People Digging into Grid Sizing and Layout Possibilities

Jen Simmons has been coining the term intrinsic design, referring to a new era in web layout where the sizing of content has gone beyond fluid columns and media query breakpoints and into, I dunno, something a bit more exotic. For example, columns that are sized more by content and guidelines than percentages. And not always columns, but more like appropriate placement, however that needs to be done.

One thing is for sure, people are playing with the possibilities a lot right now. In the span of 10 days I’ve gathered these links:

The post People Digging into Grid Sizing and Layout Possibilities appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

Design Systems and Portfolios

In my experience working with design systems, I’ve found that I have to sacrifice my portfolio to do it well. Unlike a lot of other design work where it’s relatively easy to present Dribbble-worthy interfaces and designs, I fear that systems are quite a bit trickier than that.

You could make things beautiful, but the best work that happens on a design systems team often isn’t beautiful. In fact, a lot of the best work isn’t even visible.

For example, most days I’m pairing up with folks on my team to help them understand how our system works; from the CSS architecture, to the font stack, to the UI Kit to how a component can be manipulated to solve a specific problem, to many things in between. I’m trying as best as I can to help other designers understand what would be hard to build and what would be easy, as well as when to change their designs based on technical or other design constraints.

Further, there’s a lot of hard and diligent work that goes into projects that have no visible impact on the system at all. Last week, I noticed a weird thing with our checkboxes. Our Checkbox React component would output HTML like this:

<div class="checkbox"> <label for="ch-1"> <input id="ch-1" type="checkbox" class="checkbox" /> </label>
</div>

We needed to wrap the checkbox with a <div> for styling purposes and, from a quick glance, there’s nothing wrong with this markup. However, the <div> and the <input> both have a class of .checkbox and there were confusing styles in the CSS file that styled the <div> first and then un-did those styles to fix the <input> itself.

The fix for this is a pretty simple one: all we need to do is make sure that the class names are specific so that we can safely refactor any confusing CSS:

<div class="checkbox-wrapper"> <label for="ch-1"> <input id="ch-1" type="checkbox" class="checkbox" /> </label>
</div>

The thing is that this work took more than a week to ship because we had to refactor a ton of checkboxes in our app to behave in the same way and make sure that they were all using the same component. These checkboxes are one of those things that are now significantly better and less confusing, but it’s difficult to make it look sexy in a portfolio. I can’t simply drop them into a big iPhone mockup and rotate it as part of a fancy portfolio post if I wanted to write about my work or show it to someone else.

Take another example: I spent an entire day making an audit of our illustrations to help our team get an understanding of how we use them in our application. I opened up Figma and took dozens of screenshots:

It’s sort of hard to take credit for this work because the heavy lifting is really moderating a discussion and helping the team plan. It’s important work! But I feel like it’s hard to show that this work is valuable and to show the effects of it in a large org. “Things are now less confusing,” isn’t exactly a great accomplishment – but it really should be. These boring, methodical changes are vital for the health of a good design system.

Also… it’s kind of weird to putm “I wrote documentation” in a portfolio as much as it is to say, “I paired with designers and engineers for three years.” It’s certainly less satisfying than a big, glossy JPEG of a cool interface you designed. And I’m not sure if this is the same everywhere, but only about 10% of the work I do is visual and worthy of showing off.

My point is that building new components like this RadioCard I designed a while back is extraordinarily rare and accounts for a tiny amount of the useful work that I do:

See the Pen
Gusto App – RadioCard Prototype
by Robin Rendle (@robinrendle)
on CodePen.

I’d love to see how you’re dealing with this problem though. How do you show off your front-end and design systems work? How do you make it visible and valuable in your organization? Let me know in the comments!

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Web Standards Meet User-Land: Using CSS-in-JS to Style Custom Elements

The popularity of CSS-in-JS has mostly come from the React community, and indeed many CSS-in-JS libraries are React-specific. However, Emotion, the most popular library in terms of npm downloads, is framework agnostic.

Using the shadow DOM is common when creating custom elements, but there’s no requirement to do so. Not all use cases require that level of encapsulation. While it’s also possible to style custom elements with CSS in a regular stylesheet, we’re going to look at using Emotion.

We start with an install:

npm i emotion

Emotion offers the css function:

import {css} from 'emotion';

css is a tagged template literal. It accepts standard CSS syntax but adds support for Sass-style nesting.

const buttonStyles = css` color: white; font-size: 16px; background-color: blue; &:hover { background-color: purple; }
`

Once some styles have been defined, they need to be applied. Working with custom elements can be somewhat cumbersome. Libraries — like Stencil and LitElement — compile to web components, but offer a friendlier API than what we’d get right out of the box.

So, we’re going to define styles with Emotion and take advantage of both Stencil and LitElement to make working with web components a little easier.

Applying styles for Stencil

Stencil makes use of the bleeding-edge JavaScript decorators feature. An @Component decorator is used to provide metadata about the component. By default, Stencil won’t use shadow DOM, but I like to be explicit by setting shadow: false inside the @Component decorator:

@Component({ tag: 'fancy-button', shadow: false
})

Stencil uses JSX, so the styles are applied with a curly bracket ({}) syntax:

export class Button { render() { return <div><button class={buttonStyles}><slot/></button></div> }
}

Here’s how a simple example component would look in Stencil:

import { css, injectGlobal } from 'emotion';
import {Component} from '@stencil/core'; const buttonStyles = css` color: white; font-size: 16px; background-color: blue; &:hover { background-color: purple; }
`
@Component({ tag: 'fancy-button', shadow: false
})
export class Button { render() { return <div><button class={buttonStyles}><slot/></button></div> }
}

Applying styles for LitElement

LitElement, on the other hand, use shadow DOM by default. When creating a custom element with LitElement, the LitElement class is extended. LitElement has a createRenderRoot() method, which creates and opens a shadow DOM:

createRenderRoot() { return this.attachShadow({mode: 'open'});
}

Don’t want to make use of shadow DOM? That requires re-implementing this method inside the component class:

class Button extends LitElement { createRenderRoot() { return this; }
}

Inside the render function, we can reference the styles we defined using a template literal:

render() { return html`<button class=${buttonStyles}>hello world!</button>`
}

It’s worth noting that when using LitElement, we can only use a slot element when also using shadow DOM (Stencil does not have this problem).

