              }              className={styles['tracker-select']}            />          ))}        </svg>      </section>    </div>  ); }  export default MissionTracker;

Final version

You can see the final working version here:

This component is flexible enough to accommodate lists small and large, multiple browsers, and responsive sizing. It also allows the user to have better understanding of where they are in their progress in the course.

But this is just one component. You can make any number of UI elements: knobs, controls, progress indicators, loaders… the sky’s the limit. You can style them with CSS, or inline styles, you can have them update based on props, on context, on reactive data, the sky’s the limit! I hope this opens some doors on how you yourself can develop more engaging UI elements for the web.


The post How to Create a Timeline Task List Component Using SVG appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

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