Aspect Ratios, Math, and Scala


Aspect Ratios and Math

The web needs images of all sizes to work. For example, when you load a gallery view of images you're served thumbnail sized images, when you click through to view those you get to see the full sized image. A lot of work goes into cropping, resizing, and generating all of these images. Sometimes it's some poor intern sitting at Photoshop or Gimp, other times it's an editor of some kind. And occasionally us tech workers get to throw our scripting skills at it.

While there are some image services out there (such as CDN integrated ones like Akamai), or services you can run inside apache, if you want to keep custom tracking you often need to do a good amount of work yourself. Allowing a user to index metadata against a master image then generate more images is just one place where most image services often fall short of meeting the needs of specialized workplaces.

So what do you do? Well, besides build your own image service, there's not too much you can do! So let's say you decide to setup a really basic service for yourself. Something simple like: allow a user to upload a master record then retrieve a few predefined presets of crops? Or what about something even simpler, resizing the image to presets? When it comes to the content, you often need differing aspect ratios of images in order to maximize your page space. Portrait, landscape, wide angle. You name it, there's a proper aspect ratio to be displaying this stuff at.

It's taken a bit to get to the code, but I'd like to share a building block with you. First, let's assume three simple ratios. 1:1, 4:9, and 16:9. Or, Square, Portrait, and Landscape. In scala we could define these as an enumeration like so:

object AspectRatio extends Enumeration {
    type Ratio = Value
    val OneToOne, FourToNine, SixteenToNine = Value

Which is a good start, but that doesn't help us much. After all, if I'm working with an aspect ratio and resizing an image down, I probably want to work with numbers. So let's add in an implicit class that will give us a way to get back something useful:

object AspectRatio extends Enumeration { 
    implicit class AspectRatioToRuple(ratio: AspectRatio.Ratio) {
        def asTuple : Tuple2[Int,Int] = ratio match {
            case OneToOne => (1,1)
            case FourToNine => (4,9)
            case SixteenToNine => (16,9)

Great! So now we can do things like this in the console:

import AspectRatio._
OneToOne.asTuple // => (1,1)

Which is great for any math we might need to do with the actual numeric values associated with our ratios. What about the other way? Going from a tuple (1,1) to the OneToOne ratio? We'll need another implicit class:

import java.lang.IllegalArgumentException
object AspectRatio extends Enumeration {
    implicit class Tuple2ToAspectRatio(tuple: Tuple2[Int,Int]) {
        def asAspectRatio : AspectRatio.Ratio = tuple match {
            case (1,1) => OneToOne
            case (4,9) => FourToNine
            case (16,9) => SixteenToNine
            case _ => throw new IllegalArgumentException(s"Could not find matching aspect ratio for tuple ${tuple}")

Great you say! Now you can convert back and forth between numeric and symbolic representations of your aspect ratios. But wait, what if you're trying to tell what aspect ratio a given picture is? Let's pretend we have some simple Image class that has both width and height defined, if we simply do this:

case class Image(width: Int, height: Int)
val i = Image(250,250)

We'll be greeted by our IllegalArgumentException. Even though we as humans know that it's a 1:1 ratio here. This is a problem anyone who's gone through a discrete mathematics course knows how to solve though. What we're really looking for is the Greatest Common Denominator, or GCD. Luckily for me I stumbled across a rather nice blog post about a Fraction class by Andrei N. Ciobanu and this provides us a really nice way to normalize the width and height of our image. The only issue of course is that the Fraction class isn't a case class so it doesn't have an extractor defined. But of course we can update the code to allow this like so:

/** Private Class to represent a simple fraction in simplest form
 * @note Fraction class attribution: Andrei N. Ciobanu 
 * @param n The numerator of the fraction 
 * @param d The denominator of the fraction
class Fraction(n: Int, d: Int) {
    // It makes no sense to have the denominator 0
    require(d != 0)

    private val g = gcd(n, d)
    val numerator : Int = n / g
    val denominator : Int = d / g

    // Determines the greatest common divisor of two numbers
    private def gcd(a: Int, b: Int) : Int =
        if (b == 0) a else gcd(b, a % b)

    override def toString =
        numerator + "/" + denominator

/* Our enhancement to the class to support pattern matching */
object Fraction {
    def apply(tuple2: Tuple2[Int,Int]): Fraction = new Fraction(tuple2._1,tuple2._2)
    def unapply(obj: Fraction): Option[Tuple2[Int,Int]] = Some((obj.numerator, obj.denominator))

With this in place we can rewrite asAspectRatio to handle arbitrary image sizes:

object AspectRatio extends Enumeration {
    implicit class Tuple2ToAspectRatio(tuple: Tuple2[Int,Int]) {
        def asAspectRatio : AspectRatio.Ratio = Fraction(tuple) match {
            case Fraction(1,1) => OneToOne
            case Fraction(4,9) => FourToNine
            case Fraction(16,9) => SixteenToNine
            case _ => throw new IllegalArgumentException(s"Could not find matching aspect ratio for tuple ${tuple}")

And now we can see that (250,250).asAspectRatio returns OneToOne as aspected.

You might be asking yourself, Ok, so how does this help me with making an Image Service for the boss learing down my neck? Simple. If you're designing your system to cache the generated images, you'll want to keep track of that. By using some of the above code you could easily check to see if a requested image can be cropped or sized to your predefined aspect ratios. If not you can deny the request, if so, you could key your database on which aspect ratios you support and retrieve a url to the cached content, or generate it and store the content, then mark it in the database. Something like this:

  1. Request for 4:9 of image X
  2. Database lookup to see if cache url exists
  3. If cache exists, direct the user there. Otherwise:
  4. Retrieve the master image and use the numeric versions of the crop to manipulate the image
  5. Deny the request if you can't manipulate the image to the right size
  6. Cache the generated content onto a CDN
  7. Store a record keyed by the image's ID and aspect ratio with the url to your database for later

A workflow something like this would probably work. There's obvious more details to go in there of course, but defining a way to switch between symbolically and mathematically manipulating aspect ratios can help out when you start doing more complicated things.

Note: euclids GCD algorithm is good but it isn't the fastest, so if you're concerned for performance, feel free to look up more performant versions. Such as Stein’s Algorithm.

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