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Practical Examples of the Flexible Box Model

If there’s one thing in CSS3 that really gives me warm fuzzies, it’s the flexible box model. What it does is provides a way to create many layout affects that otherwise would require workarounds with float or positioning or both. And there are many types of layouts that without out it would require JavaScript to create the same effect. Sadly, at present the flexible box model is only implemented in Firefox, Safari and Chrome. As it turns out, Microsoft’s IE team approached the W3C standards teams with a proposal for a grid-based layout module. It appears to be based on experience implementing the Silverlight grid layout system, which is a good thing. Silverlight grids are a powerful layout tool and is the most important feature for creating interfaces with Silverlight. Because this grid proposal is very solid, the W3C has dropped all further work on the flexible box model and instead are moving ahead in finalizing the draft for the grid layout module. If you read that speck, you’ll realize how much we need a CSS grid system. For now, however, we do have the flexible box model working in Firefox, Chrome and Safari, as well as on mobile Webkit, which includes iOS, Android, WebOS, and Blackberry. This means that if you’re doing mobile development you can use the flexible box model today to help you implement your layout needs. Once you start using the flexible box model, you’ll hate having to go back to situations where it’s not available.

The flexible box model got a lot of attention from a post by Alex Russell back in August 2009. The good thing is that in his post he showed some of the practical things that the flexible box model addresses and provided a stylesheet with a small subset of the flexible box model properties that people could use right away. His post has been replicated and linked to all over the Web. Unfortunately a lot of people who are not familiar with the spec for the flexible box model are under the impression that what’s in his stylesheet is it. So, with that in mind I’m loosing another stylesheet on the public that allows a greater utilization of the flexible box model. I’ll also give you a layout where a lot of these are in use so that you can see how they work.

Before I get going let me say this. The flexible box model is not perfect. It isn’t supported by IE9 or Opera. And now it looks like the W3C is bypassing it for a more robust grid system. Personally, I’d like to see something like the Silverlight grid system combined with aspects of the flexible box model. That would be the best of both approaches. If you’re targeting the mobile Web, in other words you intend on target Webkit browsers, you can expect robust support for the flexible box model. I doubt it’s going to go away just because the W3C doesn’t include it in any recommendation. I expect it to remain in Webkit for the foreseeable future because it’s already been in use for a number of years.

The flexible box model is about the way a collection of child nodes gets laid out in relation to each other and their parent node. To achieve its layout goals, the flexible box model offers properties for the parent node as well as for the child nodes that determine the layout characteristics of the child nodes.

To work with the flexible box model you need to define its display property to box:

#myDiv {
    display: -webkit-box;
    display: -moz-box;
}

Elements with display set to box can order their child nodes in two orientations: vertical or horizontal. If no orientation is provided, the box defaults to vertical:

#myDiv {
    display: -webkit-box;
   -webkit-box-orient: horizontal;
    display: -moz-box;
    -moz-box-orient: horizontal;
}

Besides defining the orientation, you can also designate what direction the child elements stack, either normal or reverse. A box direction of reverse means the elements display in the opposite order in which they physically appear in the document, so that the first would be last and the last first. By default the box direction is normal stacking order.

Then there is the packing order. This allows you to define how the child elements are packed inside the parent. By default they are packed in from the beginning of the parent. For vertical orientation this is the top and for horizontal orientation this is the left. Other packing orders are end, center and justify. If the packing order is end, for a vertical orientation the elements will stack up from the bottom. For a box with horizontal alignment, the boxes will stack from the right. A packing order of center means that for vertical orientation the child elements will be centered vertical with any left over space displayed equally at the top and bottom. For horizontal orientation a packing order of center means the elements are centered horizontally with left over space equally divided on the left and right. A packing order of justified means that any available space is spread equally between the child elements, for vertical orientation this is vertical spacing, and for horizontal orientation this is horizontal spacing.

Box-align-start

A box with alignment set to "start"

box-align-end

A box with alignment set to "end"

box-align-center

A box with alignment set to "center"

And elements can have their box alignment defined. The default is stretch. This stretches the dimensions of the child elements to fill the parent box. If the alignment is start, for horizontal orientation the elements are aligned to the top of the parent. If the orientation is vertical, they are aligned to the left of the parent. An alignment of end will align elements with horizontal alignment to the bottom of the parent. With vertical orientation they will be aligned to the right of the parent. An alignment of center will align horizontal elements along the horizontal center of the parent and for vertical orientation it will center them along the vertical center of the parent. There is also an alignment of baseline, but this is only for horizontal orientation. It aligns the elements along their horizontal baseline.

