ReportingObserver: know your code health

TL;DR

There's a new observer in town! ReportingObserver is a new API that lets you know when your site uses a deprecated API or runs into a browser intervention:

const observer = new ReportingObserver((reports, observer) => {
  for (const report of reports) {
    console.log(report.type, report.url, report.body);
  }
}, {buffered: true});

observer.observe();

The callback can be used to send reports to a backend or analytics provider for further analysis.

Why is that useful? Until now, deprecation and intervention warnings were only available in the DevTools as console messages. Interventions in particular are only triggered by various real-world constraints like device and network conditions. Thus, you may never even see these messages when developing/testing a site locally. ReportingObserver provides the solution to this problem. When users experience potential issues in the wild, we can be notified about them.

ReportingObserver has only shipped in Chrome 69. It is being considered by other browsers.

Introduction

A while back, I wrote a blog post ("Observing your web app") because I found it fascinating how many APIs there are for monitoring the "stuff" that happens in a web app. For example, there are APIs that can observe information about the DOM: ResizeObserver, IntersectionObserver, MutationObserver. There are APIs for capturing performance measurements: PerformanceObserver. Other APIs like window.onerror and window.onunhandledrejection even let us know when something goes wrong.

However, there are other types of warnings which are not captured by these existing APIs. When your site uses a deprecated API or runs up against a browser intervention, DevTools is first to tell you about them:

DevTools console warnings for deprecations and interventions.
Browser-initiated warnings in the DevTools console.

One would naturally think window.onerror captures these warnings. It does not! That's because window.onerror does not fire for warnings generated directly by the user agent itself. It fires for runtime errors (JS exceptions and syntax errors) caused by executing your code.

ReportingObserver picks up the slack. It provides a programmatic way to be notified about browser-issued warnings such as deprecations and interventions. You can use it as a reporting tool and lose less sleep wondering if users are hitting unexpected issues on your live site.

ReportingObserver is part of a larger spec, the Reporting API, which provides a common way to send these different reports to a backend. The Reporting API is basically a generic framework to specify a set of server endpoints to report issues to.

The API

The API is not unlike the other "observer" APIs such as IntersectionObserver and ResizeObserver. You give it a callback; it gives you information. The information that the callback receives is a list of issues that the page caused:

const observer = new ReportingObserver((reports, observer) => {
  for (const report of reports) {
    // → report.id === 'XMLHttpRequestSynchronousInNonWorkerOutsideBeforeUnload'
    // → report.type === 'deprecation'
    // → report.url === 'https://reporting-observer-api-demo.glitch.me'
    // → report.body.message === 'Synchronous XMLHttpRequest is deprecated...'
    // → report.body.lineNumber === 11
    // → report.body.columnNumber === 22
    // → report.body.sourceFile === 'https://reporting-observer-api-demo.glitch.me'
    // → report.body.anticipatedRemoval === <JS_DATE_STR> or null
  }
}});

observer.observe();

Filtered reports

Reports can be pre-filter to only observe certain report types:

const observer = new ReportingObserver((reports, observer) => {
  ...
}, {types: ['deprecation']});

Right now, there are two report types: 'deprecation' and 'intervention'.

Buffered reports

The buffered: true option is really useful when you want to see the reports that were generated before the observer was created:

const observer = new ReportingObserver((reports, observer) => {
  ...
}, {types: ['intervention'], buffered: true});

It is great for situations like lazy-loading a library that uses a ReportingObserver. The observer gets added late but you don't miss out on anything that happened earlier in the page load.

Stop observing

Yep! It's got a disconnect method:

observer.disconnect(); // Stop the observer from collecting reports.

Examples

Example - report browser interventions to an analytics provider:

const observer = new ReportingObserver((reports, observer) => {
  for (const report of reports) {
    sendReportToAnalytics(JSON.stringify(report.body));
  }
}, {types: ['intervention'], buffered: true});

observer.observe();

Example - be notified when APIs are going to be removed:

const observer = new ReportingObserver((reports, observer) => {
  for (const report of reports) {
    if (report.type === 'deprecation') {
      sendToBackend(`Using a deprecated API in ${report.body.sourceFile} which will be
                     removed on ${report.body.anticipatedRemoval}. Info: ${report.body.message}`);
    }
  }
});

observer.observe();

Conclusion

ReportingObserver gives us an additional way for discovering and monitoring potential issues in your web app. It's even a useful tool for understanding the health of your code base (or lack thereof). Send reports to a backend, know about the real-world issues users are hitting on your site, update code, profit!

Future work

In the future, my hope is that ReportingObserver becomes the de-facto API for catching all types of issues in JS. Imagine one API to catch everything that goes wrong in your app:

I'm also excited about tools integrating ReportingObserver into their workflows. Lighthouse is an example of a tool that already flags browser deprecations when you run its "Avoids deprecated APIs" audit:

Lighthouse audit for using deprecated APIs.
The Lighthouse audit for using deprecated APIs could use ReportingObserver.

Lighthouse currently uses the DevTools protocol to scrape console messages and report these issues to developers. Instead, it might be interesting to switch to ReportingObserver for its well structured deprecation reports and additional metadata like anticipatedRemoval date.

Additional resources:

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