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  1. Drag Elements, Console History, and more – Firefox Developer Edition 39

    Quite a few big new features, improvements, and bug fixes made their way into Firefox Developer Edition 39. Update your Firefox Developer Edition, or Nightly builds to try them out!

    Inspector

    The Inspector now allows you to move elements around via drag and drop. Click and hold on an element and then drag it to where you want it to go. This feature was added by contributor Mahdi Dibaiee.

    Back in Firefox 33, a tooltip was added to the rule view to allow editing curves for cubic bezier CSS animations. In Developer Edition 39, we’ve greatly enhanced the tooltip’s UX by adding various standard curves you can try right away, as well as cleaning up the overall appearance. This enhancement was added by new contributor John Giannakos.

    cubic

    The CSS animations panel we debuted in Developer Edition 37 now includes a time machine. You can rewind, fast forward, and set the current time of your animations.

    Console

    Previously, when the DevTools console closed, your past Console history was lost. Now, Console history is persisted across sessions. The recent commands you’ve entered will remain accessible in the next toolbox you open, whether it’s in another tab or after restarting Firefox. Additionally, we’ve added a clearHistory console command to reset the stored list of commands.

    The shorthand $_ has been added as an alias for the last result evaluated in the Console. If you evaluated an expression without storing the result to a variable (for example), you can use this as a quick way to grab the last result.

    We now format pseudo-array-like objects as if they were arrays in the Console output. This makes a pseudo-array-like object easier to reason about and inspect, just like a real array. This feature was added by contributor Johan K. Jensen.

    pseudo-array

    WebIDE and Mobile

    WiFi debugging for Firefox OS has landed. WiFi debugging allows WebIDE to connect to your Firefox OS device via your local WiFi network instead of a USB cable. We’ll discuss this feature in more detail in a future post.

    WebIDE gained support for Cordova-based projects. If you’re working on a mobile app project using Cordova, WebIDE now knows how to build the project for devices it supports without any extra configuration.

    Other Changes

    • Attribute changes only flash the changed attribute in the Markup View, instead of the whole element.
    • Canvas Debugger now supports setTimeout for animations.
    • Inline box model highlighting.
    • Browser Toolbox can now be opened from a shortcut: Cmd-Opt-Shift-I / Ctrl-Alt-Shift-I.
    • Network Monitor now shows the remote server’s IP address and port.
    • When an element’s highlighted in the Inspector, you can now use the arrow keys to highlight the current element’s parent (left key), or its first child, or its next sibling if it has no children, or the next node in the tree if it has no siblings (right key). This is especially useful when an element and its parent occupy the same space on the screen, making it difficult to select one of them using only the mouse.

    For an even more complete list, check out all 200 bugs resolved during the Firefox 39 development cycle.

    Thanks to all the new developers who made their first DevTools contribution this release:

    • Anush
    • Brandon Max
    • Geoffroy Planquart
    • Johan K. Jensen
    • John Giannakos
    • Mahdi Dibaiee
    • Nounours Heureux
    • Wickie Lee
    • Willian Gustavo Veiga

    Do you have feedback, bug reports, feature requests, or questions? As always, you can comment here, add/vote for ideas on UserVoice, or get in touch with the team at @FirefoxDevTools on Twitter.

  2. Ruby support in Firefox Developer Edition 38

    It was a long-time request from East Asian users, especially Japanese users, to have ruby support in the browser.

    Formerly, because of the lack of native ruby support in Firefox, users had to install add-ons like HTML Ruby to make ruby work. However, in Firefox Developer Edition 38, CSS Ruby has been enabled by default, which also brings the support of HTML5 ruby tags.

    Introduction

    What is ruby? In short, ruby is an extra text, which is usually small, attached to the main text for indicating the pronunciation or meaning of the corresponding characters. This kind of annotation is widely used in Japanese publications. It is also common in Chinese for books for children, educational publications, and dictionaries.

    Ruby Annotation

    Basic Usage

    Basically, the ruby support consists of four main tags: <ruby>, <rb>, <rt>, and <rp>. <ruby> is the tag that wraps the whole ruby structure, <rb> is used to mark the text in the normal line, <rt> is for the annotation, and <rp> is a tag which is hidden by default. With the four tags, the result above can be achieved from the following code:

    <ruby>
      <rb>とある<rb>科学<rb><rb>超電磁砲</rb>
      <rp></rp><rt>とある<rt>かがく<rt><rt>レールガン</rt><rp></rp>
    </ruby>

    Since <rb> and <rt> can be auto-closed by themselves, we don’t bother to add code to close those tags manually.

    As shown in the image, the duplicate parts as well as <rp>s are hidden automatically. But why should we add content which is hidden by default?

    The answer is: it is more natural in semantics, and it helps conversion to the inline form, which is a more general form accepted by more software. For example, this allows the page to have a decent effect on a browser with no ruby support. It also enables the user agent to generate well-formed plain text when you want to copy text with ruby (though this feature hasn’t yet been landed on Firefox).

    In addition, the extra content makes it possible to provide inline style of the annotation without changing the document. You would only need to add a rule to your stylesheet:

    ruby, rb, rt, rp {
      display: inline;
      font-size: inherit;
    }

    Actually, if you don’t have those requirements, only <ruby> and <rt> are necessary. For simplest cases, e.g. a single ideographic character, you can use code like:

    <ruby><rt>Saki</rt></ruby>

    Advanced Support

    Aside from the basic usage of ruby, Firefox now provides support for more advanced cases.

    By default, if the width of an annotation does not match its base text, the shorter text will be justified as shown in the example above. However, this behavior can be controlled via the ruby-align property. Aside from the default value (space-around), it can also make the content align to both sides (space-between), centered (center), or aligned to the start side (start).

    Multiple levels of annotations are also supported via tag <rtc> which is the container of <rt>s. Every <rtc> represents one level of annotation, but if you leave out the <rtc>, the browser will do some cleanup to wrap consecutive <rt>s in a single anonymous <rtc>, forming one level.

