[webkit-dev] Enable REQUEST_ANIMATION_FRAME on all ports? (was Re: ENABLE flag cleanup strawman proposal)

James Robinson jamesr at google.com
Mon Sep 26 21:48:08 PDT 2011

On Sun, Sep 25, 2011 at 6:52 PM, Darin Adler <darin at apple.com> wrote:

> On Sep 25, 2011, at 12:20 AM, James Robinson wrote:
> > The TIMER based support for RAF is very new (only a few weeks old) and
> still has several major bugs. I'd suggest letting it bake for a bit before
> considering turning it on for all ports.
> Got it.
> > Fundamentally I don't think this feature can be implemented reasonably
> well with just timers, so port maintainers should take a really careful look
> at the level of support they want to have for this feature when deciding if
> they want to support it.
> This may contradict the recommendation above. If the timer-based version is
> too low quality then maybe we shouldn’t put ports in the position of
> shipping with a substandard implementation rather than simply having the
> feature omitted.

Perhaps if I expand on my concerns a bit it'll be clearer what the right
option is.

The goal of requestAnimationFrame is to allow web authors to have
high-quality script-driven animations.  To use a concrete example, when
playing angry birds (http://chrome.angrybirds.com/) and flinging a bird
across the terrain, the RAF-based animation should move the bird at a
uniform rate across the screen at the same framerate as the physical display
without hitches or interruptions.  An additional goal is that we shouldn't
do any unnecessary work for frames that do not show up on screen, although
it's generally necessary to do this in order to satisfy the first goal as
I'll show below.  There are two main things that you need in order to
achieve this that are difficult or impossible to do with a WebCore Timer: a
reliable display-rate aligned time source, and a source of feedback from the
underlying display mechanism.

The first is easiest to think about with an example.  When the angry bird
mentioned above is flying across the screen, the user should experience the
bird advancing by the same amount every time their display's update
refreshes.  Let's assume a 60Hz display and a 15ms timer (as the
current REQUEST_ANIMATION_FRAME_TIMER code uses), and furthermore assume
(somewhat optimistically) that every frame takes 0ms to process in
javascript and 0ms to display.  The screen will update at the following
times (in milliseconds): 0, 16 2/3, 33 1/3, 50, 66 2/3, 83 1/3, 100, etc.
 The visual X position of the bird on the display is directly proportional
to the time elapsed when the rAF handler runs, since it's interpolating the
bird's position, and the rAF handler will run at times 0, 15, 30, 45, 60,
etc.  We can thus determine the visual X position of the bird for each

Frame 0, time 0ms, position: 0, delta from last frame:
Frame 1, time 16 2/3ms, position: 15, delta from last frame: 15
Frame 2, time 33 1/3ms, position: 30, delta from last frame: 15
Frame 3, time 50 0/3 ms, position: 45, delta from last frame: 15
Frame 4, time 66 2/3 ms, position: 60, delta from last frame: 15
Frame 5, time 83 1/3 ms, position: 75, delta from last frame: 15
Frame 6, time 100 0/0 ms, position: 90, delta from last frame: 15
Frame 7, time 116 2/3ms, position: 105, delta from last frame: 15
Frame 8, time 133 1/3ms, position: 120, delta from last frame: 15
Frame 9, time 150 0/3 ms, position: 150, delta from last frame: 30 (!)
Frame 10, time 166 2/3 ms, position: 165, delta from last frame: 15
Frame 11, time 183 1/3 ms, position: 180, delta from last frame: 15
Frame 12, time 200 0/0 ms, position: 195, delta from last frame: 15

What happened at frame 9?  Instead of advancing by 15 milliseconds worth,
the bird jumped forward by twice the normal amount.  Why?  We ran the rAF
callback twice between frames 8 and 9 - once at 135ms and once at 150ms.
 What's actually going on here is we're accumulating a small amount of drift
on every frame (1.66666... milliseconds, to be precision) between when the
display is refreshing and when the callbacks are being invoked.  This has to
catch up sometime so we end up with a beat pattern every (16 2/3) / abs(16
2/3 - 15) = 10 frames.  The same thing happens with a perfect 16ms timer
every 25 frames, or with a perfect 17ms timer every 50 frames.  Even a very
close timer will produce these regular beat patterns and as it turns out the
human eye is incredibly good at picking out and getting annoyed by these
effects in an otherwise smooth animation.

For this reason, you really need a precise time source that is tied in to
the actual display's refresh rate.  Not all displays are exactly 60Hz - at
smaller form factors 50 or even 55hz displays are not completely unheard of.
 Additionally the normal clock APIs aren't always precise enough to stay in
sync with the actual display - particularly on windows it's really hard to
find a clock that doesn't drift around all over the place.

The above analysis assumes that all calls are infinitely fast and there's no
real contention for system resources.  In practice, though, this is rarely
the case.  It's not uncommon that the system will temporarily get overloaded
and has to make tradeoffs between maintaining a high framerate and remaining
responsive to user input.  In Chromium, we have some logic to ensure that we
load balance between handling input events and painting to ensure that
processing one type doesn't completely starve the other.  In a multi-process
environment, such as WebKit2 or Chromium, there needs to be coordination
between the two processes in the non-composited path in order to paint a
bitmap and get it onscreen.  If this logic is all operating completely
independently from the rAF scheduling then it's very easy to end up
triggering callbacks at a time when the browser can't produce a frame
anyway, or painting without invoking the rAF callbacks even if they should
be invoked.  A related issue is what to do when the rAF callbacks themselves
cause us to be unable to hit our target framerate - for example by
invalidating some portion of the page that is very expensive to repaint.  In
that case, the ideal behavior is to throttle down the rAF callback rate to
what we can sustain, which requires some feedback from the rest of the
graphics stack.

Architecturally I think that WebCore is the wrong place to address these
issues.  WebCore is responsible for generating repaint invalidations and
passing them out to the WebKit layer via ChromeClient, and it's responsible
for painting content when the WebKit layer asks it to.  Otherwise, all of
the frame scheduling logic that would be relevant to rAF lives outside of
WebCore in the port-specific layers.  Determining a valid clock source for a
given graphics stack and deciding when to produce new frames are also highly

Note that I don't think that using a timer is necessarily evil in all cases.
 With some rendering architectures or graphics libraries, it may not be
possible to produce a better solution.  We still use a timer in chromium in
our non-composited path, although it is integrated with our frame scheduling
and back pressure logic.  Additionally a timer is quite easy to code up and
works "pretty well" most of the time (although you can be sure that your
pickier users will complain).  There are also some benefits to providing
this API even without great scheduling - for example a port can throttle the
rAF callbacks for non-visible content or tabs without the backwards compat
issues doing the same thing for setTimeout() would have, leading to
dramatically lower power and resource consumption in some cases.

I still think it's dangerous to provide this as a default for all ports to
fall back on, because I worry that if it's there ports will use it without
considering the issues I mention above.

- James

>    -- Darin
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