Tags: offline



Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

Minimal viable service worker

I really, really like service workers. They’re one of those technologies that have such clear benefits to users that it seems like a no-brainer to add a service worker to just about any website.

The thing is, every website is different. So the service worker strategy for every website needs to be different too.

Still, I was wondering if it would be possible to create a service worker script that would work for most websites. Here’s the script I came up with.

The logic works like this:

  • If there’s a request for an HTML page, fetch it from the network and store a copy in a cache (but if the network request fails, try looking in the cache instead).
  • For any other files, look for a copy in the cache first but meanwhile fetch a fresh version from the network to update the cache (and if there’s no existing version in the cache, fetch the file from the network and store a copy of it in the cache).

So HTML files are served network-first, while all other files are served cache-first, but in both cases a fresh copy is always put in the cache. The idea is that HTML content will always be fresh (unless there’s a problem with the network), while all other content—images, style sheets, scripts—might be slightly stale, but get refreshed with every request.

My original attempt was riddled with errors. Jake came to my rescue and we revised the script into something that actually worked. In the process, my misunderstanding of how await works led Jake to write a great blog post on await vs return vs return await.

I got there in the end and the script seems solid enough. It’s a fairly simplistic strategy that could work for quite a few sites, but it has some issues…

Service workers don’t perform any automatic cleanup of caches—that’s up to you to do (usually during the activate event). This script doesn’t do any cleanup so the cache might grow and grow and grow. For that reason, I think the script is best suited for fairly small sites.

The strategy also assumes that a file will either be fetched from the network or the cache. There’s no contingency for when both attempts fail. So there’s no fallback offline page, for example.

I decided to test it in the wild, but I expanded it slightly to fix the fallback issue. The version on the Ampersand 2018 website includes a worst-case-scenario option to show a custom offline page that has been pre-cached. (By the way, if you haven’t got a ticket for Ampersand yet, get a ticket now—it’s going to be superb day of web typography nerdery.)

Anyway, this fairly basic script seems to be delivering some good performance improvements. If you’ve got a site that you think would benefit from this network/caching strategy, and it’s served over HTTPS, then:

  1. Feel free to download the script or copy and paste it into a file called serviceworker.js,
  2. Put that file in the root directory of your website,
  3. Add this in a script element at the bottom of your HTML pages:

if (navigator.serviceWorker && !navigator.serviceWorker.controller) { navigator.serviceWorker.register('/serviceworker.js'); }

You can also use the script as a starting point. You might find issues specific to your particular website. That’s okay—you can tweak and adjust the script to suit your needs.

If this minimal service worker script proves in any way useful to you, thank Jake.

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

Offline itineraries with service workers

The Trivago website is a progressive web app. That means it

  1. is served over HTTPS,
  2. has a web app manifest JSON file, and it
  3. has a service worker script.

The service worker provides an opportunity for a nice bit of fun branding—if you lose your internet connection, the site provides a neat little maze game you can play. Cute!

That’s a fairly simple example of how service workers can enhance the user experience when the dreaded offline situation arises. But it strikes me that the travel industry is the perfect place to imagine other opportunities for offline enhancements.

Travel sites often provide itineraries—think airlines, trains, or hotels. The itineraries consist of places, times, and contact information. This is exactly the kind of information that you might find yourself trying to retrieve in an emergency situation, like maybe in a cab on the way to the airport or train station. Perhaps you’re stuck in traffic, in a tunnel. Or maybe you don’t have a data plan for the country you’re currently in. Either way, wouldn’t it be great if you could hit the website for your airline or hotel and get your itinerary, even if you’re offline.

Alright, let’s think this through…

Let’s assume that an individual itinerary has its own URL. That URL is a web page of information, mostly text, with perhaps an image or two (like a map). Now when you make your booking, let’s have the service worker cache that URL (and its assets) for offline access.

Hmm …but there’s a good chance that the device you make the booking on is not the same device that you’d have with you out and and about. Because caches are local to the browser, that’s a problem.

Okay, but of these kinds of sites have some kind of log-in mechanism. So we could update the log-in flow a bit: when a user logs in, check to see if they have any itineraries assigned to them, and if they do, fire off an event to the service worker (using postMessage) to cache the URLs of the itineraries.

