Version 4 (modified by, 13 years ago) (diff)


Tiling with QtWebKit

Add info about

  • how to use it correctly
  • issues with fixed contents / solutions
  • view port meta tag
  • frame flattening

QtWebView goes Mobile

There is a lot of effort being put into QtWebKit in order to make it attractive on the mobile front.

Among a tons of bug fixes and good performance improvements there are also lots of new features being developed, many geared toward mobile deployment.

The goal with this tutorial is to help you understand some of these new features and how to make the best of them. Or said in other words; how to create a good mobile web view that can be used on touch devices.

First we should make it clear that QGraphicsWebView is the way forward, so if you want to target mobile devices, it is bye bye QWebView. Why is this? Well, the QWebView is based on the QWidget system, thus it cannot easily support rotation, overlays, hardware accelerated compositing and tiling. If you need a QWidget anyway, you can always construct a QGraphicsView (which is a QWidget) with a QGraphicsWebView inside. This is more or less what we will start with.

Let's start with the most simple QGraphicsWebView based "browser" ever:

#include <QApplication>
#include <QGraphicsScene>
#include <QGraphicsView>
#include <QGraphicsWebView>
#include <QWebSettings>
int main(int argc, char **argv)
    QApplication app(argc, argv);

    const int width = 640;
    const int height = 480;

    QGraphicsScene scene;

    QGraphicsView view(&scene);

    QGraphicsWebView webview;
    webview.resize(width, height);

    view.resize(width, height);;

    return app.exec();

Here we just bootstrap a QGraphicsView (QGV) application and add a QGraphicsWebView to the scene.

It might seem a bit useless as you can only navigate through one website but it serves well as a simple example. Notice that I'm disabling the scrollbars on the QGV because QtWebKit handles scrolling and scrollbars automatically. This is due to scrolling optimizations and due to the fact that web authors can interact with the scrollbars for instance style them differently.

On touch-based mobile devices a feature known as tiling is often used. It is used due to the interaction model (touch) as well as a scrolling "optimization". With this optimization we will have to deal with scrolling ourselves and we thus will have to say good bye to the scrollbar styling. Not a big things, as mobile browsers usually do not even show scrollbars, but use scroll indicators instead.

Tiling basically means that the contents of the viewport is separated into a grid of tiles, so that when you update some area, instead of just updating the area you actually update the whole tile. This gives a few advantages for scrolling as when you scroll you do not need to repaint the new visible area for each scroll step, as you update a row of tiles each time; tiles that are often only partly on the screen. This minimized all the paint calls that we have to do and makes it possible to make nicely kinetic scrolling a possibility.

Loading, layouting etc are blocking operations. Though barely noticable on a Desktop machines, these operations can block for a long time on a mobile device, letting the user believe the application has become unresponsive and died. Scrolling which is done by using fingers will also stall and give a bad user experience.

One way to over come this issue, is to do all loading, layouting and painting (basically all non-UI related work) in another thread or process, and just blit the result from the web process/thread to the UI. When using tiles, you can blit any tile available when scrolling. When no tile is available you can show a checkerboard tile instead, not letting the scrolling wait for the tiles to be updated. This results in a responsive interface, with the only disadvantage that you from time to time might see checkerboard tiles.

Tiles also helps with zooming. Repainting at each zoom level change during a zoom animation is basically impossible on a mobile device (or desktop for that sake) and thus with tiling, you can stop the tiles from being updates and just scale the already existing tiles, and then at the end of the animation update tiles on top of the scaled ones.

When using tiling, we basically want the QGraphicsWebView to act as our contents, as it supports tiling a.o. things. In order for this we need to make it resize itself to the size of its contents.

#1 Magical Step - QGraphicsWebView::resizesToContents

From Qt 4.7 documentation: "If this property is set, the QGraphicsWebView will automatically change its size to match the size of the main frame contents. As a result the top level frame will never have scrollbars. It will also make CSS fixed positioning to behave like absolute positioning with elements positioned relative to the document instead of the viewport."

This setting, thus, removes the scrollbars for us on the main frame and makes our QGraphicsWebView resize itself to its content's size. Enabling it:


If we are going to expand our mobile web view to the size of the contents of its contained page, then that is going to make the view a lot bigger that what can fit on the device's screen!

