We all want to create high performance web applications. As our apps get more complex, we may want to support rich animations and that ideal 60 frames a second that keep our apps responsive and snappy.
Being aware of how to measure and improve performance can be a useful skill and in this short post, I'll give you a quick refresher on how this can be done with the Chrome DevTools Timeline and Profiles.
Look! It's a beautiful animated GIF. It's a sign this post is going downhil from here : )
The Timeline panel provides an overview of where time is spent loading up your web application such as how long it takes to process DOM events, render page layouts or paint elements to the screen.
It allows you to drill down into three separate facets that can help discover why your application is slow: Events, Frames and actual Memory usage. To get started, navigate to your app and switch to the Timeline panel within the DevTools.
Timeline won’t display any data by default but you can begin a recording session with it by opening your app and clicking on the gray circle ☻ at the bottom of the pane – using the Cmd/Ctrl+E shortcut will also trigger a record.
This record button will turn from gray to red and the Timeline will begin to capture the timelines for your page. Complete a few actions inside your app and after a few seconds, click the button again to stop recording.
Note: will clear your current recording session so you can begin a new one. will force V8 to complete a round of garbage collection, which is useful during debugging. will filter the Details view to only display those records taking longer than 15ms to complete.
Recalculations occur due to modifications of CSS properties whilst Layout events (or reflows) are due to changes in element position. Don't worry if you can't remember these as the legend lower down in the Timeline panel covers these.
Below the Summary view is the Details view, which includes detailed records for these categories after a session has been recorded.
Each record has a title describing it to the left and timeline bars to the right. Hovering over a record will display an extended tooltip with details about the time taken to complete it – these have so much useful information in there, so do pay attention to them, especially the Call Stack.
Back to records, whilst clicking on a record expands it, providing further records about the events it was composed of.
If you’re only interested in a specific section of data, click and drag within the Summary view to select a range to zoom into.
Improving frame rate, animations and responsiveness
Frames mode gives you insight into the tasks Chrome had to perform to generate a single frame (update) of your application for presentation on the screen.
For a really smooth experience, you want some consistency with the frame rate you’re achieving – ideally want to be hitting 30-60fps and if you’re hitting much lower than this then your application is going to appear janky or jittery as frames are being missed.
In Frame mode, the shaded vertical bars correspond to recalculating styles, compositing and so on. The transparent areas of each vertical bar correspond to idle time, at least, idle on the part of your page. For example, say your first frame takes 15ms to execute and the next takes 30ms. A common situation is that frames are synchronized to refresh rate and in this case, the second frame took slightly longer than 15ms to render. Here, frame 3 missed the "true" hardware frame and was rendered upon the next frame, hence, the length of the second frame was effectively doubled.
As Andrey Kosyakov mention on the Chromium blog, even if your app doesn't have a lot of animation in it, the idea of frames is useful as the browser has to perform a repeated sequence of actions while processing input events. When you leave enough time to process such events in a frame, it makes your app more responsive, meaning a better user experience.
When we target 60fps, we have a max of 16.66ms to do everything. That's not a lot of time and so squeezing as much performance out of your animations as possible is important.
Again, by zooming into frames that aren’t hitting your target frame rate in the Summary view, you can discover what browser (and application behaviour) is causing you pain.
For example, we recently used Frames (and Events) view to discover that in one of our apps there were an excessive number of image decodes occurring because the browser was constantly having to rescale our images on the fly.
By instead using prescaled images of the dimensions we actually needed, we avoided this overhead and managed to hit 60fps, which was a lot more smooth for the end-user.
Related tip: You can enable a real-time FPS counter from within the DevTools by going to the Settings menu and enabling Show FPS meter.
This will display a meter as follows in the top right corner of your application, meaning you can get a visual feedback loop on when your frame rate is dropping below your desired target rates.
Note that on mobile, as Paul demonstrated in the Breakpoint Ep 4, animations and frame rate are very different than on desktop by several orders of magnitude. Achieving a higher frame-rate is difficult there and tools like the Timeline Frame mode (coupled with remote debugging) can help you diagnose what your bottlenecks are.
Long-paints are difficult
Diagnosing paints that take a while can be another challenge. If you find yourself wanting to know why the paint for a specific element is slow, set parts of the DOM todisplay:noneto remove it from Layout/Reflow andvisibility:hiddento remove from Paint. You can then measure it by taking a Timeline recording and noting paint times, then viewing the (experimental) paint rate in Force Repaint Mode (thanks to Paul for that tip!).