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Monthly Web Development Update 6/2018: Complexity, DNS Over HTTPS, And Push Notifications




Monthly Web Development Update 6/2018: Complexity, DNS Over HTTPS, And Push Notifications

Anselm Hannemann



We see complexity in every corner of a web project these days. We’ve read quite a bunch of articles about how complex a specific technology has become, and we discuss this over and over again. Coming from a time where we uploaded websites via FTP and had no git or anything comparable, now living in a time where we have a build system, transpilers, frameworks, tests, and a CI even for the smallest projects, this is easy to understand. But on the other hand, web development has grown up so much in the past 15 years that we can’t really compare today to the past anymore. And while it might seem that some things were easier in the past, we neglect the advantages and countless possibilities we have today. When we didn’t write tests back then, well, we simply had no test — meaning no reliable way to test for success. When we had no deployment process, it was easy to upload a new version but just as easy to break something — and it happened a lot more than today when a Continuous Integration system is in place.

Jeffrey Zeldman wrote an interesting article on the matter: “The Cult of Complex” outlines how we lose ourselves in unnecessary details and often try to overthink problems. I like the challenge of building systems that are not too complex but show a decent amount of responsibility (when it comes to ethics, privacy, security, a great user experience, and performance) and are working reliably (tests, deployments, availability, and performance again). I guess the problem of finding the right balance won’t go away anytime soon. Complexity is everywhere — we just need to decide if it’s useful complexity or if it was added simply because it was easier or because we were over-engineering the original problem.

News

  • The upcoming Safari version 12 was unveiled at Apple’s WWDC. Here’s what’s new: icons in tabs, strong passwords, as well as a password generator control via HTML attributes including two-factor authentication control, a 3D and AR model viewer, the Fullscreen API on iPads, font-display, and, very important, Intelligent Tracking Prevention 2.0 which is more restrictive than ever and might have a significant impact on the functionality of existing websites.
  • The headless Chrome automation library Puppeteer is now out in version 1.5. It brings along Browser contexts to isolate cookies and other data usually shared between pages, and Workers can now be used to interact with Web Workers, too.
  • Google released Lighthouse 3.0, the third major version of their performance analyzation tool which features a new report interface, some scoring changes, a CSV export, and First Contentful Paint measurement.
  • Chrome 67 is here, bringing Progressive Web Apps to the Desktop, as well as support for the Generic Sensor API, and extending the Credential Management API to support U2F authenticators via USB.
  • We’ve seen quite some changes in the browsers’ security interfaces over the past months. First, they emphasized sites that offer a secured connection (HTTPS). Then they decided to indicate insecure sites, and now Chrome announced new changes coming in fall that will make HTTPS the default by marking HTTP pages as “not secure”.
Desktop PWA in Chrome 67
Desktop Progressive Web Apps are now supported in Chrome OS 67, and the Chrome team already started working on support for Mac and Windows, too. (Image credit)

General

  • In “The Cult of the Complex”, Jeffrey Zeldman writes about how we often seem to forget that simplicity is the key and goal of everything we do, the overall goal for projects and life. He explains why it’s so hard to achieve and why it’s so much easier — and tempting — to cultivate complex systems. A very good read and definitely a piece I’ll add to my ‘evergreen’ list.
  • Heydon Pickering shared a new, very interesting article that teaches us to build a web component properly: This time he explains how to build an inclusive and responsive “Card” module.

UI/UX

  • Cool Backgrounds is a cool side project by Moe Amaya. It’s an online generator for polygonal backgrounds with gradients that can generate a lot of variants and shapes. Simply beautiful.

Tooling

Security

  • As security attacks via DNS gain popularity, DNS over HTTPS gets more and more important. Lin Clark explains the technology with a cartoon to make it easier to understand.
  • Windows Edge is now previewing support for same-site cookies. The attribute to lock down cookies even more is already available in Firefox and Chrome, so Safari is the only major browser that still needs to implement it, but I guess it’ll land in their Tech Preview builds very soon as well.
DNS Over HTTPS
Lin Clark created a cartoon to explain how you can better protect your users’ privacy with DNS over HTTPS. (Image credit)

Privacy

Web Performance

  • KeyCDN asked 15 people who know a lot about web performance to share their best advice with readers. Now they shared this article containing a lot of useful performance tips for 2018, including a few words by myself.
  • Stefan Judis discovered that we can already preload ECMA Script modules in Chrome 66 by adding an HTML header tag link rel=“modulepreload”.

Accessibility

  • It’s relatively easy to build a loading spinner — for a Single Page Application during load, for example —, but we rarely think about making them accessible. Stuart Nelson now explains how to do it.
  • Paul Stanton shares which accessibility tools we should use to get the best results.

JavaScript

  • JavaScript has lately been bullied by people who favor Elm, Rust, TypeScript, Babel or Dart. But JavaScript is definitely not worse, as Andrea Giammarchi explains with great examples. This article is also a great read for everyone who uses one of these other languages as it shows a couple of pitfalls that we should be aware of.
  • For a lot of projects, we want to use analytics or other scripts that collect personal information. With GDPR in effect, this got a lot harder. Yett is a nice JavaScript tool that lets you block the execution of such resources until a user agrees to it.
  • Ryan Miller created a new publication called “The Frontendian”, and it features one of the best explanations and guides to CORS I’ve come across so far.
  • The folks at Microsoft created a nice interactive demo page to show what Web Push Notifications can and should look like. If you haven’t gotten to grips with the technology yet, it’s a great primer to how it all works and how to build an interface that doesn’t disturb users.
  • Filepond is a JavaScript library for uploading files. It looks great and comes with a lot of adapters for React, Vue, Angular, and jQuery.
  • React 16.4 is out and brings quite a feature to the library: Pointer Events. They’ll make it easier to deal with user interactions and have been requested for a long time already.
The Frontendian
Inspired by the parallels between basic astrological ideas and push notification architecture, the team at Microsoft explains how to send push notifications to a user without needing the browser or app to be opened. (Image credit)

CSS

Work & Life

  • Anton Sten wrote about the moral implications for our apps. A meaningful explanation why the times of “move fast and break things” are definitely over as we’re dealing with Artificial Intelligence, social networks that affect peoples’ lives, and privacy matters enforced by GDPR.
  • Basecamp now has a new chart type to display a project’s status: the so-called “hill chart” adds a better context than a simple progress bar could ever do it.
  • Ben Werdmüller shares his thoughts about resumes and how they always fail to reflect who you are, what you do, and why you should be hired.

I hope you enjoyed this monthly update. The next one is scheduled for July 13th, so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you like what I do, please consider helping me fund the Web Development Reading List financially.

Have a great day!

— Anselm

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Monthly Web Development Update 6/2018: Complexity, DNS Over HTTPS, And Push Notifications

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Measuring Websites With Mobile-First Optimization Tools




Measuring Websites With Mobile-First Optimization Tools

Jon Raasch



Performance on mobile can be particularly challenging: underpowered devices, slow networks, and poor connections are some of those challenges. With more and more users migrating to mobile, the rewards for mobile optimization are great. Most workflows have already adopted mobile-first design and development strategies, and it’s time to apply a similar mindset to performance.

In this article, we’ll take a look at studies linking page speed to real-world metrics, and discuss the specific ways mobile performance impacts your site. Then we’ll explore benchmarking tools you can use to measure your website’s mobile performance. Finally, we’ll work with tools to help identify and remove the code debt that bloats and weighs down your site.

Responsive Configurators

How would you design a responsive car configurator? How would you deal with accessibility, navigation, real-time previews, interaction and performance? Let’s figure it out. Read article →

Why Performance Matters

The benefits of performance optimization are well-documented. In short, performance matters because users prefer faster websites. But it’s more than a qualitative assumption about user experience. There are a variety of studies that directly link reduced load times to increased conversion and revenue, such as the now decade-old Amazon study that showed each 100ms of latency led to a 1% drop in sales.

Page Speed, Bounce Rate & Conversion

In the data world, poor performance leads to an increased bounce rate. And in the mobile world that bounce rate may occur sooner than you think. A recent study shows that 53% of mobile users abandon a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load.

That means if your site loads in 3.5 seconds, over half of your potential users are leaving (and most likely visiting a competitor). That may be tough to swallow, but it is as much a problem as it is an opportunity. If you can get your site to load more quickly, you are potentially doubling your conversion. And if your conversion is even indirectly linked to profits, you’re doubling your revenue.