    For example, we can extend the example above to:

    <ruby>
      <rb>とある<rb>科学<rb><rb>超電磁砲</rb>
      <rp></rp><rt>とある<rt>かがく<rt><rt>レールガン</rt><rp></rp>
      <rtc><rt>Toaru<rt>Kagaku<rt>no<rt>Rērugan</rt></rtc><rp></rp>
    </ruby>

    If you do not put any <rt> inside a <rtc>, this annotation will become a span across the whole base:

    <ruby>
      <rb>とある<rb>科学<rb><rb>超電磁砲</rb>
      <rp></rp><rt>とある<rt>かがく<rt><rt>レールガン</rt><rp></rp>
      <rtc lang="en">A Certain Scientific Railgun</rtc><rp></rp>
    </ruby>

    You can use ruby-position to place the given level of annotation on the side you want. For the examples above, if you want to put the second level under the main line, you can apply ruby-position: under; to the <rtc> tag. Currently, only under and the default value over is supported.

    (Note: The CSS Working Group is considering a change to the default value of ruby-position, so that annotations become double-sided by default. This change is likely to happen in a future version of Firefox.)

    In the end, an advanced example of ruby combining everything introduced above:

    Advanced Example for Ruby

    rtc:lang(en) {
      ruby-position: under;
      ruby-align: center;
      font-size: 75%;
    }
    <ruby>
      <rb>とある<rb>科学<rb><rb>超電磁砲</rb>
      <rp></rp><rt>とある<rt>かがく<rt><rt>レールガン</rt><rp></rp>
      <rtc lang="en">A Certain Scientific Railgun</rtc><rp></rp>
    </ruby>

    Got questions, comments, feedback on the implementation? Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts or issues here or via bugzilla.

  3. Pseudo elements, promise inspection, raw headers, and much more – Firefox Developer Edition 36

    Firefox 36 was just uplifted to the Developer Edition channel, so let’s take a look at the most important Developer Tools changes in this release. We will also cover some changes from Firefox 35 since it was released shortly before the initial Developer Edition announcement. There is a lot to talk about, so let’s get right to it.

    Inspector

    You can now inspect ::before and ::after pseudo elements.  They behave like other elements in the markup tree and inspector sidebars. (35, development notes)

    before-after-inspection

    There is a new “Show DOM Properties” context menu item in the markup tree. (35, development notes, documentation about this feature on MDN)

    show-dom-properties

    The box model highlighter now works on remote targets, so there is a full-featured highlighter even when working with pages on Firefox for Android or apps on Firefox OS. (36, development notes, and technical documentation for building your own custom highlighter)

    Shadow DOM content is now visible in the markup tree; note that you will need to set dom.webcomponents.enabled to true to test this feature (36, development notes, and see bug 1053898 for more work in this space).

    We borrowed a useful feature from Firebug and are now allowing more paste options when right clicking a node in the markup tree.  (36, development notes, documentation about this feature on MDN)

    paste-options

    Some more changes to the Inspector included in Firefox 35 & 36:

    • Deleting a node now selects the previous sibling instead of the parent (36, development notes)
    • There is higher contrast for the currently hovered node in the markup view (36, development notes)
    • Hover over a CSS selector in the computed view to highlight all the nodes that match that selector on the page. (35, development notes)

    Debugger / Console

    DOM Promises are now inspectable. You can inspect the promises state and value at any moment. (36, development notes)

    promise-inspection

    The debugger now recognizes and works with eval’ed sources. (36, development notes)

    Eval’ed sources support the //# sourceURL=path.js syntax, which will make them appear as a normal file in the debugger and in stack traces reported by Error.prototype.stack. See this post: http://fitzgeraldnick.com/weblog/59/ for much more information. (36, development notes,  more development notes)

    Console statements now include the column number they originated from. (36, development notes)

    WebIDE

    You are now able to connect to Firefox for Android from the WebIDE.  See documentation for debugging firefox for android on MDN.  (36, development notes).

    We also made some changes to improve the user experience in the WebIDE:

    • Bring up developer tools by default when I select a runtime app / tab (35, development notes)
    • Re-select project on connect if last project is runtime app (35, development notes)
    • Auto-select and connect to last used runtime if available (35, development notes)
    • Font resizing (36, development notes)
    • You can now adding a hosted app project by entering the base URL (eg: “http://example.com”) instead of requiring the full path to the manifest.webapp file (35, development notes)

    Network Monitor

    We added a plain request/response headers view to make it easier to view and copy the raw headers on a request. (35, development notes)

    net-headers-raw

    Here is a list of all the bugs resolved for Firefox 35 and all the bugs resolved for Firefox 36.

    Do you have feedback, bug reports, feature requests, or questions? As always, you can comment here, add/vote for ideas on UserVoice or get in touch with the team at @FirefoxDevTools on Twitter.

  4. Videos and Firefox OS

    Before HTML5

    Those were dark times Harry, dark times – Rubeus Hagrid

    Before HTML5, displaying video on the Web required browser plugins and Flash.

    Luckily, Firefox OS supports HTML5 video so we don’t need to support these older formats.

    Video support on the Web

    Even though modern browsers support HTML5, the video formats they support vary:

    In summary, to support the most browsers with the fewest formats you need the MP4 and WebM video formats (Firefox prefers WebM).

    Multiple sizes

    Now that you have seen what formats you can use, you need to decide on video resolutions, as desktop users on high speed wifi will expect better quality videos than mobile users on 3G.

    At Rormix we decided on 720p for desktop, 360p for mobile connections, and 180p specially for Firefox OS to reduce the cost in countries with high data charges.

    There are no hard and fast rules — it depends on who your market audience is.

    Streaming?

    The best streaming solution would be to automatically serve the user different videos sizes depending on their connection status (adaptive streaming) but support for this technology is poor.

    HTTP live streaming works well on Apple devices, but has poor support on Android.

    At the time of writing, the most promising technology is MPEG DASH, which is an international standard.

    In summary, we are going to have to wait before we get an adaptive streaming technology that is widely accepted (Firefox does not support HLS or MPEG DASH).

