"Mobifying" Your HTML5 Site


Developing for the mobile web is a hot topic these days. This year, for the first time ever,  smart phones out sold PCs. More and more users are using a mobile device to traverse the web, which means it’s becoming critical for developers to optimize their sites for the mobile browsers.

The “mobile” battlefield is still uncharted waters for a large number of developers. Many folks have existing legacy sites that neglect mobile users altogether. Instead, the site was designed primarily for desktop browsing and degrades poorly in mobile browsers. This site (html5rocks.com) is no exception. At launch, we put little effort into a mobile version of the site.

Creating a mobile-friendly html5rocks.com

As an exercise I thought it would be interesting to take html5rocks (an existing HTML5 site) and augment it with a mobile-friendly version. I was mainly concerned with the minimum amount of work required to target smart phones. The goal of my exercise was not to create an entirely new mobile site and maintain two codebases. That would have taken forever and have been a huge waste of time. We had already defined the site’s structure (markup). We had a look and feel (CSS). The core functionality (JS) was there. Point is, many sites are in this same boat.

This article examines how we created a mobile version of html5rocks optimized for Android and iOS devices. Just load html5rocks.com on a device that supports one of those OSs to see the difference. There are no redirects to a m.html5rocks.com or other tomfoolery of that nature. You get html5rocks as is…with the added benefit of something that looks great and works well on a mobile device.

Desktop html5rocks.com   Mobile html5rocks.com
html5rocks.com on desktop (left) and mobile (right)

CSS Media Queries

HTML4 and CSS2 have supported  media-dependent style sheets  for some time. For example:

would target print devices and provide specific styling for the page content when it is printed. CSS3 takes the idea of media types one step further and enhances their functionality with media queries.  Media queries  extend the usefulness of media types by allowing more precise labeling of style sheets. This enables the content’s presentation to be customized to a specific range of output devices without having to change the content itself. Sounds perfect for an existing layout that needs modifying!

You can use media queries in the  media  attribute of your external stylesheets to target screen width, device width, orientation, etc. For the full list, see the  W3C media query specification.

Targeting screen sizes

In the following example,  phone.css  would apply to devices that the browser considers “handheld” or devices with screens <= 320px wide.

Prefixing a media queries with the “only” keyword will cause non CSS3-compliant browsers to ignore the rule.

The following would target screen sizes between 641px and 800px:

Media queries can also appear within inline  <style>  tags. The following targetsall  media types when in a portrait orientation:


We need to stop for a minute and discuss  media="handheld". Fact is, Android and iOS ignore  media="handheld". The claim is that users will miss the high end content provided by stylesheets targeting  media="screen"  and developers are less likely to maintain a lower quality  media="handheld"  version. So, as part of their “full web” motto, most modern smart phone browsers simply ignore handheld style sheets.

It would be ideal to use this feature to target mobile devices, but various browsers have implemented it in different ways:

  • Some read only the handheld style sheet.
  • Some read only the handheld style sheet if there is one, but default to the screen style sheet otherwise.
  • Some read both the handheld style sheet and the screen style sheet.
  • Some read only the screen style sheet.

Opera Mini does  not  ignore  media="handheld". The trick to getting Windows Mobile to recognize  media="handheld"  is to capitalize the media attribute value for the screen stylesheet:

How html5rocks uses media queries

Media queries are used heavily throughout mobile html5rocks. They allowed us tweak the layout without having to make significant changes to our Django template markup…a real lifesaver! In addition,  their support  across the various browsers is pretty good.

In the  <head>  of each page you’ll see the following stylesheets:

base.css  has always defined the main look and feel of html5rocks.com, but now we’re applying new styles ( mobile.css ) for screen widths under 800px. Its media query covers smart phones (~320px) and the iPad (~768px). The effect: we’re incrementally overriding styles in  base.css  (only as necessary) to make things look better in mobile.