Put together, we end up with:

import {LitElement, html} from 'lit-element';
import {css, injectGlobal} from 'emotion';
const buttonStyles = css` color: white; font-size: 16px; background-color: blue; &:hover { background-color: purple; }
` class Button extends LitElement { createRenderRoot() { return this; } render() { return html`<button class=${buttonStyles}>hello world!</button>` }
} customElements.define('fancy-button', Button);

Understanding Emotion

We don’t have to stress over naming our button — a random class name will be generated by Emotion.

We could make use of CSS nesting and attach a class only to a parent element. Alternatively, we can define styles as separate tagged template literals:

const styles = { heading: css` font-size: 24px; `, para: css` color: pink; `
} 

And then apply them separately to different HTML elements (this example uses JSX):

render() { return <div> <h2 class={styles.heading}>lorem ipsum</h2> <p class={styles.para}>lorem ipsum</p> </div>
}

Styling the container

So far, we’ve styled the inner contents of the custom element. To style the container itself, we need another import from Emotion.

import {css, injectGlobal} from 'emotion';

injectGlobal injects styles into the “global scope” (like writing regular CSS in a traditional stylesheet — rather than generating a random class name). Custom elements are display: inline by default (a somewhat odd decision from spec authors). In almost all cases, I change this default with a style applied to all instances of the component. Below are the buttonStyles which is how we can change that up, making use of injectGlobal:

injectGlobal`
fancy-button { display: block;
}
`

Why not just use shadow DOM?

If a component could end up in any codebase, then shadow DOM may well be a good option. It’s ideal for third party widgets — any CSS that’s applied to the page simply won’t break the the component, thanks to the isolated nature of shadow DOM. That’s why it’s used by Twitter embeds, to take one example. However, the vast majority of us make components for for a particular site or app and nowhere else. In that situation, shadow DOM can arguably add complexity with limited benefit.

The post Web Standards Meet User-Land: Using CSS-in-JS to Style Custom Elements appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

Little Things That Tickled My Brain from An Event Apart Seattle

I had so much fun at An Event Apart Seattle! There is something nice about sitting back and basking in the messages from a variety of such super smart people.

I didn’t take comprehensive notes of each talk, but I did jot down little moments that flickered my brain. I’ll post them here! Blogging is fun! Again, note that these moments weren’t necessarily the main point of the speaker’s presentation or reflective of the whole journey of the topic — they are little micro-memorable moments that stuck out to me.


Jeffrey Zeldman brought up the reading apps Instapaper (still around!) and Readability (not around… but the technology is what seeped into native browser tech). He called them a vanguard (cool word!) meaning they were warning us that our practices were pushing users away. This turned out to be rather true, as they still exist and are now joined by new technologies, like AMP and native reader mode, which are fighting the same problems.


Margot Bloomstein made a point about inconsistency eroding our ability to evaluate and build trust. Certainly applicable to websites, but also to a certain President of the United States.

President Flip Flops

Sarah Parmenter shared a powerful moment where she, through the power of email, reached out to Bloom and Wild, a flower mail delivery service, to tell them a certain type of email they were sending she found to be, however unintentionally, very insensitive. Sarah was going to use this as an example anyway, but the day before, Bloom and Wild actually took her advice and implemented a specialized opt-out system.

This not only made Sarah happy that a company could actually change their systems to be more sensitive to their customers, but it made a whole ton of people happy, as evidenced by an outpouring of positive tweets after it happened. Turns out your customers like it when you, ya know, think of them.


Eric Meyer covered one of the more inexplicable things about pseudo-elements: if you content: url(/icons/icon.png); you literally can’t control the width/height. There are ways around it, notably by using a background image instead, but it is a bit baffling that there is a way to add an image to a page with no possible way to resize it.

Literally, the entire talk was about pseudo-elements, which I found kinda awesome as I did that same thing eight years ago. If you’re looking for some nostalgia (and are OK with some cringe-y moments), here’s the PDF.

Eric also showed a demo that included a really neat effect that looks like a border going from thick to thin to thick again, which isn’t really something easily done on the web. He used a pseudo, but here it is as an <hr> element:

See the Pen
CSS Thick-Thin-Thick Line
by Chris Coyier (@chriscoyier)
on CodePen.


Rachel Andrew had an interesting way of talking about flexbox. To paraphrase:

Flexbox isn’t the layout method you think it is. Flexbox looks at some disparate things and returns some kind of reasonable layout. Now that grid is here it’s a lot more common to use that to be more much explict about what we are doing with layout. Not that flexbox isn’t extremely useful.

Rachel regularly pointed out that we don’t know how tall things are in web design, which is just so, so true. It’s always been true. The earlier we embrace that, the better off we’ll be. So much of our job is dealing with overflow.

Rachel brought up a concept that was new to me, in the sense that it has an official name. The concept is “data loss” through CSS. For example, aligning something a certain way might cause some content to become visually hidden and totally unreachable. Imagine some boxes like this, set in flexbox, with center alignment:

No “data loss” there because we can read everything. But let’s say we have more content in some of them. We can never know heights!

If that element was along the top of a page, for example, no scrollbar will be triggered because it’s opposite the scroll direction. We’d have “data loss” of that text:

We now alignment keywords that help with this. Like, we can still attempt to center, but we can save ourselves by using safe center (unsafe center being the default):

Rachel also mentioned overlapping as a thing that grid does better. Here’s a kinda bad recreation of what she showed:

See the Pen
Overlapping Figure with CSS Grid
by Chris Coyier (@chriscoyier)
on CodePen.

