Building Polyfills: Web Platform APIs for the Present and Future

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Chapter 3. Building Your First Polyfill, Part 1: Getting Started Over the last two chapters, we've covered why polyfilling is still important, as well as some principles. Chapter 6.

Building Polyfills

The Future of Polyfilling As our browsers release updates at a faster and faster clip, and legacy browsers like IE6—8 decline in global use, it's easy. Editorial Reviews. Book Description. About the Author.

Add custom features to. No polyfills, no transpiling, it will Just Work. Probably the most anticipated example using the Layout API is to create a masonry layout using a worklet, which currently is only possible via main-thread JavaScript. The example shows the masonry layout demo implementation from GoogleChromeLabs. Animation API a. The Animation API enables developers to implement highly performant animation effects that are tied to user input events such as scrolling.

Brace yourself. Angular 8 is coming

The main goal is to create a method for low-latency visual feedback. The response time is crucial for good user experience, because even a slight delay is perceived by users as slow and janky. In order to create smooth animations in direct sync with user input the worklet is executed independent from the main thread to make the compositor generate frames at the highest frame rate possible hopefully 60fps. For an in depth description of the core mechanics of the Animation API I highly recommend reading this article.

It does a great job in explaining how exactly user input can be translated into animation timeline seamlessly. As the name suggests the new Typed CSS Object Model exposes the style information, where the values are represented in the form of typed JavaScript objects instead of strings which allows usage with less performance loss due to string manipulation.

So far CSS variables were kind of like placeholders and could carry only string values. The Properties and Values API lets us not only specify a custom CSS property but also tell the CSS parser how it should interpret its value using the syntax description with the type of the property whether it is supposed to be inherited by the child elements and its default value.

The custom property can then be used in regular CSS. The most exciting feature of this specification is that it can be used in combination with worklets to create an input parameter for the worklet function.

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In worklets we can query the elements style map which contains all computed CSS properties, containing both native and custom CSS properties. Currently the single option to parse strings into CSS and vice versa is through a third-party library. This feature is most interesting in the context of polyfilling, as it will offer significant performance improvements for processing CSS.


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A polyfill would modify the stylesheets by replacing the unsupported syntax using analogies that the browser can understand. In order for a polyfill to be able to modify the stylesheets they first need to be serialized. Polyfills rely on third-party libraries to parse these string-based style definitions into JavaScript objects. This is one of the reasons why CSS polyfilling is bound to have poor performance at runtime.


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In his article Philip Walton describes the biggest pains of CSS polyfills in browsers and how Houdini can help improve them. These were a lot of APIs!

Satrom, Brandon

So where does that leave us today? Some see Houdini as the most exciting development in CSS for its potential to greatly influence the way new features are introduced into CSS by allowing people to invent their own features, adressing many pain points of the CSS we know today. But still we are not there yet. The APIs are currently just experimental browser features implemented mostly in Chrome and other Chromium-based browsers such as Opera and future versions of Edge.

It will take a long time for Houdini to become ready for production use. However having these APIs in Chrome means that we can experiment and try out these features today and I highly encourage everybody to do so. When Houdini becomes available in all browsers, because of its low level nature, you are most likely not going to use these APIs directly when developing a web application.

This is where Houdini will come to use. It will open up great possibilities for libraries and polyfills authors, by allowing them to register custom hooks directly into the rendering pipeline and let the browser take care of these computations independent from the main thread and create polyfills that perform at render engine speed. Houdini will enable web developers to invent brand new CSS features and spread them as installable worklets.

Houdini Who?

The possibilities are almost endless. I hope this article was helpful and offered some new insights into the extravaganza that is CSS Houdini. You will find additional resources attached below. A Curated List of Houdini Resources on github.