SVG Working Group Meeting Report — London

The SVG Working Group had a four day Face-to-Face meeting just before The Graphical Web conference in Winchester (UK). The meetings were hosted by Mozilla in their London office. Here are some highlights of the meeting:

Day 1

  • Symbol and marker placement shorthands:

    Map makers use symbols quite extensively. We decided at a previous meeting to add the ‘refX’ and ‘refY’ attributes (from <marker>) to <symbol> so that symbols can be aligned to a particular point on a map without having to do manual position adjustments. We have since been asked to provide ‘shorthand’ values for ‘refX’ and ‘refY’. I proposed adding ‘left’, ‘center’, and ‘right’ to ‘refX’ (defined as 0%, 50%, and 100%) of the view box as well as ‘top’, ‘center’, and ‘bottom’ to ‘refY’. These values follow those used in the ‘transform-origin’ property. We debated the usefulness and decided to postpone the decision until we had feedback from those using SVG for maps (see Day 4).

    For example, to center a symbol at the moment, one has to subtract off half the width and height from the ‘x’ and ‘y’ attributes of the <use> element:

      <symbol id="MySquare" viewBox="0 0 20 20">
        <rect width="100%" height="100%"
      <use x="100" y="100" width="100" height="100"

    By using ‘refX’ and ‘refY’ set to ‘center’, one no longer needs to perform the manual calculations:

      <symbol id="MySquare" viewBox="0 0 20 20"
                      refX="center" refY="center">
        <rect width="100%" height="100%"
      <use x="150" y="150" width="100" height="100"
    A square symbol centered in an SVG.

    An example of a square <symbol> centered inside an SVG.

  • Marker and symbol overflow:

    One common ‘gotcha’ in using hand-written markers and symbols is that by default anything drawn outside the marker or symbol viewport is hidden. People sometimes naively draw a marker or symbol around the origin. Since this is the upper-left corner of the viewport, only one quarter of the marker or symbol is shown. We decided to change the default to not hide the region outside the viewport, however, if this is shown to break too much existing content, the change might be reverted (it is possible that some markers/symbols have hidden content outside the viewport).

  • Two triangle paths with markers on corners. Only one-fourth of each marker on the left path is shown.

    Example of markers drawn around origin point. Left: overflow=’hidden’ (default), right: overflow=”visible’.

  • Variable-stroke width:

    Having the ability to vary stroke width along a path is one of the most requested things for SVG. Inkscape has the Live Path Effect ‘Power Stroke’ extension that does just that. However, getting this into a standard is not a simple process. We must deal with all kinds of special cases. The most difficult part will be to decide how to handle line joins. (See my post from the Tokyo meeting for more details.) As a step towards moving this along, we need to decide how to interpolate between points. One method is to use a Centripital Catmull-Rom function. Johan Engelen quickly added this function as an option to Inkscape’ Power Stroke implementation (which he wrote) for us to test.

Day 2

  • Path animations:

    In the context of discussing the possibility of having a canonical path decomposition into Bezier curves (for speed optimization) we briefly discussed allowing animation between paths with different structures. Currently, SVG path animations require the start and end paths to have the same structure (i.e. same types of path segments).

  • Catmull-Rom path segments.

    We had a lengthy discussion on the merits of Catmull-Rom path segments. The main advantage of Catmull-Rom paths is that the path goes through all the specified points (unlike Bezier path segments where the path does not go through the handles). There are some disadvantages… adding a new segment changes the shape of the previous segment, the paths tend not to be particularly pretty, and if one is connecting data points, the curves have the tendency to over/under shoot the data. The majority of the working group supports adding these curves although there is some rather strong dissent. The SVG 2 specification already contains Catmull-Rom paths text.

    After discussing the merits of Catmull-Rom path segments we turned to some technical discussions: what exact form of Catmull-Rom should we use, how should start and end segments be specified, how should Catmull-Rom segments interact with other segment types, how should paths be closed?

    Here is a demo of Catmull-Rom curves.

Day 3

  • <tref> decission:

    One problem I see with the working group is that it is dominated by browser interests: Opera, Google (both Blink), Mozilla (Gecko), and Adobe (Blink, Webkit, Gecko). (Apple and Microsoft aren’t actively involved with the group although we did have a Microsoft rep at this meeting.) This leaves those using SVG for other purposes sometimes high and dry. Take the case of <tref>. This element is used in the air-traffic control industry to shadow text so it is visible on the screen over multi-color backgrounds. Admittedly, this is not the best way to do this (the new ‘paint-order’ property is a perfect fit for this) but the fact is that it is being used and flight-control software can’t be changed at a moments notice. Last year there was a discussion on the SVG email list about deprecating <tref> due to some security issues. From reading the thread, it appeared the conclusion was reached that <tref> should be kept around using the same security model that <use> has.