Now that the itineraries are cached, the final step is to create a custom offline page. As well as the usual “Sorry, the internet’s down” message, we can say “Sorry, the internet’s down …but here are your itineraries”. (This is kind of like the pattern you see on blogs like mine, Ethan’s, or Mike’s—a custom offline page that lists cached URLs of articles you’ve previously visited).

That’s just one pattern off the top of my head. It’s fun to imagine the different ways that service workers could be used to enhance the experience of just about any site, but they seem particularly relevant to travel sites—dodgy internet connections and travelling go hand-in-hand. At Clearleft, we’ve been working with quite a few travel-related clients lately so that’s why these scenarios are on my mind: booking holidays, flights, and so on. But, as I’ve said before and I’ll say again, every website can benefit from becoming a progressive web app.

Monday, February 26th, 2018

Reliable Experiences - PWA Roadshow - YouTube

A good hands-on introduction to service workers from Mariko.

Reliable Experiences - PWA Roadshow

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

Progressive Web App for FixMyStreet · Issue #1996 · mysociety/fixmystreet

Here’s a Github issue that turned into a good philosophical debate on how to build a progressive web app: should you enhance your existing site or creating a separate URL?

(For the record: I’m in favour of enhancing.)

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

Welcoming Progressive Web Apps to Microsoft Edge and Windows 10 - Microsoft Edge Dev BlogMicrosoft Edge Dev Blog

It’s really great to hear about how Microsoft will be promoting progressive web apps as first-class citizens …but it’s really unhelpful that they’re using this fudgy definition:

Progressive Web Apps are just great web sites that can behave like native apps—or, perhaps, Progressive Web Apps are just great apps, powered by Web technologies and delivered with Web infrastructure.

Although they also give a more technical definition:

Technologically speaking, PWAs are web apps, progressively enhanced with modern web technologies (Service Worker, Fetch networking, Cache API, Push notifications, Web App Manifest) to provide a more app-like experience.

Nice try, slipping notifications in there like that, but no. No, no, no. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that one of the most annoying “features” of native apps is even desirable on the web.

If you want to use notifications, fine. But they are absolutely not a requirement for a progressive web app.

(A responsive design, on the other hand, totally is.)

Friday, February 9th, 2018

Workers at Your Service | WebKit

Here’s an interesting insight on how WebKit is going to handle the cleanup of unused service workers and caches:

Service worker and Cache API stored information will grow as a user is browsing content. To keep only the stored information that is useful to the user, WebKit will remove unused service worker registrations after a period of a few weeks. Caches that do not get opened after a few weeks will also be removed.

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

Safari 11.1

Squee! The next time there’s an update for OS X and iOS, Safari will magically have service worker support! Not only that, but Safari on iOS will start using the information in web app manifests for adding to home screen.

That’s an impressive turnaround.

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

Release Notes for Safari Technology Preview 46 | WebKit

Well, that escalated quickly! Service workers are now available in Safari’s Technology Preview, which means it won’t be long before it lands in Safari proper.

Also: service workers also just landed in the insider release of Edge.

Everything offline’s coming up Milhouse!

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Progressive Web Apps - My new book is available! | Dean Hume

This looks interesting—a new book by Dean Hume all about progressive web apps. A few chapters are available to download.

Monday, November 6th, 2017

Installing Progressive Web Apps

When I was testing the dConstruct Audio Archive—which is now a Progressive Web App—I noticed some interesting changes in how Chrome on Android offers the “add to home screen” prompt.

It used to literally say “add to home screen.”

Getting the “add to home screen” prompt for https://huffduffer.com/ on Android Chrome. And there’s the “add to home screen” prompt for https://html5forwebdesigners.com/ HTTPS + manifest.json + Service Worker = “Add to Home Screen” prompt. Add to home screen.

Now it simply says “add.”

The dConstruct Audio Archive is now a Progressive Web App

I vaguely remember there being some talk of changing the labelling, but I could’ve sworn it was going to change to “install”. I’ve got to be honest, just having the word “add” doesn’t seem to provide much context. Based on the quick’n’dirty usability testing I did with some co-workers, it just made things confusing. “Add what?” “What am I adding?”

Additionally, the prompt appeared immediately on the first visit to the site. I thought there was supposed to be an added “engagement” metric in order for the prompt to appear; that the user needs to visit the site more than once.