#3 Magical Step - Use a "view" and handle mouse events

The idea is to have a custom widget which has a QGraphicsWebView as a class member. Remember that the QGraphicsWebView will be as big as its content's size, so this custom widget will serve as a window, as a viewport.

There is not much more to say here, and the following code snippet illustrates it well:

class MobileWebView : public QGraphicsWidget

    MobileWebView(QGraphicsItem *parent = 0);

    bool mousePress(const QPoint &value);
    void mouseMove(const QPoint &value);
    void mouseRelease(const QPoint &value);

    QGraphicsWebView *webView;

In order to properly handle mouse events you must install an event filter on web view or stack it behind its parent object (search for QGraphicsItem::ItemStacksBehindParent). By doing this the mouse events will reach a MobileWebView instance before they reach the member QGraphicsWebView

Keep in mind that you'll need to add some logic in order to distinguish different mouse events and gestures like a single click, double click, click-and-pan, etc. That is left as an exercise to the reader.

Also keep in mind that scrolling will have to be implemented manually, just as zoom etc.

When testing the above on a device, you will notice that many pages do not layout very nicely. In particular the width is larger than the width of the device!

The way web contents is laid out, is that the first the viewport width is used for fitting the contents. If the contents doesn't fit due to non-flexible element with a width larger than the viewport width, the min width possible will be used. As most pages are written with a desktop browser in mind, that makes only very few sites fit into the width of a mobile device.

Qt WebKit has a way to force a layout to a given width/height. What really matters here is the width. If you layout a size to a given width, it will get that width and images etc might get cut of. The width/height is also used for laying out fixed elements, but when we resize the QGraphicsWebView to the size of the contents, fixed elements will not be relative to the view, which is the behaviour found on most mobile browsers.

Qt 4.7 docs also says: "This property should be used in conjunction with the QWebPage::preferredContentsSize property. If not explicitly set, the preferredContentsSize is automatically set to a reasonable value."

#2 Magical Step - QWebPage::preferredContentsSize

From Qt 4.7 documentation: "If this property is set to a valid size, it is used to lay out the page."

We saw that this property is automatically set to a reasonable value when using QGraphicsWebView::resizesToContents.

As you can imaging, laying out with a smaller viewport can cause pages to break, and as thus, a default value has been chosen so that it almost breaks no pages which still making the sites fit. This value is 960x800.

If the device have a bigger resolution, this value can be changed using:>setPreferredContentsSize(QSize(desiredWidth, desiredHeight));

You can play around with this and find your own magic number, but let's stick to this 960px wide for now.

As some sites do not work with 980 or want to have control on how the page is laid out, QtWebKit as well as Android, Firefox Mobile and the iPhone Safari supports a meta tag called viewport.

#6 Magical Step - Handle viewport meta tag This one also deserves a whole blog post for itself. For now let's just say that this is a meta tag that Apple came up with to make a web page capable of "telling" the browser how it wants to be shown.

More information: and

In QtWebKit trunk we already have support for this with a nice API. You must connect the signal from QWebPage::viewportChangeRequested(const ViewportHints& hints) to a slot of your mobile web view and use what is provided by QWebPage::ViewportHints to updated your viewport size, scale range, and so on.

This can be tricky and that's why I'm not going deeper on it right now. Since I know you are curious about it I'll leave you with one more exercise! So try to understand how the guys from MicroB and Firefox Mobile dealt with this:

We haven't actually enabled tiling yet, so lets go ahead and do that. That is very simple as it is basically a setting:

    QWebSettings::globalSettings()->setAttribute(QWebSettings::TiledBackingStoreEnabled, true);

Voila! Mind that if you are going to add animations to your zoom/scale or want to implement a fancy kinetic scrolling you might want to take a look at QGraphicsWebView::setTiledBackingStoreFrozen. With this you can avoid updates to your tiles during an animation, for instance.

One big issue with the above is that, iframes and sites using frames can contain scrollable sub elements. That doesn't work well with the touch interaction model, as you want a finger swipe to scroll the whole page and not end up just scrolling a sub frame. Most mobile browser work around this by enabling something called frame flattening.

#5 Magical Step - Enable Frame Flattening Going straight to the point:

    QWebSettings::globalSettings()->setAttribute(QWebSettings::FrameFlatteningEnable, true);

This will make all frames from a web page expand themselves to the size of their contents, keeping us free of scrollable subareas.