    DIY Adaptive streaming

    In the absence of adaptive streaming we need to try to work out the best video quality to load at the outset. The following is a quick guide to help you decide:

    Wifi or 3G

    Using a certified Firefox OS app you can check to see if the user is on wifi or not.

    var lock    = navigator.mozSettings.createLock();
    var setting = lock.get('wifi.enabled');
     
    setting.onsuccess = function () {
      console.log('wifi.enabled: ' + setting.result);
    }
     
    setting.onerror = function () {
      console.warn('An error occured: ' + setting.error);
    }

    https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/API/Settings_API

    There is some more information at the W3C Device API.

    Detecting screen size

    There is no point sending a 720p video to a user with a screen smaller than 720p. There are many ways to get the different bounds of a user’s screen; innerWidth and width allow you to get a good idea:

    function getVidSize()
    {
      //Get the width of the phone (rotation independent)
      var min = Math.min($(window).innerHeight(),$(window).innerWidth());
      //Return a video size we have
      if(min < 320)      return '180';
      else if(min < 550) return '360';
      else               return '720';
    }

    http://www.quirksmode.org/m/tests/widthtest.html

    Determining internet speed

    It is difficult to get an accurate read of a user’s internet speed using web technologies — usually they involve loading a large image onto the user’s device and timing it. This has the disadvantage of having to send more data to the user. Some services such as: http://speedof.me/api.html exist, but still require data downloads to the user’s device. (Stackoverflow has some more options.)

    You can be slightly more clever by using HTML5, and checking the time it takes between the user starting the video and a set amount of the video loading. This way we do not need to load any extra data on the user’s device. A quick VideoJS example follows:

    var global_speedcount = 0;
    var global_video = null;
    global_video = videojs("video", {}, function(){
    //Set up video sources
    });
     
    global_video.on('play',function(){
      //User has clicked play
      global_speedcount = new Date().getTime();
    });
     
    function timer()
    {
      var diff = new Date().getTime() - global_speedcount;
      //Remove this handler as it is run multiple times per second!
      global_video.off('timeupdate',timer);
    }
     
    global_video.on('timeupdate',timer);

    This code starts timing when the user clicks play, and when the browser starts to play the video it sends timing information to timeupdate. You can also use this function to detect if lots of buffering is happening.

    Detect high resolution devices

    One final thing to determine is whether or not a user has a high pixel density screen. In this case even if they have a small screen it can still have a large number of pixels (and therefore require a higher resolution video).

    Modernizr has a plugin for detecting hi-res screens.

    if (Modernizr.highresdisplay)
    {
      alert('Your device has a high resolution screen');
    }

    WebP Thumbnails

    Not to get embroiled in an argument, but at Rormix we have seen an average decrease of 30% in file size (WebP vs JPEG) with no loss of quality (in some cases up to 50% less). And in countries with expensive data plans, the less data the better.

    We encode all of our thumbnails in multiple resolutions of WebP and send them to every device that supports them to reduce the amount of data being sent to the user.

    Mobile considerations

    If you are playing HTML5 videos on mobile devices, their behavior differs. On iOS it automatically goes to full screen on iPhones/iPods, but not on tablets.

    Some libraries such as VideoJS have removed the controls from mobile devices until their stability increases.

    Useful libraries

    There are a few useful HTML5 video libraries:

    Mozilla links

    Mozilla has some great articles on web video:

    Other useful Links

  5. An easier way of using polyfills

    Polyfills are a fantastic way to enable the use of modern code even while supporting legacy browsers, but currently using polyfills is too hard, so at the FT we’ve built a new service to make it easier. We’d like to invite you to use it, and help us improve it.

    Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/hamur0w0/6984884135

    More pictures, they said. So here’s a unicorn, which is basically a horse with a polyfill.

    The challenge

    Here are some of the issues we are trying to solve:

    • Developers do not necessarily know which features need to be polyfilled. You load your site in some old version of IE beloved by a frustratingly large number of your users, see that the site doesn’t work, and have to debug it to figure out which feature is causing the problem. Sometimes the culprit is obvious, but often not, especially when legacy browsers also lack good developer tools.
    • There are often multiple polyfills available for each feature. It can be hard to know which one most faithfully emulates the missing feature.
    • Some polyfills come as a big bundle with lots of other polyfills that you don’t need, to provide comprehensive coverage of a large feature set, such as ES6. It should not be necessary to ship all of this code to the browser to fix something very simple.
    • Newer browsers don’t need the polyfill, but typically the polyfill is served to all browsers. This reduces performance in modern browsers in order to improve compatibility with legacy ones. We don’t want to make that compromise. We’d rather serve polyfills only to browsers that lack a native implementation of the feature.

    Our solution: polyfills as a service

    To solve these problems, we created the polyfill service. It’s a similar idea to going to an optometrist, having your eyes tested, and getting a pair of glasses perfectly designed to correct your particular vision problem. We are doing the same for browsers. Here’s how it works:

    1. Developers insert a script tag into their page, which loads the polyfill service endpoint.
    2. The service analyses the browser’s user-agent header and a list of requested features (or uses a default list of everything polyfillable) and builds a list of polyfills that are required for this browser
    3. The polyfills are ordered using a graph sort to place them in the right dependency order.
    4. The bundle is minified and served through a CDN (for which we’re very grateful to Fastly for their support)

    Do we really need this solution? Well, consider this: Modernizr is a big grab bag of feature detects, and all sensible use cases benefit from a custom build, but a large proportion of Modernizr users just use the default build, often from cdnjs.com or as part of html5boilerplate. Why include Modernizr if you aren’t using its feature detects? Maybe you misunderstand the purpose of the library and just think that Modernizr “fixes stuff”? I have to admit, I did, when I first heard the name, and I was mildly disappointed to find that rather than doing any actual modernising, Modernizr actually just defines modernness.

    The polyfill service, on the other hand, does fix stuff. There’s really nothing wrong with not wanting to spend time gaining intimate knowledge of all the foibles of legacy browsers. Let someone figure it out once, and then we can all benefit from it without needing or wanting to understand the details.