You’d think I’d be happy that users will be presented with the home-screen prompt immediately, but based on the behaviour I saw, I’m not sure it’s a good thing. Here’s what I observed:

  1. The user types the URL archive.dconstruct.org into the address bar.
  2. The site loads.
  3. The home-screen prompt slides up from the bottom of the screen.
  4. The user immediately moves to dismiss the prompt (cue me interjecting “Don’t close that!”).

This behaviour is entirely unsurprising for three reasons:

  1. We web designers and web developers have trained users to dismiss overlays and pop-ups if they actually want to get to the content. Nobody’s going to bother to actually read the prompt if there’s a 99% chance it’s going to say “Sign up to our newsletter!” or “Take our survey!”.
  2. The prompt appears below the “line of death” so there’s no way to tell it’s a browser or OS-level dialogue rather than a JavaScript-driven pop-up from the site.
  3. Because the prompt now appears on the first visit, no trust has been established between the user and the site. If the prompt only appeared on later visits (or later navigations during the first visit) perhaps it would stand a greater chance of survival.

It’s still possible to add a Progressive Web App to the home screen, but the option to do that is hidden behind the mysterious three-dots-vertically-stacked icon (I propose we call this the shish kebab icon to distinguish it from the equally impenetrable hamburger icon).

I was chatting with Andreas from Mozilla at the View Source conference last week, and he was filling me in on how Firefox on Android does the add-to-homescreen flow. Instead of a one-time prompt, they’ve added a persistent icon above the “line of death” (the icon is a combination of a house and a plus symbol).

When a Firefox 58 user arrives on a website that is served over HTTPS and has a valid manifest, a subtle badge will appear in the address bar: when tapped, an “Add to Home screen” confirmation dialog will slide in, through which the web app can be added to the Android home screen.

This kind of badging also has issues (without the explicit text “add to home screen”, the user doesn’t know what the icon does), but I think a more persistently visible option like this works better than the a one-time prompt.

Firefox is following the lead of the badging approach pioneered by the Samsung Internet browser. It provides a plus symbol that, when pressed, reveals the options to add to home screen or simply bookmark.

What does it mean to be an App?

I don’t think Chrome for Android has any plans for this kind of badging, but they are working on letting the site authors provide their own prompts. I’m not sure this is such a good idea, given our history of abusing pop-ups and overlays.

Sadly, I feel that any solution that relies on an unrequested overlay is doomed. That’s on us. The way we’ve turned browsing the web—especially on mobile—into a frustrating chore of dismissing unwanted overlays is a classic tragedy of the commons. We blew it. Users don’t trust unrequested overlays, and I can’t blame them.

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that ambient badging is a better user experience than one-time prompts. That opinion is informed by a meagre amount of testing though. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s been doing more detailed usability testing of both approaches. I assume that Google, Mozilla, and Samsung are doing this kind of testing, and it would be really great to see the data from that (hint, hint).

But it might well be that ambient badging is just too subtle to even be noticed by the user.

On one end of the scale you’ve got the intrusiveness of an add-to-home-screen prompt, but on the other end of the scale you’ve got the discoverability problem of a subtle badge icon. I wonder if there might be a compromise solution—maybe a badge icon that pulses or glows on the first or second visit?

Of course that would also need to be thoroughly tested.

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

The dConstruct Audio Archive works offline

The dConstruct conference is as old as Clearleft itself. We put on the first event back in 2005, the year of our founding. The last dConstruct was in 2015. It had a good run.

I’m really proud of the three years I ran the show—2012, 2013, and 2014—and I have great memories from each event. I’m inordinately pleased that the individual websites are still online after all these years. I’m equally pleased with the dConstruct audio archive that we put online in 2012. Now that the event itself is no longer running, it truly is an archive—a treasury of voices from the past.

I think that these kinds of online archives are eminently suitable for some offline design. So I’ve added a service worker script to the dConstruct archive.


To start with, there’s the no-brainer: as soon as someone hits the website, pre-cache static assets like CSS, JavaScript, the logo, and icon images. Now subsequent page loads will be quicker—those assets are taken straight from the cache.

But what about the individual pages? For something like Resilient Web Design—another site that won’t be updated—I pre-cache everything. I could do that with the dConstruct archive. All of the pages with all of the images add up to less than two megabytes; the entire site weighs less than a single page on Wired.com or The Verge.

