When it comes to diagnosing web performance problems, you do a lot of living in DevTools. Between the Performance Tab and the all powerful chrome://tracing, these are the sorts of things I work with on a daily basis.
The problem with living in this paradise of useful information is that the information has a tendency to only make sense to a few folks. When you talk to upper management, traces tell a story that visually can be hard to decipher in bit sized meetings.
Pictures of traces speak a thousand words. Video of what a user is experiencing get resources assigned to fix web performance problems.
In a perfect world, I’d have WebPageTest just rolling runs at my behest with video output, but in a lot of on many projects WebPageTest isn’t running internally and testing externally is a non-starter. We need a method to generate some video with some feeling. Enter devtools-to-video.
devtool-to-video is a little cli tool written in node that utilizes ffmpeg to generate a video from a Chrome DevTools trace and put a timer on the bottom that shows the time progression.
This is similar in concept to WebPageTest though their output video timer is way cooler. This simply utilizes the presentation time (pts) within the ffmpeg to give us a quick means to create the video without a lot overhead via drawtext.
Using devtool-to-video is pretty simple. Install the cli tool via npm or yarn:
npm i @justinribeiro/devtools-to-video # or yarn global add @justinribeiro/devtools-to-video
Once installed, we have a few command line options to deal with:
➜ devtools-to-video -h DEVTOOLS-TO-VIDEO Output a video file from screenshot frames within a Chrome DevTools JSON trace file. Usage: `devtools-to-video [options ...]` Global Options -i, --input string File path to Chrome DevTools trace JSON file. -o, --output string Output file name for video file. -c, --hideClock If set, hides the time scale clock on the output video file. -l, --label string If set, adds the label above the time scale clock in the output video file. -f, --frames number Sets the frames per second of the output video. -h, --help Print out helpful usage information for this program. -v, --version Print out current program version number. Version 0.2.1
In practice, we generate our trace with screenshots enabled from the performance tab in DevTools, export and download that file, and then run it through our tool:
➜ devtools-to-video -i profile.json -o sample.mp4 -l '3G Slow @ Moto G4' STARTING UP Checking environment and setting up params. CONVERT Spawning FFMPEG worker with open pipe. CONVERT Begin piping screenshots from DevTools trace to FFMPEG. SCREENSHOTS Processed 21 screenshots into video file. CONVERT DevTools trace successfully converted to MP4. LABEL PASS Adding label and time scale to MP4. LABEL PASS Finished adding label and time scale to MP4. COMPLETE DevTools trace to video is now complete! Your file sample.mp4 is ready
Take file, show stakeholders, make case that you need better web performance.
Generating a video from a trace is also not a new concept; I used a much more convoluted approach a year or so ago that was just unreliable. Then I saw Kris Selden’s trace-to-mp4.js gist, and my faith in ffmpeg was restored. From there it was just a matter of double passing the video with a filter within ffmpeg (which is it’s own can of worms, but I love ya ffmpeg).
So go out there and trace your sites and apps, and keep making the web faster.