I was kinda hoping to be able to do that without being as explicit as I am being there, but that’s as close as I came.


Jen Simmons showed us a ton of different scenarios involving both grid and flexbox. She made a very clear point that a grid item can be a flexbox container (and vice versa).

Perhaps the most memorable part is how honest Jen was about how we arrive at the layouts were shooting for. It’s a ton of playing with the possible values and employing a little trial and error. Happy accidents abound! But there is a lot to know about the different sizing values and placement possibilties of grid, so the more you know the more you can play. While playing, the layout stuff in Firefox DevTools is your best bet.

Flexbox with gap is gonna be sweet.

There was a funny moment in Una Kravets’ talk about brainstorming the worst possible ideas.

The idea is that even though brainstorm sessions are supposed to be judgment-free, they never are. Bad ideas are meant to be bad, so the worst you can do is have a good idea. Even better, starting with good ideas is problematic in that it’s easy to get attached to an idea too early, whereas bad ideas allow more freedom to jump through ideation space and land on better ideas.


Scott Jehl mentioned a fascinating idea where you can get the benefits of inlining code and caching files at the same time. That’s useful for stuff we’ve gotten used to seeing inlined, like critical CSS. But you know what else is awesome to inline? SVG icon systems. Scott covered the idea in his talk, but I wanted to see if it I could give it a crack myself.

The idea is that a fresh page visit inlines the icons, but also tosses them in cache. Then other pages can <svg><use> them out of the cache.

Here’s my demo page. It’s not really production-ready. For example, you’d probably want to do another pass where you Ajax for the icons and inject them by replacing the <use> so that everywhere is actually using inline <svg> the same way. Plus, a server-side system would be ideal to display them either way depending on whether the cache is present or not.


Jeremy Keith mentioned the incredible prime number shitting bear, which is, as you might suspect, computationally expensive. He mentioned it in the context of web workers, which is essentially JavaScript that runs in a separate thread, so it won’t/can’t slow down the operation of the current page. I see that same idea has crossed other people’s minds.


I’m sad that I didn’t get to see every single talk because I know they were all amazing. There are plenty of upcoming shows with some of the same folks!

The post Little Things That Tickled My Brain from An Event Apart Seattle appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

7 things you should know when getting started with Serverless APIs

I want you to take a second and think about Twitter, and think about it in terms of scale. Twitter has 326 million users. Collectively, we create ~6,000 tweets every second. Every minute, that’s 360,000 tweets created. That sums up to nearly 200 billion tweets a year. Now, what if the creators of Twitter had been paralyzed by how to scale and they didn’t even begin?

That’s me on every single startup idea I’ve ever had, which is why I love serverless so much: it handles the issues of scaling leaving me to build the next Twitter!

Live metrics with Application Insights

As you can see in the above, we scaled from one to seven servers in a matter of seconds, as more user requests come in. You can scale that easily, too.

So let’s build an API that will scale instantly as more and more users come in and our workload increases. We’re going to do that is by answering the following questions:


How do I create a new serverless project?

With every new technology, we need to figure out what tools are available for us and how we can integrate them into our existing tool set. When getting started with serverless, we have a few options to consider.

First, we can use the good old browser to create, write and test functions. It’s powerful, and it enables us to code wherever we are; all we need is a computer and a browser running. The browser is a good starting point for writing our very first serverless function.

Serverless in the browser

Next, as you get more accustomed to the new concepts and become more productive, you might want to use your local environment to continue with your development. Typically you’ll want support for a few things:

  • Writing code in your editor of choice
  • Tools that do the heavy lifting and generate the boilerplate code for you
  • Run and debug code locally
  • Support for quickly deploying your code

Microsoft is my employer and I’ve mostly built serverless applications using Azure Functions so for the rest of this article I’ll continue using them as an example. With Azure Functions, you’ll have support for all these features when working with the Azure Functions Core Tools which you can install from npm.

npm install -g azure-functions-core-tools

Next, we can initialize a new project and create new functions using the interactive CLI:

func CLI

If your editor of choice happens to be VS Code, then you can use it to write serverless code too. There’s actually a great extension for it.

Once installed, a new icon will be added to the left-hand sidebar — this is where we can access all our Azure-related extensions! All related functions can to be grouped under the same project (also known as a function app). This is like a folder for grouping functions that should scale together and that we want to manage and monitor at the same time. To initialize a new project using VS Code, click on the Azure icon and then the folder icon.

Create new Azure Functions project

This will generate a few files that help us with global settings. Let’s go over those now.

host.json

We can configure global options for all functions in the project directly in the host.json file.

In it, our function app is configured to use the latest version of the serverless runtime (currently 2.0). We also configure functions to timeout after ten minutes by setting the functionTimeout property to 00:10:00 — the default value for that is currently five minutes (00:05:00).

In some cases, we might want to control the route prefix for our URLs or even tweak settings, like the number of concurrent requests. Azure Functions even allows us to customize other features like logging, healthMonitor and different types of extensions.

Here’s an example of how I’ve configured the file:

// host.json
{ "version": "2.0", "functionTimeout": "00:10:00", "extensions": { "http": { "routePrefix": "tacos", "maxOutstandingRequests": 200, "maxConcurrentRequests": 100, "dynamicThrottlesEnabled": true }
}
}

Application settings

Application settings are global settings for managing runtime, language and version, connection strings, read/write access, and ZIP deployment, among others. Some are settings that are required by the platform, like FUNCTIONS_WORKER_RUNTIME, but we can also define custom settings that we’ll use in our application code, like DB_CONN which we can use to connect to a database instance.

While developing locally, we define these settings in a file named local.settings.json and we access them like any other environment variable.

