It is amazing to live in an environment where the Internet connection is ubiquitous and fast. But in case the tube is having a problem and the bits from the web server are broken into random pieces, how does the web site look like? If the content degrades gracefully, the lack of style sheets may reduce the attractiveness of the page but it should not significantly hamper the experience. Fortunately, there is a way to automatically check the appearance of a web page under that circumstance.

Some time ago, I have demonstrated the use of PhantomJS, headless WebKit, to capture web pages programmatically. The example was also extended to capture just a particular portion of the page via clipping. For CSS-less capture, we just need to extend it with the new feature in PhantomJS 1.9 (as implemented by Vitaliy Slobodin): the ability to abort network requests.

There is a example loadurlwithoutcss.js which demonstrates this feature. In fact, combining this idea with the previous BBC News site capture, we can come up with the following screenshots. The left side shows the normal page (see my previous blog post on web clipping) while the right side demonstrates what happens when all the CSS files are not loaded at all.


The script which produces the above image is as follows:

var page = require('webpage').create();
page.settings.userAgent = 'WebKit/534.46 Mobile/9A405 Safari/7534.48.3';
page.settings.viewportSize = { width: 400, height: 600 };
page.onResourceRequested = function(requestData, request) {
    if ((/http:\/\/.+?\.css$/gi).test(requestData['url'])) {
        console.log('Skipping', requestData['url']);
page.open('http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/health', function (status) {
    if (status !== 'success') {
        console.log('Unable to load BBC!');
    } else {
        window.setTimeout(function () {
            page.clipRect = { left: 0, top: 0, width: 400, height: 600 };
        }, 1000);

It is pretty similar to its previous version. The new addition is a handler for onResourceRequested where we detect the URL for a style sheet and abort its loading. If the script is executed, it will display the message:

Skipping http://static.bbci.co.uk/frameworks/barlesque/2.45.9/mobile/3.5/style/main.css
Skipping http://static.bbci.co.uk/bbcdotcom/0.3.184/style/mobile/bbccom.css
Skipping http://static.bbci.co.uk/news/1.7.1-259/stylesheets/core.css
Skipping http://static.bbci.co.uk/news/1.7.1-259/stylesheets/compact.css

which indicates that these 4 (four) style sheets won’t be part of the rendered output.

The entire process is rather straightforward. Because PhantomJS is cloud-ready, you can even have it running on an instance of Amazon EC2. It should not be too difficult to include this type of spartan rendering of your web site as another layer in the defensive development workflow.

What do you plan to de-CSS-ify today?

  • Ivan Jouikov

    So what’s the point of de-CSS-fying?

    I remember accomplishing something similar for fun by running Charles proxy and blacklisting *.css

    • This is demonstrating the new feature of PhantomJS 1.9: the ability to abort particular network requests.

      • Ben

        And that’s a great features. Now testing websites is even more acceptable because we are able to remove all advertising javascript that are so badly scripted and that can lead to an error.

    • One way of determining how well your site works on screen readers is to strip the CSS. Basically you should be able to use the site fine without CSS in order to meet WCAG.

  • Florian Rappl

    If its just about the stylesheets you can also simply use for(var i = 0; i < document.styleSheets.length; i++) document.styleSheets[i].disabled = true;

  • Lexi Mize

    I do what Florian below does, but I have three javascript link buttons for zapping a page.

    1) Kill CSS (as below)
    2) Kill embed/objects/flash
    3) Shrink images down to 10×10. But link them so that I can click them to return them to original dimensions.
    And remember all of the above must be done iteratively in frames and iframes.