QtWebKit Goes Mobile


A lot of effort has been put into QtWebKit to make it attractive for use on mobile devices.

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

If you want to target mobile devices you should consider using QGraphicsWebView instead of QWebView. Since QWebView is based on the QWidget system, 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.

So let's start with a very simple QGraphicsWebView based "browser":

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 set up a QGraphicsView application and add a QGraphicsWebView to the scene. Notice that we're disabling the scrollbars on the QGraphicsView because QtWebKit handles scrolling and scrollbars automatically. This is to allow scrolling optimizations and to enable web authors to interact with the scrollbars, for instance, to 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 will have to disable features like scroll bar styling. This is not usually a problem, since mobile browsers do not usually show scroll bars, 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 an area, instead of just updating the area, you actually update the whole tile or sub-regions of it. This offers a few advantages for scrolling as, when you scroll, you do not need to repaint the new visible area for each scroll step, but you simply update a row of tiles each time; these tiles are often only partly on the screen. This minimizes all the painting calls that we have to do and enables kinetic scrolling.

Loading, rendering, and laying out are blocking operations. Though barely noticeable on desktop machines, these operations can block for a long time on a mobile device, letting the user believe the application has become unresponsive. Additionally, scrolling will also stall when the user uses his fingers to scroll, leading to a bad user experience.

One way to overcome this issue, is to do all loading, laying out 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. There is research in progress to enable this for a future version of QtWebKit, using WebKit2, but for now, freezing the backing store can help when performing a zooming operation, for instance. This will be discussed later, in the Enabling the Tiling section.

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 might see checkerboard tiles from time to time.

The use of 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 matter) and thus, with tiling, you can stop the tiles from being updated and just scale the existing tiles. Then, at the end of the animation, update tiles on top of the scaled ones. For now we will ignore the blocking issue and concentrate on the tiling and the interaction model. More information about Tiling can be found here: http://doc.qt.io/qt-4.8/qwebsettings.html#WebAttribute-enum (see the entry for TiledBackingStoreEnabled).

Resize to Contents

When using tiling, we want the QGraphicsWebView to act as our content, as it supports tiling. In order for this we need to make it resize itself to the size of its contents. For this we will use QGraphicsWebView::resizesToContents.

This setting removes the scroll bars for us on the main frame and makes our QGraphicsWebView resize itself to the size of its content.

Enabling it is as easy as setting the property:


The property should be used in conjunction with the QWebPage::preferredContentsSize property. If not explicitly set, it is automatically set to a reasonable value.

If we expand our mobile web view to the size of the contents of its contained page, the view will be bigger than the device screen.

Using a View as the Window onto the Contents

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 viewport onto the web view.

The following code snippet illustrates this:

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 the web view or stack it behind its parent object (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 between different mouse events and gestures, such as a single click, double click and click-and-pan. Besides, scrolling and zooming will have to be implemented manually.

Adjusting How Contents are Laid Out

When testing the above on a device, you will notice that many pages are not laid out very nicely. In particular, the width of the content may be larger than the width of the device. This is due to the way web contents are laid out. First, the viewport width is used for fitting the contents. If the contents do not fit due to a non-flexible element with a width larger than the viewport width, the minimum possible width 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.

QtWebKit has a way to force a layout to a given width or height. What really matters here is the width. If you lay out a page to a given width, it will get that width and images might be cropped. The width or 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 behavior found on most mobile browsers.

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

As you can imagine, laying out with a smaller viewport can cause pages to break, therefore a default value has been chosen so that it almost breaks no pages while still making pages fit. This value is 960x800. If the device has a greater resolution, this value can be changed like this:

webview.page()->setPreferredContentsSize(QSize(desiredWidth, desiredHeight));

You can play around with this and find a suitable size for your device, but we will keep the default size for now.

The 'viewport' Meta-Tag

As some sites do not work with 960 pixels width or want to have control of how the page is laid out, QtWebKit, Android, Firefox Mobile and the iPhone Safari browser support a meta-tag called viewport. This makes it possible for a web page to let the browser know how it wants to be shown. More info can be found in the Safari Developer Library.

You must connect the signal QWebPage::viewportChangeRequested(const QWebPage::ViewportHints& hints) to a slot of your mobile web view and use what is provided by QWebPage::ViewportHints to update your viewport size, scale range, and so on.

Enabling the Tiling

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

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

Note that, if you are going to add animations to your zooming or scaling operations or want to implement 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.

Avoiding Scrollable Subelements

One big issue with the above is that, iframes and sites using frames can contain scrollable subelements. 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 subframe. Most mobile browsers work around this by enabling something called 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.

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