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Main-thread Scheduling API

This document outlines the motivation for working on main thread scheduling APIs, discusses some of the problems that apps and userspace schedulers face when writing scheduling code, and links to various proposals we are working on in this space.

Note: individual proposals will be linked in the sections below and have separate explainers.

Motivation: Main thread contention

Consider a "search-as-you-type" application:

This app needs to be responsive to user input, i.e. user typing in the search-box. At the same time any animations on the page must be rendered smoothly, and the work for fetching and preparing search results and updating the page must also progress quickly.

There are a lot of different deadlines to meet for the app developer. It is easy for any long running script work to hold up the main thread and cause responsiveness issues for typing, rendering animations, or updating search results.

(TODO: Add a use cases doc with more concrete examples.)

Current solutions, their limitations, and APIs to fill the gaps

This problem is generally tackled by systematically chunking and scheduling main thread work. Since long tasks and responsiveness are at odds, breaking up long tasks can help keep an app responisive when also yielding to the browser's event loop.

Userspace schedulers have evolved to manage these chunks of work—prioritizing and executing work async at an appropriate time relative to current situation of user and browser.

While userspace schedulers have been effective in improving responsiveness, there are several problems they still face:

  1. Determining when to yield to the browser: yielding has overhead—the overhead of posting a task and context switching, the cost of regaining control, etc. This leads to increased task latency (the task at hand takes longer).

    Making intelligent decisions of when to yield is difficult with limited knowledge. Scheduling primitives can help userspace schedulers make better decisions, e.g. isInputPending() and isFramePending().

  2. Regaining control after yielding: chunking work and yielding is necessary for improving responsiveness, but it comes at a cost: when yielding to the event loop, a task that yields has no way to continue without arbitrary work of the same priority running first, e.g. other script. This disincentivizes yielding for script that requires low task latency.

    We propose adding scheduler.yield() as a solution.

  3. Coordination between (cooperating) actors: Most userspace schedulers have a notion of priority that allows tasks to be ordered in a way that improves user experience. But this is limited since userspace schedulers do not control all tasks on the page.

    Apps can consist of 1P, 1P library, 3P, and (one or more) framework script each of which competes for the main thread. At the same time, the browser also has tasks to run on the main thread, such as fetch() and IDB tasks and garbage collection.

    Having a shared notion of priority can help the browser make better scheduling decisions to help improve user experience.

    We propose adding a prioritized postTask scheduling API to address this problem.

  4. A disparate set of scheduling APIs: Despite the need to schedule chunks of script, the Platform lacks a unified API to do so. Developers can choose setTimeout, postMessage, requestAnimationFrame, or requestIdleCallback, when choosing to schedule tasks.

    This disparate set of scheduling APIs makes it onerous for developers to write scheduling code, and requires expert knowledge of the Browser's event loop to do so. Creating a unified native scheduling API can alleviate this.

    This is also addressed by the postTask API.

Additional Scheduling Problems

The problem as described above only covers part of the scheduling problem space. Additionally, there are developer needs for things like detecting when a frame is pending, throttling the frame rate, and avoiding layout thrashing.

Some of the other APIs we're considering in this space are noted here.

Explainer Links

Further Reading / Viewing

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