    Deprecating <tref> came up again a few weeks ago and it was decided to remove the feature altogether and not just deprecate it (unfortunately I missed the call). The specification was updated quickly and Blink removed the feature immediately (Firefox had never implemented it… probably due to an oversight). It has reached the point of no-return. It seems that Blink in particular is eager to remove as much cruft as possible… but one person’s cruft is someone else’s essential tool. (<tref> had other uses too, such as allowing localization of Web pages through a server.)

  • Blending on ‘fill’ and ‘stroke':

    We have already decided to allow multiple paint servers (color, gradient, pattern, hatch) on fills and strokes. It has been proposed that blending be allowed. This would follow the model of the ‘background-blend-mode’ property. (Blending is already allowed between various element using the ‘mix-blend-mode’ property’, available in Firefox (nightly), Chrome, and the trunk version of Inkscape.)

  • CSS Layout Properties:

    The SVG attributes: ‘x’, ‘y’, ‘cx’, ‘cy’, ‘r’, ‘rx’, ‘ry’ have been promoted to properties (see SVG Layout Properties). This allows them to be set via CSS. There is an experimental implementation in Webkit (nightly). It also allows them to be animated via CSS animations.

A pink square centered in SVG if attributes supported, nothing otherwise.

A test of support of ‘x’, ‘y’, ‘width’, and ‘height’ as properties. If supported, a pink square will be displayed on the center of the image.

Day 4

  • Shared path segments (Superpaths):

    Sharing path segments between paths is quite useful. For example, the boundary between two countries could be given as one sub-path, shared between the paths of the two countries. Not only does this reduce the amount of data needed to describe a map but it also allows the renderer to optimize the aliasing between the regions. There is an example polyfill available.

    We discussed various syntax issues. One requirement is the ability to specify the direction of the inserted path. We settled for directly referencing the sub-path as d=”m 20,20 #subpath …” or d=”m 20,20 -#subpath…”, the latter for when the subpath should be reversed. We also decided that the subpath should be inserted into the path before any other operation takes place. This would nominally exclude having separate properties for each sub-path but it makes implementation easier.

  • Here, MySubpath is shared between two paths:

      <path id="MySubpath" d="m 150,80 c 20,20 -20,120 0,140"/>
      <path d="m 50,220 c -40,-30 -20,-120 10,-140 30,-20 80,-10
                       90,0 #MySubpath c 0,20 -60,30 -100,0 z"
    	style="fill:lightblue" />
      <path d="m 150,80 c 20,-14 30,-20 50,-20 20,0 50,40 50,90
                       0,50 -30,120 -100,70 -#MySubPath z"
    	style="fill:pink" />
    This SVG code would render as:
    Two closed paths sharing a common section.

    The two closed paths share a common section.

  • Stroke position:

    An often requested feature is to be able to position a stroke with some percentage inside or outside a path. We were going to punt this to a future edition of SVG but there seems to be quite a demand. The easiest way to implement this is to offset the path and then stroke that (remember, one has to be able to handle dashes, line joins, and end caps). If we can come up with a simple algorithm to offset a stroke we will add this to SVG 2. This is actually a challenging task as an offset of a Bezier curve is not a Bezier… thus some sort of approximation must be used. The Inkscape ‘Path->Linked Offset’ is one example of offsetting. So is the Inkscape Power Stroke Live Path Effect (available in trunk).

  • Symbol and marker placement shorthands, revisited:

    After feedback from mappers, we have decided to include the symbol and marker placement shorthands: ‘left’, ‘center’, ‘right’, ‘top’, and ‘bottom’.

  • Units in path data:

    Currently all path data is in User Units (pixels if untransformed). There is some desire to have the ability to specify a unit in the path data. Personally, I think this is mostly useless, especially as units (cm, mm, inch, etc.) are useless as there is no way to set a preferred pixel to inch ratio (and never will be). The one unit that could be useful is percent. In any case, we will be investigating this further.

Lots of other technical and administrative topics were discussed: improved DOM, embedding SVG in HTML, specification annotations, testing, etc.

One thought on “SVG Working Group Meeting Report — London”

  1. I’ve been campaigning for variable stroke width in Inkscape for YEARS, and was always knocked back at first because it wasn’t part of the SVG standard, and later because it has a LPE which I find incredibly clunky to manage and use.

    I can’t wait until this is just an integrated part of SVG.

Comments are closed.