John Smith's Blog

Ramblings (mostly) about technical stuff

What's the best way of including SVGs in a responsive web page?

Posted by John Smith on

TL; DR: <object> seems the best bet - although Safari 5.1 has issues compared to the other browsers. Second choice is having the SVG inline in the HTML, but that has issues for WebKit and IE.

As a diversion from my more usual diet of Python, I've spent a fair bit of time over the past week or so revisiting SVG. My previous experiments have usually been done using fixed sizes, but I've always wanted to do something that fits in better with what these days is called "responsive design", especially given as these are supposed to be scalable vector graphics.

For an example of the sort of thing I've been aiming for, take a look at the main chart on a Google Finance page. This Flash chart resizes horizontally as you change the size of the browser window. (NB: the chart makes extra data visible as you make the browser window wider, which isn't exactly what I want, but you should get the idea.)

Unless I've been particularly boneheaded about the way I've investigated this, this isn't as straightforward a problem as it first seemed. If you put a regular bitmap image in an HTML page with something like <img src="whatever.png" width="100%" /> the image will scale as you'd hope when the browser window is resized. This isn't necessarily the case with SVG.

As outlined in the W3C docs, there are five ways that you can pull SVGs into a page in a modern browser:

  • <embed>
  • <frame> / <iframe>
  • <object>
  • <img>
  • Inline <svg>
(You can also create an SVG via DOM function calls, but I'm not particularly interested in that approach right now.)

I've built tests for each of these, and run them through the latest versions of the five main browsers. This obviously ignores a lot of issues with older browsers and mobile browsers, many of which don't even support SVG at all, but as it turns out, the "big 5" are enough to worry about on their own :-(

In the following sections, when I refer to a particular browser, the tests were done in the following versions, which (AFAIK) are the current ones as of early April 2012:

  • Firefox 10
  • Opera 11.62
  • Chromium 17 or 19 (I didn't notice any difference between the two
  • Internet Explorer 9
  • Safari 5.1
Where relevant, issues are illustrated with screengrabs from the Windows version of a browser, but much of my testing was done with Linux versions - except in the case of IE and Safari. I also tested whether JavaScript functionality worked - both within the SVG itself, and from the enclosing document trying to manipulate the SVG.

Just for clarity's sake: all of this messing around is (probably?) only needed if you want an SVG to be scalable within your web page. If you're happy for it to be a fixed size, then you shouldn't have to worry about any of the following stuff.


Test link:

The image gets scaled correctly in Firefox, Chromium and IE. The image does not get scaled correctly in Opera or Safari.

Screengrab of SVGs using the embed tag in Opera 11.62 Screengrab of SVGs using the embed tag in Safari 5.1


Test link:

(I've assumed <frame>s behave the same; I couldn't be bothered to write a separate test for them.)

Only Chromium rendered the page completely as desired. Screengrab of SVGs using the iframe tag in Chromium 19

IE and Safari both failed to scale the images properly, but were able to modify the SVGs from the enclosing document's JavaScript. Screengrab of SVGs using the iframe tag in IE9 Screengrab of SVGs using the iframe tag in Safari 5.1

Firefox and Opera failed to scale the images, or modify them via the JavaScript in the enclosing document. I'm not sure if the JS issue is down to some DOM API difference and/or security problem - but as the scaling is broken, I couldn't be bothered to investigate further. Screengrab of SVGs using the iframe tag in Firefox 10 Screengrab of SVGs using the iframe tag in Opera 11.72

(All browsers did at least run the JavaScript contained within the SVG files.)


Test link:

Only Safari lets the side down, by failing to scale the SVGs. All other browsers work as desired. Screengrab of SVGs using the iframe tag in Safari 5.1


Test link:

If you have any JavaScript-based interactivity, forget about using <img> tags - the JS in the SVGs won't be run, and the JS in the document doesn't do anything either. WebKit-based browsers also have weird issues with additional padding and squashed images. You might hope that the preserveAspectRatio might be able to solve that, but I was unable to find any value which fixed things. Screengrab of SVGs using the img tag in Chromium 19 Screengrab of SVGs using the img tag in Safari 5.1

Inline <svg>

Test link:

This method is what the BBC uses for the position chart in its football tables, which is the highest profile use of SVG in a mainstream site that I know of.

