offline

Taking a (Drupal 8) website offline using AppCache

A native mobile application which can cache the data locally is a way to make content available offline. However, not everyone has the time and/or money to create a dedicated app, and frankly, it's not always an additional asset. What if browsers could work without network connection but still serve content: Application Cache and/or Service Workers to the rescue!

For Frontend United 2016, Mathieu and I experimented to see how far we could take AppCache and make the sessions, speakers and some additional content available offline using data from within the Drupal site. There are a couple of pitfalls when implementing this, of which some are nasty (see the list apart link at the bottom for more information). Comes in Drupal which adds another layer of complexity, with its dynamic nature of content and themes. Javascript and css aggregation is also extremely tricky to get right. So after trial and error and a lot of reading, we came up with the following concept:

  1. Only add the manifest attribute to all "offline" pages which are completely separate from "online pages", even though they might serve the same content. In other words, you create a sandboxed version of some content of your site which can live on its own. Another technique is a hidden iframe which loads a page which contains the html tag with the manifest attribute. You can embed this iframe on any page you like. This gives you the option to create a page where you link to as an opt-in to get a site offline. Both techniques give us full control and no side affects so that when network is available the site works normally.
  2. You define the pages which you want to store in the cache. They are served by Drupal, but on a different route than the original (e.g. node/1 becomes offline/node/1) and use different templates. These are twig templates so you can override the defaults to your own needs. Other information like stylesheet and javascript files can be configured too to be included.
  3. The manifest thus contains everything that we need to create the offline version when your device has no network connection. In our case, it contains the list of speakers and sessions, content pages and some assets like javascript, stylesheet, logo and images.

Note: currently, the website isn't app-cache enabled anymore, preparing for 2017.

Offline in the browser or on the homescreen

Go to the Offline homepage of Frontend United and wait until the 'The content is now available offline!' message appears, which means you just downloaded 672 kb of data - it is really really small, surprising no? Now switch off your network connection and reload the browser: still there! Click around and you'll be able to check the offline version at any time. If you're on a mobile device, the experience can be even sweeter: you can add this page to your homescreen, making it available as an 'app'. On iOS, you need to open the app once while still being connected to the network. We really do hope safari/iOS fixes this behavior since this is not necessary on Android. After that, turn off your network and launch the app again. Oh, and it works on a watch too if you have a browser on it. If that isn't cool, we don't know what else is! We have a little video to show you how it looks like. Watch (pun intended) and enjoy! Oh, in case we make changes to the pages, you will see a different notification telling you that the content has been updated - if your device has network of course.

Drupal integration

We've created a new project on Drupal.org, called Offline App, available for Drupal 8. The project contains the necessary code and routes for generating the appcache, iframe, pages (nodes and views) and settings to manipulate the manifest content. 3 new regions are exposed in which you can place the content for offline use. Those regions are used in offline-app-page.html.twig - but any region is available if you want to customize. Two additional view modes are created for content types and the read more link can be made available in the 'Offline teaser' mode. Formatters are available for long texts to strip internal links and certain tags (e.g. embed and iframe) and for images that will make sure that 'Link to content' is pointing to the 'Offline path'. Last, but not least, an 'Offline' Views display is available for creating lists. We're still in the process in making everything even more flexible and less error-prone when configuring the application. However, the code that is currently available, is used as is on the Fronted United website right now.

This module does not pretend to be the ultimate solution for offline content, see it as an example to quickly expose a manifest containing URL's from an existing Drupal installation for an offline version of your website. Other Drupal projects are available trying to integrate with AppCache or Service workers, however, some are unsupported or in a very premature state, apart from https://www.drupal.org/project/pwa. Note that I've been in contact with Théodore already and we'll see how we combine our efforts for coming up with one single solution instead of having multiple ones.

What about service workers ?

Not all browsers support the API yet. Even though AppCache is marked deprecated, we wanted to make sure everyone could have the same offline experience. However, we'll start adding support for service workers soon using the same concept.

We're also planning to start experimenting with delivering personal content as well, since that's also possible, yet a little trickier.

Links

Note: closed the comments for now as anti-spam modules are not doing their job nicely

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