Again, here’s an example snippet that connects these points:

// local.settings.json
{ "IsEncrypted": false, "Values": { "AzureWebJobsStorage": "your_key_here", "FUNCTIONS_WORKER_RUNTIME": "node", "WEBSITE_NODE_DEFAULT_VERSION": "8.11.1", "FUNCTIONS_EXTENSION_VERSION": "~2", "APPINSIGHTS_INSTRUMENTATIONKEY": "your_key_here", "DB_CONN": "your_key_here", }
}

Azure Functions Proxies

Azure Functions Proxies are implemented in the proxies.json file, and they enable us to expose multiple function apps under the same API, as well as modify requests and responses. In the code below we’re publishing two different endpoints under the same URL.

// proxies.json
{ "$schema": "http://json.schemastore.org/proxies", "proxies": { "read-recipes": { "matchCondition": { "methods": ["POST"], "route": "/api/recipes" }, "backendUri": "https://tacofancy.azurewebsites.net/api/recipes" }, "subscribe": { "matchCondition": { "methods": ["POST"], "route": "/api/subscribe" }, "backendUri": "https://tacofancy-users.azurewebsites.net/api/subscriptions" } }
}

Create a new function by clicking the thunder icon in the extension.

Create a new Azure Function

The extension will use predefined templates to generate code, based on the selections we made — language, function type, and authorization level.

We use function.json to configure what type of events our function listens to and optionally to bind to specific data sources. Our code runs in response to specific triggers which can be of type HTTP when we react to HTTP requests — when we run code in response to a file being uploaded to a storage account. Other commonly used triggers can be of type queue, to process a message uploaded on a queue or time triggers to run code at specified time intervals. Function bindings are used to read and write data to data sources or services like databases or send emails.

Here, we can see that our function is listening to HTTP requests and we get access to the actual request through the object named req.

// function.json
{ "disabled": false, "bindings": [ { "authLevel": "anonymous", "type": "httpTrigger", "direction": "in", "name": "req", "methods": ["get"], "route": "recipes" }, { "type": "http", "direction": "out", "name": "res" } ]
}

index.js is where we implement the code for our function. We have access to the context object, which we use to communicate to the serverless runtime. We can do things like log information, set the response for our function as well as read and write data from the bindings object. Sometimes, our function app will have multiple functions that depend on the same code (i.e. database connections) and it’s good practice to extract that code into a separate file to reduce code duplication.

//Index.js
module.exports = async function (context, req) { context.log('JavaScript HTTP trigger function processed a request.'); if (req.query.name || (req.body && req.body.name)) { context.res = { // status: 200, /* Defaults to 200 */ body: "Hello " + (req.query.name || req.body.name) }; } else { context.res = { status: 400, body: "Please pass a name on the query string or in the request body" }; }
};

Who’s excited to give this a run?

How do I run and debug Serverless functions locally?

When using VS Code, the Azure Functions extension gives us a lot of the setup that we need to run and debug serverless functions locally. When we created a new project using it, a .vscode folder was automatically created for us, and this is where all the debugging configuration is contained. To debug our new function, we can use the Command Palette (Ctrl+Shift+P) by filtering on Debug: Select and Start Debugging, or typing debug.

Debugging Serverless Functions

One of the reasons why this is possible is because the Azure Functions runtime is open-source and installed locally on our machine when installing the azure-core-tools package.

How do I install dependencies?

Chances are you already know the answer to this, if you’ve worked with Node.js. Like in any other Node.js project, we first need to create a package.json file in the root folder of the project. That can done by running npm init -y — the -y will initialize the file with default configuration.

Then we install dependencies using npm as we would normally do in any other project. For this project, let’s go ahead and install the MongoDB package from npm by running:

npm i mongodb

The package will now be available to import in all the functions in the function app.

How do I connect to third-party services?

Serverless functions are quite powerful, enabling us to write custom code that reacts to events. But code on its own doesn’t help much when building complex applications. The real power comes from easy integration with third-party services and tools.

So, how do we connect and read data from a database? Using the MongoDB client, we’ll read data from an Azure Cosmos DB instance I have created in Azure, but you can do this with any other MongoDB database.

//Index.js
const MongoClient = require('mongodb').MongoClient; // Initialize authentication details required for database connection
const auth = { user: process.env.user, password: process.env.password
}; // Initialize global variable to store database connection for reuse in future calls
let db = null;
const loadDB = async () => { // If database client exists, reuse it if (db) { return db; } // Otherwise, create new connection const client = await MongoClient.connect( process.env.url, { auth: auth } ); // Select tacos database db = client.db('tacos'); return db;
}; module.exports = async function(context, req) { try { // Get database connection const database = await loadDB(); // Retrieve all items in the Recipes collection let recipes = await database .collection('Recipes') .find() .toArray(); // Return a JSON object with the array of recipes context.res = { body: { items: recipes } }; } catch (error) { context.log(`Error code: ${error.code} message: ${error.message}`); // Return an error message and Internal Server Error status code context.res = { status: 500, body: { message: 'An error has occurred, please try again later.' } }; }
};

One thing to note here is that we’re reusing our database connection rather than creating a new one for each subsequent call to our function. This shaves off ~300ms of every subsequent function call. I call that a win!

Where can I save connection strings?

When developing locally, we can store our environment variables, connection strings, and really anything that’s secret into the local.settings.json file, then access it all in the usual manner, using process.env.yourVariableName.

local.settings.json
{ "IsEncrypted": false, "Values": { "AzureWebJobsStorage": "", "FUNCTIONS_WORKER_RUNTIME": "node", "user": "your-db-user", "password": "your-db-password", "url": "mongodb://your-db-user.documents.azure.com:10255/?ssl=true" }
}

In production, we can configure the application settings on the function’s page in the Azure portal.

However, another neat way to do this is through the VS Code extension. Without leaving your IDE, we can add new settings, delete existing ones or upload/download them to the cloud.

Debugging Serverless Functions

How do I customize the URL path?

