QuirksBlog - Viewport

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Mobile Viewports workshop San Francisco (and elsewhere)

Permalink | in Conferences, Viewport

Desktop browsers have only one viewport: the browser window. In contrast, mobile browsers have three: layout, visual, and ideal. Why is that? What does it mean for the meta viewport, media queries, and all the rest? Why does responsive design work? (Not how. Why.) And how are the desktop browsers reacting to this series of new concepts coming from the mobile side?

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width=device-width, initial-scale, and too-wide elements

Permalink | in Viewport
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Just some random notes from the trenches in order to show everyone that, despite appearances, the viewport is not simple or easy to understand.

A browser vendor asked me to study the following problem:

  1. A page has width=device-width, or initial-scale=1, or both.
  2. The page also has an element of 1600px wide; far too wide for the layout viewport that’s normally created by the meta viewport.
  3. Should the browser zoom out in order to show the entire 1600px-wide element? Or should it ignore the wide element and show the usual result of 320-400px?

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Mobile viewports overview

Permalink | in Viewport

Just a pointer: I created a quick and dirty overview table of where the mobile viewports and related concepts stand right now.

May be useful if you’re new to this sort of stuff.

Desktop DPR redux

Permalink | in Viewport

Well, some discussion has certainly started about my first and second desktop media query bug reports. A redux is useful.

First, some good news. The way the resolution media query is currently behaving in Chrome is a bug, and it’s in the process of being fixed. That takes a load off my shoulders; for a moment I was afraid it was designed this way. But it’s not.

This does not say anything about the underlying issues I have with redefining DPR, though. Apart from the technical issues, there’s a cultural issue, if you wish. The discussions clarified my thinking and I can now describe it.

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Desktop media query bugs 2: DPR and zoom level

Permalink | in Viewport

I recently tested media queries in both mobile and desktop browsers, and found that the desktop browsers are making several serious mistakes in their implementation that threaten to pull apart the mobile and desktop worlds.

I feel the desktop browsers should defer to their mobile cousins in viewport matters, since mobile is the more complicated use case and a de-facto standard is emerging. Their recent actions threaten this process. The previous article treated rounding errors and problems with the width media query. This article will treat the very complicated DPR problem.

Briefly, desktop browsers recently changed the meaning of device-pixel-ratio to zoom level. I feel that this information should be moved to a new JavaScript property, media query, and JavaScript event, because squeezing it in with the existing mobile-based device-pixel-ratio properties and media queries has all kinds of odd consequences.

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Desktop media query bugs 1: rounding and width

Permalink | in Viewport

I recently tested media queries in both mobile and desktop browsers, and found that the desktop browsers are making several serious mistakes in their implementation that threaten to pull apart the mobile and desktop worlds.

I feel that desktop browser makers have focused on desktop use cases too narrowly and failed to see that these changes introduce deliberate incompatibilities between desktop browsers and mobile browsers. It’s web developers who have to solve this mess, and it’s likely they can only do so by using browser detects.

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screen.width is useless

Permalink | in Viewport

Yesterday I tested screen.width/height and related properties in the mobile browsers. The conclusion is that screen.width/height is completely unreliable.

There are two competing definitions of what screen.width/height actually means. In addition, a lot of browsers either ignore both definitions or have bugs in their implementation.

Thus, when analytics packages proudly present screen resolution stats, they don’t know what they’re talking about and you’d do best to ignore them. The package has no clue what kind of measurements it gets, but pastes the result into the database anyway and pretends it means something profound.

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Orientationchange and resize events on mobile

Permalink | in Content, Content, Viewport

I published my research on the orientationchange and resize events on mobile. If you’re expecting plenty of browser incompatibility fun you won’t be disappointed.

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Of viewports and screens, input modes and event handlers

Permalink | in Mobile web dev, Touch events, Viewport

Last week Luke Wroblewski published an important article in which he said that web developers practising responsive design rely too much on a device’s screen size to determine which device it is.

