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Lifecycle API for Web Pages

Link to spec:


For detailed motivation see this doc.

With large numbers of web apps (and tabs) running, critical resources such as memory, CPU, battery, network etc easily get oversubscribed, leading to a bad end user experience. Application lifecycle is a key way that modern OS' manage resources. On Android, iOS and also more recent Windows versions, apps can be started and stopped at will by the platform. This lets the platform streamline and re-allocate resources where they best benefit the user.

On the web, we’ve tackled this with one-off features eg. reactive tab-discarding in extreme memory pressure - which can break websites. While this is okay in the short term, in the long term it is important to incorporate first class support in the web platform, create the right incentive structure for web developers, and allow the system to proactively reallocate resources and avoid getting into extreme resource situations.

For a platform to support application lifecycle, it needs to both:

  • provide developers with signals about transitions between the lifecycle states
  • provide lifecycle-compatible APIs that allow key capabilities to work even when the app is backgrounded or stopped.

The web ecosystem lacks a clear lifecycle. This proposal attempts to define what the lifecycle of a web page is and add necessary extensions to enable supporting two important system interventions necessary for resource re-allocation:

  • Tab discarding for memory saving
  • CPU stopping for battery saving

Whereas mobile platforms have rich service-bound APIs that allow apps to deliver their experience when backgrounded, most of the web platform's capabilities are tab-coupled. Audio for instance only works when the tab is alive, so when a tab is killed in the background that plays audio, there is no way to keep that tab playing sound. A list of background use-cases is here. In an ideal world, web apps would be able to deliver the experience they want to their users, without having to rely on their page always being resident and running on the machine.

Lifecycle States

Lifecycle States

For details on the app lifecycle states and definitions see this doc.

This proposal formalizes states for FROZEN and DISCARDED.

Lifecycle State Visibility Developer Expectation System Interventions
FROZEN Typically HIDDEN frames will be FROZEN. It is possible for visible frames to be FROZEN Hand off for background work and stop execution. Teardown and release resources. Report to analytics CPU suspension: stop CPU after N minutes based on resource constraints
DISCARDED Typically FROZEN frames will be moved to DISCARDED. It is possible for PASSIVE frames to be DISCARDED System has discarded background tab to reclaim memory. If user revisits tab, this will reload the tab. Tab discarding for memory saving: fully unloaded, no memory consumption.
  • Lifecycle states apply to frames: both toplevel and nested.
  • When a background tab is transitioned to FROZEN, the entire frame tree will be consistently moved to FROZEN

End-of-life scenarios

There are 3 high level scenarios for “end-of-life”.

1. System Exit (Interventions)

The system moves the app to FROZEN state and stops CPU usage, or the system moves the app to DISCARDED state and discards the app to reclaim memory. Handling this is in-scope for this proposal.
For detailed Scenarios and Requirements, see the list here.

On system exit, there is no guaranteed callback at the (very) time of system exit. This is consistent with mobile platforms (Android and iOS): in Android onPause is the guaranteed callback for user exit, on iOS the equivalent is willResignActive. On Android and iOS the system kills background apps that were previously stopped / frozen; corresponding callbacks have already fired and there is no callback before system kill.

2. User Exit

The user may close the tab (foreground or background) or navigate away OR on mobile, swipe the app away from task switcher. The user may background the app by minimizing the window OR on mobile by going to the homescreen and task switcher.
On user exit, the browser should guarantee that one callback will fire and finish, before the app is torn down.

For categories of work that happen in end-of-life see the list of End-of-life use-cases here.

3. Unexpected Termination

Apps can get killed in scenarios where it is not possible to deliver a callback, such as OOM crashes, OS kills the process under memory pressure, crashes or hangs due to browser bugs, device runs out of battery etc. Therefore it is possible for apps to transition from any state to TERMINATED without any callback being fired.\

It is not possible to have a guaranteed callback execute in most of these scenarios.


Lifecycle Callbacks

We following changes are included in the MVP:

  • onfreeze is fired to signal transition to FROZEN.
  • onresume is fired to signal transition out of FROZEN. This will be used to undo what was done in onfreeze above.
  • On DISCARDED -> ACTIVE, an attribute called wasDiscarded is added to the Document. This will be used to restore view state , when the user revisits a discarded tab.
  • onfreeze is also fired before transition to BFCACHE (before pagehide is fired) and onresume is also fired on transition out of BFCACHE (after pageshow is fired).

Suggestion for implementers: before moving app to DISCARDED it is recommended to run beforeunload handler and if it returns string (i.e. needs to show modal dialog) then the tab discard should be omitted, to prevent risk of data loss.

Reusing existing callbacks vs. Adding new callbacks

A previous version of this proposal reused pagehide / pageshow callbacks. With the requirement that visible and occluded (ACTIVE & PASSIVE) frames can be FROZEN (not just HIDDEN frames), the cons really outweighed the pros of reusing. For detailed pros and cons see here.

Why add new callbacks at all?

Why cannot web apps simply use existing callbacks to deal with FROZEN and DISCARDED states? The callbacks are necessary for several reasons:

  • Teardown and setup of expensive resources such as IDB and Web Locks
  • Many apps rely on unload handler and no further callbacks are fired after onfreeze if the page is discarded. onfreeze provides a final callback for this need.
    • Apps that often have multiple tabs open, such as Google Docs, need to coordinate app state across these tabs. Such apps rely on getting a callback before the page goes away, eg. Google Docs needs to release their (custom) lock.
    • Final communication to the server
  • Platform predictability and transparency in the face of freezing & discarding interventions becoming the norm. Specifically helping:
    • Analytics
    • Testing story

For details see this section of detailed doc.