With the REST API, there are a couple of best practices around the format of the URL itself. The one I settled on for our Recipes API is:

  • GET /recipes: Retrieves a list of recipes
  • GET /recipes/1: Retrieves a specific recipe
  • POST /recipes: Creates a new recipe
  • PUT /recipes/1: Updates recipe with ID 1
  • DELETE /recipes/1: Deletes recipe with ID 1

The URL that is made available by default when creating a new function is of the form http://host:port/api/function-name. To customize the URL path and the method that we listen to, we need to configure them in our function.json file:

// function.json
{ "disabled": false, "bindings": [ { "authLevel": "anonymous", "type": "httpTrigger", "direction": "in", "name": "req", "methods": ["get"], "route": "recipes" }, { "type": "http", "direction": "out", "name": "res" } ]
}

Moreover, we can add parameters to our function’s route by using curly braces: route: recipes/{id}. We can then read the ID parameter in our code from the req object:

const recipeId = req.params.id;

How can I deploy to the cloud?

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the last step! 🎉 Time to push this goodness to the cloud. As always, the VS Code extension has your back. All it really takes is a single right-click we’re pretty much done.

Deployment using VS Code

The extension will ZIP up the code with the Node modules and push them all to the cloud.

While this option is great when testing our own code or maybe when working on a small project, it’s easy to overwrite someone else’s changes by accident — or even worse, your own.

Don’t let friends right-click deploy!
— every DevOps engineer out there

A much healthier option is setting up on GitHub deployment which can be done in a couple of steps in the Azure portal, via the Deployment Center tab.

Github deployment

Are you ready to make Serverless APIs?

This has been a thorough introduction to the world of Servless APIs. However, there’s much, much more than what we’ve covered here. Serverless enables us to solve problems creatively and at a fraction of the cost we usually pay for using traditional platforms.

Chris has mentioned it in other posts here on CSS-Tricks, but he created this excellent website where you can learn more about serverless and find both ideas and resources for things you can build with it. Definitely check it out and let me know if you have other tips or advice scaling with serverless.

The post 7 things you should know when getting started with Serverless APIs appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

The Benefits of Structuring CSS Around Appearance and Layout

I like this point that Jonathan Snook made on Twitter and I’ve been thinking about it non-stop because it describes something that’s really hard about writing CSS:

In fact, I reckon this is the hardest thing about writing maintainable CSS in a large codebase. It’s an enormous problem in my day-to-day work and I reckon it’s what most technical debt in CSS eventually boils down to.

Let’s imagine we’re styling a checkbox, for example – that checkbox probably has a position on the page, some margins, and maybe other positioning styles, too. And that checkbox might be green but turns blue when you click it.

I think we can distinguish between these two types of styles as layout and appearance.

But writing good CSS requires keeping those two types of styles separated. That way, the checkbox styles can be reused time and time again without having to worry about how those positioning styles (like margin, padding or width) might come back to bite you.

At Gusto, we use Bootstrap’s grid system which is great because we can write HTML like this that explicitly separates these concerns like so:

<div class="row"> <div class="col-6"> <!-- Checkbox goes here --> </div> <div class="col-6"> <!-- Another element can be placed here --> </div>
</div>

Otherwise, you might end up writing styles like this, which will end up with a ton of issues if those checkbox styles are reused in the future:

.checkbox { width: 40%; margin-bottom: 60px; /* Other checkbox styles */
}

When I see code like this, my first thought is, “Why is the width 40% – and 40% of what?” All of a sudden, I can see that this checkbox class is now dependent on some other bit of code that I don’t understand.

So I’ve begun to think about all CSS as fitting into one of those two buckets: appearance and layout. That’s important because I believe those two types of styles should almost never be baked into one set of styles or one class. Layout on the page should be one set of styles, and appearance (like what the checkbox actually looks like) should be in another. And whether you do that with HTML or a separate CSS class is up for debate.

The reason why this is an issue is that folks will constantly be trying to overwrite layout styles and that’s when we eventually wind up with a codebase that resembles a spaghetti monster. I think this distinction is super important to writing great CSS that scales properly. What do you think? Add a comment below!

The post The Benefits of Structuring CSS Around Appearance and Layout appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

Planning for Responsive Images

The first time I made an image responsive, it was as simple as coding these four lines:

img { max-width: 100%; height auto; /* default */
}

Though that worked for me as a developer, it wasn’t the best for the audience. What happens if the the image in the src attribute is heavy? On high-end developer devices (like mine with 16GB RAM), few or no performance problems occur. But on low-end devices? It’s another story.

image at multiple screen sizes

The above illustration isn’t detailed enough. I’m from Nigeria and, if your product works in Africa, then you shouldn’t be looking at that. Look at this graph instead:

Nowadays, the lowest-priced iPhone sells for an average of $300. The average African can’t afford it even though iPhone is a threshold for measuring fast devices.

That’s all the business analysis you need to understand that CSS width doesn’t cut it for responsive images. What would, you ask? Let me first explain what images are about.

Nuances of images

Images are appealing to users but are a painstaking challenge for us developers who must consider the following factors:

  • Format
  • Disk size
  • Render dimension (layout width and height in the browser)
  • Original dimension (original width and height)
  • Aspect ratio

So, how do we pick the right parameters and deftly mix and match them to deliver an optimal experience for your audience? The answer, in turn, depends on the answers to these questions:

  • Are the images created dynamically by the user or statically by a design team?
  • If the width and height of the image are changed disproportionately, would that affect the quality?
  • Are all the images rendered at the same width and height? When rendered, must they have a specific aspect ratio or one that’s entirely different?
  • What must be considered when presenting the images on different viewports?

Jot down your answers. They will not only help you understand your images — their sources, technical requirements and such — but also enable you to make the right choices in delivery.

Provisional strategies for image delivery

Image delivery has evolved from a simple addition of URLs to the src attribute to complex scenarios. Before delving into them, let’s talk about the multiple options for presenting images so that you can devise a strategy on how and when to deliver and render yours.

First, identify the sources of the images. That way, the number of obscure edge cases can be reduced and the images can be handled as efficiently as possible.

In general, images are either:

  • Dynamic: Dynamic images are uploaded by the audience, having been generated by other events in the system.
  • Static: A photographer, designer, or you (the developer) create the images for the website.

