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Conditionally loading a native image lazyload polyfill/library

My previous blogpost was about how to load a :focus-visible polyfill only if the requesting browser doesn't support it. Similar to that, this snippet will help you to load an image lazyloading JavScript library, only when native lazyloading isn't supported.

Intro to lazyloading

Lazyloading images has been a good practice for web page performance for some time, and recommended by tools like Lighthouse, PageSpeed Insights and WebPageTest among others. This traditionally had to implemented using a JS library like Lazysizes.

These libraries monitor what is visible within the browser and only when an image is about to come into view is it loaded. This means that browser won't need to download any images that are never seen - reducing data use and potentially improving front-end performance.

Native lazyloading

Given the prevelance of this practice, the Chrome team and HTML Spec folk introduced lazyloading behaviour natively into the browser via the loading attribute on img tags. We can already make our current img tags lazy by adding loading="lazy" to the element like so:

<img src="/assets/example.jpg" alt="Example image" width="200" height="100" loading="lazy">

Browser support is decent at around 70% between Chromium-based and Firefox-based browsers, but it unfortunately isn't yet in Safari or for iOS at all.

As with my focus-visible conditional loading, ideally we load a JavaScript library/polyfill only if the new feature isn't supported.

Loading the library conditionally

The progressive nature of the loading attribute means older browsers without support will still load the images. That is normally great as it keeps the web backwards-compatible and often usable in old browsers and devices. In this case however, it makes it a little tricky for us to prevent the loading of images outside of the current view.

Browsers that don't support the attribute ignore it and will just load the images normally. By the time we've loaded our script, the browser may have already downloaded many or all of the images on the page unnecessarily.

What we have to do is provide our markup in the format of the lazyload library we are using. We then check for support of native lazyloading and either load our library or run some JS to adapt our markup to 'normal'.

Before the closing </body> we include our conditional loading snippet like this:

<script>
let hasLibLoaded = false;
// in a function so we cn re-run if data is added dynamically
window.loadingPolyfill = () => {
// check if loading attribute supported
if ('loading' in HTMLImageElement.prototype) {
// get all <img> and <source> elements
const images = document.querySelectorAll('img[data-src]');
const sources = document.querySelectorAll('source[data-srcset]');

// loop through <img>s setting the src attribute and srcset and sizes if present
for (let img of images) {
img.src = img.getAttribute('data-src');
const srcset = img.getAttribute('data-srcset');
if (srcset) {
img.srcset = srcset;
}
const sizes = img.getAttribute('data-sizes');
if (sizes) {
img.sizes = sizes;
}
}

// loop through <source>s setting the srcset attribute and sizes if present
for (let source of sources) {
source.srcset = source.getAttribute('data-srcset');
const sizes = source.getAttribute('data-sizes');
if (sizes) {
source.sizes = sizes
}
}

// if loading attribute is not supported
} else {
// check we haven't already loaded the library
if (!hasLibLoaded) {
// create script element with src pointing to our library and add to document
const script = document.createElement('script');
script.src = '/js/lazysizes.js';
document.body.appendChild(script);

// mark library as loaded
hasLibLoaded = true;

// lazyloading library has already been loaded
} else {
// depending on your library you may need to run findNewItems() or something along
// those lines to adapt new content. Some libraries including lazysizes don't need this.
}
}
}
// run our loading polyfill
window.loadingPolyfill();
</script>

We assign our function globally on the window object so that if any content is loaded via JavaScript (eg AJAX or client-side-routing) you call call window.loadingPolyfill() again and it will re-run including new images.

Notes

  • Make sure the script.src points to your JS library - locall or using a CDN like JSDelivr.
  • Depending on your lazyloading library, you may need to change data-src, data-srcset and data-sizes. Many use this convention but not all, eg Uncloak uses data-uncloak-src.
  • If you need to support older browsers like IE11 then you will need to check your lazyload library and adapt the code above. Alternatively consider including a legacy.js script that has the same functionality as our supporting case, that will fall back to standard image loading for old browsers.

Performance Impact

Despite minimal, this will have a performance impact on both supporting and non-supporting browsers.

Supporting browsers

In theory browsers are able to start downloading high-priority images before the full document is parsed. Because there is no src atribute, our solution stops this from happening until our script runs near the end of the document. Unless you have a very long HTML document though, it's unlikely this will be more than a few milliseconds. Regardless, I would suggest avoiding this practice for your most important above-the-fold images like logos or hero images.

Non-supporting browsers

As we are loading our JS library asyncronously, this generally means it has a lower download priority than it would otherwise. There is no easy way around this, but I couldn't see any conslusive impact when testing on Safari. Take that with a pinch of salt though, it will depend a lot on how your website is built and the visiting device. I don't think this will be very significant however.

Further Reading

Thoughts or comments?

If you have any comments or feedback on this article, let me know! I'd love to hear your thoughts, go ahead and send me an email at alistair@accudio.com or contact me on Twitter.