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[whatwg] <a onlyreplace>

From: Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch>
Date: Sun, 18 Oct 2009 09:30:21 +0000 (UTC)
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.62.0910180920050.9145@hixie.dreamhostps.com>

On Fri, 16 Oct 2009, Aryeh Gregor wrote:
> 
> I'm drawn back to my original proposal.  The idea would be as follows: 
> instead of loading the new page in place of the new one, just parse it, 
> extract the bit you want, plug that into the existing DOM, and throw 
> away the rest.  More specifically, suppose we mark the dynamic content 
> instead of the static.
> 
> Let's say we add a new attribute to <a>, like <a onlyreplace="foo">, 
> where "foo" is the id of an element on the page.  Or better, a 
> space-separated list of elements.  When the user clicks such a link, the 
> browser should do something like this: change the URL in the navigation 
> bar to the indicated URL, and retrieve the indicated resource and begin 
> to parse it.  Every time an element is encountered that has an id in the 
> onlyreplace list, if there is an element on the current page with that 
> id, remove the existing element and then add the element from the new 
> page.  I guess this should be done in the usual fashion, first appending 
> the element itself and then its children recursively, leaf-first.

On Fri, 16 Oct 2009, Tab Atkins Jr. wrote:
> 
> Single-page apps are already becoming common for js-heavy sites.  The 
> obvious example is something like Gmail, but it's becoming more common 
> everywhere.  The main benefit of doing this is that you never dump the 
> script context, so you only have to parse/execute/apply scripting *once* 
> across the page, making really heavy libraries actually usable.
>
> In fact, writing a single-page app was explicitly given as a suggestion 
> in the "Global Script" thread.  Even in contexts with lighter scripts, 
> there can still be substantial run-time rewriting of the page which a 
> single-page app can avoid doing multiple times (frex, transforming a 
> nested list into a tree control).
> 
> The problem, though, is that single-page apps are currently a bit clunky 
> to write.  They require javascript to function, and the necessary code 
> is relatively large and clunky, even in libraries like jQuery which make 
> the process much simpler.  It requires you to architect your site around 
> the design, either producing a bunch of single-widget files that you 
> query for and slap into place, or some relatively complex client-side 
> logic to parse data structures into HTML.  It's also very hard to get 
> accessibility and graceful degradation right, requiring you to basically 
> completely duplicate everything in a static form.  Finally, preserving 
> bookmarkability/general deeplinking (such as from a search engine) 
> requires significant effort with history management and url hacking.
> 
> Aryeh's suggestion, though, solves *all* of these problems with a single 
> trivial attribute.  You first design a static multi-page site like 
> normal, with the only change being this attribute on your navigation 
> links specifying the dynamic/replaceable portions of the page.  In a 