SEO And Social Media

Beyond reduced conversion, slow load times create secondary effects that diminish your inbound traffic. Search engines already use page speed in their ranking algorithms, bubbling faster sites to the top. Additionally, Google is specifically factoring mobile speed for mobile searches as of July 2018.

Social media outlets have begun factoring page speed in their algorithms as well. In August 2017, Facebook announced that it would roll out specific changes to the newsfeed algorithm for mobile devices. These changes include page speed as a factor, which means that slow websites will see a decline in Facebook impressions, and in turn a decline in visitors from that source.

Search engines and social media companies aren’t punishing slow websites on a whim, they’ve made a calculated decision to improve the experience for their users. If two websites have effectively the same content, wouldn’t you rather visit one that loads faster?

Many websites depend on search engines and social media for a large portion of their traffic. The slowest of these will have an exacerbated problem, with a reduced number of visitors coming to their site, and over half of those visitors subsequently abandoning.

If the prognosis sounds alarming, that’s because it is! But the good news is that there are a few concrete steps you can take to improve your page speeds. Even the slowest sites can get “sub three seconds” with a good strategy and some work.

Profiling And Benchmarking Tools

Before you begin optimizing, it’s a good idea to take a snapshot of your website’s performance. With profiling, you can determine how much progress you will need to make. Later, you can compare against this benchmark to quantify the speed improvements you make.

There are a number of tools that assess a website’s performance. But before you get started, it’s important to understand that no tool provides a perfect measurement of client-side performance. Devices, connection speeds, and web browsers all impact performance, and it is impossible to analyze all combinations. Additionally, any tool that runs on your personal device can only approximate the experience on a different device or connection.

In one sense, whichever tool you use can provide meaningful insights. As long as you use the same tool before and after, the comparison of each should provide a decent snapshot of performance changes. But certain tools are better than others.

In this section, we’ll walk through two tools that provide a profile of how well your website performs in a mobile environment.

Note: If can be difficult to benchmark an entire site, so I recommend that you choose one or two of your most important pages for benchmarking.

Lighthouse

Lighthouse audit tab


Lighthouse in the Google’s Web Developer Tools. (Large preview)

One of the more useful tools for profiling mobile performance is Google’s Lighthouse. It’s a nice starting point for optimization since it not only analyzes page performance but also provides insights into specific performance issues. Additionally, Lighthouse provides high-level suggestions for speed improvements.

Lighthouse is available in the Audits tab of the Chrome Developer Tools. To get started, open the page you want to optimize in Chrome Dev Tools and perform an audit. I typically perform all the audits, but for our purposes, you only need to check the ‘Performance’ checkbox:

Lighthouse audit selection


All the audits are useful, but we’ll only need the Performance audit. (Large preview)

Lighthouse focuses on mobile, so when you run the audit, Lighthouse will pop your page into the inspector’s responsive viewer and throttle the connection to simulate a mobile experience.

Lighthouse Reports

When the audit finishes, you’ll see an overall performance score, a timeline view of how the page rendered over time, as well as a variety of metrics:

Lighthouse performance audit results


In the performance audit, pay attention to the first meaningful paint. (Large preview)

It’s a lot of information, but one report to emphasize is the first meaningful paint, since that directly influences user bounce rates. You may notice that the tool doesn’t even list the total load time, and that’s because it rarely matters for user experience.

Mobile users expect a first view of the page very quickly, and it may be some time before they scroll to the lower content. In the timeline above, the first paint occurs quickly at 1.3s, then a full above-the-fold content paint occurs at 3.9s. The user can now engage with the above-the-fold content, and anything below-the-fold can take a few seconds longer to load.

Lighthouse’s first meaningful paint is a great metric for benchmarking, but also take a look at the opportunities section. This list helps to identify the key problem areas of your site. Keep these recommendations on your radar, since they may provide your biggest improvements.

Lighthouse Caveats

While Lighthouse provides great insights, it is important to bear in mind that it only simulates a mobile experience. The device is simulated in Chrome, and a mobile connection is simulated with throttling. Actual experiences will vary.

Additionally, you may notice that if you run the audit multiple times, you will get different reports. That’s again because it is simulating the experience, and variances in your device, connection, and the server will impact the results. That said, you can still use Lighthouse for benchmarking, but it is important that you run it several times. It is more relevant as a range of values than a single report.