In the end, I decided to go with a cache-as-you-go strategy. Every time a page or an image is fetched from the network, it is immediately put in a cache. The next time that page or image is requested, the file is served from that cache instead of the network.

Here’s the logic for fetch requests:

  1. First, look to see if the file is in a cache. If it is, great! Serve that.
  2. If the file isn’t in a cache, make a network request and serve the response …but put a copy of a file in the cache.
  3. The next time that file is requested, go to step one.

Save for offline

That caching strategy works great for pages, images, and other assets. But there’s one kind of file on the dConstruct archive that’s a bit different: the audio files. They can be fairly big, so I don’t want to cache those unless the user specifically requests it.

If you end up on the page for a particular talk, and your browser supports service workers, you’ll get an additional UI element in the list of options: a toggle to “save offline” (under the hood, it’s a checkbox). If you activate that option, then the audio file gets put into a cache.

Now if you lose your network connection while browsing the site, you’ll get a custom offline page with the option to listen to any audio files you saved for offline listening. You’ll also see this collection of talks on the homepage, regardless of whether you’ve got an internet connection or not.

So if you’ve got a long plane journey ahead of you, have a browse around the dConstruct archive and select some talks for your offline listening pleasure.

Or just enjoy the speediness of browsing the site.

Turning another website into a Progressive Web App.

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Progressive Web Apps? No, we are building Alien Web Apps | Condé Nast Technology

There’s a lot of misinformation on the internet as to how to build a PWA and how “appy” and SPA-y one must be.


This simply isn’t true. Disappointingly, It is what most of the documentation, blog posts and public discourse seem to imply.

Preach it!

I’m so, so happy to see some pushback against the misinformation that progressive web apps automatically imply client-side rendered single page apps built from scratch. There’s so much value to be had in turbo-charging an existing site into a progressive web app.

But what we don’t need is yet another TLA like Alien Web Apps.

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

How much storage space is my Progressive Web App using? | Dean Hume

You can use navigator.storage.estimate() to get a (vague) idea of how much space is available on a device for your service worker caches.

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Infusion: An Inclusive Documentation Builder

Two of my favourite things together at last: pattern libraries and service workers. Infusion is a tool for generating pattern libraries that also work offline.

Thinking about it, it makes total sense that a pattern library should be a progressive web app.

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Tame your Service Worker before your Progressive Web App go into the wild by Maxim Salnikov

There are some great service worker optimisation tips in these slides.

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Betting on the Web

Along the lines of John’s recent post, Henrik makes the business case for progressive web apps.

He also points out how they can be much better than native apps for controlling hardware.

They can be up and running in a fraction of the time whether or not they were already “installed” and unlike “apps” can be saved as an app on the device at the user’s discretion!

Essentially they’re really great for creating “ad hoc” experiences that can be “cold started” on a whim nearly as fast as if it were already installed.

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Yes, That Web Project Should Be a PWA · An A List Apart Article

A fantastic piece by Aaron who—once again—articulates what I’ve been thinking:

Your site—every site—should be a PWA.

He clearly explains the building blocks of progressive web apps—HTTPS, a manifest file, and a service worker—before describing different scenarios for different kinds of sites:

  • Informational
  • Periodical
  • Transactional
  • Social
  • Software
  • Institutional

Progressive Web Apps may seem overly technical or beyond the needs of your project, but they’re really not. They’re just a shorthand for quality web experiences—experiences that can absolutely make a difference in our users’ lives.

Highly recommended!

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

A Progressive Roadmap for your Progressive Web App - Cloud Four

Jason lists the stages of gradually turning the Cloud Four site into a progressive web app:

And you can just keep incrementally adding and tweaking:

You don’t have to wait to bundle up a binary, submit it to an app store, and wait for approval before your customers benefit.

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

Offline POSTs with Progressive Web Apps – Web Dev @ Microsoft – Medium

This is a smart way to queue up POST submissions for later if the user is offline. It’s not as powerful as background sync (because it requires the user to revisit your site) but it’s a good fallback for browsers that support service workers but don’t yet support background sync

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Attachment #317095 for bug #175115

I’ve never been so excited by a single diff in a JSON file.

Service workers are coming to Safari.