    How to use it

    The simplest use case is:

    <script src="//cdn.polyfill.io/v1/polyfill.min.js" async defer></script>

    This includes our default polyfill set. The default set is a manually curated list of features that we think are most essential to modern web development, and where the polyfills are reasonably small and highly accurate. If you want to specify which features you want to polyfill though, go right ahead:

    <!-- Just the Array.from polyfill -->
    <script src="//cdn.polyfill.io/v1/polyfill.min.js?features=Array.from" async defer></script>
     
    <!-- The default set, plus the geolocation polyfill -->
    <script src="//cdn.polyfill.io/v1/polyfill.min.js?features=default,Navigator.prototype.geolocation" async defer></script>

    If it’s important that you have loaded the polyfills before parsing your own code, you can remove the async and defer attributes, or use a script loader (one that doesn’t require any polyfills!).

    Testing and documenting feature support

    This table shows the polyfill service’s effect for a number of key web technologies and a range of popular browsers:

    Polyfill service support grid

    The full list of features we support is shown on our feature matrix. To build this grid we use Sauce Labs’ test automation platform, which runs each polyfill through a barrage of tests in each browser, and documents the results.

    So, er, user-agent sniffing? Really?

    Yes. There are several reasons why UA analysis wins out over feature detection for us:

    • In some cases, we have multiple polyfills for the same feature, because some browsers offer a non-compliant implementation that just needs to be bashed into shape, while others lack any implementation at all. With UA detection you can choose to serve the right variant of the polyfill.
    • With UA detection, the first HTTP request can respond directly with polyfill code. If we used feature detection, the first request would serve feature-detect code, and then a second one would be needed to fetch specific polyfills.

    Almost all websites with significant scale do UA detection. This isn’t to say the stigma attached to it is necessarily bad. It’s easy to write bad UA detect rules, and hard to write good ones. And we’re not ruling out making a way of using the service via feature-detects (in fact there’s an issue in our tracker for it).

    A service for everyone

    The service part of the app is maintained by the FT, and we are working on expanding and improving the tools, documentation, testing and service features all the time. The source is freely available on GitHub so you can easily host it yourself, but we also host an instance of the service on cdn.polyfill.io which you can use for free, and our friends at Fastly are providing free CDN distribution and SSL.

    We’ve made a platform. We need the community’s help to populate it. We already serve some of the best polyfills from Jonathan Neal, Mathias Bynens and others, but we’d love to be more comprehensive. Bring your polyfills, improve our tests, and make this a resource that can help move the web forward!

  6. Blend4Web: the Open Source Solution for Online 3D

    Half year ago Blend4Web was first released publicly. In this article I’ll show what Blend4Web is, how it is evolved and and how it can be used for web development.

    What Is Blend4Web?

    In short, Blend4Web is an open source framework for creating 3D web applications. It uses Blender – the popular open source 3D modeling suite – as the primary authoring tool. 3D graphics is rendered by means of WebGL which is also an open standard technology. The two main keywords here – Blender and Web(GL) – explain the purpose of this engine perfectly.

    The full source code of Blend4Web together with some usage examples is available under GPLv3 on GitHub (there is also a commercial licensing option).

    The 3D Web

    On June the 2nd Apple presented their new operating systems – OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 – both featuring WebGL support in their Safari browser. That marked the end of a 5 year cycle during which the WebGL technology has been evolving, starting with the first unstable browser builds (if anybody remembers Firefox 3.7 alpha?). Now, all the major browsers on all desktop and mobile systems support this open standard for rendering 3D graphics, everywhere, without any plugins.

    That was a long and difficult road, along which Blend4Web development has been following WebGL development as a shadow. Broken rendering, tab crashes, security “warnings” from some big guys, unavailability in public browser builds, all sorts of fears, uncertainty and doubts. All this didn’t matter, because we have the opportunity to do 3D graphics (and sound) in browsers!

    Blender

    The first Blender 2.5x builds appeared in summer 2010. At the time we, the programming geeks, were pushed to learn the basics of 3D modeling by the beautiful Sintel from the open source movie of the same name. After choosing Blender, we could be as independent as possible, with a full open source pipeline organized on a Linux platform. Blender gave us the power to make our own 3D scenes, and later helped to attract talanted artists from its wonderful community to join us.

    Blend4Web Evolution in Demos

    Our demo scenes matured together with the development of Blend4Web. The first one was a quite low-poly and almost non-interactive demo called The Island. It was created in 2011 and polished a bit before the public release. In this demo we introduced our Blender-based pipeline in which all the assets are stored in separate files and are linked into the main file for level design and further exporting (for this reason some of Blend4Web users call it “free Unity Pro”).

    In Fashion Show we developed cloth animation techniques. Some post-processing effects, dynamic reflection and particle systems were added later. After Blend4Web has gone public we summarized these cloth-releated tricks in one of our tutorials.

    The Farm is a huge scene (in the scale of a browser): over 25 hectares of land, buildings, animated animals and foliage. We added some gamedev elements into it, including the ability of first-person walking, interacting with objects, driving a vehicle. The demo features spatial audio (via Web Audio) and physics (via Bullet and Asm.js). The Freedesktop folks tried it as a benchmark while testing the Mesa drivers (and got “massive crashes” :).

    We also tried some visualization and created Nature Morte. In this scene we used carefully crafted textures and materials, as well as post-processing effects to improve realism. However, the technology used for this demo was
    quite simple and old-school, as we had no support for visual shader editing yet.

    Things have changed when Blender’s node materials have become available to our artists. They created over 40 different materials for the Sports Car model: chromed metal, painted metal, glass, rubber, leather etc.

    In our latest release we stepped even further by adding support for the animation control by the user. Now interactivity can be implemented without any coding. In order to demonstrate the new opening possibilities we presented interactive infographic of a light helicopter.

    Among the other possible applications of this simple yet effective tool (called NLA Script) we can list the following: interactive 3D web design, product promotions, learning materials, cartoons with the ability to choose between different story lines, point-and-click games and any other applications previously created with Flash.

    Using Blend4Web

    It is very easy to start using Blend4Web – just download and install the Blender addon as shown in this video tutorial:

    The most wonderful thing is that your Blender scene can be exported into a self-contained HTML file that can be emailed, uploaded to your own website or to a cloud – in short shared however you like. This freedom is a fundamental difference from numerous 3D web publishing services as we don’t lock our users to our technology by any means.

