javascript - lukehaas - single element spinners




Indicate that processor-heavy JS function is running(GIF spinners don't animate) (2)

I've had similar problems in the past. Ultimately they've been fixed by optimizing or doing work in smaller chucks responding to user actions. In your case different zoom levels would trigger different rendering algorithms. You would only process what the user can see (plus maybe a buffer margin).

I believe the only simple workaround for you that would be cross-browser is to use setTimeout to give the ui thread a chance to run. Batch up your work into sets of operations and chain them together using several setTimeout calls. This will slow down the total processing time, but the user will at least be given feedback. Obviously this suggestion requires that your processing can be easily sectioned off. If that is the case you could also consider adding a progress bar for improved UX.

Showing then hiding animated indicator / spinner gifs are a good way to show a user that their action has worked and that something is happening while they wait for their action to complete - for example, if the action requires loading some data from a server(s) via AJAX.

My problem is, if the cause of the slowdown is a processor-intensive function, the gif freezes.

In most browsers, the GIF stops animating while the processor-hungry function executes. To a user, this looks like something has crashed or malfunctioned, when actually it's working.

JSBIN example

Note: the "This is slow" button will tie up the processor for a while - around 10 seconds for me, will vary depending on PC specs. You can change how much it does this with the "data-reps" attr in the HTML.

  • Expectation: On click, the animation runs. When the process is finished, the text changes (we'd normally hide the indicator too but the example is clearer if we leave it spinning).
  • Actual result: The animation starts running, then freezes until the process finishes. This gives the impression that something is broken (until it suddenly unexpectedly completes).

Is there any way to indicate that a process is running that doesn't freeze if JS is keeping the processor busy? If there's no way to have something animated, I'll resort to displaying then hiding a static text message saying Loading... or something similar, but something animated looks much more active.


If anyone is wondering why I'm using code that is processor-intensive rather than just avoiding the problem by optimising: It's a lot of necessarily complex rendering. The code is pretty efficient, but what it does is complex, so it's always going to be demanding on the processor. It only takes a few seconds, but that's long enough to frustrate a user, and there's plenty of research going back a long time to show that indicators are good for UX.


A second related problem with gif spinners for processor-heavy functions is that the spinner doesn't actually show until all the code in one synchronous set has run - meaning that it normally won't show the spinner until it's time to hide the spinner.

  • JSBIN example.
  • One easy fix I've found here (used in the other example above) is to wrap everything after showing the indicator in setTimeout( function(){ ... },50); with a very short interval, to make it asynchronous. This works (see first example above), but it's not very clean - I'm sure there's a better approach.

I'm sure there must be some standard approach to indicators for processor-intensive loading that I'm unaware of - or maybe it's normal to just use Loading... text with setTimeout? My searches have turned up nothing. I've read 6 or 7 questions about similar-sounding problems but they all turn out to be unrelated.


Edit Some great suggestions in the comments, here are a few more specifics of my exact issue:

  • The complex process involves processing big JSON data files (as in, JS data manipulation operations in memory after loading the files), and rendering SVG (through Raphael.js) visualisations including a complex, detailed zoomable world map, based on the results of the data processing from the JSON. So, some of it requires DOM manipulation, some doesn't.
  • I unfortunately do need to support IE8 BUT if necessary I can give IE8 / IE9 users a minimal fallback like Loading... text and give everyone else something modern.







activity-indicator