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Fresher service workers, by default

tl;dr

Starting in Chrome 68, HTTP requests that check for updates to the service worker script will no longer be fulfilled by the HTTP cache by default. This works around a common developer pain point, in which setting an inadvertent Cache-Control header on your service worker script could lead to delayed updates.

If you've already opted-out of HTTP caching for your /service-worker.js script by serving it with Cache-Control: max-age=0, then you shouldn't see any changes due to the new default behavior.

Additionally, starting in Chrome 78, the byte-for-byte comparison will be applied to scripts loaded in a service worker via importScripts(). Any change made to an imported script will trigger the service worker update flow, just like a change to the top-level service worker would.

Background

Every time you navigate to a new page that's under a service worker's scope, explicitly call registration.update() from JavaScript, or when a service worker is "woken up" via a push or sync event, the browser will, in parallel, request the JavaScript resource that was originally passed in to the navigator.serviceWorker.register() call, to look for updates to the service worker script.

For the purposes of this article, let's assume its URL is /service-worker.js and that it contains a single call to importScripts(), which loads additional code that's run inside the service worker:

// Inside our /service-worker.js file:
importScripts('path/to/import.js');

// Other top-level code goes here.

What's changing?

Prior to Chrome 68, the update request for /service-worker.js would be made via the HTTP cache (as most fetches are). This meant if the script was originally sent with Cache-Control: max-age=600, updates within the next 600 seconds (10 minutes) would not go to the network, so the user may not receive the most up-to-date version of the service worker. However, if max-age was greater than 86400 (24 hours), it would be treated as if it were 86400, to avoid users being stuck with a particular version forever.

Starting in 68, the HTTP cache will be ignored when requesting updates to the service worker script, so existing web applications may see an increase in the frequency of requests for their service worker script. Requests for importScripts will still go via the HTTP cache. But this is just the default—a new registration option, updateViaCache is available that offers control over this behavior.

updateViaCache

Developers can now pass in a new option when calling navigator.serviceWorker.register(): the updateViaCache parameter. It takes one of three values: 'imports', 'all', or 'none'.

The values determine if and how the browser's standard HTTP cache comes into play when making the HTTP request to check for updated service worker resources.

  • When set to 'imports', the HTTP cache will never be consulted when checking for updates to the /service-worker.js script, but will be consulted when fetching any imported scripts (path/to/import.js, in our example). This is the default, and it matches the behavior starting in Chrome 68.

  • When set to 'all', the HTTP cache will be consulted when making requests for both the top-level /service-worker.js script, as well as any scripts imported inside of the service worker, like path/to/import.js. This option corresponds to the previous behavior in Chrome, prior to Chrome 68.

  • When set to 'none', the HTTP cache will not be consulted when making requests for either the top-level /service-worker.js or for any imported scripts, such as the hypothetical path/to/import.js.

For example, the following code will register a service worker, and ensure that the HTTP cache is never consulted when checking for updates to either the /service-worker.js script, or for any scripts that are referenced via importScripts() inside of /service-worker.js:

if ('serviceWorker' in navigator) {
  navigator.serviceWorker.register('/service-worker.js', {
    updateViaCache: 'none',
    // Optionally, set 'scope' here, if needed.
  });
}

Checks for updates to imported scripts

Prior to Chrome 78, any service worker script loaded via importScripts() would be retrieved only once (checking first against the HTTP cache, or via the network, depending on the updateViaCache configuration). After that initial retrieval, it would be stored internally by the browser, and never re-fetched.

The only way to force an already installed service worker to pick up changes to an imported script was to change the script's URL, usually either by adding in a semver value (e.g. importScripts('https://example.com/v1.1.0/index.js')) or by including a hash of the contents (e.g. importScripts('https://example.com/index.abcd1234.js')). A side-effect of changing the imported URL is that the top-level service worker script's contents change, which in turn triggers the service worker update flow.

Starting with Chrome 78, each time an update check is performed for a top-level service worker file, checks will be made at the same time to determine whether or not the contents of any imported scripts have changed. Depending on the Cache-Control headers used, these imported script checks might be fulfilled by the HTTP cache if updateViaCache is set to 'all' or 'imports' (which is the default value), or the checks might go directly against the network if updateViaCache is set to 'none'.

If an update check for an imported script results in a byte-for-byte difference compared to what was previously stored by the service worker, that will in turn trigger the full service worker update flow, even if the top-level service worker file remains the same.

The Chrome 78 behavior matches what Firefox implemented several years ago, in Firefox 56. Safari already implements this behavior as well.

What do developers need to do?

If you've effectively opted-out of HTTP caching for your /service-worker.js script by serving it with Cache-Control: max-age=0 (or a similar value), then you shouldn't see any changes due to the new default behavior.

If you do serve your /service-worker.js script with HTTP caching enabled, either intentionally or because it's just the default for your hosting environment, you may start seeing an uptick of additional HTTP requests for /service-worker.js made against your server—these are requests that used to be fulfilled by the HTTP cache. If you want to continue allowing the Cache-Control header value to influence the freshness of your /service-worker.js, you'll need to start explicitly setting updateViaCache: 'all' when registering your service worker.

Given that there may be a long-tail of users on older browser versions, it's still a good idea to continue setting the Cache-Control: max-age=0 HTTP header on service worker scripts, even though newer browsers might ignore them.

Developers can use this opportunity to decide whether they want to explicitly opt their imported scripts out of HTTP caching now, and add in updateViaCache: 'none' to their service worker registration if appropriate.

Serving imported scripts

Starting with Chrome 78, developers might see more incoming HTTP requests for resources loaded via importScripts(), since they will now be checked for updates.

If you would like to avoid this additional HTTP traffic, set long-lived Cache-Control headers when serving scripts that include semver or hashes in their URLs, and rely on the default updateViaCache behavior of 'imports'.

Alternatively, if you want your imported scripts to be checked for frequent updates, then make sure you either serve them with Cache-Control: max-age=0, or that you use updateViaCache: 'none'.

Further reading

"The Service Worker Lifecycle" and "Caching best practices & max-age gotchas", both by Jake Archibald, are recommended reading for all developers who deploy anything to the web.

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