Dancers Just Wanna Have Fonts - Hacking Thy Fearful Symmetry

Hacking Thy Fearful Symmetry

Hacker, hacker coding bright

Dancers Just Wanna Have Fonts

created: June 22, 2013

Here's a quick one to warm up...

One of the heavy component of my blog, size-wise, is the fonts used by the page headers. Of course, I could easily trim down on it by using an image instead, but that'd be rather sad as one of the raison d'être of the whole thing is to play with nifty technologies of the future. And what could be niftier, or more from-the-future than webfonts, I ask you? Rhetorically, that is, because, really, there are a lot of other niftier things, and more from-the-futuristic. But that's not the point. The point is... what is the point? Oh yes. Fonts.

So, yeah, huge ttf files which, really, could be reduced as only a handful of glyphs are used in the title. Google Font has a neat feature where you can request for a subset of characters from a font. How hard it is to implement a similar feature from within Dancer?

Step 1. Steal Somebody Else's Hubcaps

Although I'm curious about fonts and all that, learning from scratch how TTF files are organized seems hard-core. So instead of reinventing the wheel, why not look on CPAN and... oh lookee, there is ttfsubset from Font::TTF::Scripts which seems to do exactly what we want. So, basically, the hard part has already been done for us. Groovy.

Step 2. Put Hubcaps on Car. Put Car on Route.

We have the innards required to trim a font, now all we have to do is to expose it to the world:

get 'font/:fontname' => sub {
    my $fontname = param('fontname');

    my $path = "/fonts/$fontname";

    send_error 'font not found', 404 unless -f $path;

    # no text? No job to do
    my $text = param('t') //
        return send_file $path, system_path => 1;

    my @chars = map { ord } sort { $a cmp $b } uniq split //, $text; 

    # generate_subfont encapsulates the magic innards of 
    # 'ttfsubset'
    my $output = generate_subfont( $path, @chars );

    return send_file \$output, content_type => 'application/x-ttf';

The mechanism is simple: all source ttf files are dumped in public/fonts (where they can be accessed directly if we so desire), and any url of the form /font/the_font.ttf?t=abc will return the font subset containing the characters passed via the argument t. Technically, we're done!

Engage Cruise Control

So we now have auto-generated font subsets. But we still have to figure out which characters we want. That's a onerous task that would also benefit from a wee bit of automation. It'd be much better if we could just say

<h1 class="subfont" data-font="myfont">Hello there!</h1>

and have a little jQuery script figure it out:

        var characters = $(this).text().split('').sort();
        characters = characters.filter(function(e,i,a){ 
            return characters.lastIndexOf(e) == i 
        var family = $(this).attr('data-font') + '-' + characters;
        var style = "@font-face { font-family: " + family 
            + "; src: url('/font/" + $(this).attr('data-font') + ".ttf?t=" + characters 
            + "'); }";
        $('body').append( "" );
        $(this).css('font-family', family);

And Record Everything For Posterity

As a final touch: those subsets will always be the same, so it makes sense to cache them. For that kind of things, we already have Dancer::Plugin::Cache::CHI that can help:

if( $plugin->use_cache ) {
    *generate_subfont = sub {
        my @args = @_;
        Dancer::Plugin::Cache::CHI::cache()->compute( 'font-' . $args[0] . '-' . join( '', @args[1..$#args] ), sub {
else {
    *generate_subfont = sub {

All Done, Say Hello To Dancer::Plugin::FontSubset

Add a few options and configurations, and we have Dancer::Plugin::FontSubset (also, of course, on GitHub), which is bound to be soon joined by a Dancer2 sibling.


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About the author

Yanick Champoux
Perl necrohacker , ACP writer, orchid lover. Slightly bonker all around.