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๐Ÿ“š Improved font fallbacks


๐Ÿ’ก Newskategorie: Programmierung
๐Ÿ”— Quelle: developer.chrome.com

Summary

This article is a deep dive into font fallbacks and the size-adjust, ascent-override, descent-override, and line-gap-override APIs. These APIs make it possible to use local fonts to create fallback font faces that closely or exactly match the dimensions of a web font. This reduces or eliminates layout shifts caused by font swapping.

If youโ€™d prefer to skip reading this article, these are some of the tools that you can use to start using these APIs immediately:

Framework tools:

  • @next/font: Starting in Next 13, next/font automatically uses font metric overrides and size-adjust to provide matching font fallbacks.
  • @nuxtjs/fontaine: Starting in Nuxt 3, you can use nuxt/fontaine to automatically generate and insert matching font fallbacks into the stylesheets used by your Nuxt app.

Non-framework tools:

  • Fontaine: Fontaine is a library that automatically generates and inserts font fallbacks that use font metric overrides.
  • This repo contains the font metric overrides for all fonts hosted by Google Fonts. These values can be copied and pasted into your stylesheets.

Background

A fallback font is a font face that is used when the primary font face is not loaded yet, or is missing glyphs necessary to render page content. For example, the CSS below indicates that the sans-serif font family should be used as the font fallback for "Roboto".

font-family: "Roboto" , sans-serif;

Fallback fonts can be used to render text more quickly (that is, by using font-display: swap). As a result, page content is readable and useful earlierโ€”however, historically, this has come at the cost of layout instability: layout shifts commonly occur when a fallback font is swapped out for the web font. However, the new APIs discussed below can reduce or eliminate this issue by making it possible to create fallback font faces that take up the same amount of space as their web font counterpart.

Improved font fallbacks

There are two possible approaches to generating "improved" font fallbacks. The simpler approach uses only the font metric overrides API. The more complicated (but more powerful) approach uses both the font metric overrides API and size-adjust. This article explains both of these approaches.

How font metric overrides work

Intro

Font metric overrides provide a way to override the ascent, descent, and line-gap of a font:

  • Ascent measures the furthest distance that a fontโ€™s glyphs extend above the baseline.
  • Descent measures the furthest distance that a fontโ€™s glyphs extend below the baseline.
  • Line gap, also called "leading", measures the distance between successive lines of text.
Diagram depicting a fontโ€™s ascent, descent, and line gap.

Font metric overrides can be used to override the ascent, descent, and line-gap of a fallback font to match the ascent, descent, and line-gap of the web font. As a result, the web font and the adjusted fallback font will always have the same vertical dimensions.

Font metric overrides are used in a stylesheet like this:

body {
font-family: Poppins, "fallback for poppins";
}

@font-face {
font-family: "fallback for poppins";
src: local("Times New Roman");
ascent-override: 105%;
descent-override: 35%;
line-gap-override: 10%;
}

The tools listed at the beginning of this article can generate the correct font metric override values. However, you can also calculate these values yourself.

Calculating font metric overrides

The following equations yield the font metric overrides for a given web font. The values of font metric overrides should be written as percentages (for example, 105%) rather than decimals.

ascent-override = ascent/unitsPerEm
descent-override = descent/unitsPerEm
line-gap-override = line-gap/unitsPerEm

Units per em (UPM) refers to the grid size that was used when designing the font. Although there are other grid sizes, 1000 (a 1000x1000 grid) or 2048 (a 2048x2048 grid) are by far the most popular. Itโ€™s important to know UPM in order to put other metrics into perspective. For example, an ascent of 900 means very different things depending on whether a font has an UPM of 1000 or 2048.

For example, these are the font metric overrides for the Poppins font:

/*
Poppins font metrics:
ascent = 1000
descent = 350
line-gap = 100
UPM: 1000
*/


ascent-override: 105%; /* = 1050/1000 */
descent-override: 35%; /* = 350/1000 */
line-gap-override: 10%; /* = 100/1000 */

The values of ascent, descent, line-gap, and unitsPerEm all come from the metadata of the web font. The next section of this article explains how to obtain these values.