    For those who want to create highly interactive 3D web apps we offer the SDK. Some notable examples of what is possible with the Blend4Web API are demonstrated in our programming tutorials, ranging from web design to games.

    Programming 3D web apps with Blend4Web is not much harder than building average RIAs. Unlike some other WebGL frameworks in the wild we tried to offload all graphics, animation and audio tasks to respective professionals. The programmer just loads the scene…

    var m_data = require("data");
    m_data.load("example.json", load_cb);

    …and then writes the logic which triggers the 3D scene changes that are “hard-coded” by the artists, e.g. plays the animation for the user-selected object:

    var m_scenes = require("scenes");
    var m_anim = require("animation");
     
    var myobj = m_scenes.pick_object(event.clientX, event.clientY);
    m_anim.apply_def(myobj);
    m_anim.play(myobj);

    As you can see the APIs are structured in a CommonJS way which we believe is important for creating compact and fast web apps.

    The Future

    There are many possible ways in which the Internet and IT will be going but there is no doubt that the strong and steady development of 3D Web is already here. We expect that more and more users will change their expectations about how web content should look and feel like. We’re gonna help the web developers meet these demands with plans to improve usability and performance and to implement new interesting graphics effects.

    We also follow the development of WebGL 2.0 (thanks Mozilla for your job) and expect to create even more nice things on top of it.

    Stay Tuned

    Read our blog, join us on Twitter, Google+, Facebook and Reddit, watch the demos and tutorials on our YouTube channel, fork Blend4Web at GitHub.

  7. Resources for HTML5 game developers

    Today we released Firefox 31 and it offers a couple of new features that help HTML5 game developers to code and debug sophisticated games. In addition Mozilla blogged about the first commercial games leveraging asm.js, Dungeon Defenders Eternity and Cloud Raiders both of which were cross-compiled in to JavaScript using the Emscripten compiler. Games like these show that HTML5 is ready as a game platform.

    If you are interested in working with Emscripten you can get more information at the main Emscripten wiki or grab the code on the github page. Another good resource is the getting started with Emscripten tutorial on MDN. If you are wondering about the performance of asm.js, read asm.js performance improvements in the latest version of Firefox make games fly! for details.

    In this post we’ll introduce you to some of the resources built by Mozillians that allow you to code and debug HTML5 based games. This list is not exhaustive and we appreciate feedback on any valuable resources that would help in this arena. Don’t be shy and tell us about them in the comments.

    Where To Start

    When developing an HTML5 based game, you have a lot of choices to make. These range from what editor to use, if the game will use Canvas 2d, WebGL, SVG, or CSS up to which specific rendering frameworks and game engines to use. Most of these decisions will be based on the developer experience and the platforms the game will be published on. No article will answer all these questions but we wanted to put together a post that would help get you started down the path.

    One of the key resources available for game developers on MDN is the Games Zone. This section of MDN contains general game development articles, demos, external resources and examples. It also includes detailed descriptions of some of the APIs that a developer will need to be aware of when implementing an HMTL5 game, including sound management, networking, storage and graphics rendering. We are currently in the process of adding content and upgrading the zone. In the future we hope to have content and examples for most common scenarios, frameworks and tool chains.

    In the meantime here are a few posts and MDN articles that help game developers getting started.

    Tools

    As an HTML5 developer you will have no shortage of tools at your disposal. In the Mozilla community we have been hard at work expanding the features that Firefox Developer Tools provide. These include a full-featured JavaScript Debugger, Style Editor, Page Inspector, Scratchpad, Profiler, Network Monitor and Web Console.

    In addition to these, some notable tools have been updated or introduced recently and offer some great functionality for the game developer.

    Canvas Debugger

    With the current release of Firefox, we added a Canvas Debugger to the browser.
    s_canvasdebugger
    The Canvas Debugger allows you to trace through all canvas context calls that are used to generate a frame. Calls are color coded for specific calls for things like drawing elements or using a specific shader program. The Canvas Debugger is not only useful when developing a WebGL based game but can also be used when debugging a Canvas 2D based game. In the game below you can see in the animation strip as each image is drawn to the canvas. You can click any of these lines to get directly to the part of your JavaScript responsible for this action.
    s_captainrogers
    Two very common issues that have been reported when using the Canvas Debugger are with animations generated using setInterval instead of requestAnimationFrame and inspecting canvas elements in an iFrame.

    To get more information about the Canvas Debugger be sure to read over Introducing the Canvas Debugger in Firefox Developer Tools.

    Shader Editor

    When developing WebGL based games it is very useful to be able to test and alter shader programs while the application is running. Using the Shader Editor within the developer tools makes this possible. Vertex and Fragment Shader programs can be modified without the need to reload the page, or black boxed to see what effect this has on the resulting output.
    s_ShaderEditor

    For more information on the Shader Editor, be sure to see Live editing WebGL shaders with Firefox Developer Tools post and take a look at this MDN article which contains a couple of videos showing live editing.

    Web Audio Editor

    The current version of Firefox Aurora (32) – has a Web Audio Editor. The Editor displays a graphical representation of all the Audio Nodes and their connections in the current AudioContext. You can drill down to specific attributes of each node to inspect them.
    s_webaudioeditor

    The Web Audio API provides more robust and complex sound creation, manipulation and processing than what is available in the HTML5 Audio tag. When using the Web Audio API make sure to read over Writing Web Audio API code that works in every browser as it contains pertinent information about support for the various audio nodes.

    For more information on the Web Audio Editor be sure to read this Hacks article introducing the Web Editor and this MDN article.

    Network Monitor

    When developing an HTML5 based game network impact can be not only cumbersome but also costly if the user is on mobile device. Using the Network Monitor you can visually inspect all network request for location, time spent on the operation, and the type and size of the artifact.
    s_networkmon
    In addition you can use the Network Monitor to get a visual performance analysis of your app when cached versus non-cached.
    s_networkcache

    To get more information on the Network Monitor see the MDN page.