Let’s dig into strategy for each of this types of images.

Strategy for dynamic images

Static images are fairly easy to work with. On the other hand, dynamic images are tricky and prone to problems. What can be done to mitigate their dynamic nature and make them more predictable like static images? Two things: validation and intelligent cropping.

Validation

Set out a few rules for the audience on what is acceptable and what is not. Nowadays, we can validate all the properties of an image, namely:

  • Format
  • Disk size
  • Dimension
  • Aspect ratio

Note: An image’s render size is determined during rendering, hence no validation on our part.

After validation, a predictable set of images would emerge, which are easier to consume.

Intelligent Cropping

Another strategy for handling dynamic images is to crop them intelligently to avoid deleting important content and refocus on (or re-center) the primary content. That’s hard to do. However, you can take advantage of the artificial intelligence offered by open-source tools or SaaS companies that specialize in image management. An example is in the upcoming sections.


Once a strategy has been nailed down for dynamic images, create a rule table with all the layout options for the images. Below is an example. It’s even worth looking into analytics to determine the most important devices and viewport sizes.

Browser Viewport HP Laptop PS4 Slim Camera Lens / Aspect Ratio
< 300 100 vw 100 vw 100 vw/1:2
300 – 699 100 vw 100 vw 100 vw/1:1
700 – 999 50 vw 50 vw 50 vw/1:1
> 999 33 vw 33 vw 100 vw/1:2

The bare (sub-optimal) minimum

Now set aside the complexities of responsiveness and just do what we do best — simple HTML markup with maximum-width CSS.

The following code renders a few images:

<main> <figure> <img src="https://res.cloudinary.com/...w700/ps4-slim.jpg" alt="PS4 Slim"> </figure> <figure> <img src="https://res.cloudinary.com/...w700/x-box-one-s.jpg" alt="X Box One S"> </figure> <!-- More images --> <figure> <img src="https://res.cloudinary.com/...w700/tv.jpg" alt="Tv"> </figure>
</main>

Note: The ellipsis (…) in the image URL specifies the folder, dimension, and cropping strategy, which are too much detail to include, hence the truncation to focus on what matters now. For the complete version, see the CodePen example down below.

This is the shortest CSS example on the Internet that makes images responsive:

/* The parent container */
main { display: grid; grid-template-columns: repeat(auto-fill, minmax(300px, 1fr));
} img { max-width: 100%;
}

If the images do not have a uniform width and height, replace max-width with object-fit and set the value to cover.

Jo Franchetti’s blog post on common responsive layouts with CSS Grid explains how the value of grid-template-columns makes the entire layout adaptive (responsive).

See the Pen
Grid Gallery
by Chris Nwamba (@codebeast)
on CodePen.

The above is not what we are looking for, however, because…

  • the image size and weight are the same on both high-end and low-end devices, and
  • we might want to be stricter with the image width instead of setting it to 250 and letting it grow.

Well, this section covers “the bare minimum” so that’s it.

Layout variations

The worst thing that can happen to an image layout is mismanagement of expectations. Because images might have varying dimensions (width and height), we must specify how to render the images.

Should we intelligently crop all the images to a uniform dimension? Should we retain the aspect ratio for a viewport and alter the ratio for a different one? The ball is in our court.

In case of images in a grid, such as those in the example above with different aspect ratios, we can apply the technique of art direction to render the images. Art direction can help achieve something like this:

For details on resolution switching and art direction in responsive images, read Jason Grigsby’s series. Another informative reference is Eric Portis’s Responsive Images Guide, parts 1, 2, and 3.

See the code example below.

<main> <figure> <picture> <source media="(min-width: 900px)" srcset="https://res.cloudinary.com/.../c_fill,g_auto,h_1400,w_700/camera-lens.jpg"> <img src="https://res.cloudinary.com/.../c_fill,g_auto,h_700,w_700/camera-lens.jpg" alt="Camera lens"> </picture> </figure> <figure> <picture> <source media="(min-width: 700px)" srcset="https://res.cloudinary.com/.../c_fill,g_auto,h_1000,w_1000/ps4-pro.jpg"></source> </picture> <img src="https://res.cloudinary.com/.../c_fill,g_auto,h_700,w_700/ps4-pro.jpg" alt="PS4 Pro"> </figure>
</main>

Instead of rendering only one 700px wide image, we render 700px x 700px only if the viewport width exceeds 700px. If the viewport is larger, then the following rendering occurs:

  • Camera lens images are rendered as a portrait image of 700px in width and 1000px. in height (700px x 1000px).
  • PS4 Pro images are rendered at 1000px x 1000px.

Art direction

By cropping images to make them responsive, we might inadvertently delete the primary content, like the face of the subject. As mentioned previously, AI open-source tools can help crop intelligently and refocus on the primary objects of images. In addition, Nadav Soferman’s post on smart cropping is a useful start guide.

Strict grid and spanning

The first example on responsive images in this post is a flexible one. At a minimum of 300px width, grid items automagically flow into place according to the viewport width. Terrific.

On the other hand, we might want to apply a stricter rule to the grid items based on the design specifications. In that case, media queries come in handy.

Alternatively, we can leverage the grid-span capability to create grid items of varied widths and lengths:

@media(min-width: 700px) { main { display: grid; grid-template-columns: repeat(2, 1fr); }
} @media(min-width: 900px) { main { display: grid; grid-template-columns: repeat(3, 1fr) } figure:nth-child(3) { grid-row: span 2; } figure:nth-child(4) { grid-column: span 2; grid-row: span 2; }
}

For an image that is 1000px x 1000px square on a wide viewport, we can span it to take two grid cells on both row and column. The image that changes to a portrait orientation (700px x 1000px) on a wider viewport can take two cells on a row.

See the Pen
Grid Gallery [Art Direction]
by Chris Nwamba (@codebeast)
on CodePen.

Progressive optimization

Blind optimization is as lame as no optimization. Don’t focus on optimization without predefining the appropriate measurements. And don’t optimize if the optimization is not backed by data.

Nonetheless, ample room exists for optimization in the above examples. We started with the bare minimum, showed you some cool tricks, and now we have a working, responsive grid. The next question to ask is, “If the page contains 20-100 images, how good will the user experience be?”

Here’s the answer: We must ensure that in the case of numerous images for rendering, their size fits the device that renders them. To accomplish that, we need to specify the URLs of several images instead of one. The browser would pick the right (most optimal) one according to the criteria. This technique is called resolution switching in responsive images. See this code example:

<img srcset="https://res.cloudinary.com/.../h_300,w_300/v1548054527/ps4.jpg 300w, https://res.cloudinary.com/.../h_700,w_700/v1548054527/ps4.jpg 700w, https://res.cloudinary.com/.../h_1000,w_1000/v1548054527/ps4.jpg 1000w" sizes="(max-width: 700px) 100vw, (max-width: 900px) 50vw, 33vw" src="https://res.cloudinary.com/.../h_700,w_700/v1548054527/ps4.jpg 700w" alt="PS4 Slim">

Harry Roberts’s tweet intuitively explains what happens:

When I first tried resolution switching, I got confused and tweeted:

Hats off to Jason Grigsby for the clarification in his replies.

Thanks to resolution switching, if the browser is resized, then it downloads the right image for the right viewport; hence small images for small phones (good on CPU and RAM) and larger images for larger viewports.

The above table shows that the browser downloads the same image (blue rectangle) with different disk sizes (red rectangle).

See the Pen
Grid Gallery [Optimized]
by Chris Nwamba (@codebeast)
on CodePen.

Cloudinary’s open-source and free Responsive Image Breakpoints Generator is extremely useful for adapting website images to multiple screen sizes. However, in many cases, setting srcset and sizes alone would suffice.

Conclusion

This article aims at affording simple yet effective guidelines for setting up responsive images and layouts in light of the many—and potentially confusing—options available. Do familiarize yourself with CSS grid, art direction, and resolution switching and you’ll be a ninja in short order. Keep practicing!

The post Planning for Responsive Images appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

Native Video on the Web

TIL about the HLS video format:

HLS stands for HTTP Live Streaming. It’s an adaptive bitrate streaming protocol developed by Apple. One of those sentences to casually drop at any party. Äh. Back on track: HLS allows you to specify a playlist with multiple video sources in different resolutions. Based on available bandwidth these video sources can be switched and allow adaptive playback.

This is an interesting journey where the engineering team behind Kitchen Stories wanted to switch away from the Vimeo player (160 kB), but still use Vimeo as a video host because they provide direct video links with a Pro plan. Instead, they are using the native <video> element, a library for handling HLS, and a wrapper element to give them a little bonus UX.

This video stuff is hard to keep up with! There is another new format called AV1 that is apparently a big deal as YouTube and Netflix are both embracing it. Andrey Sitnik wrote about it here:

Even though AV1 codec is still considered experimental, you can already leverage its high-quality, low-bitrate features for a sizable chunk for your web audience (users with current versions of Chrome and Firefox). Of course, you would not want to leave users for other browsers hanging, but the attributes for <video> and <source> tags make implementing this logic easy, and in pure HTML, you don’t need to go at length to detect user agents with JavaScript.

That doesn’t even mention HLS, but I suppose that’s because HSL is a streaming protocol, which still needs to stream in some sort of format.

Direct Link to ArticlePermalink

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Extracting Text from Content Using HTML Slot, HTML Template and Shadow DOM

Chapter names in books, quotes from a speech, keywords in an article, stats on a report — these are all types of content that could be helpful to isolate and turn into a high-level summary of what’s important.

For example, have you seen the way Business Insider provides an article’s key points before getting into the content?

That’s the sort of thing we’re going to do, but try to extract the high points directly from the article using HTML Slot, HTML Template and Shadow DOM.

These three titular specifications are typically used as part of Web Components — fully functioning custom element modules meant to be reused in webpages.

Now, what we aim to do, i.e. text extraction, doesn’t need custom elements, but it can make use of those three technologies.

There is a more rudimentary approach to do this. For example, we could extract text and show the extracted text on a page with some basic script without utilizing slot and template. So why use them if we can go with something more familiar?

The reason is that using these technologies permits us a preset markup code (also optionally, style or script) for our extracted text in HTML. We’ll see that as we proceed with this article.

Now, as a very watered-down definition of the technologies we’ll be using, I’d say:

  • A template is a set of markup that can be reused in a page.
  • A slot is a placeholder spot for a designated element from the page.
  • A shadow DOM is a DOM tree that doesn’t really exist on the page till we add it using script.

We’ll see them in a little more depth once we get into coding. For now, what we’re going to make is an article that follows with a list of key points from the text. And, you probably guessed it, those key points are extracted from the article text and compiled into the key points section.

See the Pen
Text Extraction with HTML Slot and HTML Template
by Preethi Sam (@rpsthecoder)
on CodePen.

The key points are displayed as a list with a design in between the points. So, let’s first create a template for that list and designate a place for the list to go.

<article><!-- Article content --></article> <!-- Section where the extracted keypoints will be displayed -->
<section id='keyPointsSection'> <h2>Key Points:</h2> <ul><!-- Extracted key points will go in here --></ul>
</section> <!-- Template for the key points list -->
<template id='keyPointsTemplate'> <li><slot name='keyPoints'></slot></li> <li style="text-align: center;">&#x2919;&mdash;&#x291a;</li>
</template>

What we’ve got is a semantic <section> with a <ul> where the list of key points will go. Then we have a <template> for the list items that has two <li> elements: one with a <slot> placeholder for the key points from the article and another with a centered design.

The layout is arbitrary. What’s important is placing a <slot> where the extracted key points will go. Whatever’s inside the <template> will not be rendered on the page until we add it to the page using script.