Reading font tables

A fontโ€™s metadata (specifically, its font tables) contains all the information that at youโ€™ll need to calculate its font metric overrides.

Screenshot of the Font Information dialog box in FontForge. The dialog box displays font metrics like 'Typo Ascent', 'Typo Descent', and 'Typo Line Gap'.
Using FontForge to view font metadata

Here are some tools you can use to read a fontโ€™s metadata:

  • fontkit is a font engine built for Node.js. This code snippet shows how to use fontkit to calculate font metric overrides.
  • Capsize is a font sizing and layout library. Capsize provides an API for getting information about various font metrics.
  • fontdrop.info is a website that allows you to view font tables and other font-related information from the browser.
  • Font Forge is a popular desktop font editor. To view ascent, descent, and line-gap: open the Font Info dialog, select the OS/2 menu, then select the Metrics tab. To view UPM: open the Font Info dialog, then select the General menu.

Some font-related JavaScript libraries approximate ascent, descent, and line-gap by drawing glyphs to canvas and measuring the result. However, this approach is less accurate than reading the font metrics directly from the font table.

Understanding font tables

You may notice that concepts like "ascent" are referred to by multiple metricsโ€”for example, there are hheaAscent, typoAscent, and winAscent metrics. This is the result of different operating systems taking different approaches to font rendering: programs on OSX devices generally use hhea* font metricsโ€”while programs on Windows devices generally use typo* (also referred to as sTypo*) or win* font metrics.

More specifically, programs on Windows devices typically follow the convention of using typo* metrics if a font has set USE_TYPO_METRICS and using win* metrics if not. USE_TYPO_METRICS is a boolean parameter that was introduced to allow designers to set a preference between using typo* and win* metrics.

Depending on the font, browser, and operating system, a font will be rendered using either hhea, typo, or win metrics.

Mac Windows
Chromium Uses metrics from "hhea" table. Uses metrics from "typo" table if "USE_TYPO_METRICS" has been set, otherwise uses metrics from "win" table.
Firefox Uses metrics from "typo" table if "USE_TYPO_METRICS" has been set, otherwise uses metrics from "hhea" table. Uses metrics from "typo" table if "USE_TYPO_METRICS" has been set, otherwise uses metrics from "win" table.
Safari Uses metrics from "hhea" table. Uses metrics from "typo" table if "USE_TYPO_METRICS" has been set, otherwise uses metrics from "win" table.

For more information on how font metrics work across operating systems, see this article on vertical metrics.

Cross-device compatibility

For the vast majority of fonts (for example, ~90% of the fonts hosted by Google Fonts) font metrics overrides can be safely used without knowing the userโ€™s operating system: in other words, for these fonts the values of ascent-override, descent-override, and linegap-override remain exactly the same regardless of whether hhea, typo, or win metrics apply. This repo provides information on which fonts this does and does not apply to.

If you are using a font that requires using separate sets of font metric overrides for OSX and Windows devices, using font metric overrides and size-adjust is only recommended if you have the ability to vary your stylesheets based on the userโ€™s operating system.

This section explains how to determine whether a font uses the same font metric overrides on both OSX and Windows devices.

First, determine if the font has enabled USE_TYPO_METRICS.

  • If USE_TYPO_METRICS is enabled, the font will be rendered using hhea metrics on OSX devices and typo metrics on Windows devices.
    • To calculate normal line height on OSX, use the following equation: (hheaAscent + hheaDescent + hheaLineGap)/unitsPerEm.
    • To calculate normal line height on Windows, use the following equation: (typoAscent + typoDescent + typoLineGap)/unitsPerEm.
    • If the line height on OSX and Windows are the same, you can use the same font metric overrides for both operating systems.
  • If USE_TYPO_METRICS is not enabled, the font will be rendered using hhea metrics on OSX devices and win metrics on Windows devices.
    • To calculate normal line height on OSX, use the following equation: (hheaAscent + hheaDescent + hheaLineGap)/unitsPerEm.
    • To calculate normal line height on Windows, use the following equation: (winAscent + winDescent)/unitsPerEm. (Note: there is no such thing as winLineGap).
    • If both of the following conditions are true, you can use the same font metric overrides on OSX and Windows: a) hheaLineGap == 0, b) line height on OSX and Windows are the same.