    Web IDE

    When starting your game one of your first choices will be which editor to use. And there are a lot of them (Sublime, Eclipse, Dreamweaver, vi, etc). In most cases a you already have a favorite. If you are interested in doing your development within the Browser you may want to have a look at the Web IDE that was recently released in Firefox Nightly.
    s_webide

    The Web IDE project provides not only a fully functional editor but also acts as a publishing agent to various local and remote platforms, debugger, template framework and application manager. In addition the framework supporting this project provides APIs that will allow other editors to use functionality provided in the tool. To get more details on the work that is being done in this area have a look at this post.

    In order to keep up-to-date with news on the Firefox Developer Tools, follow their article series on the Hacks blog. For more detailed information on new, stable developer tools features, check out their documentation on MDN.

    APIs

    The MDN Games Zone lists various APIs and articles that are useful for beginning game development.
    s_apis
    In addition to these resources you may be interested in looking over some additional posts that can be valuable for development.

    If your game is going to support multiplayer interaction using either WebRTC or WebSockets you may also be interested in looking at Together.js which provides collaborative features for web apps. To get an idea what is possible take a look at Introducing TogetherJS.

    Many games will require storage and IndexedDB can be used to handle these needs. For information on extending the capabilities of IndexedDB read over Breaking the Borders of IndexedDB. You may also be interested in localForage which provides browser agnostic support for simple storage. To get more details about this library read over this Hacks post.

    Game Optimization

    HTML5 games today offer a great deal of power to the game developer. That said many of these games are going to be played on a mobile device, which in comparison to your desktop will pale in performance. So if you plan on your game being a success across platforms it is important that you optimize your code. The Optimizing your JavaScript Game for Firefox OS post has a lot of great techniques to help you build a game that performs well on low-end mobile devices.

    Localization

    In order to reach the most users of your game you may want to consider offering it in different languages. As part of this developers should start with localization built into the game. We are doing a great deal of work around recruiting translators to help you translate your game. To get more information about this initiative see this post.

    Your Voice

    As Mozilla is about the community of developers and users, we want your help and your feedback. If you have recommendations for specific features that you would like to see in the products make sure to either get involved in discussion on irc.mozilla.org or through our mailing lists. You can also log bugs at bugzilla.mozilla.org. In addition we are also provide additional feedback channels for our DevTools and Open Web Apps.

  8. What's new in Cordova 3.5.0 for Firefox OS

    The Cordova community recently released version 3.5.0 of the tools. This version includes some exciting improvements to the Firefox OS development workflow. Before we dive into the new features, make sure you have the latest version by running:

    $ sudo npm install -g cordova
    $ sudo npm install -g plugman

    Now that we’re all set up, let’s dive into the new features.

    Improved manifest management

    In previous versions of Cordova, developers had to manually edit the manifest.webapp file to add permissions and other app information. This file has crucial information that Firefox OS needs to interact with your app.

    Cordova has a configuration file called config.xml that already contains the same information needed for the manifest file. Cordova will create and update the manifest based on your config.xml file. In the new version, plugins can add configuration specifying which permissions are necessary. Whenever you run a cordova prepare, the manifest is updated based on your configuration. Now you can have all your app’s information in one place.

    Building packages with Cordova

    Firefox OS uses web technologies that do not require a compilation step to generate binaries. The related Cordova commands build and compile were left unimplemented and would throw an exception when called. That behavior was confusing and left some people wondering what went wrong.

    Now cordova build or Cordova compile will create a zip of your packaged app in the build folder inside the platform/firefoxos folder. A big thank you to the contributor Gert-Jan Braas for implementing this!

    Plugins

    A fresh batch of core plugins were released too. We added Firefox OS support to a few more plugins:

    To update to the latest version of the plugins, you need to remove and add them again. For example, to use the latest version of the file plugin run:

    $ cordova plugin rm org.apache.cordova.file
    $ cordova plugin add org.apache.cordova.file

    Replace the plugin name for the plugin you want to update. The geolocation and contacts plugins have been updated to support auto managing permissions, make sure you update them too.

    Check our status page for updated information on plugin status.

    What’s next

    A highly requested feature is support for emulate and run Cordova commands. We are working with the Dev Tools team to create an awesome experience for debugging Cordova applications using Firefox’s App Manager. Here is a sneak preview of what’s coming!

    Meanwhile you can debug your app by adding the platforms/firefoxos/www folder to the app manager in Firefox. For more information, check out Cordova for Firefox OS on MDN.

    We are working on creating default icons for a newly created app. They will serve as placeholders that can be easily replaced with your app’s brand.

    We also have a development status page where you can see up to the minute information on what is being worked on.

    We’d love to hear your feedback and feature requests. You can reach us in the #cordova channel on IRC, or through email at mozilla-cordova@mozilla.org or log your issues and requests on the Apache Cordova issue site. Also if you are interested in helping out with the project let us know.

  9. App Framework and Firefox OS

    Intel’s App Framework is an open source, MIT licensed, cross platform HTML5 framework for building mobile applications. It is hosted on GitHub where you can contribute to the project, especially the Firefox OS theme.

    App Framework is comprised of three main areas.

    1. Query selector library
    2. UI/UX library
    3. Plugins

    The query selector library implements a subset of jQuery* API’s, with additional API’s targeted for mobile development. The UI/UX library offers top notch performance on a broad range of devices, including responsive design for phones and tablets. Plugins, the heart of App Framework UI, allow developers to write and share code for App Framework applications.

    Firefox OS support

    With the 2.1 launch of App Framework, Firefox OS is now officially supported. This was easy to accomplish, due to Firefox supporting vendor neutral prefixes on many CSS features, like CSS transforms. We will be adding an official Firefox OS theme soon.

    Getting the code

    To see everything that is offered in the framework, take a look at the App Framework website. You can find the quickstart guide, API documentation, and the UI component preview. You can clone the source code at GitHub

    Download the zip from GitHub and extract the zip file. View the index.html file to see a sample of the kitchen sink and example API’s. You can test drive App Framework UI and see a demonstration of the provided plugins.

