Stephen Chenney's Professional Ramblings

Explaining (some of) the Web Platform

Canvas Text Editing

Editing text in HTML canvas has never been easy. It requires identifying which character is under the hit point in order to place a caret, and it requires computing bounds for a range of text that is selected. The existing implementations of Canvas TextMetrics made these things possible, but not without a lot of Javascript making multiple expensive calls to compute metrics for substrings. Three new additions to the TextMetrics API are intended to support editing use cases in Canvas text. They are in the standards pipeline, and implemented in Chromium-based browsers behind the ExtendedtextMetrics flag:

I wrote a basic web app in order to demonstrate the use of these features. It allows the editing of a single line of text drawn in an HTML canvas. Here I’ll work through usage of the new features.

In the demo, the first instance of “new Canvas Text Metrics” is considered a link back to this blog page. Canvas Text has no notion of links, and thousands of people have looked at Stack Exchange for a way to insert hyperlinks in canvas text. Part of the problem, assuming you know where the link is in the text, is determining when the link was clicked on. The TextMetrics getActualBoundingBox(start, end) method is intended to simplify the problem by returning the bounding box of a substring of the text, in this case the link.

  onStringChanged() {
text_metrics = context.measureText(string);
link_start_position = string.indexOf(link_text);
if (link_start_position != -1) {
link_end_position = link_start_position + link_text.length;
linkHit(x, y) {
let bound_rect = undefined;
try {
bound_rect = text_metrics.getActualBoundingBox(link_start_position, link_end_position);
} catch (error) {
return false;
let relative_x = x - string_x;
let relative_y = y - string_y;
return relative_x >= bound_rect.left && relative_y >=
&& relative_x < bound_rect.right && relative_y < bound_rect.bottom;

The first function finds the link in the string and stores the start and end string offsets. When a click event happens, the second method is called to determine if the hit point was within the link area. The text metrics object is queried for the bounding box of the link’s substring. Note the call is contained within a try...catch block because an exception will be returned if the substring is invalid. The event offset is mapped into the coordinate system of the text (in this case by subtracting the text location) and the resulting point is tested against the rectangle.

In more general situations you may need to use a regular expression to find links, and keep track of a more complex transformation chain to convert event locations into the text string’s coordinate system.

Mapping a Point to a String Index #

A primary concept of any editing application is the caret location because it indicates where typed text will appear, or what will be deleted by backspace, or where an insertion will happen. Mapping a hit point in the canvas into the caret position in the text string is a fundamental editing operation. It is possible to do this with existing methods but it is expensive (you can do a binary search using the width of substrings).

The TextMetrics caretPositionFromPoint(offset) method uses existing code in browsers to efficiently map a point to a string position. The underlying functionality is very similar to the document.caretPositionFromPoint(x,y) method, but modified for the canvas situation. The demo code uses it to position the caret and to identify the selection range.

  text_offset = event.offsetX - string_x;
caret_position = text_metrics.caretPositionFromPoint(text_offset);

The caretPositionFromPoint function takes the horizontal offset, in pixels, measured from the origin of the text (based on the textAlign and textBaseline properties of the canvas context). The function returns the index in the string of the character under the offset, or the string length if the offset is past the last character in the string. The offset can be negative to allow characters to the left of the origin to be mapped. An offset past the beginning of the text always returns 0. Note that the offset is always measured left-to-right, even if the text direction is right-to-left, the the “beginning” and “end” of the text string do respect the text direction (so for RTL text the beginning is on the right).

The caretPositionFromPoint function may produce very counter-intuitive results when the text string has mixed bidi content, such as a latin substring within an arabic string. As the offset moves along the string the positions will not steadily increase, or decrease, but may jump around at the boundaries of a directional run. Full handling of bidi content requires incorporating bidi level information, particularly for selecting text, and is beyond the scope of this article.

Selection Rectangles #

Selected text is normally indicated by drawing a highlight over the range, but to produce such an effect in canvas requires estimating the rectangle using existing text metrics, and again making multiple queries to text metrics to obtain the left and right extents. The new TextMetrics getSelectionRects(start, end) function returns a list of browser defined selection rectangles for the given subrange of the string. There may be multiple rectangles because the browser returns one for each bidi run; you would need to draw them all to highlight the complete range. The demo assumes a single rectangle because it assumes no mixed-direction strings.

selection_rect = text_metrics.getSelectionRects(selection_range[0], selection_range[1])[0];
context.fillStyle = 'yellow';
context.fillRect(selection_rect.x + string_x,
selection_rect.y + string_y,

Like all the new methods, the rectangle returned is in the coordinate system of the string, as defined by the transform, textAlign and textBaseline.

Conclusion #

The new Canvas Text Metrics described here are in the process of standardization. When the feedback process is opened we will update this blog post with the place to raise issues with these proposed methods. In the meantime, they are available in Chrome Canary versions beyond 128.0.6587.0.

Thanks #

The implementation of Canvas Text Features was aided by Igalia S.L. funded by Bloomberg L.P.