This post details the first of many challenges we faced in 3D transforming the homepage of Artsy (inspired by Meny): detecting CSS 3D transform support.

Front-end development is messy in today’s fragmented world. At Artsy, our goal is to do what it takes to provide an incredible experience for all of our users (IE8+, iOS and the usual suspects). Deploying bleeding edge tech, like CSS 3D transforms, is an exercise in compromising principals for practicality – and managing these “compromises” in well-documented code.

We looked to Modernizr’s feature detection approach to provide us with a reliable way to detect CSS3 3D transform support across browsers. They have some well- documented struggles around the issue. After flipping most of the tables in the office ┻━┻ ︵ヽ (`Д´)ノ︵ ┻━┻ , we settled on user agent sniffing as the most robust method for detecting CSS3 3D transform support. But why did none of the available methods work for us?

CSS3 3D transforms involve interaction between the browser and the graphics card. The browser may be able to parse the 3D declarations but may not be able to properly instruct the graphics card in how to render your page. There are many possible outcomes ranging from the page rendering with lines across it (Safari 4) to the page rendering beautifully then crashing the browser seconds later (Safari on iOS4). Any ‘feature detection’ approach would unacceptably flag these as ‘supports CSS3 3D transforms’. This is one case where ‘feature detection’ fails and user agent sniffing (and lots of testing) wins hands down.

Most feature detection assumes a “supports” or “does not support” binary. This is not the case with CSS3 3D transforms – there is a “gradient of support”. Additionally, enabling 3D transforms causes the page to be re-rendered in an entirely different rendering engine which then causes other problems (more on this in a later post).

CSS3 3D transform support can be separated into 4 levels:

  1. Reliably supports 3D transforms across most machines. For example: Safari 6.
  2. Can parse and apply 3D transform declarations but ignores the 3D parts. For example: Chrome on a Retina MacBook Pro.
  3. Can parse and apply 3D transform declarations but renders in unacceptable ways. For example: Safari 4 and Safari 4/5 on Windows show lines across the page.
  4. Cannot apply 3D transform declarations in any way. For example: IE or Firefox < v10.

Here are a few popular ways of detecting CSS3 3D transform support and why they don’t work for us:

Meny / Hakim’s method

# apply these styles to the body in css then see if they are applied in JS
docStyle =
supports3DTransforms =  'WebkitPerspective' in docStyle or
                        'MozPerspective' in docStyle or
                        'msPerspective' in docStyle or
                        'OPerspective' in docStyle or
                        'perspective' in docStyle

This works best and is straightforward code. The only issue is that it throws a positive for iOS4 causing the browser to crash and a positive for Safari on Windows and Safari 4 OSX which both display a grid over the page when using the 3D renderer.

iScroll4 method

has3D = -> 'WebKitCSSMatrix' in window && 'm11' in new WebKitCSSMatrix()

This only works reliably Safari in our testing.

Modernizer method

ret = !!testPropsAll('perspective')
if ( ret and 'webkitPerspective' in )
  # create a dib and see if it moves
  injectElementWithStyles('@media (transform-3D), (-webkit-transform-3D){#modernizr{left:9px;position:absolute;height:3px;}}', (node, rule) ->
    ret = node.offsetLeft === 9 && node.offsetHeight === 3;

This creates a div, transforms it, and then checks if it’s position has changed as expected. It only works in reliably in Safari. It sometimes works in Chrome but throws a false positive in the case of Chrome on Retina MacBook Pro as the element does move – just not in 3D space.

User Agent method

We want to maintain wide support of new tech while ensuring all users have a great experience. Modernizr and the feature detection group have their heart in the right place and do a great job most of the time. That said, user agent sniffing is the only way to handle the complex support scenarios inherent in bleeding edge CSS3 tech such as 3D transforms.

Here is our method/hack for identifying browsers that support CSS3 3D transforms well:

  docElement = document.documentElement
  uagent = navigator.userAgent.toLowerCase()

  browsers = [
    ['webkit',  530]        # not well supported in Safari 4, Safari 5 webkit version is 530.17
    ['chrome',  12]
    ['mozilla', 10]
    ['opera',   Infinity]   # not supported
    ['msie',    Infinity] ] # not supported

  # From:
  uaMatch = (ua) ->
    match =
      /(chrome)[ \/]([\w.]+)/.exec(ua) or
      /(webkit)[ \/]([\w.]+)/.exec(ua) or
      /(opera)(?:.*version|)[ \/]([\w.]+)/.exec(ua) or
      /(msie) ([\w.]+)/.exec(ua) or
      ua.indexOf("compatible") < 0 and /(mozilla)(?:.*? rv:([\w.]+)|)/.exec( ua ) or
    { browser: (match[ 1 ] or ""), version: (match[2]?.split('.')[0] or 0) }

  addNo3DTransform = ->
    docElement.className = docElement.className.replace 'csstransforms3D', ''
    docElement.className += ' no-csstransforms3D'

  add3DTransform = ->
    docElement.className = docElement.className.replace 'no-csstransforms3D', ''
    docElement.className += ' csstransforms3D'

  # default to no CSS3 3D transform support

  match = uaMatch uagent
  for browser in browsers
    if browser[0] == match.browser
      if match.version >= browser[1]

  IS_IPHONE ='iphone') > -1 or'ipod') > -1
  IS_IPAD ='ipad') > -1

  # iOS 6 is our support cut off for iPad
  match = /\os ([0-9]+)/.exec uagent
  IS_LT_IOS6 = match and match[1] and Number(match[1]) < 6

  # 3D transforms are supported but do not work well on iPhone

  # disable 3D transform for older versions of Safari on iPad
  else if IS_IPAD and IS_LT_IOS6

  # deactivate 3D transform for Safari on Windows
  else if'Safari') > -1 and'Windows') > -1

If you would like to take issue with or improve this code please check it out on Github.

Categories: CSS3, JavaScript