Then there is a set of properties that you can define on the child elements. These are flex and ordinal group. The flex property tells the browser how to deal with the dimensions of the child element. If you have three child elements and they don’t fill their parent, giving one of the a value of flex:1 will cause that element to take up all the left over space. If you gave one element flex: 1 and another one flex: 2, the available space would be divided up such that the element with flex: 1 would get one third of the available space and the element with flex: 2 would get two thirds of the available space. Of course the element with no flex value would default to whatever its width is. The ordinal group property allows you to designate groups of elements so that they appear in a different order than their document order. I’m not so sure about the practical use for this property. I’ve thought about it for months and have not been able to come up with a use case where I would need it. But it’s there.

I’ve created a flexible box model stylesheet with classes for all the various box properties. This means you can add the classes to an element to build out the definition you need for an element. I’ve also put together a interactive test case where you can dynamically toggle a number of the box properties and see their effect in real time. You can try it out online if you’re using Firefox, Chrome or Safari, or you can download the working example to dissect and learn.

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Multiple Background Images & Animation

Multiple background images allow one to build up complex layered visual effects using one element. In the past such effects would require each background image rendered inside its own element, these being either nested or stacked on top of each other with positioning. When I was working on creating the progress bar example, I ran to a problem where I couldn’t seem to get a specific layer to animate. I could figure out what was going on. Recently, after looking at the code and fiddling with it, I found out what the problem was. Animation of background images works a little differently from other CSS properties. Because multiple backgrounds consists of multiple definitions, it works more like other properties with multiple property values: margins, borders, padding. For example, you can animate all borders on an element, otherwise you can animate a single border. Unfortunately, with multiple backgrounds there is no easy way to single out an individual background image for animation as you can with a border, margin or padding property.

Now the thing to bare in mind when dealing with multiple background images is the stacking order. The first image defined is the topmost image, and the last image defined is the bottommost. Same thing with animations for multiple background images. So, in the case of the animated progress bar, I wanted to animate the bottommost gradient image which consisted of white slanted bars. The rest of the progress bar was fine stable. Well, except that I used a single animation which would instead affect the topmost layer, making it impossible for me to get the stacking layer they way I wanted. Here is the gradient:

background-color: rgb(56,138,213);
background-image:
	-webkit-gradient(linear, 18 0, 0 10,
		color-stop(0.23, rgba(255,255,255,0)),
		color-stop(0.3, rgba(255,255,255,0.8)),
		color-stop(0.3, rgba(255,255,255,1)),
		color-stop(0.7, rgba(255,255,255,1)),
		color-stop(0.7, rgba(255,255,255,0.8)),
		color-stop(0.77, rgba(255,255,255,0))),
	-webkit-gradient(linear, 0 0, 0 100%,
		color-stop(0, rgba(255,255,255,.8)),
		color-stop(0.45, rgba(255,255,255,.05)),
		color-stop(0.55, rgba(0,0,0,.05)),
		color-stop(0.85, rgba(0,0,0,.2)),
		color-stop(0.98, rgba(0,0,0,.5))),
	-webkit-gradient(linear, 0 0, 0 100%,
		color-stop(0.20, transparent),
		color-stop(0.20, rgba(255,255,255,.5)),
		color-stop(0.32, rgba(255,255,255,.5)),
		color-stop(0.32, transparent));

To animate this, I was using a key-frame animation that moved the x axis of the background gradient across the element from 0 to 100% in a loop:

@-webkit-keyframes progressBarAnim {
	0% { background-position-x:  0%; }
	100% { background-position-x: 100%; }
}

If you ran my previous example of the progress bar, it animates as you would expect, except one problem. The topmost gradient layer is the part that should be on the bottom. Yet every time I positioned it to where I wanted it, it wouldn’t animate. In my mind I was thinking that the key frame animation defined above would be animating all the background images. Actually, it doesn’t. It only animates the topmost image background, which is why I had to have the part I wanted to animate on top. Unfortunately I didn’t figure this out until recently. After a lot of fiddling and digging into what was going on with animation of multiple background images, I finally sorted it all out. When defining animations you have to start from the top and work you way down. You don’t have to include an animation for every background image, only down to the layer you need to. But you do have to include all the layers above the animated one up to the topmost one. So here’s my new stacking order for the CSS the way I actually wanted it:

background-color: rgb(56,138,213);
background-image:
	-webkit-gradient(linear, 0 0, 0 100%,
		color-stop(0, rgba(255,255,255,.8)),
		color-stop(0.45, rgba(255,255,255,.05)),
		color-stop(0.55, rgba(0,0,0,.05)),
		color-stop(0.85, rgba(0,0,0,.2)),
		color-stop(0.98, rgba(0,0,0,.5))),
	-webkit-gradient(linear, 0 0, 0 100%,
		color-stop(0.20, transparent),
		color-stop(0.20, rgba(255,255,255,.5)),
		color-stop(0.32, rgba(255,255,255,.5)),
		color-stop(0.32, transparent)),
	-webkit-gradient(linear, 18 0, 0 10,
		color-stop(0.23, rgba(255,255,255,0)),
		color-stop(0.3, rgba(255,255,255,0.8)),
		color-stop(0.3, rgba(255,255,255,1)),
		color-stop(0.7, rgba(255,255,255,1)),
		color-stop(0.7, rgba(255,255,255,0.8)),
		color-stop(0.77, rgba(255,255,255,0)));

And here’s the key frame animation, notice the extra animations for the upper layers:

@-webkit-keyframes progressBarAnim {
	0% { background-position-x:  0%, 0%, 0%; }
	100% { background-position-x: 0%, 0%, 100%; }
}

So remember, in the above key frame animation the first value if for the topmost layer and the last value is for the bottom most layer.

