"browser" entries

Elegant Outlines with SVG paint-order

Get fine-grained control over your design with an SVG 2 property implemented by many browsers.


SVG rendering uses a painter’s model to describe how graphics are rendered to the screen. Like layers of paint on a wall, content on top obscures content below. The SVG specifications define which content gets painted over which other content. The different parts of each shape — the stroke, fill, and markers — each create layers of paint. Those shapes are then layered one on top of the other, in the order they are defined in the document.

Two new properties introduced by the SVG 2 specification, z-index and paint-order, allow you to change up the rendering rules.

Most web designers will be familiar with z-index, which has been supported in CSS layout for years. Unfortunately, it is not yet supported in any major web browser for SVG content. At present, the only solution is to arrange your markup (or the DOM created by scripts) so that elements are listed in the order you want them to be painted.

In contrast, the paint-order property has already been implemented in a number of web browsers. If you’re willing to make adjustments in your design according to browser support level, you can use the fine-tuned control in the latest browsers and replace it with a simpler effect in others. If you need the same appearance in all browsers, however, you can create something that looks like paint order control with SVG 1.1 code. This post describes why paint-order is useful, how to use it in the latest browsers, and how to fake it in the others.

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Proposing CSS input modality

:focus'ing on users.

Image of a camera lens artfully out of focus

Editor’s note: The author would like to acknowledge her co-author, Brian Kardell, who contributed many insights to the ideas presented here, along with a substantial number of the words.

Web developers and web standards authors alike strive to live up to the promise of “universality” — the idea that the web should be available to all. This concept drives many innovations in web technology, as well as being fundamentally built in to the philosophy of the open standards on which the web is based.

In order to achieve this, we frequently find that having some carefully chosen information about how the user intends to view the content (a concept we’ll refer to in this article as “user context”) allows web developers to create more flexible and useful user experiences. In this post, we’ll lay out a case that it’s time to expand our view of user context to include the concept of modality (how the user is interacting with the page), but before we flesh that out, let’s take a look at “user context”.

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Four short links: 11 July 2014

Four short links: 11 July 2014

Curated Code, Hackable Browser, IoT Should Be Open, and Better Treemaps

  1. Awesome Awesomeness — list of curated collections of frameworks and libraries in various languages that do not suck. They solve the problem of “so, I’m new to (language) and don’t want to kiss a lot of frogs before I find the right tool for a particular task”.
  2. Breach — a hackable, modular web browser.
  3. The CompuServe of Things (Phil Windley) — How we build the Internet of Things has far-reaching consequences for the humans who will use—or be used by—it. Will we push forward, connecting things using forests of silos that are reminiscent the online services of the 1980’s, or will we learn the lessons of the Internet and build a true Internet of Things? (via Cory Doctorow)
  4. FoamTree — nifty treemap layouts and animations, in Javascript. (via Flowing Data)
Comment: 1
Four short links: 10 June 2014

Four short links: 10 June 2014

Trusting Code, Deep Pi, Docker DevOps, and Secure Database

  1. Trusting Browser Code (Tim Bray) — on the fundamental weakness of the ‘net as manifest in the browser.
  2. Deep Learning in the Raspberry Pi (Pete Warden) — $30 now gets you a computer you can run deep learning algorithms on. Awesome.
  3. Announcing Docker Hub and Official Repositories — as Docker went 1.0 and people rave about how they use it, comes this. They’re thinking hard about “integrating into the build ship run loop”, which aligns well with DevOps-enabling tool use.
  4. Apple’s Secure Database for Users (Ian Waring) — excellent breakdown of how Apple have gone out of their way to make their cloud database product safe and robust. They may be slow to “the cloud” but they have decades of experience having users as customers instead of products.

It’s the end of the web as we knew it

You might feel fine.

For the past 15 years, Google has enforced the classic “HTML as foundation” architecture at the heart of the Web. Content creators and the developers who support them had to present content and link information as part of their pages’ HTML if they wanted Google’s spidering bots to see them. Google effectively punished developers who made links or content available only through JavaScript (or images, or CSS), giving them low or non-existent search results.

Google did this to keep their processing simple, not because of a deep fondness for HTML. Even as Google’s bots stuck to a simple diet of HTML, other parts of Google were developing JavaScript-centric approaches, like AngularJS: a “Superheroic JavaScript MVW Framework” that “is what HTML would have been, had it been designed for building web-apps.”

