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Use image-set() while supporting Firefox with dynamically loaded background images

th0rgall profile image Thor Galle Updated on ・3 min read

TL;DR: Firefox can't parse inline style attributes of this form:

<div style="
/* fallback */
background-image: url('fallback-img.jpg');
/* responsive */
background-image: -webkit-image-set(url( ... responsive image set ...));">
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Solution: put those rules in a <style> tag instead to support fallbacks.


Modern browsers widely support the HTML srcset attribute that enables responsive images (MDN, CanIUse). But for its CSS background-image equivalent image-set() (accessible through -webkit-image-set()), there is no support for IE11, Firefox, Firefox for Android and Opera Mini (MDN, CanIUse). (I'm ignoring IE11 overall).

Screen Shot 2020-11-20 at 10.34.32

Support of major browsers for image-set() as of November 20, 2020. Source: CanIUse

Of course you'll want to have a non-responsive fallback image for these non-supporting browsers. Well, that's not as obvious as it sounds.

Problem: using style="" doesn't work

You might be tempted to try the following CSS with a fallback url() expression, that gets overwritten with the -webkit-image-set() expression whenever available.

<div style="
/* provide a fallback for Firefox */
background-image: url('../img/image-2x.jpg');
/* override with a responsive image */
background-image: -webkit-image-set(url('../img/image-1x.jpg') 1x, url('../img/image-2x.jpg') 2x);
">
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Unfortunately, if you add the above code to a style="" attribute (as you would often do when you generate responsive background images somewhere), Firefox 84 will complain with this error in the console:

⚠️ Error in parsing value for 'background-image'. Declaration dropped.
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How sad. It dropped the whole style attribute value because it could't load the -webkit-image-set(). As a result, it does also not display the fallback.

Solution: use a <style> tag

The following code works however:

<head>
    <style>
        .my-image-id {
            /* provide a fallback for Firefox */
            background-image: url('../img/image-2x.jpg');
            /* override with a responsive image */
            background-image: -webkit-image-set(url('../img/image-1x.jpg') 1x, url('../img/image-2x.jpg') 2x);
        }
    </style>
</head>
<body>
    <!-- this div should have an image background on it -->
    <div class="my-image-id background-box"><div/>
</body>
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It seems that a style tag can still be parsed, even though one rule in it is not supported by the browser.

A few things to consider here.

You need a unique class name for each image.

The reason you came here in the first place might have been that you wanted to use the style="" attribute, because you were dynamically adding background images to a template using client-side/server-side image data.

In that use case, you now you need to perform a few intermediate steps:

  1. Generate a unique class name for the background image set
  2. Add that class to the desired <div> (or other element)
  3. Add a CSS rule for that class to a <style> tag somewhere. This could be a new tag in the <head> OR <body>. It should contain the fallback & responsive background-image URLs for that specific images.

For step 1, you could use a GUID generator. In my project however, I used a JS function to generate valid class names from an alphanumeric image ID string that I got from an API.

Tricky to add style rules to the <head>?
You could add them to the <body> too!

If you were previously trying to add the styles to a style tag, it might be tricky to add styles to a <head>, for example, when coding in a restricted server-side template where you can't access the <head>

One solution: it's actually possible to add <style> tags to the <body> as well. This is not a good practice since it's non-standard. But it seems to work in most browsers. I tested this in BrowserStack, and so far only UC Browser on Android seemed to have problems with this technique. Here's an adaptation of the previous example with body style tags:

<!-- this div should have an image background on it -->
<div class="my-image-id background-box"><div/>
<style>
    .my-image-id {
        /* provide a fallback for Firefox */
        background-image: url('../img/image-2x.jpg');
        /* override with a responsive image */
        background-image: -webkit-image-set(url('../img/image-1x.jpg') 1x, url('../img/image-2x.jpg') 2x);
    }
</style>
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Hope this helped! Feel free to leave a comment if anything is not clear.

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