To show the difference in the stacking order, I changed the white stripe that goes horizontally across the progress bar to black. In the wrong stacking order version you can see that its actually behind the white stripes. The corrected version with multiple background animations has it correctly on top:

progress bar with incorrect stacking order

progress bar with incorrect stacking order



progress bar with correct stacking order

progress bar with correct stacking order

Of course, the final product would not be a black streak, it would be white. This was just to show how the stacking order was previously wrong.

CSS Gradients for IE9

This works with Desktop IE9, Desktop Firefox, Desktop Chrome, Desktop Safari, Desktop Opera, iOS, and Android.

Attention! IE9 will not destroy the world, kill babies, or take away your home or job.

Simply put, IE9 is the best browser Microsoft has ever released. Has it caught up to Chrome, Firefox and Safari? No. But that doesn’t matter. It’s still light years ahead of any other version of IE. All of us should be praying every day for IE users to upgrade to it as soon as possible.

Shortly after the initial launch of the beta of IE9, I began testing to see what kind of support it had for all the rich and exciting features CSS3 offers for Web layout and interaction. The earlier beta’s didn’t have much, but with each release it has gotten better. If you’re already using advanced CSS3 for Web development and never bothered supporting IE before, you’ll want to know what it supports and what it doesn’t. Here’s what it supports at present right from the horse’s mouth. In particular, it supports real CSS opacity, multiple background images, box shadows, border radius, background-clip, background-size, background-position, WOFF for Web fonts, RGBA and HSLA color, box sizing, as well as the full suite of CSS3 selectors. The above post also talks about support for CSS3 2d transforms, however, even with the -ms- vender prefix I am unable to get it to work with the present beta (7).
Update: Transforms are working in Platform Preview 6, which is different from the present public beta. Microsoft is taking a two track approach to releasing this: the public beta for general users to test and a platform preview where features are introduced but not necessary finalized.

So what didn’t make it into IE9? First up, the flexible box model. Once you’ve used the flexible box model for layout, it’s as painful as eating glass to go back to using floats and positioning for layout. No text shadow, which is a strange omission considering they have box shadow. No border images. No CSS transitions. The single-threaded nature of JavaScript makes it inefficient for complex animations. Offloading style animations to the browser’s CSS rendering engine frees up JavaScript and allows the browser to use threads and hardware acceleration for better optimization. In my opinion, CSS3 transitions are more important than CSS3 transforms. Since Firefox, Opera and Webkit all support CSS3 transitions to some degree, it’s a odd omission for IE9. No 2d or 3d transforms. As I mentioned before, transforms do not appear to be implemented in the current beta. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong on this.) The thing I love about CSS3 transitions and transforms is that they allow you to create user interactions that make a Web application feel like a native one, blurring the difference between desktop and Web. No CSS3 keyframe animation. If you thought CSS3 transitions were awesome, you be blown away by CSS keyframe animations.

When I look at IE9’s support for CSS3, it appears they decided to pick the low hanging fruit: border radius, drop shadow, multiple backgrounds, etc. But the flexible box model, gradients, transitions, transforms and keyframe animation are the things in CSS3 that really turn your head.

I have no experience working with Adobe Flash. I do have extensive experience working with Microsoft’s Silverlight platform. I love how it enables you to create rich, interactive user interfaces where you can customize every aspect of a control’s look and feel. Chrome, Firefox and Safari’s support for CSS3 enables a similar high level of possibilities for the creation of Web user interfaces. IE9 is attempting to achieve feature parity with the other browsers and is making good progress. But if you want to use the CSS3 features that IE9 doesn’t support, you’ll need to find workarounds.

Presently my main area of focus is the mobile Web on Android, Blackberry 6, iOS and WebOS. That’s a world ruled by Webkit. But I usually make efforts to ensure that my solutions can also work with modern desktop browsers: Chrome, Firefox and Safari. That involves a lot of vender prefixes: -moz, -webkit. And then you need to future proof it by supplying the same property without the vendor prefix. This technique allows browsers that understand the properties, like IE9, to also render them without any extra effort.