    Building your first app

    Here we will build a sample Hello World app with App Framework UI. Create a new folder and copy over the following files from the kitchen sink into your project

    1. build/ui/appframework.ui.min.js
    2. build/css/af.ui.base.css
    3. build/css/icons.css

    Next create an index.html file, manifest.webapp, and app.js. You can find documentation for the manifest.webapp on MDN. See below for the folder structure for this project.

    __folder__
        index.html
        manifest.webapp
        js
            appframework.ui.min.js
            app.js
        css
            af.ui.base.css
            icons.min.css

    Open up your index.html file in your favorite editor and copy in the following code for the basic ‘Hello World’ app

    <!DOCTYPE html>
    <!--HTML5 doctype-->
    <html>
     
        <head>
            <title>FF OS sample</title>
            <meta http-equiv="Content-type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">
            <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1, maximum-scale=1">
            <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="css/icons.css" />
            <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="css/af.ui.base.css" />
            <script type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8" src="ui/appframework.ui.min.js"></script>
            </head>
     
        <body>
            <div id="afui">
                <!-- this is the main container div.  This way, you can have only part of your app use UI -->
                <!-- this is the header div at the top -->
                <div id="header">
                </div>
                <!-- content is where your panels live/scrollable area -->
                <div id="content">
                    <!-- here is where you can add your panels -->
                    <div data-title='Firefox OS' id="main" class="panel" selected="true">
                        Hello World
                    </div>
                </div>
                <!-- bottom navbar. Add additional tabs here -->
                <div id="navbar">
                    <a href="#main" id='navbar_home' class='icon home'>home</a>
                </div>
            </div>
        </body>
     
    </html>

    Test

    Now you can test your sample app on the Firefox OS simulator or a device. You should see the header with the title “Firefox OS”, “Hello World” in the content area, and a footer with a single icon at the bottom. Since we did not add any additional panels, there isn’t much you can do. Let’s update our code and add more. Open up index.html in your editor and change it to the following.

    <!DOCTYPE html>
    <!--HTML5 doctype-->
    <html>
     
        <head>
            <title>FF OS sample</title>
            <meta http-equiv="Content-type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">
            <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1, maximum-scale=1">
            <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="css/icons.css" />
            <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="css/af.ui.base.css" />
            <script type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8" src="ui/appframework.ui.min.js"></script>
            </head>
     
        <body>
            <div id="afui">
                <div id="header">
                </div>
                <div id="content">
                    <div data-title='Firefox OS' id="main" class="panel" selected="true">
                        Hello World
                    </div>
                    <div data-title='Page 2' id="page2" class="panel">
                        <ul class='list'>
                            <li>
                                <a href='#page2'>Item 1</a>
                            </li>
                            <li>
                                <a href='#page2'>Item 2</a>
                            </li>
                            <li>
                                <a href='#page2'>Item 3</a>
                            </li>
                            <li>
                                <a href='#page2'>Item 4</a>
                            </li>
                            <li class='divider'>
                                Divider
                            </li>
                            <li>
                                <a href='#page2'>Item 5</a>
                            </li>
                            <li>
                                <a href='#page2'>Item 6</a>
                            </li>
                            <li>
                                <a href='#page2'>Item 7</a>
                            </li>
                        </ul>
                    </div>
     
                </div>
                <!-- bottom navbar. Add additional tabs here -->
                <div id="navbar">
                    <a href="#main" id='navbar_home' class='icon home'>home</a>
                    <a href="#page2" id='navbar_home' class='icon gear'>home</a>
                </div>
            </div>
        </body>
     
    </html>

    View the new code

    Run your updated code again in the simulator or device. You will see two items in the bottom tab bar, and a link to “Page 2″. Navigate to Page 2 and you will see the slide up transition, along with a stylized list. You can scroll the list using the built in JavaScript scroller. Hit the back button at the top to go back in the history stack.

    What’s next?

    Get a starter template and start building your application! Check out the App Framework website for more documentation and tips.

    We are working on a Firefox OS theme and you can check our work out. We love feedback and are happy to fix any bugs found. Just head on over to GitHub and report the issues. If you want to extend your app more, build plugins and share them with other developers

    Screenshots

    Below are some screen shots from the Intel® XDK App Preview application, powered by App Framework. This is a cross platform application that runs on phones and tablets.

    login

    list

    demo

    *Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.

  10. Creating a Multiplayer Game with TogetherJS and CreateJS

    Bubble Hell Duel is a multiplayer HTML5 dogfighting game. The object of the game is to dodge bubbles launched from your opponent while returning fire. This game was written mainly as a prototype for learning and the source code is available on GitHub. You can try the game out in single or multiplayer here. Currently the game does not contain any sound effects but uses CreateJS and TogetherJS.

    screenshot

    In this post I would like to share some of my experiences when developing the game. Please share your thoughts in the comments if you agree or have other suggestions.

    Game Engines

    When developing a 2d game you can write you own engine or make use of some fantastic libraries that are available. After spending a few days looking at the various options available I decided to use CreateJS. As I have some experience with Flash, CreateJS made sense for my needs as there was not much of a learning curve. I also wanted to make use of some Flash animations and CreateJS supported this feature. I will elaborate a bit more on animations later in the article.

    As I am a C++ developer I believe emscripten is also a good choice. It allows C/C++ code to be compiled to JavaScript, which can be executed in the browser. I am of the opinion that the static type checking and compile-time optimizations are great assets when developing large code bases. I have used emscripten before and it works very well, but for this project I wanted the fast and convenient prototyping capabilities of JavaScript. I also wanted to expand my JavaScript knowledge.

    I’d like to mention a few other libraries that seem very interesting: Cocos2d-x is making an emscripten port and they already support HTML5 binding. I also like pixi.js as it provides a webGL renderer but also supports Canvas fallback when the browser does not support webGL.

    C++ vs JavaScript

    At first I was a little bit worried about the performance of JavaScript, and that was the reason my decision between using CreateJS or emscripten was difficult. Fortunately a simple benchmark showed that a naive collision detection algorithm with about 400 balls on screen could still reach 40+ fps, which was enough for my simple experiment.

