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picturePolyfill 4

A Responsive Images approach that you can use today that uses the real picture element along with children source elements with media, src and srcset attributes.

  • Author: Andrea Verlicchi (c) 2014
  • License: MIT/GPLv2


picturePolyfill advantages

PicturePolyfill is fast and easy to use because:

  • markup & go: it uses the picture tag, easy to markup, and future-proof
  • loading performance: it serves only one image to your website users, no double HTTP requests are made
  • computing performance: it's designed and coded keeping performance in mind. For example:
    • it doesn't execute repeatedly while a smooth/animated browser resize is in progress, avoiding useless DOM parsing and useless HTTP requests to mid-breakpoints images that the user might not need)
    • it caches che source elements data, making the script much more performing see tests
  • support to HD (Retina) displays easily made via the srcset attribute of source tags
  • it's solid, because its code is all covered by tests

Differences with picturefill

picturePolyfill only polyfills the picture tag, whereas picturefill polyfills also the img tag with srcset + sizes attributes. Go for picturefill if you need to polyfill that too. If you don't, stick with picturePolyfill because it's a much smaller and faster script.

Markup pattern and explanation

With HD (Retina) images support

To support HD (Retina) images, mark up your responsive images like this.

<picture data-alt="A beautiful responsive image" data-default-src="img/960x960.gif">
	<source media="(min-width: 1441px)" srcset="img/960x960.gif, img/960x960x2.gif 2x"/>
	<source media="(min-width: 1025px)" srcset="img/720x720.gif, img/720x720x2.gif 2x"/>
	<source media="(min-width: 481px)"  srcset="img/512x512.gif,  img/512x512x2.gif 2x"/>
	<source srcset="img/480x480.gif, img/480x480x2.gif 2x"/>
	<img src="" alt="A beautiful responsive image"/>

Without HD (Retina) support

If you don't need to support HD (Retina) images, you can mark up your responsive images like this.

<picture data-alt="A beautiful responsive image" data-default-src="img/960x960.gif">
	<source media="(min-width: 1441px)" srcset="img/960x960.gif"/>
	<source media="(min-width: 1025px)" srcset="img/720x720.gif"/>
	<source media="(min-width: 481px)"  srcset="img/512x512.gif"/>
	<source srcset="img/480x480.gif"/>
	<img src="" alt="A beautiful responsive image"/>

Notes about the markup

  • picture tag:

  • data-default-src attribute: the image URL that you want to load in IE Desktop < 10.

  • data-alt attribute: the alternative text that will be set in the img tag

  • source tags:

  • media attribute: any media query, but it's advised to use a min-width media query to follow the "mobile first" approach.

  • src attribute: the image URL at the corresponding media

  • srcset attribute: comma separated URLs and scale at the corresponding media, e.g. img/768x768.gif, img/768x768x2.gif 2x

  • img tag:

  • one img tag inside the picture tag is required by the specs

  • you can still use an empty src in the img to avoid a double http call in browsers that don't natively support the picture tag.

NEW in version 4.0.0! The source tags order is important! The parser exits at first matching media so be sure to place the higher min-width queries at the begin of the tags list!

How the img is updated

The script searches in the source tags and selects the last matching media's src or srcset. When found, picturePolyfill will update the img element's src and srcset attributes inside the picture tag, with the matching ones. The img's src attribute is then updated at browser resize (see computing performance section above to read about performance at browser resize).

Server-side scaling/cropping tool

Responsive images can be quite complicated to be served on your website if you have to: pre-scale them at many different resolutions; name them; and maybe change their size when developing a new release of your site.

It's then a good practice to have a server-side picture scaling service (like pixtulate) to scale the images for you, just in time, starting from only one big image.

If you want to use an image server, you can code your HTML like the following:

<picture data-alt="A beautiful responsive image" data-default-src="">
	<source media="(min-width: 1441px)" srcset=", 2x"/>
	<source media="(min-width: 1025px)" srcset=", 2x"/>
	<source media="(min-width: 481px)"  srcset=", 2x"/>
	<source srcset=", 2x"/>
	<img src="" alt="A beautiful responsive image"/>

Note that you should serve double resolution images (double width and double height) for HD/retina displays, as you can see in the "With HD (Retina) images support" section of this readme.

Take a look at the demo.



  • Download picturePolyfill from GitHub
  • Include the minified file in your project script directory

Using bower

You can install the latest version of picturePolyfill using bower

bower install picturePolyfill


You can either include the script in the headsection of yourHTMLpages, OR just before the closure of thebody tag.

In the head section

		<script src="picturePolyfill.min.js" defer></script>

Note: Including the defer attribute in the script tag will prevent the script download to block page rendering while in progress.

At the end of the body section

		<script src="picturePolyfill.min.js"></script>


PicturePolyfill executes either automatically and by code, calling the parse() function.

  • it executes automatically at page load, on the whole document
  • it executes automatically at browser resize, on the whole document
  • it can be manually executed, if you:
    • call picturePolyfill.parse() to execute it on the whole document
    • call picturePolyfill.parse(element) to execute from the element DOM node below

After DOM has changed (AJAX calls, etc.)

PicturePolyfill is intentionally exposed to the global namespace, so you can call it as you need it.

Example: if some of your AJAX calls change a portion of your DOM injecting new picture nodes, after your new DOM has changed just call picturePolyfill.parse() (or picturePolyfill.parse(element)) to make picturePolyfill parse only the changed portion of the DOM.

Calling picturePolyfill.parse(element) (where element is a specific DOM node) is faster if you know the parent node where the DOM changed.

Browser support

PicturePolyfill supports all modern browsers and down to Internet Explorer 7.

  • On Modern Browsers, Internet Explorer 10 and above: the images will be loaded depending on the matched media query
  • On Internet Explorer 7 to 9: the content of the data-default-src attribute will be used to reference the image source.

Size and delivery

Currently, picturePolyfill.js compresses to around 1300bytes (~1.2kb) after minify and gzip. To minify, you might try these online tools: Uglify, Yahoo Compressor, or Closure Compiler. Serve with gzip compression.