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Viewport research addendum: height and @viewport

Permalink | in Viewport

Here’s an update to my recent viewport research about the height directive and the @viewport alternative syntax.

Summary: height doesn’t work. @viewport works only on Opera Presto, with the proper vendor prefix, which basically amounts to “doesn’t work.”

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Preliminary meta viewport research

Permalink | in Viewport

Just now I released my preliminary meta viewport research that studies the various permutations of the <meta name="viewport"> tag.

It’s preliminary because I tested it in only eight browsers instead of the customary 40, I did not yet test the @viewport CSS rule, and I’ll probably need some extra tests to cover edge cases. Still, I now have a pretty good overview of where we stand with regard to the meta viewport.

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More about scaling in iOS

Permalink | in Viewport

Turns out Tuesday’s post was not so much wrong as incomplete. I was tripped up by what’s probably the most complicated feature (or bug) in the meta viewport space, and my conclusions weren’t entirely correct.

Also see this post for the full research.

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initial-scale=1 makes Safari iOS react to orientation change

Permalink | in Viewport

One common problem on iOS is that, when you use a meta viewport tag with width=device-width, the page doesn’t react to an orientation change. On the iPhone the page becomes 320px wide and on the iPad 768px, regardless of whether you’re in portrait or in landscape mode. Sometimes this is annoying.

Today I found a solution: use initial-scale=1 instead of width=device-width. Although I’m not the first one to discover this (see, for instance, this article in French) it doesn’t seem that this solution is well-known.

See this post for an update, and this post for the full research.

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WebKit as de-facto standard for viewports and touch events

Permalink | in Standards/W3C, Touch events, Viewport

Last week I got annoyed at the large differences in syntax for vendor-prefixed device-pixel-ratio media queries. I said, half in desperation and half as a threat, that it might be better to have only the WebKit rendering engine and ditch the rest.

Meanwhile I’ve had some time to think about it, and I find that I still support the idea of multiple rendering engines. Competition is still good, just as it was ten years ago.

HOWEVER. There’s an important exception.

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Vendor prefixes are fucking batshit crazy

Permalink | in Viewport

OK, I’m now officially fed up with vendor prefixes, and to a lesser extent with Firefox and Opera who’ve gone batshit crazy on us all once more.

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More about devicePixelRatio

Permalink | in Viewport

It occurs to me that my recent post about devicePixelRatio was a bit cryptic and short. So I will givde some extra examples in this post. Also, I did some additional research that takes screen.width into account.

Remember the definition:

devicePixelRatio is the ratio between physical pixels and device-independent pixels (dips) on the device.
devicePixelRatio = physical pixels / dips

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devicePixelRatio

Permalink | in Viewport

I did some research around the window.devicePixelRatio property that all WebKit browsers, as well as Opera, support, and for once the news is good. This property’s definition makes sense, and it is implemented almost universally.

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window.outerWidth in mobile browsers

Permalink | in Viewport

Yesterday I finally researched window.outerWidth/Height in the mobile browsers, and here are my conclusions.

A few months back James Pearce published research that shows that the use of window.outerWidth on iOS devices allows you to read out the true orientation; something that screen.width does not.

Yesterday I came to the conclusion that this is far and away the most interesting use window.outerWidth has, and that James also missed a completely idiotic effect that Apple provides. The rest of the browsers are much more boring in their implementation.

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The resize event on mobile

Permalink | in Content, Viewport

Last week I did some research on the resize event on mobile and tablet browsers. Executive summary: it’s a mess. And the best browser, surprisingly, is Samsung’s Dolfin.

My conclusions are, summarised:

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outerWidth and finding iOS’s orientation

Permalink | in Viewport

Yesterday James Pearce published important research into the nature and measuring of the mobile browser viewports. One finding is so important that I write this quick entry even though I haven’t yet fully researched it.

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Dynamically changing the meta viewport

Permalink | in Viewport

On a hint from Vasilis I did some quick research into dynamically changing the meta viewport tag. Turns out that this works in nearly all browsers that support it in the first place, with the exception of Firefox. This entry gives the details and explains why you should care. See also the inevitable compatibility table.

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The fifth position value

Permalink | in Viewport, position fixed
32 comments (closed)

Web developers are quite annoyed that position: fixed doesn’t work on mobile browsers, but mobile browser vendors cannot afford to support it. This dilemma is unsolvable by the means we presently have at our disposal.

To offer a way out, I’m proposing to create a new position: device-fixed declaration better suited to the mobile scenario with its tiny screen and its zoom. The zoom aspect, in particular, is completely ignored by the spec, and so far mobile browsers haven’t found a good solution, either.

With a new value, fixed positioning could be split into a desktop and a mobile variant, and browsers could decide which one to support. That would allow web developers to devise separate solutions for desktop and mobile.

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More about media queries; mailing list

Permalink | in Viewport
10 comments (closed)

As we all know, media queries are by far the best way to distinguish between desktop and mobile browsers, or, more generically, between the dozens of different screen sizes our users can have. Media queries are the future of the web.

Nonetheless, the fact that they are the future doesn’t mean that there are no problems. One is particularly tricky: what do we do for browsers that don’t support them?

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Combining meta viewport and media queries

Permalink | in Viewport
18 comments (closed)

If you want to make your websites ready form mobile, it’s best to combine <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width"> with width media queries. That will give your site the optimal width (as determined by the device vendor, who really ought to know), and your site will look the better for it.

Lanyrd, Simon and Natalie’s latest brainchild, uses exactly this technique, and it establishes the perfect mobile browsing baseline. Try it on as many mobile browsers as you can, and you’ll see. No frills, just a simple user experience that just works.

In order to understand why we should use exactly this combination we should briefly repeat what meta viewports and media queries are all about.

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Combining media queries and JavaScript

Permalink | in Viewport
26 comments (closed)

On Tuesday Jason Grigsby challenged the conventional view that media queries are all we need to make a website mobile-friendly. Although he’s right when he points out some serious problems, I do not think that media queries are the “fool’s gold,” as Jason says. The message seems to be more that media queries alone are not enough to make your sites mobile-friendly. An additional component is required.

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A tale of two viewports — part two

Permalink | in Viewport
2 comments (closed)

About a month ago I release part one of my series “A tale of two viewports,” where I discuss the widths and heights of the viewport, the <html> element, and related issues on desktop browsers. Today I release part two, which deals with the mobile browsers. And of course there’s the inevitable compatibility table.

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A tale of two viewports — part one

Permalink | in Mobile, Viewport
7 comments (closed)

Back in November I started complicated research into measuring the widths and heights of various interesting elements in mobile browsers. This research kept me occupied for months and months; and frankly I became a bit afraid of it because the subject is so complicated.

Besides, when I re-did some tests in March I pretty quickly figured out I’d made some nasty mistakes in my original tests. Back to the drawing board.

However, after a review round by some browser vendors and some rewriting it’s done now. Today I present A tale of two viewports — part one. I explain CSS vs. device pixels, the viewport, several interesting JavaScript properties, and the media queries width and device-width.

This piece is about the desktop browsers, because the mobile story is much easier to follow if you know exactly what happens on desktop. Later on I’ll publish part two, which is exclusively about mobile.

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The orientation media query

Permalink | in Viewport
11 comments (closed)

Right now Jason Grigsby’s excellent summary of the orientation media query is making the round of blogs and tweets, and that’s well deserved. Media queries will become extremely important in the near future, when we have to build websites that work on any device resolution from 300px to 1280px or more.

Still, there’s one tiny nitpick I’d like to make, so that you fully understand when to use orientation and when to use device-width.

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This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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