Further, the markup inside <template> can be styled using inline styles, or CSS enclosed by <style>:

<template id='keyPointsTemplate'> <li><slot name='keyPoints'></slot></li> <li style="text-align: center;">&#x2919;&mdash;&#x291a;</li> <style> li{/* Some style */} </style>
</template>

The fun part! Let’s pick the key points from the article. Notice the value of the name attribute for the <slot> inside the <template> (keyPoints) because we’ll need that.

<article> <h1>Bears</h1> <p>Bears are carnivoran mammals of the family Ursidae. <span><span slot='keyPoints'>They are classified as caniforms, or doglike carnivorans</span></span>. Although only eight species of bears <!-- more content --> and partially in the Southern Hemisphere. <span><span slot='keyPoints'>Bears are found on the continents of North America, South America, Europe, and Asia</span></span>.<!-- more content --></p> <p>While the polar bear is mostly carnivorous, <!-- more content -->. Bears use shelters, such as caves and logs, as their dens; <span><span slot='keyPoints'>Most species occupy their dens during the winter for a long period of hibernation</span></span>, up to 100 days.</p> <!-- More paragraphs --> </article>

The key points are wrapped in a <span> carrying a slot attribute value (“keyPoints“) matching the name of the <slot> placeholder inside the <template>.

Notice, too, that I’ve added another outer <span> wrapping the key points.

The reason is that slot names are usually unique and are not repeated, because one <slot> matches one element using one slot name. If there’re more than one element with the same slot name, the <slot> placeholder will be replaced by all those elements consecutively, ending in the last element being the final content at the placeholder.

So, if we matched that one single <slot> inside the <template> against all of the <span> elements with the same slot attribute value (our key points) in a paragraph or the whole article, we’d end up with only the last key point present in the paragraph or the article in place of the <slot>.

That’s not what we need. We need to show all the key points. So, we’re wrapping the key points with an outer <span> to match each of those individual key points separately with the <slot>. This is much more obvious by looking at the script, so let’s do that.

const keyPointsTemplate = document.querySelector('#keyPointsTemplate').content;
const keyPointsSection = document.querySelector('#keyPointsSection > ul');
/* Loop through elements with 'slot' attribute */
document.querySelectorAll('[slot]').forEach((slot)=>{ let span = slot.parentNode.cloneNode(true); span.attachShadow({ mode: 'closed' }).appendChild(keyPointsTemplate.cloneNode(true)); keyPointsSection.appendChild(span);
});

First, we loop through every <span> with a slot attribute and get a copy of its parent (the outer <span>). Note that we could also loop through the outer <span> directly if we’d like, by giving them a common class value.

The outer <span> copy is then attached with a shadow tree (span.attachShadow) made up of a clone of the template’s content (keyPointsTemplate.cloneNode(true)).

This “attachment” causes the <slot> inside the template’s list item in the shadow tree to absorb the inner <span> carrying its matching slot name, i.e. our key point.

The slotted key point is then added to the key points section at the end of the page (keyPointsSection.appendChild(span)).

This happens with all the key points in the course of the loop.

That’s really about it. We’ve snagged all of the key points in the article, made copies of them, then dropped the copies into the list template so that all of the key points are grouped together providing a nice little CliffsNotes-like summary of the article.

Here’s that demo once again:

See the Pen
Text Extraction with HTML Slot and HTML Template
by Preethi Sam (@rpsthecoder)
on CodePen.

What do you think of this technique? Is it something that would be useful in long-form content, like blog posts, news articles, or even Wikipedia entries? What other use cases can you think of?

The post Extracting Text from Content Using HTML Slot, HTML Template and Shadow DOM appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

The Bottleneck of the Web

Steve Souders, “JavaScript Dominates Browser CPU”:

Ten years ago the network was the main bottleneck. Today, the main bottleneck is JavaScript. The amount of JavaScript on pages is growing rapidly (nearly 5x in the last 7 years). In order to keep pages rendering and feeling fast, we need to focus on JavaScript CPU time to reduce blocking the browser main thread.

Alex Russell, describing a prototype of “Never-Slow Mode” in Chrome:

… blocks large scripts, sets budgets for certain resource types (script, font, css, images), turns off document.write(), clobbers sync XHR, enables client-hints pervasively, and buffers resources without Content-Length set.

Craig Hockenberry, posting an idea to the WebKit bug tracker:

Without limits, there is no incentive for a JavaScript developer to keep their codebase small and dependencies minimal. It’s easy to add another framework, and that framework adds another framework, and the next thing you know you’re loading tens of megabytes of data just to display a couple hundred kilobytes of content. …

The situation I’m envisioning is that a site can show me any advertising they want as long as they keep the overall size under a fixed amount, say one megabyte per page. If they work hard to make their site efficient, I’m happy to provide my eyeballs.

It’s easy to point a finger at frameworks and third-party scripts for large amounts of JavaScript. If you’re interested in hearing more about the size of frameworks, you might enjoy me and Dave discussing it with Jason Miller.

And speaking of third-parties, Patrick Hulce created Third Party Web: “This document is a summary of which third-party scripts are most responsible for excessive JavaScript execution on the web today.”

Sometimes name-and-shame is an effective tactic to spark change.

Addy Osmani writes about an ESLint rule that prohibits particular packages, of which you could use to prevent usage of known-to-be-huge packages. So if someone tries to load the entirety of lodash or moment.js, it can be stopped at the linting level.

Tim Kadlec ties the threads together very well in “Limiting JavaScript?” If your gut reaction on this is that JavaScript is being unfairly targeted as a villain, Tim acknowledges that:

One common worry I saw voiced was “if JavaScript, why not other resources too?”. It’s true; JavaScript does get picked on a lot though it’s not without reason. Byte for byte, JavaScript is the most significant detriment to performance on the web, so it does make sense to put some focus on reducing the amount we use.

However, the point is valid. JavaScript may be the biggest culprit more often than not, but it’s not the only one.

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