WebPageTest

In order to get an idea of how quickly your page loads in an actual mobile device, use WebPageTest. One of the nice things about WebPageTest is that it tests on a variety of real devices. Additionally, it will perform the test a number of times and take the average to provide a more accurate benchmark.

To get started, navigate to WebPageTest.org, enter the URL for the page you want to test and then select the mobile device you’d like to use for testing. Also, open up the advanced settings and change the connection speed. I like testing at Fast 3G, because even when users are connected to LTE the connection speed is rarely LTE (#sad):

WebPageTest advanced settings form


WebPageTest provides actual mobile devices for profiling. (Large preview)

After submitting the test (and waiting for any queue), you’ll get a report on the speed of the page:

WebPageTest profiling results


In WebPageTest’s results, pay attention to the start render and first byte. (Large preview)

The summary view consists of a short list of metrics and links to timelines. Again, the value of the start render is more important than the load time. The first byte is useful for analyzing the server response speed. You can also dig into the more in-depth reports for additional insights.

Benchmarking

Now that you’ve profiled your page in Lighthouse and WebPageTest, it’s time to record the values. These benchmarks will provide a useful comparison as you optimize your page. If the metrics improve, your changes are worthwhile. If they stay static (or worse decline), you’ll need to rethink your strategy.

Lighthouse results are simulated which makes it less useful for benchmarking and more useful for in-depth reports and optimization suggestions. However, Lighthouse’s performance score and first meaningful paint are nice benchmarks so run it a few times and take the median for each.

WebPageTest’s values are more reliable for benchmarking since it tests on real devices, so these will be your primary benchmarks. Record the value for the first byte, start to render, and overall load time.

Bloat Reduction

Now that you’ve assessed the performance of your site, let’s take a look at a tool that can help reduce the size of your files. This tool can identify extra, unnecessary pieces of code that bloat your files and cause resources to be larger than they should.

In a perfect world, users would only download the code that they actually need. But the production and maintenance process can lead to unused artifacts in the codebase. Even the most diligent developers can forget to remove pieces of old CSS and JavaScript while making changes. Over time these bits of dead code accumulate and become unnecessary bloat.

Additionally, certain resources are intended to be cached and then used throughout multiple pages, such as a site-wide stylesheet. Site-wide resources often make sense, but how can you tell when a stylesheet is mostly underused?

The Coverage Tab

Fortunately, Chrome Developer Tools has a tool that helps assess the bloat in files: The Coverage tab. The Coverage tab analyzes code coverage as you navigate your site. It provides an interface that shows how much code in a given CSS or JS file is actually being used.

To access the Coverage tab, open up Chrome Developer Tools, and click on the three dots in the top right. Navigate to More Tools > Coverage.

Access the Coverage tab by clicking on More tools and then Coverage


The Coverage tab is a bit hidden in the web developer tools console. (Large preview)

Next, start instrumenting coverage by clicking the reload button on the right. That will reload the page and begin the code coverage analysis. It brings up a report similar to this:

The Coverage report identifies unused code


An example of a Coverage report. (Large preview)

Here, pay attention to the unused bytes:

The coverage report UI shows a breakdown of used and unused bytes


The unused bytes are represented by red lines. (Large preview)

This UI shows the amount of code that is currently unused, colored red. In this particular page, the first file shown is 73% bloat. You may see significant bloat at first, but it only represents the current render. Change your screen size and you should see the CSS coverage go up as media queries get applied. Open any interactive elements like modals and toggles, and it should go up further.

Once you’ve activated every view, you will have an idea of how much code you are actually using. Next, you can dig into the report further to find out just which pieces of code are unused, simply click on one of the resources and look in the main window:

Detail view of a file in the Coverage report, showing which pieces of code aren’t being used


Click on a file in the Coverage report to see the specific portions of unused code. (Large preview)

In this CSS file, look at the highlights to the left of each ruleset; green indicates used code and red indicates bloat. If you are building a single page app or using specialized resources for this particular page, you may be inclined to go in and remove this garbage. But don’t be too hasty. You should definitely remove dead code, but be careful to make sure that you haven’t missed a breakpoint or interactive element.

Next Steps

In this article, we’ve shown the quantitative benefits of optimizing page speed. I hope you’re convinced, and that you have the tools you need to convince others. We’ve also set a minimum goal for mobile page speed: sub three seconds.