> legacy client, then, you have a perfectly serviceable multipage site, 
> with the only problems being the reloading of js and such on each 
> pageload.
> 
> In a supporting client, though, clicking a link causes the browser to 
> perform an ordinary request for the target page (requiring *no* special 
> treatment from the author), parse/treebuild the new page, and then yank 
> out the relevant fragments and replace bits in the current page with 
> them.  The url/history automatically updates properly; bookmarking the 
> page and visiting it later will take you to appropriate static page that 
> already exists.  Script context is maintained, listeners stay around, 
> overall page state remains stable across 'pageloads'.
> 
> It's a declarative, accessible, automatic, and EASY way of creating the 
> commonest form of single-page apps.
> 
> This brings benefits to more than just the traditional js-heavy apps. My 
> company's web site utilizes jQuery for a lot of small upgrades in the 
> page template (like a hover-expand accordion for the main nav), and for 
> certain things on specific pages.  I know that loading the library, and 
> applying the template-affecting code, slows down my page loads, but it's 
> not significant enough to be worth the enormous effort to create an 
> accessible, search-engine friendly single-page app.  This would solve my 
> problem trivially, though, providing a better overall UI to my visitors 
> (snappier page loads) without any real effort on my part, and without 
> harming accessibility or SEO.
> 
> This also trivially replaces most/all uses of bad mechanisms like 
> <frameset> used to address similar problems (such as maintaining state 
> on a complex nav).
> 
> The only addition I'd make to this is to allow a tag in the <head> that 
> specifies default replaceability for all same-origin links. Perhaps just 
> an attribute on <base>?  It would accept a space-separated list of ids, 
> just like the @onlyreplace attribute on <a>s.  An @onlyreplace attribute 
> on a link would completely override this default (this would allow me 
> to, frex, have the mainnav only replace the subnav, while all other 
> links replace the content instead).
> 
> I believe that the single-page app pattern solves a lot of problems that 
> exist today and will persist into the future, and that it's worthy of 
> being made into a declarative, html-supported mechanism.  I also believe 
> that Aryeh's suggestion is the correct way to go about this.
> 
> The only problem I can see with this is that it's possible for authors 
> to believe that they only need to actually write a single full page, and 
> can just link to fragments containing only the chunk of content to be 
> replaced.  This would mostly break bookmarking and deeplinking, as 
> visitors would just receive a chunk of unstyled content separated from 
> the overall page template.  However, because it breaks so *visibly* and 
> reliably (unlike, say, framesets, which just break bookmarking by 
> sending you to the 'main page'), I think there would be sufficient 
> pressure for authors to get this right, especially since it's so *easy* 
> to get it right.

