Friday 16 July 2010
Retained Layers has landed and seems to have stuck.
In a previous post I talked about our layers framework. Up until now we've constructed a new layer tree on every paint. With retained layers, we update our layer tree incrementally as content changes in the window. More importantly, we are able to cache the contents of layers. So for example if you have an element with partial opacity, we can cache the rendering of that element in a layer and every time you paint (perhaps with a different opacity each time), we can paint the cached contents without rerendering the element. This provides noticeable speedups for some kinds of fade effects. When we use layers to render CSS transforms, we'll get speedups there too.
One side effect is that we were able to totally reimplement scrolling. Our current scrolling code relies on shifting pixels around in the window for speed, and that often doesn't work well, for example on pages where scrolling content overlays stationary content or vice versa. It's also prone to visible tearing on some platforms because we can't scroll and repaint in a single atomic paint operation. But now, our retained layer tree effectively contains the entire window contents pre-rendered. We can scroll by just adjusting the offsets of some layers and recompositing the layer tree. (Well, almost ... it's slightly more complicated.) This is a relatively simple approach. It eliminates tearing. It lets us aggressively accelerate the scrolling of nasty scrolling pages with complex contents, because we're able to separate the moving content into different layers from the non-moving content and scrolling becomes a matter of simply repainting the scrolled-into-view strip of the moving content and then blending layers together. We're seeing significant improvements in scrolling many kinds of pages. Soon I hope to blog again with more about how this works, what it can do and what the current limitations are.
Immediate improvements are nice, but the most important benefit of retained layers is that it lays down infrastructure we will be exploiting in all kinds of ways. Our D3D and GL layer implementations benefit from reducing browser rendering and caching more rendered content in layer buffers, since compositing buffers is very cheap with GPUs. With those backends, because scrolling is fully layer-based, it will be accelerated by the GPU! Chris Jones is working on enabling layer composition to be in a dedicated process, at which point we'll be able to scroll without synchronizing with the Web content process --- in particular we'll be able to maintain a constant frame rate of smooth scrolling no matter what the Web content is doing, i.e. super-smooth. This will especially benefit Fennec. Fennec will also benefit because its current tile-caching implementation can be replaced with something layer-based; our layer-based scrolling permits the layer manager to cache prerendered content that's not (yet) visible.
Before we ship the next Firefox release there are a few regressions to work on and some performance and quality knobs to tweak. But I'm feeling quite relieved, since this was one of the long poles for that release and the one I've been most on the hook for.