Shadow DOM and Progressive Enhancement to create a Sharing component

There was a recent discussion about Progressive Web Apps and how we should be ensure that the URL is and should remain sacrosanct on the web, even if the experience has been designed to work and feel like an application that runs natively on the web.

I am hopeful that a solution will present itself, but it got me thinking: If standalone and fullscreen web apps never got the ability for the user to view or manipulate the URL, what could a developer do to help users, yet keep their app looking like it was meant to be an app on the system? Well, we need some common way or a component that web developers could easily drop in to their site that allows the user to see and manipulate the URL's if they wish and also give the user the ability to perform contextual actions of things that they can do with that URL, such as Share.

I have a chequered history and poor success story with "Sharing" on the web, but it is a still a common use-case and something that I want to see solved... I also like exploring and playing with technologies to deep dive into how they work and also work out some early best-practices.

So. What is new that I can play with?

It's a couple of weeks away from WWDC and looking at the Safari Tech Previews it seems quite likely that a large chunk of the Web Components Specs will be available for iOS and Mac in Safari, that is <template> and Shadow DOM in particular. Even without Custom Elements this is huge news.

Like most developers I held off from playing too much with Shadow DOM and the rest of Web Components because I didn't want to have to rely on polyfills to heavily or worry about it never shipping in large portion of the browser eco-system. That worry seems to no longer be an issue!

Given all this, I decided to build a "Web Component" that can help answer the issue about the user not having access to the URL bar and not being able to take the current URL and share it.

I set out some goals for what I wanted to achieve:

  • It needs to progressive. Something "semantically" correct should happen if the user has a) no JavaScript, or b) is using a browser that doesn't support Web Components (I don't really want to shim or polyfill anything at the moment).
  • It would need to be customizeable so that it fits the theme of any site.
  • It needs to show the user the current URL, allow them to edit it and navigate if the user wants
  • It needs to allow the user to at least easily copy the URL to the user's clipboard

During this experiment I got to like Web Components. Initailly I worried about the lack of Custom Elements and I fretted over this for a long time, I realised that I can still make these experiences progressive

The first attempt was to have an HTMLUnkownElement called <share-button> that would then be enhanced with my custom class that handled all the logic for UI management, sharing and setting up the Shadow DOM.

This approach was interesting, I could do everything that I needed with this, however it wasn't "Progressive". So I thought for a bit about how I would expect a developer to use this Web Component.

I liek the idea of taking an existing element and make it better by stamping a new DOM and logic on to it.

In my case, I am building a "Sharing" Component and many of the sharing services that exist have a simple URL that let you load up their sharing interface. I decided that a good fallback would be to share to Twitter using their simple "intent" (hint: It is not an intent - but that is for a discussion over a beverage of your choice) and simply enhance an anchor: <a href="">Share</a>.

The theory behind this is sound (in my eyes):

  • If there is no JS, I always have my fallback link to an existing sharing service.
  • If Web Components don't exist in the user's browser, I can do two things:
    • I can polyfill the lack of Shadow DOM etc to provide the same functionality to the user as a user who has Shadow DOM
    • I can choose not do anything other than use the default base element and style it
  • If Custom Elements API exists then we could use the same element and enhance using the is attribute. For example: <button is="share-button">Share</button>

I don't yet know the best strategy for building Web Components, but it does feel like we are at a tipping point where even without custom elements we can optimize the way that we build for the web.

About Me: Paul Kinlan

I lead the Chrome Developer Relations team at Google.

We want people to have the best experience possible on the web without having to install a native app or produce content in a walled garden.

Our team tries to make it easier for developers to build on the web by supporting every Chrome release, creating great content to support developers on, contributing to MDN, helping to improve browser compatibility, and some of the best developer tools like Lighthouse, Workbox, Squoosh to name just a few.