Archive for the 'web' Category

JavaScript: Bitmap Editing


Following on from my discovery of RFC 2397 I realised that we would be able to manipulate the “src” property of the “img” element in JavaScript and thereby change the image being displayed. The Base64 encoding is conveniently handled by JavaScript’s (non-standard but ubiquitous in the browser) btoa function (2008-05-10: ubiquitous apart from Opera, that is). I chose OS/2’s BMP image file format as being suitably simple to manipulate.

The result is BME (BitMap Editor). Note that all the work is done by client-side JavaScript, there’s no server side programming or communication at all (that would be madness!).

Bi-level any-colour-you-like-as-long-as-it’s-grey-and-blue at the moment. I suggest you right-click to save.

This use of RFC 2397 shows up some bugs and misfeatures of the OS X user interface. For example, dragging the image onto opens a new mail message containing the contents of the URL as text rather than an image.

Using the RFC 2397 “data” URL scheme to micro-optimise small images


Curly Logo has a text area with a transparent background (maybe you haven’t noticed, but you can move the turtle “underneath” the purple text area and it is still visible, try «bk 333»). Support for colours with alpha channels (a CSS3 feature) was limited when I tried, so I ended up implementing this using a transparent 1×1 PNG which is repeated across the background.

That PNG file is 95 octets big. That’s no big deal, but the HTTP 1.1 headers that are transmitted before the file are about 400 octets. I’m paying to transmit the headers to you, and it takes time. Receiving the header takes 4 times as long as transmitting the file. Time is Money. [edit: 2007-11-16 I do pay to transmit headers, I was wrong when I said I didn’t.]

If I could somehow bundle the PNG file inside the only file that uses it (it’s used in a CSS background-image property in an XHTML file) then you could avoid downloading the extra header. Win! This would be a win even if the bundled PNG was slightly larger. Even if the overall transmitted octet count was a bit higher it would probably be a win in elapsed time because we avoid having to do another HTTP round trip for the extra file (and on some browsers that might mean another TCP/IP connexion, so we save all that too). It turns out we can bundle the PNG file inside the CSS.

We use the apparently obscure “data” URL scheme from RFC 2397. It works by having URLs like this:


(this example is actually a graphic from my earlier article on anti-aliasing, paste it into the location field of a browser to try it out)

“image/png” is optional but defaults to “text/plain” so you probably need to specify it for almost any practical application.

“;base64” is also optional but if you don’t use it then you need to use the standard %xx URL encoding for non-ASCII octets. For binary data it’s probably saner to use “;base64”. Conceivably there might be binary files for which it was shorter to not use “;base64”.

The comma, “,”, is not optional.

So my CSS changes from:

background-image: url(ts.png);



Once I’ve gzip’d everything (which I used to not do, but is a big win for XML and JavaScript) I end up with an extra 19 octets. Which I pay for to store and transmit. So I’m 19 octets worse off, but you guys lose an entire header so you’re well over 300 octets better off plus an entire round-trip. How good is that?

Naturally RFC 2397 is implemented in Safari (3.0.3), Firefox, and Opera.

Now looking at the Base64 encoded version of the 1×1 PNG I can see that the PNG file is mostly overhead. Maybe I can get rid of some of those obviously unused header fields or chunks? Maybe there is some other image file format that would have less overhead for very tiny images (must be able to store at least 1 pixel to 8-bit precision for each of 4 channels). It’s 1-pixel GIFs all over again. Sorry.

Appendix – The Script

Happily uuencode turns out to support Base64 (on OS X and Single Unix Specification).

(includes bugfix!)

# $Id: //depot/prj/logoscript/master/code/dataurl#1 $
# Convert anything to a data URL.
# See
# Base64 is always used.
# dataurl [filename [mimetype]]

if test "$1" != "" && test "$2" == ""
  case "x$1" in
  *.png) m=image/png;;
  *.gif) m=image/gif;;

if test "$1" = ""
  uuencode -m foo
  uuencode -m "$1" foo
fi |
   { echo data:"${m};base64," ; sed '1d;$d;' ; } | tr -d '