I’m going to take one example of an HTML/CSS3 implementation of iOS’s popup dialog box which I originally created for use on iOS devices and show how I got it to render equally in Chrome, Firefox, IE9, Opera and Safari. At the end of this post you’ll find links to try it out online or download it. One thing, I’m not using any image pieces, just CSS3 properties. Here’s the initial state of the page with the popup in Safari and Firefox:

popup Initial state

Here’s the page with the popup in view in Safari and Firefox:

Here’s the same markup in IE9. Notice how it understands border radius, box shadow and RGBA background color, but cannot render the flexible box model layout nor the CSS3 gradients.

ie9 initial state no styleie9 final state no style

IE9’s lack of support for the flexible box model can be resolved by using old-school layout techniques (floats/positioning). But there is no way to fake CSS3 gradients with pngs. When you stretch them they exhibit banding. Since I make extensive use of CSS3 gradients all the time, I felt pressed to find a solution for IE9. After spending some time experimenting with SVG in IE9, I hit on an idea. Using an IE9 specific stylesheet, I would try setting SVG gradients as background images on the element’s that use CSS3 gradients. The technique works quite well. Here’s IE9 with its custom CSS:

ie9 initial state fixedie9 final state fixed

First, here’s a CSS3 gradient used by Chrome, Firefox and Safari:

header {
	width: 100%;
	display: -webkit-box;
	display: -moz-box;
	display: box;
	-webkit-box-orient: horizontal;
	-webkit-box-pack:justify;
	-webkit-box-align: center;
	-webkit-box-sizing: border-box;
	-moz-box-orient: horizontal;
	-moz-box-align: center;
	-moz-box-pack:justify;
	-moz-box-sizing: border-box;
	box-orient: horizontal;
	box-align: center;
	box-pack:justify;
	box-sizing: border-box;
	height: 45px;
	margin: 0;
	padding: 0 10px;
	background-image: 
		-webkit-gradient(linear, left top, left bottom, 
			from(#b2bbca), 
			color-stop(0.25, #a7b0c3),
			color-stop(0.5, #909cb3), 
			color-stop(0.5, #8593ac), 
			color-stop(0.75, #7c8ba5),
			to(#73839f)); 
	background-image: 
		-moz-linear-gradient(top,
			#b2bbca, 
			#a7b0c3 25%,
			#909cb3 50%, 
			#8593ac 50%, 
			#7c8ba5 75%,
			#73839f); 
	border-top: 1px solid #cdd5df;
	border-bottom: 1px solid #2d3642; 
}

As you can see in the above code, we’re defining background images as gradients with a number of color stops. That all a CSS3 background gradient is. As a matter of fact, it’s rendered by the browser as a canvas background image. Since IE9 supports SVG, including as background images, I’ve come up with a way to use SVG gradient images as background gradients. Because SVG is vector-based, the gradients scale without banding. SVG is an XML markup language for describing vector graphics. The HTML5 parsing engine allows SVG to be directly embedded in HTML. But I want background images. By defining the height of the SVG document as 100%, I have an image that will scale to whatever the element is, just like the CSS3 gradient. Here’s the markup that I used to create the gradient for the header. Notice that the SVG gradient has color-stops and offsets like the CSS gradients. They aren’t that different.

<?xml version="1.0" ?>
<svg xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" preserveAspectRatio="none" version="1.0" width="100%" 
   height="100%" 
     xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink">

  <defs>
    <linearGradient id="myLinearGradient1"
                    x1="0%" y1="0%"
                    x2="0%" y2="100%"
                    spreadMethod="pad">
      <stop offset="0%"   stop-color="#b2bbca" stop-opacity="1"/>
      <stop offset="50%"   stop-color="#909cb3" stop-opacity="1"/>
      <stop offset="50%"   stop-color="#8593ac" stop-opacity="1"/>
      <stop offset="100%" stop-color="#73839f" stop-opacity="1"/>
    </linearGradient>
  </defs>

  <rect width="100%" height="100%"
     style="fill:url(#myLinearGradient1);" />
</svg>

The document has a height and width of 100%, the gradient is set to expand to 100% and the rectangle is defined with a height and width of 100%. It is possible to turn this SVG image into a datauri and put it directly in the CSS, using use any of the many resources available for datauri conversion. However, the SVG files are just simple text files. If you convert them to datauris, you will not be able to make any changes to them. While putting this demo together I had to constantly tweak the values in the SVG gradients to get them exact. Keeping the SVG files allows you to go back and modify the gradients at any time. Here’s how you use this for IE9:

header {
  background-image: url("svg-gradient.svg");
}

That’s it. IE9 will display the above SVG graphic in a manner indistinguishable from native CSS3 gradients.

For the repeating striped background gradient on the body tag, I’m using a CSS3 gradient with background sizing and letting it repeat across the page. For IE9 I do the same thing, using background sizing on the SVG equivalent to get the same effect.

Like IE9, Opera also does not support the flexible box model nor CSS3 gradients. Notice how Opera renders the demo basically the same as IE9:

Opera initial state no styleOpera final state no style

After creating the SVG workaround for IE9 to mimic CSS3 gradients, I started thinking about Opera’s lack of support for CSS3 gradients. Opera has the best support for SVG out of all the browsers. I therefore tried giving Opera the same CSS that I gave IE9. It worked as well as it did for IE9. You can see the results below:

Opera inital state fixedOpera final state fixed

There is very minimal browser sniffing required to make this work across modern browsers. One stylesheet for Chrome, Firefox and Safari, a conditional comment for IE9 and a browser agent sniff for Opera:

<!--[if IE 9]>
	 <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="popup-svg.css">
<![endif]-->

<script type="text/javascript">
    var Opera = /opera/i.test(navigator.userAgent);
    if (Opera) {
        var link = document.createElement("link");
        link.setAttribute("rel", "stylesheet");
        link.setAttribute("href", "popup-svg.css");
        document.getElementsByTagName("head")[0].appendChild(link);
}
</script>

Please Note: If you’re going to use this technique in a production environment you should use feature detection because at some point Opera will support CSS gradients. There are a number of ways to accomplish feature detection. Perhaps the easiest is to use Modernizr.

You can try out this demo online or download the source code. Feel free to use the included SVG files as templates for your own gradients.

Oh, and one last thing. I’m using the ChocolateChip mobile JavaScript framework for this demo. Originally I created it to work on mobile devices using Webkit browsers. I therefore provided no support for the JScript quirks of IE. But since IE9 has a completely rewritten JavaScript engine and uses the standard event model and DOM interfaces like the other browsers, ChocolateChip works fine on it without modification. That definitely put a smile on my face.

ChocolateChip Has Its Own Blog

ChocolateChip, the little guy that does big things

So, ChocolateChip, the tiny JavaScript mobile Web framework that is only 8k when minified, now has its own blog: ChocolateChip-Mobile.net. I put this blog together to show how ChocolateChip works and how you can use it to accomplish your coding needs. I also talk about best coding practices with ChocolateChip.

ChocolateChip can be so small because it doesn’t have to support ancient browsers or compensate for cross-browser nightmares. Instead it takes advantage of modern browsers’ implementation of the features in ECMAScript 5 and DOM level 3. The idea was to keep ChocolateChip simple, avoiding object wrappers and object obfuscation, and making everything interchangeable with regular JavaScript. That means you can adjust ChocolateChip to your coding style, not the other way around. You can substitute any ChocolateChip for your own code at any time. As a matter of fact, if you don’t like the default $, $$ aliases that ChocolateChip uses, open up the files and change them to whatever you want. ChocolateChip is open source with a BSD license, so if you want to add some feature, feel free to. And if you feel like sharing your feature with the rest of us, feel free to contact me.

Have a great day and enjoy your ChocolateChip.

Subpixel Rendering

You know the problem. No matter what you do you can’t get two elements to line up properly. The connecting points are always off by one pixel.

Everyone doing Web development at some point or other comes across a layout problem where no matter what you do, you can’t get two elements to align perfectly. One or the other is always off by one pixel. I was pulling my hair out try to get the pointers on the back and next buttons to align perfectly. They just didn’t look perfect. Worse still, when I used the browser’s “Zoom In” command from the view menu, I could clearly see that the lines did not connect properly.

After hours of fiddling with element sizes and positioning, I was on the verge of giving up. It was then that I remembered similar layout problems that I dealt with when doing Silverlight development. Silverlight is Microsoft’s vector-based, Flash killer/non-killer plugin for creating RIAs. For whatever reason, versiond before 4.0 had terrible problems with exact positioning of elements, causing frequent one pixel disconnects when rendered to screen. The only way to resolve this was to use subpixel rendering. This was accomplished by positioning an element by using partial pixel values, such as 1.5 or 1.25. This would force Silverlight to output the element with subpixel rendering, eliminating the visual disconnect.

OK, so what the heck is subpixel rendering? You experience it everyday with the browser’s font smoothing. You know it as anti-aliasing. The browser looks at the bézier curves of the font and when it sees that a line passes though a pixel, it looks at how much of the pixel is intersected. Depending on the percentage, the browser outputs a percentage of the font’s color. Less means the pixel gets less of the font’s color. For the human eye this creates the illusion of smoother curves.

You can use this same technique to trigger subpixel rendering on an element by giving it percentage-based position, or percentage-based dimensions. Here are some examples:

.button {
    position: absolute;
    left: 0px;
    top: 2.5px;
    height: 23.5px;
    width: 23.5px;
}

Here’s a image of my next button with the browser zoomed in. As you can see the pointer doesn’t line up perfectly with the rest of the button. This caused a slightly noticeable disconnect at normal size as well.

next button with its pointer misaligned

Now here’s the same button with the pointer using position set to top: 2.5px;:

next button using subpixel positioning

Subpixel rendering solved the connect problem I had at all zoom levels, including at normal size. Depending on your problem, subpixel positioning may be enough, or subpixel dimensions may be enough, or you may need to do both. Using subpixel values can help resolve problems when your layouts are not coming out pixel perfect.

You can try this out online or download the source code.

