Many web applications use image uploaders: image hosting websites, blog publishing applications, social networks, among many others. Such uploaders have limitations: you can’t upload more than one file at a time and you can’t edit the image before sending it. A plugin is the usual workaround for uploading more than one image, and image modifications are usually done on the server side, which can make the editing process more cumbersome.
Firefox 3.6 offers many new Open Web features to web developers, including even more HTML5 support. This post describes how to create a sophisticated image editor and uploader built using Open Web technologies.
See below for a video of the demo with some background.
Hosted on hacks, publishes to twitpic
Our web application uploads pictures to twitpic, an image hosting service for Twitter.
Note that code for this application is actually hosted on the hacks web server but can still upload to Twitpic. Uploading to Twitpic is possible because they opened up their API to Cross Domain XMLHttpRequests for applications like this. (Thank you twitpic!).
The demo uses the following features from HTML5 included in Firefox 3.6:
- HTML5 Drag and Drop: You can drag and drop items inside of the web page and drag images from your desktop directly into the browser.
localStorage: to store the image data across browser restarts
- HTML5 Application Cache: This allows you to create applications that can be used when the browser isn’t connected to the Internet. It stores the entire app in the browser and also gives you access to online and offline events so you know when you need to re-sync data with a server.
- HTML5 Canvas: The HTML5 Canvas element is used through this demo to edit and render images.
- Cross-Origin Resource Sharing to host an application at one site and publish data to another.
What’s in the demo?
Here’s a full list of the things that this application can do:
- You can drag images from your desktop or the web into the application.
- You can see a preview of each image you want to upload.
- You can drag previews to the trash to delete an image.
- Images are automatically made smaller if they are bigger than 600px wide.
- You can edit any of the images before uploading. This includes being able to rotate, flip, crop or turn an image black and white.
- If you edit an image it’s saved locally so you can still edit when you’re offline. If you close the tab, restart Firefox or your computer they will be there when you load the page again so you can upload when you’re re-connected.
- It will upload several files at once and provide feedback as the upload progresses.
- The HTML5 Offline Application Cache makes the application load very quickly since it’s all stored offline.
Under the Hood
Let’s quickly go over all of the technology that we’re using in this application.
Twitpic was nice enough to open their API to allow XMLHttpRequests from any other domain. This means that you can now use their API from your own website and offer your own image uploader.
If you’re running a web site with an API you want people to use from other web sites, you can do that with Cross-site HTTP requests. In order for you to support it you will need to add an HTTP header to responses from your web server that says which domains you allow. As an example, here’s how twitpic allows access from all domains:
It’s important to note that opening your API does have security implications so you should be careful to understand those issues before blindly opening an API. For more details, see MDC documentation on CORS.
Drag and Drop
Drag and Drop is a mechanism with two important features:
- Dragging files from your Desktop to your web page.
- Native Drag and Drop inside your web page (not just changing the coordinates of your elements).
The image uploader uses Drag and Drop to allow the user the add files from the Desktop, to remove files (drag them to the trash) and to insert a new image into a current image.
Canvas to Edit Images
Once images have been dragged and dropped into the web page, the image uploader lets you edit them before uploading. This is possible because images are actually copied to
canvas elements via the File API.
In this case, the editing process is really basic: rotate, flip, add text, black and white, crop. However, you can imagine offering many other features in your version of the editor (see Pixastic for example, or this inlay feature here).
canvas and the File API also let you resize the image before sending it. Here, every image is converted to a new image (canvas) that is less than 600px.
localStorage: Save Local Data
It’s possible to store local data persistently in a web page using
localStorage, up to 5Mb of data per domain.
In the image uploader, localStorage is used to store images and credentials. Since images are actually
canvas, you can store them as data URLs:
var url = canvas.getContext("2d").toDataURL("image/png"); localStorage.setItem("image1", url);
LocalStorage support means that you can edit an image, close Firefox, switch off your computer, and the edited image will still be there when you restart Firefox.
If you add a manifest file listing all remote files needed to display your web application it will work even when you aren’t connected to the Internet. A nice side effect is that it will also make your application load much faster.
html element refers to a manifest file:
And the manifest file looks like:
CACHE MANIFEST # v2.4 index.xhtml fonts/MarketingScript.ttf css/desktop.css css/fonts.css css/mobile.css [...]
You can also catch offline and online events to know if the connection status changes.
For more information see our last article about offline.
Firefox 3.6 allows millions of people to take advantage of modern standards, including HTML5.
The image uploader described here shows how a web page should really be considered as an application since it interacts with your Desktop and works offline.
Here are a few tips for writing your next application using Open Web technologies:
If it makes sense for your service, allow people to access your API from a different domain, you’ll be amazed at the apps people will come up with.
Allow multiple input:
Let people Drag files to your application and use
<input type="file" multiple=""> so they can select several files at once. In this demo, we use a multiple input which is visible only in the mobile version, but for accessibility consideration, don’t forget to use it to propose an alternative to Drag’n Drop.
Use native Drag and Drop:
Drag and Drop mechanisms are usually simulated (updating coordinates on the mousemove event.) When you can, use the native mechanism.
Use the File API
To pre-process a file before even talking to a server.
Store data and use a manifest to make your application data persistent while offline.
Canvas is the most widely implemented HTML5 element. It works everywhere (even if it has to be simulated), use it!
We look forward to seeing the great new applications you’ll come up with using Open Web technologies!
About Paul Rouget
Paul is a Firefox developer.