Scaling works in all browsers, except IE. Screengrab of SVGs using inline SVG in IE9

However, WebKit browsers suffer from excessive vertical padding - it seems that WebKit assumes the height of the image is the same as the browser window, rather than the viewBox attribute in the <svg>. A slightly messy fix is to manually alter the height of the SVG elements after the page has loaded - this wasn't incorporated into this particular test, but an example from another test is here, and other people have documented similar workarounds. There are some open bugs on the WebKit tracker that might be related, here and here. Screengrab of SVGs using inline SVG in Chromium 19 Screengrab of SVGs using inline SVG in Safari 5.1

Whilst doing some earlier tests in this area, I also found a couple of bugs in Opera where

  • An HTML5 page wouldn't properly render, and would never trigger the load event - but an effectively identical XHTML page was fine. Warning: this bug also causes Opera to consume 100% CPU on the processor it is running on Screengrab showing bug in Opera in HTML5 page with embedded SVGs
  • If a page had multiple copies of the same SVG pulled in via the <img> tag, then if the page was reloaded, most of the duplicates would not appear: Screengrab showing bug in Opera after a page with duplicate SVGs is reloaded
Both of these have been reported to Opera via the tool built into their browser


As can be seen, of the five methods available, none is 100% foolproof. It seems to me that the best bet is <object>, as it works fine on all browsers except Safari, without need for JavaScript hacks. Second-place is embedding the SVG into the HTML, which entails a simple hack for WebKit browsers - but unfortunately is still broken in IE.

Incomplete implementation of getElementsByClassName for SVG in IE9

Posted by John Smith on

Now that IE9 has been officially released, I thought it would be wise to check that this blog looked OK in it - it certainly didn't in older versions, but given the audience I'm writing for, I wasn't especially bothered about fixing things.

For the most part it seems acceptable - it's mainly the cosmetic CSS stuff like transitions and gradients that aren't working properly. However, skimming through my older posts, I noticed a glitch which is more subtle than you might expect...

In this post I have an SVG file with some perfunctory interactivity implemented via JavaScript. Some of the more mundane functionality works - hovering over a segment in the bar chart changes the segment colour to indicate that it is clickable. However, clicking has no effect, whereas this works fine in other modern browsers.

Investigation shows that IE9's implementation of getElementsByClassName isn't all there for SVG. Within an SVG file, you can do document.getElementsByClassName("foo") to get all the matching elements in the entire SVG document, and that works fine, but document.getElementById("foo").getElementsByClassName("bar") to get the matching child elements within an element doesn't work.

There's a cut-down test file here. It works fine in Chrome, Safari, Firefox (4+) and Opera, but in IE9, its developer console reports this: Screengrab of IE9 showing it reporting a JavaScript error on a test SVG file that uses getElementsByClassName

A similar test on an HTML5 document's element does work fine in IE9, so it would seem to be an issue with their implementation of the SVG DOM. As this seems to only affect SVG, and an uncommon usage of the method - it looks like most people will use it against the document, not an element - this problem is unlikely to affect a large number of people, but it's certainly a pain in the backside for those of us who like to play with SVG :-(

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This blog (mostly) covers technology and software development.

Note: I've recently ported the content from my old blog hosted on Google App Engine using some custom code I wrote, to a static site built using Pelican. I've put in place various URL manipulation rules in the webserver config to try to support the old URLs, but it's likely that I've missed some (probably meta ones related to pagination or tagging), so apologies for any 404 errors that you get served.

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About the author

I'm a software developer who's worked with a variety of platforms and technologies over the past couple of decades, but for the past 7 or so years I've focussed on web development. Whilst I've always nominally been a "full-stack" developer, I feel more attachment to the back-end side of things.

I'm a web developer for a London-based equities exchange. I've worked at organizations such as News Corporation and Google and BATS Global Markets. Projects I've been involved in have been covered in outlets such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, the Financial Times, The Register and TechCrunch.

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