Today’s new technology terms:

subpixel:
   A pixel rendered with a shade of an adjacent element’s color to make it appear as if the element occupies part of that pixel’s space.
subpixelate:
   To force the browser to render an element with subpixel values.
subpixelation:
   The act of forcing an element to render with subpixel values or the condition of being rendered with subpixel values.

Making an iPhone Switch Control without Images

Works on desktop Safari, Chrome and Firefox, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

On the iPhone and iPad, Apple uses a control called switch. It’s actually a different take on the checkbox. Like radio buttons, checkboxes do not lend themselves to touch interfaces, especially guys with fat fingers, cough! Instead of making us suffer with those dinky checkboxes, Apple uses a more visual cue to what the user is actually doing, switching something on or off. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly how the control is labeled: “on” or “off”. They’re really easy to use, just swipe your finger to throw the switch, done. In case you’re not sure what I’m talking about, here they are:

switch control

OK, so all the mobile Web frameworks have a switch control. And I hate them all. They either do an instant switch between the on and off state, using an image sprite, or they do this really lame thing where they animate the horizontal background position of the image on a checkbox with its default styles removed. None of those implementations feels the same as when you swipe the switch control in a native iOS app.

So what am I going to do? I tell you, I’m going to throw the friggin’ image out and build the whole control from scratch using just HTML, CSS3 and some JavaScript to make it work. Bada-bing! To start with, here’s the basic markup for a checkbox:

<div class="checkbox unchecked" id="sleepSwitch">
	<div class="on">ON</div>
	<div class="thumb"><span></span></div>
	<div class="off">OFF</div>
	<input type="checkbox" value="ZZZZZZZZ!" offvalue="But, I need more sleep!">
</div>

As we did when we created iPhone style radios buttons, we’re using real checkboxes in our iPhone switch controls. And like in the radio button example, we’ll set the checkbox input’s display value to “none”. We’ll use CSS3 properties to style the markup to look like a real iOS switch control and we’ll attach event listeners to set the input checkbox’s check state to true or false, depending on whether we want it to be selected or not.

To create this switch control we’ll need to style the frame named “checkbox” with rounded corners. Notice that the markup above contains three parts: the on state, the thumb and the off state. The rounded frame will only be wide enough to show one state plus the thumb. Using CSS3 transitions and transforms, a click or touch will cause the three elements to side back and forth within the rounded frame. For positioning the switch’s elements and sliding them back and forth we’re going to use CSS3 3d transforms on the x axis. Here is the CSS to make this happen:

/* Checkbox */
.checkbox {
	display: -webkit-box;
	-webkit-box-orient: horizontal;
	-webkit-box-pack:justify;
	-webkit-box-sizing: border-box;
	-webkit-tap-highlight-color: transparent;
	width: 94px;
	overflow: hidden;
	-webkit-border-radius: 6px;
	text-align: center;
	line-height: 28px;
	cursor: pointer;
	-webkit-user-select: none;
	position: absolute;
	right: 10px;
	top: 7px;
}
.checkbox > input[type="checkbox"] {
	display: none;
}
.checkbox .thumb {
	-webkit-border-radius: 7px;
	position: relative;
	z-index: 3;
	border: solid 1px #919191;
	-webkit-transition: all 0.125s  ease-in-out;
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(0px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox .thumb span {
	display: block;
	-webkit-box-sizing: border-box;
	height: 25px;
	width: 38px;
	border-top: solid 1px #efefef;
	-webkit-border-radius: 6px;
	background-image: -webkit-gradient(linear, left top, left bottom, from(#cecece), to(#fbfbfb));
	border-top: solid 1px #efefef;
	position:relative;
}
.checkbox .on {
	color: #fff;
	background-image: 
		-webkit-gradient(linear, left top, left bottom, 
			from(#295ab2), 
			to(#76adfc));
	width: 54px;
	padding-right: 4px;
	border: solid 1px #093889;
	-webkit-border-top-left-radius: 6px;
	-webkit-border-bottom-left-radius: 6px;
	margin-right: -6px;
	height: 25px;
	-webkit-transition: all 0.125s  ease-in-out;
	position: relative;
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(0px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox .off {
	color: #666;
	background-image: -webkit-gradient(linear, left top, left bottom, from(#b5b5b5), color-stop(0.50, #fff));
	width: 54px;
	padding-left: 4px;
	border: solid 1px #a1a1a1;
	-webkit-border-top-right-radius: 6px;
	-webkit-border-bottom-right-radius: 6px;
	margin-left: -6px;
	height: 25px;
	-webkit-transition: all 0.125s  ease-in-out;
	position: relative;
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(-54px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox.unchecked .thumb {
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(-54px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox.checked .thumb {
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(0px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox.unchecked .on {
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(-60px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox.checked .on {
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(0px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox.unchecked .off {
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(-54px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox.checked .off {
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(6px,0%,0%);
}
/* For Very Important changes, use the orange checkbox */
.checkboxBase.important .on {
	border: solid 1px #d87100;
	background-image: -webkit-gradient(linear, left top, left bottom, from(#e75f00), color-stop(.5, #ff9c12));
}
/* End Checkbox */

To make the switch more realistic, I’m transforming all three pieces of the switch at the same time. This gives the switch a more realistic feeling. Notice the comment in at the end of the above CSS about the important class. You can use this to indicate a switch that makes a very important change. This class changes the default switch’s blue color to bright orange. This is the color Apple uses to show that a switch’s action is very important.

