Still Hoping for Better Native Page Transitions

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Chris Coyier on

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It would be nice to be able to animate the transition between pages if we want to on the web without resorting to hacks or full-blown architecture choices to achieve it. I could imagine an API that would run stuff, perhaps integrating with WAAPI, before the page is unloaded, and other stuff after the next page loads in. This, with otherwise regular ol’ anchor links and page loads.

We do have an onbeforeunload API, but I’m not sure what kind of baggage that has. We can technically build page transitions now, even without single-page-app architecture, but what I want are purpose-built APIs that help us do it cleanly (understandable functions) and with both performance (working as quickly as clicking links normally does) and accessibility (like focus handling) in mind.

If you’re building a single-page app anyway, you get the freedom to animate between views because the page never reloads. The danger here is that you might pick a single-page app just for this ability, which is what I mean by having to buy into a site architecture just to achieve this. That feels like an unfortunate trade-off, as single-page apps bring a ton of overhead, like tooling and accessibility concerns, that you wouldn’t have otherwise needed.

Without a single-page app, you could use something like Turbo and animate.css like this. Or, Adam’s new transition.style, a clip-path() based homage to Daniel Edan’s masterpiece. Maybe if that approach was paired with instant.page it would be as fast as any other internal link click.

There are other players trying to figure this out, like smoothState.js and Swup. The trick being: intercept the action to move to the next page, run the animation first, then load the next page, and animate the new page in. Technically, it slows things down a bit, but you can do it pretty efficiently and the movement adds enough distraction that the perceived performance might even be better.

Ideally, we wouldn’t have to animate the entire page but we could have total control to make more interesting transitions. Heck, I was doing that a decade ago with a page for a musician where clicking around the site just moved things around so that the audio would keep playing (and it was fun).

This would be a great place for the web platform to step in. I remember Jake pushed for this years ago, but I’m not sure if that went anywhere. Then we got portals which are… ok? Those are like if you load an iframe on the page and then animate it to take over the whole page (and update the URL). Not much animation nuance possible there, but you could certainly swipe some pages around or fade them in and out (hey here’s another one: Highway), like jQuery Mobile did back in ancient times.