Updates in hardware-accelerated animation capabilities

Summary: Chromium is updating its hardware-acceleration capabilities automatically for SVG animations, percentage-based transformations, and soon, background-color and clip-path animations.

When it comes to web animation performance, the terms "hardware-accelerated" and "GPU-accelerated" animations will likely come up. But what do these even mean? Hardware-accelerated styles are those that leverage the GPU (Graphical Processing Unit) rather than the CPU (Central Processing Unit) to render visual styles. This is because the GPU can render visual changes on a web page faster than the CPU.

Using the GPU to offload graphic-intensive transitions and animations means smoother visuals and less jank, as these animations are not affected by the main thread. By pulling them off the main thread, your animations bypass the crust of other active scripts running on your page, which would slow down your visuals and create jank.

Enabling hardware-accelerated animations

Hardware-accelerated animations are composited as layers and help developers achieve buttery-smooth 60 FPS (frames-per-second) animations to improve visual rendering performance. There are currently a few ways to specify and enable hardware-accelerated animations and transitions on the web:

  • Use CSS transform functions or transition the opacity or filter values
  • Add the will-change property to your element.
  • Create an animated canvas drawing via OffscreenCanvas
  • Create a WebGL 3D drawing
The Chromium rendering team is continually tracking usage of the most-animated properties to determine what should be next in regard to enabling hardware acceleration. While the current CSS properties that are hardware-accelerated by default only include opacity, filter, and transform for now, background-color and clip-path will soon join the list.

What else is becoming hardware accelerated by default in Chromium? There are a few things coming down the pipeline, including SVG animations, something that developers have been keenly requesting.

Hardware accelerated SVG animations

SVG is a great addition to any website, and now those interactions with SVG can be more performant. As of Chromium 89, Chrome will join the likes of Firefox to enable hardware-acceleration by default on SVG animations. What do you, the developer, need to do? Nothing—this will be automatically applied for SVG animations in Chromium 89+.


Let's take a look at the differences between an SVG animation with and without hardware acceleration turned on. Loading indicators are commonly-used UI elements, such as this one seen on facebook.com. These indicators hint at work being done on the server, while the user waits for a response. In the case shown here, the response would be to load additional results in the sidebar.

Facebook sidebar UI shows a circular loader while loading additional content.

When we open up DevTools, we can start to profile and really see the differences between a CPU and GPU-accelerated animation experience.

Performance panel with paint flashing turned on
Left: Chromium 88. Right: Chromium 89, with hardware acceleration for SVG animations. See demo by Benoit Girard on JSFiddle.

You can see that on the left (Chromium 87), repaint occurs each time the spinner animates (which is continuously). On the right there is no repainting (Chromium 89 and Firefox). We can test this in the DevTools Rendering panel, when turning on Paint flashing.

Performance panel showing rendering
Left: Chromium 88. Right: Chromium 89, with hardware acceleration for SVG animations. See demo by Benoit Girard on JSFiddle.

Taking a closer look at the Performance panel, you can again see this effect, and how it affects the overall performance of your web property. You avoid rendering and painting time completely for the animation, meaning smoother animations and more performant applications. While Facebook won't be shipping this SVG-based loader until browser support for hardware-accelerated SVG is greater, it would allow for more flexibility in terms of theming, scaling and resolution requirements, and easier maintenance.

Percentage animations

The Interactions team is also shipping support for percentage transform animations in Chromium 89. Percentage-based animations describe interactions that include percentage-based movement. For example, you could scale something up by 20%, or slide a responsive sidebar menu from off-screen using something like translateX: -100%.

Navigation example from waze.com, which uses a percentage transform to open and hide the menu on smaller screen sizes.

These types of UI animations are relatively common, but currently do not take advantage of hardware acceleration because previously we were unable to composite such animations. Percentages in transforms depend on the box size (i.e. layout), but now, as long as the layout size is not changing every frame, the browser can pre-calculate the absolute transform values and run them as if the developer had provided pixel values. The good news is that the Chromium team is working on this feature, and soon, these types of animations will automatically get composited and hardware-accelerated.

What's coming next?

These updated animations will make web styling much smoother. And as mentioned above, the team is always looking to see what upcoming web needs emerge. Right now, we're slated to convert background-color and clip-path to automatically use hardware-acceleration in future versions of Chromium.

background-color is a priority due to its high usage count for transitions and effects, and clip-path enables much more performant transition effects across the web. When performance meets interactivity, everyone wins!

transition.style: a demo site highlighting CSS transition effects by Adam Argyle.

Cover Image: Siora Photography for Unsplash.