Optimized SVGs at gist.github.com

Lately, I've been having a lot of fun hand optimizing SVG files for size, a bit like Sam Ruby does for his blog (it is highly instructive peeking at his collection, as I think I have mentioned before).

For me, SVG has something of the magical flair I first found in HTML in the nineties, back when it was the new bleeding edge New Thing, but I argue that it's even more fun than HTML was. The W3C SVG specs are not prohibitively difficult to read, and of course you have much greater graphical freedom than structured documents can afford you (duh!).

Like Sam, I try for something presentable in a kilobyte or less (uncompressed, though modern good browsers are as happy to render SVG:s delivered with content-encoding: gzip, of course, as long as they are otherwise correct and delivered with an image/svg or image/svg+xml content-type), and to never enforce a fix width in the svg tag itself – so they just beautifully grow to any size you want them to be, with no loss of quality.

Which is the other main beauty of SVG, besides being fly-weight, standardized, widely supported and still growing broader support in all the main-stream browsers. Over the last few years, the SVG front has been progressing happily and now is very practically useful already, for at least those of us that care most about Chrome, Firefox and Opera (I get the perception that Opera's often rather exceptional lead on the SVG support front is largely or even solely the work of Erik Dahlström, but I might exaggerate a bit).

[I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes] (<- this is text content in an inline SVG, if your browser or reader has stripped off the SVG or can't render such modernisms :-) Anyway, this weekend, I had fun turning the Laughing Man (from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) that @elmex vectorized at some point, into a 1000 byte version of my own, also featuring the gentle rotating text seen in the anime series (YouTube), via declarative animation (so there is no javascript involved here).

Edit: I initially missed an excellent opportunity here to plug Jeff Schiller's scour, which is an ideal first step when you start from an SVG source file. Be sure to run with -p something-large, as its defaults are being lossy about precision, which cuts needed decimals from some input files. With -p 99 you'll be on the safe side. Experiment with low single-digit numbers if you like (the current default – 5 – is often good), but make sure things are still looking right, or you may just ruin your file, rather than optimizing it for tiny foot-print. Broken images don't get extra credit for also being small!

The result is in this gist (if you install this user script, you can swap between *.svg text/plain source code image/svg rendition) or to the left, if your browser renders inline SVG:s properly in HTML content (I recommend the gist over view source, as Blogger inserts linebreak HTML tags unless I strip out all newlines first).

What surprised me, when I made this user script, is how far standards support has come in modern browsers: in order to inject the <svg> tag I create for the rendered version, I had to feed the source through DOMParser (as setting .innerHTML is lossy from treating the SVG content as text/html, not text/xml), and the few lines doing that, just magically worked in all of Chrome, Firefox 4 and Opera 11 (de-jQuery:fied, to make more sense outside of the script's context) with no special extra effort on my part:
// turn the raw SVG source string into an XML document:
svg = (new DOMParser).parseFromString(svg, 'text/xml');

// import it into an SVGSVGElement in this document:
svg = document.importNode(svg.documentElement, true);

// and insert that element somewhere in the document:
To me, that's a rather clear sign SVG is ready for prime time now.

While github reports having no plans on serving *.svg gists with an image content-type (they don't want people using gists for image hosting, I guess, even though it's sad you can't easily preview without saving to disk or using my hack above) I still think the light-weight gist community oriented sharing is good for this kind of thing. Others happily forked the octocat SVG I similarly format converted a while ago from the github About page, and milligramme made this much spacier version.

I gather all my SVG play in a svg-cleanups repository on github, if anyone wants to get inspired the fork or follow way, and occasionally tweet about it. If you find this kind of exercise as much fun, I love hearing about it; here, on Twitter, github, or elsewhere. I believe it's good teaching and learning for the web as a whole, too. Any logos, trademarks and the like above are property of their respective owners.