Some of the styling changes that  mobile.css  enforces:

  • Reduces extra whitespace/padding across the site. Small screens means space is at a premium!
  • Removes  :hover  states. They’ll never been seen on touch devices.
  • Adjusts the layout to be single column.  More on this later.
  • Removes the  box-shadow  around the site’s main container div. Large box shadows reduce page performance.
  • Used CSS flex box model  box-ordinal-group  to change the ordering of each section on the homepage. You’ll notice the “LEARN BY MAJOR HTML5 FEATURE GROUPS” comes before the “TUTORIALS” section on thehomepage  but after it on the mobile version. This ordering made more sense for mobile and didn’t require markup changes. CSS flexbox FTW!
  • Removes  opacity  changes. Changing alpha values is a performance hit on mobile.

Mobile meta tags

Mobile WebKit supports a few goodies that give users a better browsing experience on certain devices.

Viewport settings

The first meta setting (and one that you’ll use most often) is the viewport property. Setting a viewport tells the browser how content should fit on the device’s screen and informs the browser that the site is optimized for mobile. For example:

tells the browser to set the viewport to the width of the device with an initial scale of 1. This example also allows zooming, something that may be desirable for a web site but not a web app. We could prevent zooming with  user-scalable=no  or cap the scaling to a certain level:

Note:  width  can also take a pixel value. Setting  width=320  would achieve the same result as  width=device-width  on the iPhone and a few other smart phones. Keep in mind not all phones have this exact width, so it’s best to stick withdevice-width  and let the browser figure out the rest.

Android extends the viewport meta tag by allowing developers to to specify which screen resolution the site has been developed for:

Possible values for  target-densitydpi  are  device-dpi,  high-dpi,  medium-dpi,low-dpi.

If you want to modify your web page for different screen densities, use the  -webkit-device-pixel-ratio  CSS media query and/or thewindow.devicePixelRatio  property in JavaScript, then set the  target-densitydpi  meta property to  device-dpi. This stops Android from performing scaling in your web page and allows you to make the necessary adjustments for each density, via CSS and JavaScript.

See Android’s  WebView documentation  for more information on targeting device resolutions.

Full-screen browsing

There are two other meta values that are iOS-sfic.  apple-mobile-web-app-capable  and  apple-mobile-web-app-status-bar-style  will render page content in app-like full screen mode and make the status bar translucent:

For more information on all of the available meta options, see the  Safari reference documentation.

Home screen icons

iOS and Android devices also accept a  rel="apple-touch-icon"  (iOS) andrel="apple-touch-icon-precomposed"  (Android) for links. These create a flashy app-like icon on the user’s home screen when they bookmark your site:

How html5rocks uses mobile meta tags

Putting everything together, here is a snippet from the  <head>  section of html5rocks:

Vertical layout

On smaller screens, it is far more convenient to scroll vertically than horizontally. Keeping content in a single-column, vertical layout is preferred for mobile. For html5rocks, we used CSS3 media queries to create such a layout. Again, without changing markup.

Tutorials index   Tutorial   HTML5 feature page Author profiles
Single-column vertical layout throughout the site.

Mobile optimizations

Most of the optimizations that we made are things that should have been done in the first place. Things like reducing the number of network requests, JS/CSS compression, gzipping (comes from free on App Engine), and minimizing DOM manipulations. These techniques are  common best practices  but are occasionally overlooked when rushing a site out the door.

Auto-hide address bar

Mobile browsers lacks the screen real estate of its desktop counterpart. To make things worst, on different platforms, you sometimes end up with a big ol’ address bar at the top of the screen…even after the page is done loading.

One easy way to deal with it is to scroll the page using JavaScript. Even doing so by one pixel will take care of the pesky address bar. To force-hide the address bar on html5rocks, I attached an  onload  event handler to the  window  object and scrolled the page vertically by one pixel:

Address bar
Ugly address bar takes up screen real estate.