On Fri, 16 Oct 2009, Tab Atkins Jr. wrote:
> 
> 1. <iframe>s, like frames before them, break bookmarking.  If a user 
> bookmarks the page and returns to it later, or gets deeplinked via a 
> search engine or a link from a friend, the <iframe> won't show the 
> correct content.  The only way around this is some fairly non-trivial 
> url-hacking with javascript, altering the displayed url as the user 
> navigates the iframe, and parsing a deeplink url into an appropriate url 
> for the iframe on initial pageload.  @onlyreplace, on the other hand, 
> automatically works perfectly with bookmarking.  The UA still changes 
> urls and inserts history appropriately as you navigate, and on a fresh 
> pageload it just requests the ordinary static page showing the 
> appropriate content.
> 
> 2. <a target> can only navigate one iframe at a time.  Many/most sites, 
> though, have multiple dynamic sections scattered throughout the page.  
> The main site for my company, frex, has 3 (content, breadcrumbs, and 
> section nav) which *cannot* be combined to display as a single <iframe>, 
> at least not without including a whole bunch of static content as well.  
> You'd have use javascript to hook the links and manually navigate the 
> additional iframes.  @onlyreplace, on the other hand, handles this 
> seamlessly - just include multiple ids in the attribute value.
> 
> 3. <iframe>s require you to architect your site around them.  Rather 
> than a series of independent pages, you must create a single master page 
> and then a number of content-chunk mini-pages.  This breaks normal 
> authoring practices (though in some ways it's easier), and requires you 
> to work hard to maintain accessibility and such in the face of these 
> atrophied mini-pages.  @onlyreplace works on full, ordinary pages.  
> It's *possible* to link to a content-chunk mini-page instead, but this 
> will spectacularly break if you ever deeplink straight to one of the 
> pages, so it should become automatic for authors to do this correctly.
> 
> 4. <iframe>s have dubious accessibility and search effects.  I don't 
> know if bots can navigate <a target> links appropriately.  I also 
> believe that this causes problems with screen-readers.  While either of 
> these sets of UAs can be rewritten to handle <iframe>s better (and 
> handle @onlyreplace replacement as well), with @onlyreplace they *also* 
> have the option of just completely ignoring the attribute and navigating 
> the site as an ordinary multi-page app.  Legacy UAs will automatically 
> do so, providing perfect backwards compatibility.
> 
>
> 1. One of the big beneficiaries of @onlyreplace will be fairly ordinary 
> sites that are currently using an ordinary multi-page architecture.  
> All they have to do is add a single tag to the <head> of their pages, 
> and they automatically get the no-flicker refresh of a single-page app.  
> These sites are *already* grabbing the whole page on each request, so 
> @onlyreplace won't make them take any *additional* bandwidth.  It will 
> merely make the user experience smoother by reducing flicker and keeping 
> js-heavy elements of the page template alive.
> 
> 2. Even though site templates are usually weighter than the dynamic 
> portions of a site, it's still not a very significant wasteage.  For 
> comparison, my company's main site is roughly 16kb of template, and 
> somewhere around 2-3k of dynamic page content.  (Aryeh - I gave you 
> slightly different numbers in chat because I was counting wrong.)  So 
> that's a good 85% of each request being thrown away as irrelevant. 
> However, it's also *only 16kb*, and that's UNCOMPRESSED - after standard 
> gzip compression the template is worth maybe 5kb.  So I waste 5kb of 
> bandwidth per request.  Big deal.  (According to Philip`, my company's 
> site's weight is just on the low side of average.)
> 
> 3. Because this is a declarative mechanism (specifying WHAT you want, 
> not HOW to get it), it has great potential for transparent optimizations 
> behind the scenes.  For example, the browser could tell the server which 
> bits it's interested in replacing, and the server could automatically 
> strip full pages down to only those chunks.  This would eliminate 
> virtually all bandwidth waste, while still being completely transparent 
> to the author - they just create ordinary full static pages.  Heck, you 
> could even handle this yourself with JS and a bit of server-side coding, 
> intercepting clicks and rewriting the urls to pass the @onlyreplace data 
> in a query parameter, and have a server-side script determine what to 
> return based on that.  Less automatic, but fairly simple, and still 
> easier than using JS to do this in the normal AJAX manner.  (And UAs 
> that don't run javascript but do support @onlyreplace will still work 
> properly, just with a bit more bandwidth waste.)
> 
> 
> Semantically the replace operation should be identical to grabbing the 
> appropriate chunk of text from the new page and setting is as the 
> outerHTML of the appropriate element.  Any <script>s that are located 
> within this chunk would run in the exact same manner.  Scripts elsewhere 
> in the new page would not be run.
> 
> document.write()s contained in <script> blocks inside the target 
> fragment will run when they get inserted into the page, but 
> document.write()s outside of that won't.  Producing the target fragment 
> with document.write() is a no-go from the start. Don't do that anyway; 
> it's a bad idea.