Angular is far from alone. As JavaScript grew, more and more programmers wanted to build their apps as programs, not as pages. Or, as Jen Simmons summarized it at Fluent, “Dang that stupid HTML, I’m just going to load an empty page… then I’ll run the real program, I’ll run the JavaScript.” Read more…


I just slipped on a banana peel named “this”

Keeping track of this in your JavaScript code

In JavaScript, the special variable this is used to refer an object. But which object this refers too depends on the code you’re executing and how this is used. So, a common problem for those learning JavaScript is keeping track of the value of this in different situations. You can be happily testing your code, and then – bam! Suddenly, things stop working, and you’re wondering what happened, not realizing that you’re assuming this is set to one value, when in fact, it’s an entirely different value. And, bugs caused by confusion about this are notoriously difficult to track down.
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What is that upside-down tree doing in my browser?

Start using JavaScript to create dynamic web pages by updating the DOM.

The secret to getting your web pages to do your bidding with code is to use JavaScript to manipulate the Document Object Model, or DOM. The DOM is an upside-down tree-like structure that the browser uses to represent your web page internally, and it’s by getting and setting values in the DOM that you can modify your web page in response to users doing things like clicking a button, moving the mouse, or dragging an element around.

Getting started with the DOM is easy once you understand how the browser translates your HTML into this internal structure made of objects. Once these objects are created, then you can manipulate them using a wide variety of properties and methods, to change the content of an element, to add a style to an element, or even remove an element from the page completely.

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The web is eating software

Web technologies have become the default, and are spreading

photo: KF - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:KF/DetailsA few years ago, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen wrote that “software is eating the world”:

Six decades into the computer revolution, four decades since the invention of the microprocessor, and two decades into the rise of the modern Internet, all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.

That may be true, but Andreessen seems to have left out some of his earlier, more Web-centric visions (though perhaps he considers them complete).

Software may be eating the world, but the Web has been “eating software” in a similar sense for as long as the Web has been visible.

On the front end, the browser has grown from being a strange dumb terminal of documents and forms to a full partner. The browser not only provides a window into the world of classic websites, but helps us deal with devices that we can reach over a network. Their interfaces may be invisible or basic on the physical device, but offer much more when accessed through a browser. Web apps, though frequently not as capable as their desktop competition, long ago passed the point where their collaborative possibilities were more valuable than the details they lack.

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Why polyfills matter

The changing landscape of web platform extensibility

From its nascent days, the growth of the web has been marked by the waxing and waning of technologies, frameworks and ideas. Old ideas and technologies expire and fade away, and new ones arise in their place. Much as the cicada molts and leaves behind an old shell as it moves into adulthood, the web has seen countless ideas come and go as it has evolved.

Relics (and Catalysts) of the Web

Remember XHTML? More specifically, do you remember caring deeply about XHTML? You likely do. Do you still care about XHTML? Chances are, the answer is no. The same goes for Flash, DHTML, HTML Components and countless other buzzwords of the web that once felt so alive and important, and now feel like relics of another time.

Occasionally, however, we collectively stumble upon ideas and technologies that stand the test of time. These are ideas that don’t just evolve with the web–they are often a catalyst for the evolution of the web itself. Ideas like Cascading Style Sheets and XMLHTTPRequest, the vendor hack that spurred the AJAX revolution, are two examples among many.

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Building rich web UIs with knockout.js

Live coding a shopping cart and other rich web UI goodness

At Fluent 2013, O’Reilly’s Web Platform, JavaScript and HTML5 conference, Microsoft’s Steve Sanderson gave a tight 20 minute introductory tour of Knockout.js, a popular JavaScript UI library built around declarative bindings and the Model-View ViewModel (MVVM) pattern.

In his talk, Rich Web UIs with Knockout.js, Steve quickly summarized the problems Knockout solves and why Knockout is a particularly strong candidate to solve those problems, before working on a shopping cart example to show off how bindings, including custom bindings, work within Knockout.

Some key parts of Todd’s talk include:

  • A description of the problem Knockout solves [at 00:41]
  • What is Knockout and MVVM? [at 01:38]
  • 4 unique things about Knockout [at 03:12]
  • Live coding a shopping cart [at 06:02]
  • Summary [at 20:15]

Anyone with a further interest in Knockout should check out the project’s homepage and particularly the live Hello World example and interactive online tutorial which guides you through building a Web UI using the MVVM pattern with Knockout.js in an interactive sandbox-style environment.

If the Web Platform, JavaScript, and HTML5 interest you, consider checking out our growing collection of top-rated talks from Fluent 2013.