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Better JS scheduling with isInputPending()

Better JS scheduling with isInputPending()

A new JavaScript API that may help you avoid the trade-off between load performance and input responsiveness.

Loading fast is hard. Sites that leverage JS to render their content currently have to make a trade-off between load performance and input responsiveness: either perform all the work needed for display all at once (better load performance, worse input responsiveness), or chunk the work into smaller tasks in order to remain responsive to input and paint (worse load performance, better input responsiveness).

To eliminate the need to make this trade-off, Facebook proposed and implemented the isInputPending() API in Chromium in order to improve responsiveness without yielding. Based on origin trial feedback, we've made a number of updates to the API, and are happy to announce that the API is now shipping by default in Chromium 87!

Browser compatibility

isInputPending() is shipping in Chromium-based browsers starting in version 87. No other browser has signaled an intent to ship the API.

Background

For the full background, check out our Facebook Engineering blog post, Faster input events with Facebook's first browser API contribution.

Most work in today's JS ecosystem gets done on a single thread: the main thread. This provides a robust execution model to developers, but the user experience (responsiveness in particular) can suffer drastically if script executes for a long time. If the page is doing a lot of work while an input event is fired, for instance, the page won't handle the click input event until after that work completes.

The current best practice is to deal with this issue by breaking the JavaScript up into smaller blocks. While the page is loading, the page can run a bit of JavaScript, and then yield and pass control back to the browser. The browser can then check its input event queue and see whether there is anything it needs to tell the page about. Then the browser can go back to running the JavaScript blocks as they get added. This helps, but it can cause other issues.

Each time the page yields control back to the browser, it takes some time for the browser to check its input event queue, process events, and pick up the next JavaScript block. While the browser responds to events quicker, the overall loading time of the page gets slowed down. And if we yield too often, the page loads too slowly. If we yield less often, it takes longer for the browser to respond to user events, and people get frustrated. Not fun.

A diagram showing that when you run long JS tasks, the browser has less timeto dispatch events.

At Facebook, we wanted to see what things would look like if we came up with a new approach for loading that would eliminate this frustrating trade-off. We reached out to our friends at Chrome about this, and came up with the proposal for isInputPending(). The isInputPending() API is the first to use the concept of interrupts for user inputs on the web, and allows for JavaScript to be able to check for input without yielding to the browser.

A diagram showing that isInputPending() allows your JS to check if there'spending user input, without completely yielding execution back to thebrowser.

Since there was interest in the API, we partnered with our colleagues at Chrome to implement and ship the feature in Chromium. With help from the Chrome engineers, we got the patches landed behind an origin trial (which is a way for Chrome to test changes and get feedback from developers before fully releasing an API).

We've now taken feedback from the origin trial and from the other members of the W3C Web Performance Working Group and implemented changes to the API.

Example: a yieldier scheduler

Suppose that you've got a bunch of display-blocking work to do to load your page, for example generating markup from components, factoring out primes, or just drawing a cool loading spinner. Each one of these is broken into a discrete work item. Using the scheduler pattern, let's sketch out how we might process our work in a hypothetical processWorkQueue() function:

const DEADLINE = performance.now() + QUANTUM;
while (workQueue.length > 0) {
if (performance.now() >= DEADLINE) {
// Yield the event loop if we're out of time.
setTimeout(processWorkQueue);
return;
}
let job = workQueue.shift();
job.execute();
}

By invoking processWorkQueue() later in a new macrotask via setTimeout(), we give the browser the ability to remain somewhat responsive to input (it can run event handlers before work resumes) while still managing to run relatively uninterrupted. Though, we might get descheduled for a long time by other work that wants control of the event loop, or get up to an extra QUANTUM milliseconds of event latency.

A good value for QUANTUM (under the RAIL model) is <50ms, depending on the type of work being done. This value is primarily what dictates the tradeoff between throughput and latency.

This is okay, but can we do better? Absolutely!

const DEADLINE = performance.now() + QUANTUM;
while (workQueue.length > 0) {
if (navigator.scheduling.isInputPending() || performance.now() >= DEADLINE) {
// Yield if we have to handle an input event, or we're out of time.
setTimeout(processWorkQueue);
return;
}
let job = workQueue.shift();
job.execute();
}

By introducing a call to navigator.scheduling.isInputPending(), we're able to respond to input quicker while still ensuring that our display-blocking work executes uninterrupted otherwise. If we're not interested in handling anything other than input (e.g. painting) until work is complete, we can handily increase the length of QUANTUM as well.

By default, "continuous" events are not returned from isInputPending(). These include mousemove, pointermove, and others. If you're interested in yielding for these as well, no problem. By providing a dictionary to isInputPending() with includeContinuous set to true, we're good to go:

const DEADLINE = performance.now() + QUANTUM;
const options = { includeContinuous: true };
while (workQueue.length > 0) {
if (navigator.scheduling.isInputPending(options) || performance.now() >= DEADLINE) {
// Yield if we have to handle an input event (any of them!), or we're out of time.
setTimeout(processWorkQueue);
return;
}
let job = workQueue.shift();
job.execute();
}

That's it! Frameworks like React are building isInputPending() support into their core scheduling libraries using similar logic. Hopefully, this will lead developers who use these frameworks to be able to benefit from isInputPending() behind the scenes without significant rewrites.

Yielding isn't always bad

It's worth noting that yielding less isn't the right solution for every use case. There are many reasons to return control to the browser other than to process input events, such as to perform rendering and execute other scripts on the page.

There exist cases where the browser isn't able to properly attribute pending input events. In particular, setting complex clips and masks for cross-origin iframes may report false negatives (i.e. isInputPending() may unexpectedly return false when targeting these frames). Be sure that you're yielding often enough if your site does require interactions with stylized subframes.

Be mindful of other pages that share an event loop, as well. On platforms such as Chrome for Android, it's quite common for multiple origins to share an event loop. isInputPending() will never return true if input is dispatched to a cross-origin frame, and thus backgrounded pages may interfere with the responsiveness of foreground pages. You may wish to reduce, postpone, or yield more often when doing work in the background using the Page Visibility API.

We encourage you to use isInputPending() with discretion. If there isn't user-blocking work to be done, then be kind to others on the event loop by yielding more frequently. Long tasks can be harmful.

Feedback

Conclusion

We're excited that isInputPending() is launching, and that developers are able to start using it today. This API is the first time that Facebook has built a new web API and taken it from idea incubation to standards proposal to actually shipping in a browser. We'd like to thank everyone who helped us get to this point, and give a special shoutout to everyone at Chrome who helped us flesh out this idea and get it shipped!

Hero photo by Will H McMahan on Unsplash.

Last updated: Improve article