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Lazy frame construction recently landed on mozilla-central. To explain what this means and how this improves things we need some background. Each node in the DOM tree of a webpage has a frame created for it that is used to determine where on the page the node is drawn and its size. A frame corresponds closely to the concept of a box from the CSS spec. We used to create frames for DOM nodes eagerly; that is as soon as a node was inserted into the document we would create a frame for it. But this can create wasted effort in many situations. For example if a script inserts a large number of nodes into the DOM we would create a frame for each node when it is inserted. But with lazy frame construction we can process all those nodes at once in a big batch, saving overhead. Furthermore the time it takes to create those frames no longer blocks that script, so the script can go and do what it needs to and the frames will get created when they are needed. There are other situations where a script would insert nodes into the document and remove them immediately, so there is no need to ever create a frame for these as they would never be painted on screen.

So now when a node is inserted into a document the node is flagged for needing a frame created for it, and then the next time the refresh driver notifies (currently at 20 ms intervals) the frame is created. The refresh driver is also what drives reflow of webpages and CSS & SVG animations.

Let’s look at two examples where lazy frame construction helps.

In this example we insert 80000 div elements and then we flush all pending layout to time how long it takes before the changes made by the script are done and visible to the user. The script can continue executing without flushing layout, but we do it here to measure how long the actual work takes.

var stime = new Date();
var container = document.getElementById("container");
var lastchild = document.getElementById("lastchild");
for (var i = 0; i < 80000; i++) {
  var div = document.createElement("div");
  container.insertBefore(div, lastchild);
}
document.documentElement.offsetLeft; // flush layout
var now = new Date();
var millisecondselapsed = (now.getTime() - stime.getTime());

With lazy frame construction we are able to process the insertion of all 80000 div elements in one operation, saving the overhead of 80000 different inserts. In a build without lazy frame construction I get an average time of 1358 ms, with lazy frame construction I get 777 ms.

This example comes from a real webpage. We append a div and then set “div.style.position = ‘absolute’;”, and repeat that 2000 times, and then we flush all pending layout to time how long it takes before the changes made by the script are done and visible to the user.

var stime = new Date();
var container = document.getElementById("container2");
for (var i = 0; i < 2000; i++) {
  var div = document.createElement("div");
  container.appendChild(div);
  div.style.position = "absolute";
}
document.documentElement.offsetLeft; // flush layout
var now = new Date();
var millisecondselapsed = (now.getTime() - stime.getTime());

With lazy frame construction we don’t even bother creating the frame for the div until after the position has been set to absolute, so we don’t waste any effort. In a build without lazy frame construction I get an average time of 4730 ms, with lazy frame construction I get 130 ms.

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