Additions to Document interface:

partial interface Document {
    attribute EventHandler onfreeze;
    attribute EventHandler onresume;
    readonly attribute boolean wasDiscarded;

Handling transition to FROZEN:

function handleFreeze(e) {
   // Handle transition to FROZEN
document.addEventListener("freeze", handleFreeze);

document.onfreeze = function() { … }

NOTE: subsequently the app may get discarded, without firing another callback.

Handling transition out of FROZEN:

function handleResume(e) {
    // handle state transition FROZEN -> ACTIVE
document.addEventListener("resume", handleResume);

document.onresume = function() { … }

Handling of discarding, on next load:

// If the tab was previously discarded, get the persisted state for the
// client ID of the discarded tab:
if (document.wasDiscarded) {

Potential future addition

In the future, if frame-level freezing (i.e. freeze specific frames within a page) is pursued, then the API could be enhanced to indicate which frame tree is frozen.

// Indicate what is frozen exactly: 
// a. partial frame tree starting with current frame
// b. partial frame tree starting with an ancestor frame
// c. entire page in background
// d. ...
enum FrameLevel { ... };

interface FreezeEvent {
    readonly attribute FrameLevel frameLevel; 

Callbacks in State Transition Scenarios

  • A. System stops (CPU suspension) background tab; user revisits
    [HIDDEN] -------------> onfreeze [FROZEN]
    --(user revisit)----> onresume [ACTIVE]

  • B. System discards frozen tab; user revisits
    (previously called onfreeze----> [FROZEN]
    ----(tab discard)----> [DISCARDED]
    --(user revisit)----> [LOADING] -> (Document::wasDiscarded is set) [ACTIVE]

  • C. System discards background tab; user revisits
    [HIDDEN] ---(tab discard)------>
    onfreeze [FROZEN] ---(system tab discard)---> [DISCARDED]
    --(user revisit)----> [LOADING] -> (Document::wasDiscarded is set) [ACTIVE]

State Transition Lifecycle Callback Trigger Expected Developer Action
ACTIVE -> HIDDEN onvisibilitychange (hidden) (already exists) Desktop: tab is in background, or window is fully hidden; Mobile: user clicks on task switcher or homescreen stop UI work; persist app state; report to analytics
HIDDEN -> ACTIVE onvisibilitychange (visible) (already exists) User revisits background tab undo what was done above; report to analytics
HIDDEN -> FROZEN onfreeze System initiated CPU suspension; OR user navigate with bfcache report to analytics; teardown, release resources; hand off for background work and stop execution. Save transient UI state in case app is moved to DISCARDED.
FROZEN -> ACTIVE onresume user revisits FROZEN tab or navigates back (bfcache) undo what was done above; report to analytics
FROZEN -> DISCARDED (no callback) System initiated tab-discard (no advance warning here)
DISCARDED -> ACTIVE (Document::wasDiscarded is set) user revisits tab after system tab discard restore transient UI state

Restrictions and Capabilities in proposed callbacks

If excessive work is performed in the onfreeze callback fired on FROZEN, there is a cost to this in terms of resource consumption i.e. CPU, network. We need to strike a balance between enabling the system to move the app to FROZEN for conserving resources AND enabling the app to take action without consuming excessive resources in these callbacks. To accomplish this, the following will apply to the callback:

  • network activity will be disallowed, except for fetch keep-alive. This will allow final communication with server as well as meet needs of analytics.
  • upper time limit of 500ms (total wall time) will be imposed. If the time limit is exceeded, the page will be discarded (instead of being FROZEN)
  • legitimate async work like writing to IndexedDB will be supported. Current proposal for supporting this is here:

Guarantess for end-of-life callbacks

What should be the “guaranteed” callback for the Web?

We should align with the mobile model (Android and iOS) on the web. For this we need to ensure the following:

  1. on user exit: only one callback is guaranteed to fire and complete
  2. on system exit: above callback should have already fired, yet another callback is not guaranteed to fire (guarantee is simply not possible in many cases)

For #1, ideally all apps will transition through PASSIVE state before they can be killed and potentially we could, in the future, introduce a new callback here -- that is guaranteed. In practice though, there is already a callback that is "somewhat guaranteed" - this is onvisibilitychange (there are bugs in browsers, causing it to not fire in some cases, and it is not really guaranteed on mobile). For instance on mobile web, if the user goes to the homescreen OR task-switcher and then swipes away, then onvisibilitychange (with visibilityState being set to hidden) will fire (on homescreen, task-switcher) no other callback is fired on swipe (unload, pagehide etc).

NOTE: On Android onvisibilitychange is called from the onStop method of Activity lifecycle which is NOT guaranteed to fire. If we added a callback for transition to PASSIVE (in the future), then it could be called from onPause method of Activity lifecycle - which is guaranteed to fire. Therefore adding a callback for PASSIVE state would be helpful for Android.

While unload callback is widely used, it is fundamentally unreliable, for instance it does not fire on mobile if user goes to task-switcher and then swipes. There are currently no plans to make unload more reliable. (The long term vision is to replace it with declarative APIs for desktop)

For #2, callback for FROZEN state is not guaranteed on user exit scenarios. On system exit scenarios, typically FROZEN callback (at least onvisibilitychange for sure) would have already fired previously BUT there is no guarantee that FROZEN callback must have fired.

Further Reading

For details on the following topics see the Master Doc: