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Avoiding img layout shifts: aspect-ratio vs width & height attributes (on Jake Archibald's blog)

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Recently I’ve noticed some developers recommending using the CSS aspect-ratio property directly on images. My understanding of aspect-ratio was that it’s not so much intended for elements like img which already have an intrinsic aspect ratio, but rather for the likes of div which do not. Furthermore, when the goal is to prevent the layout shift that can occur after an image loads we should supply our images with width and height HTML attributes rather than using CSS.

In this timely post, Jake helpfully explains how width and height attributes are used by CSS as presentation hints to automatically set an aspect-ratio that will also, in cases where the attributes were set wrongly, fall back to the image’s intrinsic aspect ratio. Therefore, concentrating on HTML alone is ideal for our content images. My previous approach seems sound but I now know a little more about why.

If I'm adding an image to an article on my blog, that's content. I want the reserved space to be the aspect ratio of the content. If I get the width and height attributes wrong, I'd rather the correct values were used from the content image. Therefore, width and height attributes feel like the best fit. This means I can just author content, I don't need to dip into inline styles.

If it's a design requirement that the layout of an image is a particular aspect ratio, enforcing that with aspect-ratio in CSS can be appropriate. For example, a hero image that must be 16 / 9 – if the image isn't quite 16 / 9 I don't want it messing up my design, I want the design to take priority. Although, if the image isn't actually that aspect ratio, it'll either end up stretched (object-fit: fill), letter-boxed (object-fit: contain), or cropped (object-fit: cover). None of which are ideal.

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