Using font metric overrides

Because font metric overrides are calculated using measurements that come from the metadata of the web font (and not the fallback font), they stay the same regardless of which font is used as the fallback font. For example:

body {
font-family: "Poppins", "fallback for Poppins", "another fallback for Poppins";
}

@font-face {
font-family: "fallback for Poppins";
src: local("Arial");
ascent-override: 105%;
descent-override: 35%;
line-gap-override: 10%;
}

@font-face {
font-family: "another fallback for Poppins";
src: local("Roboto");
ascent-override: 105%;
descent-override: 35%;
line-gap-override: 10%;
}

How size-adjust works

Intro

The size-adjust CSS descriptor proportionally scales the width and height of font glyphs. For example, size-adjust: 200% scales font glyphs to twice their original size; size-adjust: 50% scales font glyphs to half their original size.

Diagram showing the results of using 'size-adjust: 50%' and 'size-adjust: 200%'.

By itself, size-adjust has limited applications for improving font fallbacks: in most cases, a fallback font needs to be narrowed or widened slightly (rather than scaled proportionally) in order to match a web font. However, combining size-adjust with font metric overrides makes it possible to make any two fonts match each other both horizontally and vertically.

This is how size-adjust is used in stylesheets:

@font-face {
font-family: "fallback for poppins";
src: local("Arial");
size-adjust: 60.85099821%;
ascent-override: 164.3358416%;
descent-override: 57.51754455%;
line-gap-override: 16.43358416%;
}

Because of how size-adjust is calculated (which is explained in the next section), the value of size-adjust (and the corresponding font metric overrides) changes depending on which fallback font is used:

body {
font-family: "Poppins", "fallback for Poppins", "another fallback for Poppins";
}

@font-face {
font-family: poppins-fallback;
src: local("Arial");
size-adjust: 60.85099821%;
ascent-override: 164.3358416%;
descent-override: 57.51754455%;
line-gap-override: 16.43358416%;
}

@font-face {
font-family: poppins-fallback-android;
src: local("Roboto");
size-adjust: 55.5193474%:
ascent-override: 180.1173909%;
descent-override: 63.04108683%;
line-gap-override: 18.01173909%;
}

Font metric overrides and size-adjust are both declared using percentagesโ€”but these percentages are defined differently: for example, size-adjust: 10% scales a font to 1/10th its original size; whereas ascent-override: 10% wouldnโ€™t necessarily make a font smallerโ€”rather, it changes the proportions of the font (that is, the size of the ascent would be equal to 10% of the UPM).

Calculating size-adjust and font metric overrides

These are the equations for calculating size-adjust and font metric overrides:

size-adjust = avgCharacterWidth of web font / avgCharacterWidth of fallback font
ascent-override = web font ascent / (web font UPM * size-adjust)
descent-override = web font descent / (web font UPM * size-adjust)
line-gap-override = web font line-gap / (web font UPM * size-adjust)

Most of these inputs (that is, ascent, descent, and line-gap) can be read directly from the web fontโ€™s metadata. However, avgCharacterWidth needs to be approximated.

Approximating average character width

In general, average character width can only be approximatedโ€”but there are some scenarios where this can be calculated exactly: for example, when using a monospaced font or when the contents of a text string are known in advance.

Fonts can either be monospaced or fixed-width: in monospaced fonts, all characters take up the same amount of horizontal space; in fixed-width fonts, characters have different widths. Monospaced fonts are commonly used in IDEsโ€”but on the web they are typically less common than fixed-width fonts.

For the sake of simplicity, this article refers to the "width" of a glyph. Although this terminology is not wrong per seโ€”"advance", "advance width", or "horizontal advance" are the terminology typically used in the typography field.

An example of a naive approach to calculating avgCharacterWidth is to take the average width of all [a-z\s] characters.