[...]

On Fri, 16 Oct 2009, Jonas Sicking wrote:
>
> We actually have a similar technology in XUL called "overlays" [1], 
> though we use that for a wholly different purpose.
> 
> Anyhow, this is certainly an interesting suggestion. You can actually 
> mostly implement it using the primitives in HTML5 already. By using 
> pushState and XMLHttpRequest you can download the page and change the 
> current page's URI, and then use the DOM to replace the needed parts. 
> The only thing that you can't do is "stream" in the new content since 
> mutations aren't dispatched during parsing.
> 
> For some reason I'm still a bit uneasy about this feature. It feels a 
> bit fragile for some reason. One thing I can think of is what happens if 
> the load stalls or fails halfway through the load. Then you could end up 
> with a page that contains half of the old page and half the new. Also, 
> what should happen if the user presses the 'back' button? Don't know how 
> big of a problem these issues are, and they are quite possibly fixable. 
> I'm definitely curious to hear what developers that would actually use 
> this think of the idea.

See also Daniel's HTMLoverlays:

   http://disruptive-innovations.com/zoo/20040830/HTMLoverlays.html

[...]

On Sat, 17 Oct 2009, Dion Almaer wrote:
>
> This feels like really nice sugar, but maybe the first step should be to 
> get the shim out that gets it working using JS now.... and then see how 
> it works in practice. I totally understand why this looks exciting, but 
> I have the same uneasiness as Jonas.  It feels like a LOT of magic to go 
> grab a page and grab out the id and ..... and I am sure there are edges. 
> Cool idea for sure! It also feels like this should work nicely with the 
> history/state work that already exists.

On Sat, 17 Oct 2009, Jonas Sicking wrote:
> 
> Yeah, I think this puts the finger on my uneasiness nicely. There's 
> simply a lot of stuff going on with very little control for the author. 
> I'd love to see a JS library developed on top of pushState/ 
> XMLHttpRequest that implements this functionality, and then see that JS 
> library deployed on websites, and see what the experiences from that 
> are.
> 
> If it turns out that this works well then that would be a strong case 
> for adding this to browsers natively.
> 
> In fact, you don't even need to use pushState. For now this can be faked 
> using onhashchange and fragment identifier tricks. It's certainly not as 
> elegant as pushState (that is, after all, why pushState was added), but 
> it's something that can be tried today.

On Sat, 17 Oct 2009, Nelson Menezes wrote:
> 
> Well, here's a badly-hacked-together solution that emulates this 
> behaviour...
> 
> I think it'll be helpful even if it only gets used in a JS library as 
> you mention (change the attribute to a classname then). Still, it can be 
> made to work with today's browsers:
> 
> http://test.fittopage.org/page1.php

On Sat, 17 Oct 2009, Schuyler Duveen wrote:
>
> If you'd like to see what this looks like in Javascript, I implemented 
> this technique several years ago.  One place you can see it publicly is 
> the swapFromHttp() function at: 
> http://havel.columbia.edu/media_panels/js/MochiPlus.js
> 
> You can see it in action on some pages like: 
> http://havel.columbia.edu/media_panels/video_window/?material=abrams 
> where it adds in the page on the left from this file 
> http://havel.columbia.edu/media_panels/materials/abrams.html
> 
> One of the big issues we found using it on some other sites is that 
> javascript listeners (rather than onclick="" attributes), and other DOM 
> pointers in the system became stale.  Thus, only half the problem was 
> solved.
> 
> Also, the problem (as I implemented it) is that XMLHttpRequest.xml has 
> been very finicky in past (and current) browsers.  My comments in the 
> code reflect some of the things you need to make sure you're doing to 
> make it work across browsers (at least if you want a DOM vs. regex 
> implementation):
>
> * IE 6 needed the Content-type: text/xml
>
> * Firefox (?2.x) wants xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" in html tag
>
> * IE and Safari don't handle named entities like &nbsp; well in this 
> context and should be numeric (e.g. &#160;)
> 
> Vendors might better serve us by reducing these hoops to jump through so 
> a javascript library could do the job reliably.
> 
> This method did make it much easier to leverage server template code. 
> But since it largely simplifies server template code, then why not stick 
> with server-side solutions like Ian Bicking's: 
> http://blog.ianbicking.org/2008/09/08/inverted-partials/
> 
> It's still a bit weird that this proposal, instead of allowing every 
> element to be a link (like XHTML2), would allow every element to be 
> something like an IFRAME (all while a thread remembering how evil 
> framesets are continues).

My recomendation would be to follow the process for adding features:

   http://wiki.whatwg.org/wiki/FAQ#Is_there_a_process_for_adding_new_features_to_a_specification.3F

In particular the bit about experimental implementations. I think this 
idea looks very interesting, but it's hard to evaluate without concrete 
experience with a browser implementing this (or, as Jonas suggests, a 
library that hacks it in).

It seems like the kind of thing that we could adopt early on in the next 
feature cycle, if it turns out to be a good solid model.

-- 
Ian Hickson               U+1047E                )\._.,--....,'``.    fL
http://ln.hixie.ch/       U+263A                /,   _.. \   _\  ;`._ ,.
Things that are impossible just take longer.   `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'
Received on Sunday, 18 October 2009 02:30:21 UTC

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