Having the CSS defined for the look and animation brings us close to the finished control, but we need to write some JavaScript to make the switch interactive. The JavaScript needs to do two things: toggle the classes “checked” and “unchecked” on the switch, and toggle the checked value of the checkbox between true and false. I’m using the ChocolateChip JavaScript framework to do this. You can switch my code to whatever library you want. If you know basic JavaScript, it shouldn’t be hard. Here’s the JavaScript to make it happen:

Element.prototype.toggleSwitch = function() {
	if (this.hasClass("switch")) {
		if (this.last().checked === true) {
			this.last().checked = false;
			this.toggleClass("checked", "unchecked");
		} else {
			this.last().checked = true;
			this.toggleClass("checked", "unchecked");
		}
	} else {
		return false;
	}
};

The last() used in the code above is a ChocolateChip method to return the last child of the control, which happens to be the checkbox input. That way we can set its checked state to true or false.

Now that we have the code to setup up the switch control, we can make it work as follows:

$(".switch").forEach(function(checkbox) {
	checkbox.bind("click", function() {
		this.toggleSwitch();
	});
	
	checkbox.bind("touchstart", function(e) {
		e.preventDefault();
		this.toggleSwitch();
	});
}); 

That’s it to make the switch switchable. But to make it do something you’d need a bit more as well. In my example, I’m getting some values from the switch and outputting it to a response field like this:

$(".switch").forEach(function(checkbox) {
	checkbox.bind("click", function() {
		if (this.last().checked === true) {
			$("#switchResponse").fill(
				this.last().getAttribute("value"));
		} else {
			$("#switchResponse").fill(
				this.last().getAttribute("offvalue"));
		} 
	});
	
	checkbox.bind("touchstart", function(e) {
		if (this.last().checked === true) {
			$("#switchResponse").fill(
				this.last().getAttribute("value"));
		} else {
			$("#switchResponse").fill(
				this.last().getAttribute("offvalue"));
		}
	});
}); 

You can try this out online or download the source code.

User Controled Color Theme

Works on Desktop Safari, desktop Google Chrome, desktop Firefox 3.6-4, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad.

So, in the last blog post I showed how to make RGB slides with HTML, CSS and some JavaScript. I thought about it and, while interesting, it doesn’t have a whole lot of practical application. Sure you could take that and hook up any other type of value to get whatever result you might need for your interface. Well that got me to thinking, so I threw together an implementation of the RGB sliders that allow a user to change the color scheme of a Web app. No need to spend time creating different color themes. Let the user do it.

OK, before you think I’m crazy, especially you folks from the design community, let me explain. I came up with a basic theme technique. I call it chromaeleon &mdash because the app’s chrome can change colors like a chamaeleon. The way this works is, instead of solid color gradients, you create gradients with transparent values of black and white. Behind this you have a background color which shows through the transparent gradients. This way, when the user drags the sliders, the background colors update and the look of the interface changes. Now in the real world you’d want to provide a way for the user to save their color choice. You could save the choice to localStorage. Then when the app loads, it checks to see it the user saved a color choice, if not, it goes to the default. Sorry, I didn’t do all of that. Just the part to update the background colors. Here’s what it will look like:

iPhone Chromaeleon Interface

The structure we’re going to use is pretty must standard as we’ve used elsewhere, a header, a section, some buttons.

<body>
	<header>
		<a href="http://css3wizardry.com" class="button back"><span class="pointer"></span><span>Back</span></a>
		<h1>Chromaeleon Theme</h1>
		<span class="button">Click Here</span>
	</header>
	<section>
		<h2>Use the sliders to adjust the colors of the theme.</h2>
		<div class="colorRow">
			<div id="redSlider" class="slider">
				<div class="thumb"></div>
			</div>
			<div id="redColor" class="colorOutput"></div>
			<span> Red</span>
		</div>
		<div class="colorRow">
			<div id="greenSlider" class="slider">
				<div class="thumb"></div>
			</div>
			<div id="greenColor" class="colorOutput"></div>
			<span> Green</span>
		</div>
		<div class="colorRow">
			<div id="blueSlider" class="slider">
				<div class="thumb"></div>
			</div>
			<div id="blueColor" class="colorOutput"></div>
			<span> Blue</span>
		</div>
		<div class="colorRow finalResult">
			<span>Final Color: </span>
			<div id="rgbColor" class="colorOutput"></div>
			<br />
			<span>RGB: </span><span id="rgbResult">0, 0, 0</span>
			<br />
			<span>HEX: </span><span id="hexResult">#000000</span>
		</div>
	</section>
</body>

So, for the header and the buttons, we need to change their default gradients, as I mentioned above, to have RGBA transparency values. This is my basic gradient:

background-image: 
	-moz-linear-gradient(top, 
		rgba(255,255,255,.5), 
		rgba(30,30,30,.65) 50%, 
		rgba(0,0,0,.7) 50%, 
		rgba(0,0,0,.8)); 
background-image: 
	-webkit-gradient(linear, left top, left bottom, 
		from(rgba(255,255,255,.5)), 
		color-stop(0.5,rgba(30,30,30,.65)), 
		color-stop(0.5, rgba(0,0,0,.7)), 
		to(rgba(0,0,0,.8)));

And for the hover state of the button, we use this gradient:

background-image: 
	-webkit-gradient(linear, left top, left bottom, 
		from(rgba(0,0,0,.1)), 
		color-stop(0.5,rgba(0,0,0,.5)), 
		color-stop(0.5, rgba(0,0,0,.6)), 
		to(rgba(255,255,255,.2)));
background-image: 
	-moz-linear-gradient(top,
		rgba(0,0,0,.1), 
		rgba(0,0,0,.5) 50%, 
		rgba(0,0,0,.6) 50%, 
		rgba(255,255,255,.2));

Now to change the color, all we need to do is introduce a new method to our existing code:

/**
*
* Method to update chrome colors according to the RGB value of the sliders.
*
*/
$.updateInterfaceColors = function() {
	$("header").css("background-color: rgb(" + $.rgbColor[0] + "," + $.rgbColor[1] + "," + $.rgbColor[2] + ")");
	$$(".button").forEach(function(button) {
		button.css("background-color: rgb(" + $.rgbColor[0] + "," + $.rgbColor[1] + "," + $.rgbColor[2] + ")");
	});
	$("section").css("background-color: rgb(" + $.rgbColor[0] + "," + $.rgbColor[1] + "," + $.rgbColor[2] + ")");
	$(".pointer").css("background-color: rgb(" + $.rgbColor[0] + "," + $.rgbColor[1] + "," + $.rgbColor[2] + ")");
};

To execute this method, we invoke it in the slide mouse event handlers for each slider, and for touch-based mobile devices we invoke it in the updateSliderTouch method:

/**
*
* This is for the red slider's mouse interaction, you'd do the same for the green and blue sliders' setup scripts as well.
*/
// Set up three sliders for Red, Green and Blue:
$.slider("#redSlider", { 
	onDrag : function() {
		$("#redSlider").setColorFromSlider("red");
		$.updateInterfaceColors();
	},
	// onDragEnd function necessary to remove hover state off of slider thumb when drag ends.
	onDragEnd : function() {},
	top : -6
});
/**
*
* This is for touch-enabled devices. You invoke the $.updateInterfaceColors() method just once inside the updateSliderTouch method's definition, at the very end.
*/
Element.prototype.updateSliderTouch = function( color ) {
	this.style.left =  curX + 'px'; 
	if (color === "red") {
		$("#" + color + "Color").css("background-color: rgb(" + curX +",0,0)");
		$.rgbColor[0] = curX;
	}
	if (color === "green") {
		$("#" + color + "Color").css("background-color: rgb(0," + curX +",0)");
		$.rgbColor[1] = curX;
	}
	if (color === "blue") {
		$("#" + color + "Color").css("background-color: rgb(0,0," + curX +")");
		$.rgbColor[2] = curX;
	}
	$("#" + color + "Slider").css("-webkit-background-size:" + (curX + 1) + "px 9px, 100% 9px");
	$("#" + color + "Slider").css("background-size:" + (curX + 1) + "px 9px, 100% 9px");
	$("#rgbColor").css("background-color: rgb(" + $.rgbColor[0] + "," + $.rgbColor[1] + "," + $.rgbColor[2] + ")");
	$("#rgbResult").fill($.rgbColor[0] + ", " + $.rgbColor[1] + ", " + $.rgbColor[2]);
	$("#hexResult").fill("#" + $.rgb2hex($.rgbColor[0]) + $.rgb2hex($.rgbColor[1]) + $.rgb2hex($.rgbColor[2]));
	$.updateInterfaceColors();
};

This works great on desktop Safari, Chrome and even Firefox (Yay!), and fine on the iPad. For iPod Touch or iPhone you need to load it in portrait mode. it’s a bit cramped due to the size of the sliders. I needed them to be at least 255px long for the RGB values, and then borders, box shadows and the extra space for the thumbs made them barely fit in the iPhone’s and iPod Touch’s default width. Try hitting the plus icon at the bottom of the browser and save it to you device’s desktop. Then run it from there, you’ll have more vertical space. You can try this out online or download the source code. Enjoy!