We also wrapped this listener is our  is_mobile  template variable since it’s not needed on the desktop.

Reduce network requests, save bandwidth

It’s a known fact that reducing the number of HTTP requests can greatly improve performance. Mobile devices further limit the number of concurrent connections the browser can make, so mobile sites will benefit even more from reducing these extraneous requests. Furthermore, shaving off every byte is critical because bandwidth is often limited on phones. You may be costing users money!

The following are some of the approaches we took to minimize network requests and reduce bandwidth on html5rocks:

  • Remove iframes  – iframes are slow! A large amount of our latency came from 3rd party sharing widgets (Buzz, Google Friend Connect, Twitter, Facebook) on tutorial pages. These APIs were included via <script> tags and create iframes that diminish the speed of the page. The widgets were removed for mobile.
  • display:none  – In certain cases, we were hiding markup if it didn’t fit the mobile profile. A good example were the four rounded boxes at the top of thehomepage:
    Box buttons on homepage
    Box buttons on homepage.

    They’re missing from the mobile site. It’s important to remember that the browser still makes a request for each icon, despite their container being hidden with  display:none. Therefore, it wasn’t sufficient to simply hide these buttons. Not only would that be wasting bandwidth, but the user wouldn’t even see the fruits of that wasted bandwidth! The solution was to create a “is_mobile” boolean in our Django template to conditionally omit sections of HTML. When the user is viewing the site on a smart device, the buttons are left out.

  • Application Cache  – Not only does this give us offline support, but it also creates a faster startup.
  • CSS/JS compression  – we’re using YUI compressor instead of  Closure compiler  mainly because it handles both CSS and JS. One issue that we ran into was that inline media queries (media queries that appear inside a stylesheet) barfed in YUI compressor 2.4.2 (see  this issue). Using YUI Compressor 2.4.4+ fixed the problem.
  • Used of CSS image sprites where possible.
  • Used pngcrush for image compression.
  • Used dataURIs for small images. Base64 encoding adds ~30%+ of size to the image but saves the network request.
  • Auto loaded Google Custom Search using a single script tag rather than dynamically loading it with  google.load(). The latter makes an extra request.

  • Our code pretty printer and  Modernizr  were being included on every page, even if they were never used. Modernizr is great, but it runs a bunch of tests on every load. Some of those tests make costly modifications to the DOM and slows down page load. Now, we’re only including these libraries on pages where they’re actually needed. -2 requests :)

Additional performance tweaks:

  • Moved all JS to the bottom of the page (where possible).
  • Removed inline <style> tags.
  • Cached DOM lookups and minimized DOM manipulations  – Every time you touch the DOM the browser performs a  reflow. Reflows are even more costly on a mobile device.
  • Offloaded wasteful client-side code to the server. Specifically, the check to see set the navigation styling of the current page:
  • Elements with fixed widths were replaced with fluid  width:100%  orwidth:auto.

Application Cache

The mobile version of html5rocks uses  Application Cache  to speed up initial load and allows users to read content offline.

When implementing AppCache on your site, it’s  very important  that you don’t cache your manifest file (either explicitly in the manifest file itself or implicitly with heavy cache control headers). If your manifest gets cached by the browser it’s a nightmare to debug. iOS and Android do a particularly good job of caching this file but don’t provide a convenient way to flush the cache like the desktop browsers do.

To prevent said caching for our site, we first set App Engine to never cache manifest files:

Second, we used the JS API to inform the user when a new manifest has finished downloading. They’re prompted to refresh the page:

To save network traffic keep your manifest simple. That is to say, don’t call out every page on your site. Just list the important images, CSS, and JavaScript files. The last thing you want to do is force the mobile browser to download a large number of assets on every appcache update. Instead, remember that the browser will implicitly cache an html page when the user visits (and it includes a  <html manifest="...">  attribute).

Fonte: http://www.html5rocks.com/en/mobile/mobifying/

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