    As someone who has coded more in C++ than JavaScript I loved how quickly I could translate my thoughts into code and test them out on multiple browsers. On the other hand it was not very comfortable debugging my JavaScript. C++ compilers are quite good at pointing out misspellings and other mistakes that cause runtime issues. While the “use strict” directive and other mechanisms like closure compilers have their purpose they were not very helpful to me especially when variables became undefined. Rooting for the cause of errors can be somewhat difficult comparatively.

    As an example of difficult debugging, I encountered the following issue. I was using float numbers for coordinates and other geometric values like angles. These values were passed to the other player using the TogetherJS.send method for synchronization:

    var player = { x: 10.0, y: 10.0 };
    TogetherJS.send({type:'sync',x:player.x,y:player.y});
    TogetherJS.hub.on('sync', function(msg){
        enemy.x = msg.x;
        enemy.y = msg.y;
    });

    This worked, but lots of decimals were sent in this way, so I decided to relax the accuracy:

    TogetherJS.send({type:'sync', x:Math.round(player.x), y:Math.round(player.y) });

    Then I thought integers might not be accurate enough for collision detection, so I added more digits to the messages:

    TogetherJS.send({type:'sync', x:player.x.toFixed(2), y:player.y.toFixed(2) });

    While this seemed a reasonable solution, it actually induced a bug that was very hard to find and I did not notice it until I tested the game after implementing some more features. I noticed while playing the game the opponent would never move.

    It took me hours in debugging before I could locate the cause. I do not think I would have made this mistake using C++.

    If you would like to see this bug in action take a look at this jsFiddle project. Look at the three canvas tag outputs and you will notice the third canvas contains the bug. This issue occurs because toFixed returns a string representation.

    I am not sure using a closure compiler would have avoided this issue, but I did find in another project that it definitely helps with optimizations.

    Animation with Flash

    As with most games I wanted to use a good deal of animation. I was very familiar with creating animations in Flash and found that CreateJS supported several ways of consuming the Flash animations and presenting them in HTML5. CreateJS is a set of libraries and tools used to create interactive HTML5 content. So by using CreateJS I could consume my animations as well as use the other libraries available for loop handling, resource management and in the future, sound manipulation. For a quick introduction to CreateJS take a look at this video.

    CreateJS, which Mozilla now sponsors, offers great support for Flash animations.

    There are two ways of using Flash animations in HTML5 with CreateJS. The first option is to directly export the Flash animation in a way that you can access all the elements in their original form, including paths, transformations and tweens. The advantage to this approach is that it produces smaller files, and CreateJS allows you to transfer them into a sprite sheet on the client side, for faster rendering. Adobe Flash CS6 offers the CreateJS Toolkit plugin that allows the designer to export all the content of an animation to HTML5 files. This generally results in a JavaScript file with all the graphics and tweens, an HTML file, and a set of image files. You can open up the HTML document in your browser and see the animation.

    Another option is to export the animation into a sprite sheet, that is an image containing all the frames with a JavaScript file describing the position and size of each frame. These files can be easily integrated into HTML based games or applications via the SpriteSheet class in CreateJS. This is the approach I used for this game. To see the code where I use the SpriteSheet have a look at this link. If you want some more detail on this approach take a look at this video.

    I should also note that you can use a tool called Zoë to export directly to a sprite sheet or a JSON file from a Flash Animation as well.

    marisa

    The above image is an example of a sprite sheet that I use in the game and was generated as described above. The original image came from the game Touhou Hisouten ~ Scarlet Weather Rhapsody, which is availabe at http://www.spriters-resource.com.

    Multiplayer with TogetherJS

    On my first iteration of the code the game was not multiplayer. Originally it was a single-player bullet hell game, with a boss foe randomly moving across the screen. I could not last more than 30 seconds before succumbing to withering fire. It was interesting enough that I thought multiplayer would be exciting.

    I had heard of Together.js not long after it was released. The jsFiddle project is powered by Together.js and offers an impressive collaboration mode. This led me to using Together.js in my game. It is also very nice that Mozilla offers a default hub server simplifying the process of creating a multiplayer web based game. To learn more about Together.js be sure to check out this article.

    It was easy and comfortable integrating Together.js into my game, as it works like other event dispatcher/listeners frameworks.

    With Together.js, I was able to implement random match and invitation only multiplayer modes in the game. I did face a few design challenges that I had to overcome when designing the communication protocol.

    First off, I did not put code in to prevent cheating with two-party communications and assumed a certain level of trust between players. In the game design currently all collision detection of a player is done locally. Theoretically if you block corresponding messages you can mask that you have taken damage.

    Another area that I hacked a bit is that the bubbles of the enemy avatar are generated locally and randomly. This means that the bubbles seen from your character avatar are not necessarily the same as your opponent is seeing.

    In practice neither of these shortcuts should ruin the fun of the game.
    I did encounter a couple of issues or caveats with Together.JS.

    • I did not find a way to disable the cursor updating in Together.js. While this is useful in collaborative tools I did not need it in my game.
    • I am using Together.js in an asymmetric way, where both players see themselves as the red skirted Avatar (Reimu). This allows for easier placement of the player at the bottom of the screen and the opponent at the top. This also means that when you move the main player from an opponent’s view of the game your move is seen as the opponents move and vice versa.

    The Fun of Making Mistakes

    There are two visual effects in the game that came as unexpected surprises:

    • When a round finishes and the message ‘You Win’ or ‘You Lose’ appears, the time is frozen for a few seconds. This acts like a dramatic pause.
    • When a charge attack is released, the bullets are fixed and then gradually blown away toward the enemy.

    Neither of these effects was designed in this way. I didn’t want the pause and I wanted the bullets to continue rotating around the player upon releasing. However I made mistakes, and the result seemed to be much better than I had planned, so they made the final cut.

    Conclusion and Future Plans

    It is always fun learning new things. I like the fact that I could prototype and visualize pretty quickly. In the future I might add more patterns for the bullet curtains, and a few sound effects. In addition I will probably also draw more background images or possibly animate them.

    While developing the game I did realize in order to get a natural and intuitive feel required more effort than I expected. This is something I have always taken for granted while playing game.

    The code is open source, so feel free to fork and play. Be sure to comment if you have any suggestions for improving the game or the existing code.