To hit this goal, it’s important that you prioritize the highest impact optimizations first. There are a lot of resources online that can help define this roadmap, such as this checklist. Lighthouse can also be a great tool for identifying specific issues in your codebase, so I encourage you to tackle those bottlenecks first. Sometimes the smallest optimizations can have the biggest impact.

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Measuring Websites With Mobile-First Optimization Tools

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Taking A Look At The State Of Progressive Images And User Perception

“Progressive Images” is a hot topic these days. We often come across articles explaining techniques on how to avoid showing an empty space where an image will load. Medium and Facebook are examples of websites and mobile apps that apply this pattern.
I recently wrote about different ways to use SVG as placeholders, and this year’s PerfPlanet’s Performance Calendar included two posts that further describe SQIP, a technique based on blurred SVGs: Progressive Image Loading using Intersection Observer and SQIP and SQIP — Vague Vectors for Performant Previews.

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Taking A Look At The State Of Progressive Images And User Perception

The Front-End Performance Challenge: Winner And Results

A few weeks ago, we asked our readers and the community to use everything they could to make their websites and projects perform blazingly fast. Today, we’re thrilled to show off the results of this challenge and announce the winner who will be awarded with some smashing prizes indeed!
What prizes, you ask? The winner wins a roundtrip flight to London, full accommodation in a fancy hotel, a ticket to SmashingConf London 2018, and last but not least, a Smashing workshop of their choice.

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The Front-End Performance Challenge: Winner And Results

Designing For A Browserless Web

What happens when we take the web browser out of web browsing? Google’s new “Add to Homescreen” feature delivers fast, focused web experiences that are indistinguishable from those of a native app. What can designers learn from the successes of early adopters such as Twitter, and how can we leverage app-like design patterns to tackle this brand new set of user experience challenges?
The “Add to Homescreen” installation process, as shown on Google Chrome Developer’s mobile website (Image source) (Large preview) We’ve seen debates on the topic of native versus web experiences.

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Designing For A Browserless Web

60 Travel Icons To Awaken Your Wanderlust (Freebie)

Summer might be over, but the memories of the places you’ve visited and the people you’ve met remain. No matter if you explored an exotic country, packed your car for a road trip or took out the hiking boots to discover the nature around you — traveling is a great opportunity to discover new places, gain a fresh view on things, and make lasting experiences.
To keep the essence of summer alive a bit longer, the creative minds at AgenteStudio dedicated an entire icon set to traveling.

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60 Travel Icons To Awaken Your Wanderlust (Freebie)

Web Development Reading List #184: New Library Updates, Page Load Performance, And Continuance

Our lives are in constant change, we never stop developing and evolving — our bodies, our minds, our views. And today’s technology supports us in doing that: We can access a lot more information as the generations before us, and with that, we have a variety of new possibilities to grow and develop our personalities.
We can see how work environments change, for example, we see resistance towards change and new methods, but slowly and over time, humanity is changing their overall behavior.

Continue reading here – 

Web Development Reading List #184: New Library Updates, Page Load Performance, And Continuance

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Tips And Tricks For Testing WordPress Themes

Whether you offer free or premium themes, testing should be a major part of your development process. By planning in advance, you can foster a development environment that deters some bugs by design and that helps you prevent others. The aim of this article is to share some of the tricks I use personally during and after development to achieve a bug-free product.
This article is split into three distinct sections:

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Tips And Tricks For Testing WordPress Themes

10 Useful Web Application Interface Techniques

More and more applications these days are migrating to the Web. Without platform constraints or installation requirements, the software-as-a-service model looks very attractive. Web application interface design is, at its core, Web design; however, its focus is mainly on function. To compete with desktop applications, Web apps must offer simple, intuitive and responsive user interfaces that let their users get things done with less effort and time. In the past we didn’t cover web applications the way we should and now it’s time to take a closer look at some useful techniques and design solutions that make web-applications more user-friendly and more beautiful.

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10 Useful Web Application Interface Techniques

Blog Headers For Free Download

This post presents the results of a contest — 45 beautiful blog header designs you can use for free. Below the designers have described their themes, intentions and shown us some examples of how header graphics can be used.
Please notice that
often also the source image (.ai or .psd) can be downloaded, all images are clickable and lead to the full-size image of the header, full-size images have the resolution of 850×200 px, and you can also download graphics together with source files using corresponding links in the description.

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Blog Headers For Free Download