Graph comparing the width of individual Roboto [a-zs] glyphs.
Width of Roboto glyphs

However, weighting all characters equally will likely underweight the width of frequently used letters (for example, e) and overweight the width of infrequently used letters (for example, z).

A more complex approach that improves accuracy is to take letter frequencyinto account and instead calculate the frequency-weighted average width of [a-z\s] characters. This article is a good reference for the letter frequency and average word length of English texts.

A graph showing letter frequency for English.
Letter frequency in English

This article discusses how to calculate avgCharacterWidth for font fallbacks that will be used with English textโ€”however these same concepts can be applied to other languages and character sets as well. We would be very interested in hearing about your experiences using this technique with content that is not in English.

Another possible approach to approximating avgCharacterWidth is to use xAvgCharWidth. xAvgCharWidth is a pre-populated value that exists within a fontโ€™s OS/2 table. However, be aware that this metric isnโ€™t always correctโ€”for example, many font subsetting tools donโ€™t update xAvgCharWidth when glyphs are added or removed from a font. In addition, even if xAvgCharWidth is calculated correctly, the methodology for calculating xAvgcharWidth has changed over the years: you can expect the value of xAvgCharWidth to vary depending on which version of the OS/2 table is used by the font.

Choosing an approach

The two approaches discussed in this article each have their advantages and disadvantages:

  • Using font metric overrides by themselves is a good approach to use if you are getting started with optimizing your font fallbacks. Although this is the simpler of the two approachesโ€”it is typically powerful enough to noticeably reduce the magnitude of font-related layout shifts.

  • On the other hand, if you want greater precision and are willing to do a bit more work and testing, incorporating size-adjust is a good approach to use. When implemented correctly, this approach can effectively eliminate font-related layout-shifts.

You may be wondering why you canโ€™t just set a fixed line-height instead of using font metric overrides or size-adjust. Although line-height can sometimes be successfully used to reduce or eliminate font-related layout shiftsโ€”this practice is not recommended. Font metric overrides and size-adjust address the root issue behind web font/fallback font mismatchesโ€”line-height does not (line-height sets the height of the CSS line box). In addition, you are likely to find that using line-height for this purpose is more confusing than you originally anticipated. This article is a good overview of things to be aware of when working with line-height.

Choosing fallback fonts

The techniques described in this article rely on using font metric overrides and size-adjust to transform widely available local fontsโ€”rather than attempting to find a local font that closely approximates the web font. When choosing local fonts itโ€™s important to keep in mind that very few fonts have widespread local availability and no single font will exist on all devices.

Arial is the recommended fallback font for sans-serif fonts and Times New Roman is the recommended fallback font for serif fonts. However, neither of these fonts is available on Android (Roboto is the only system font on Android).

The example below uses three fallback fonts to ensure widespead device coverage: a fallback font that targets Windows/Mac devices, a fallback font that targets Android devices, and a fallback font that uses a generic font family.

body {
font-family: "Poppins", poppins-fallback, poppins-fallback-android, sans-serif;
}

/*
Poppins font metrics:
- ascent = 1000
- descent = 350
- line-gap = 100
- UPM: 1000
AvgCharWidth:
- Poppins: 538.0103768
- Arial: 884.1438804
- Roboto: 969.0502537
*/


@font-face {
font-family: poppins-fallback;
src: local("Arial");
size-adjust: 60.85099821%;
ascent-override: 164.3358416%;
descent-override: 57.51754455%;
line-gap-override: 16.43358416%;
}

@font-face {
font-family: poppins-fallback-android;
src: local("Roboto");
size-adjust: 55.5193474%:
ascent-override: 180.1173909%;
descent-override: 63.04108683%;
line-gap-override: 18.01173909%;
}

There are other local fonts that can be used as font fallbacksโ€”but doing so requires knowing a userโ€™s operating system. For example, "Calibri", "Lucinda Sans", and "Impact" are fonts that are all widely available on Windowsโ€”but not on other operating systems.

Request for feedback

Please reach out if you have any feedback on your experience using font metric overrides and size-adjust.

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