Responsive Images and Cumulative Layout Shift

Posted in Dev · 30 May, 2021

One of the annoying issues this blog had until recently was Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) caused by responsive images. You probably already encountered a situation, when you arrive on a page and start reading its content while the page is still being loaded. And all of a sudden text jumps. This happens because when an image above the text has fully loaded and the browser rendered it, the page content below the image gets pushed by an amount equal to the height of the image.

In fixed layouts, it can be solved by setting width and height attributes on the img tag, but it wouldn't work for responsive layouts where images are of variable size.

I researched how people solve it these days and ended up with a list of 2 options:

Even though option #1 solves the issue perfectly, its browser support is still lacking. So only option #2 remained. Well, it's not that bad. If you're ok with the requirements, it's not that much of a hustle to implement it.

The requirements are:

  1. width and height of images must be known.
  2. img tag must be wrapped in a container.
  3. A parent element of this combo must have defined width (either relative or absolute, but not auto).

The trick is to set the height of the container to zero and then apply a padding-bottom value equal to img.height / img.width ratio (in percents).

So a CSS would be:

css
.container {
position: relative;
height: 0;
overflow: hidden;
/* `padding-bottom` will be set via `style` attribute */
}
.image {
position: absolute;
top: 0;
left: 0;
width: 100%;
height: 100%;
}

And a React component:

rescript
type img = {
src: string,
width: float,
height: float,
}
@module("images/img.jpg") external img: img = "default"
let paddingBottom = img.height /. img.width
<div
className="container"
style=ReactDOM.Style.make(~paddingBottom=`${paddingBottom *. 100.}%` , ())
>
<img src=img.src className="image" />
</div>

When rendered, this component takes up all the available space within a parent container with the correct height.

This is an old-known trick that doesn't worth another post. But there was one puzzle I had to solve, that I haven't seen being solved on the internet. So it might be useful for some lost soul out there.

So, in my large screen layout for a blog post I have three kinds of images:

  1. bleed: image is a little bit wider than the main column.
  2. fill: image's width is equal to the main column's width.
  3. center: image is narrower than the main column.

The first two worked perfectly as both had width property defined:

css
.bleed {
width: calc(100% + 200px);
}
.fill {
width: 100%;
}

But the third one — center — had issues as it had width set to auto:

css
.center {
width: auto;
max-width: 90%;
}

The idea is that if an image is smaller than 90% of the layout's width, it should not be enlarged and have its own width. Otherwise, pixels would show up. And if the image is wider than 90% of the layout's width, it fills exactly this space.

The first step in fixing it was to move width definition to style tag.

Info
Note that ReScript code is simplified to reduce unrelated noise.
css
.center {
max-width: 90%;
}
rescript
let style = `${img.width}px`

Then, I had to limit the width to 90% of the layout's width:

rescript
let layoutWidth = 700
let maxImgWidth = layoutWidth * 0.9
let style =
img.width <= maxImgWidth
? `${img.width}px`
: `${maxImgWidth}px`

Seems ok, but not really. The problem with this style is that it doesn't consider DPR and on screens with DPR > 1 pixels pop up. I couldn't use window.devicePixelRatio since the site is statically rendered, so this API isn't applicable here. And I couldn't use media queries in the style attribute, so I'm out of luck with -webkit-device-pixel-ratio here as well. After googling around if it's possible to get current DPR via CSS APIs, the answer was "no". I pretty much gave up, shut down my laptop, and went for a dog walk. Where it hit me: I can't get the exact value of current DPR via CSS, but I have -webkit-device-pixel-ratio, min CSS function, and CSS variables!

css
:root {
--dpr: 2; /* fallback */
}
@media only screen and (-webkit-device-pixel-ratio: 1) {
:root {
--dpr: 1;
}
}
@media only screen and (-webkit-device-pixel-ratio: 2) {
:root {
--dpr: 2;
}
}
@media only screen and (-webkit-device-pixel-ratio: 3) {
:root {
--dpr: 3;
}
}
rescript
let layoutWidth = 700
let maxImgWidth = layoutWidth * 0.9
let imgWidth = `calc(${img.width}px / ${var(--dpr)})`
let style = `min(${imgWidth}px, ${maxImgWidth}px)`

And this worked. Until I started testing responsiveness. On small screens, the max width must be calculated differently. So I had to set a few more CSS vars and do a weird arithmetics:

css
@media only screen and (max-width: 747px) {
:root {
--sm-screen: 1;
--lg-screen: 0;
}
}
@media only screen and (min-width: 748px) {
:root {
--sm-screen: 0;
--lg-screen: 1;
}
}
rescript
let lgScreenLayoutWidth = 700
let smScreenLayoutWidth = "100%"
let lgScreenMaxImageWidth = `${lgScreenLayoutWidth * 0.9}px * var(--lg-screen)`
let smScreenMaxImageWidth = `${smScreenLayoutWidth} * var(--sm-screen)`
let maxImgWidth = `calc(lgScreenMaxImageWidth + smScreenMaxImageWidth)`
let imgWidth = `calc(${img.width}px / ${var(--dpr)})`
let style = `min(${imgWidth}px, ${maxImgWidth}px)`

Odd programming huh. Can't say I enjoyed it much, but the task was solved. No layout shift is happening here anymore.

©Alex Fedoseev2015—2021