Layout takes the form of a tree structure because most of layout is positioning one thing relative to another. In HTML, the tree is the DOM tree, and relative positioning is done by nesting DOM elements. In Samsara the nesting is done in JavaScript in what's called the render tree.

By doing layout in JavaScript, we can be much more flexible than CSS. For instance, with CSS alone you cannot track a <div> with your finger, or synchronize the transforms in two CSS classes, or get the current velocity of an animation, etc. There are costs, however, to doing layout in JavaScript. For one, all computation must happen on the main thread, and can't be offloaded to the UI thread. This requires us to be CPU conscious and places a high priority on performance to achieve 60 frames per second. The critical part of the performance of Samsara is that the render tree is a low-footprint model of the layout of Samsara elements, and it is architected to only update the parts of Samsara that change in time.

The render tree begins with a root called the Context and is built up of nodes with various layout data. The leaves of the tree are Surfaces. Unlike HTML, only the leaves of the tree have a visual representation in the DOM. This representation is modified by the nodes above them, which manifest in the DOM as changes to opacity, size, and transform CSS properties.

To calculate the final properties of a Surface, one composes the properties of all the nodes above it. For instance, the final opacity of a Surface is the multiplication of all opacity values defined above it.


The Context is the root of the render tree. It establishes a 3D context for Surfaces that are added to it.

var Context = Samsara.DOM.Context;
var Surface = Samsara.DOM.Surface;

var context = new Context();

var surface = new Surface({
    size : [100,100],
    properties : {background : 'red'}


Context's are mounted to a DOM element, and export their content, in this case a single Surface into that element.

Contexts also have setPerspective and setPerspectiveOrigin methods to apply a 3D perspective to the Surfaces within it.


Nodes are JSON objects that can be added to the render tree. They modify the size and layout of the tree below them. Nodes take special keys defined below, whose values can be static quantities (e.g., numbers, arrays) or dynamic streams for animation and responsive design.

Nodes shouldn't be thought of as existing in a vacuum, they are part of the larger render tree, and so can take "relative" quantities. Just as in CSS, you can define an element's width to be 50%, this only means something in the larger context of the HTML page. Node properties come in two flavors: size properties and layout properties.

Size Properties

Key Type Description
size [w,h] Defines a size in pixels. Values can be numeric, or also undefined, true or false (see below)
proportions [w,h] Defines a size using ratios of the parent size dimensions
margins [x,y] Subtracts a number of pixels from the current width and height
aspectRatio Number Scales the width by the height if the height is false, or visa-versa if the width is false

As stated above, size dimensions can take non-numeric values, which translate to the following:

Size Dimension Value Description
Number Use this value in pixels
undefined Use the parent node's value
true Use the DOM's calculated value
false This value will be ignored

Note: Currently using true sizing only works for Surfaces and not for nodes in general, though future versions of Samsara will remedy this.

Here we show a few examples to illustrate the flexibility of defining size in Samsara. Though we talk of nodes as being explicitly added to the render tree, nodes effecting size are also implicitly inside of Surfaces.

See the Pen size by SamsaraJS (@samsaraJS) on CodePen.

Layout Properties

There are also nodes that affect layout, which encompasses modifying position, rotation, scale, skew, and opacity.

Key Type Default Description
transform Transform Transform.identity A CSS3 transform representing a combination of translation, rotation, scaling or skewing
opacity Number 1 Defines the opacity
align [x,y] [0,0] Defines a translation by a proportion of the parent size
origin [x,y] [0,0] Defines a translation by a proportion of the currently defined size

Though transform and opacity are clear in how they modify the render tree, align and origin are Samsara specific. They are a shorthand for creating transforms relative to a defined size. For example, they can be used for centering, or aligning something relative to the bottom right, etc.

In more detail, let's assume a parent size of [w, h] and a node size of [w', h']. We would like to align the node relative to the parent size.

  • An align value of [x,y] will produce a translation of [w * x, h * y], and is a shorthand for Transform.translate([w * x, h * y]).

  • An origin value of [x,y] will produce a translation of [-w * x', -h * y'], and is a shorthand for Transform.translate([-w * x', -h * y']).

It may be easier to think of alignment as aligning the origin point. Hence to center the top left of a Surface all that is needed is to align it with [.5, .5] (as the origin defaults to top left). To center the middle of a Surface you will also need to define an origin of [.5, .5] on the Surface. Here's an example demonstrating how this is used.

See the Pen alignment by SamsaraJS (@samsaraJS) on CodePen.


The render tree bottoms out in Surfaces, which are ultimately responsible for creating elements in the DOM and updating their inline styles. Surfaces come bundled with their own layout node, so they can take node properties modifying their size (proportions, margins and aspectRatio) and layout (origin and opacity). However, transform and align are properties "external" to a Surface and can only be defined by nodes above them in the render tree.

Surfaces take other DOM-related values, such as

  • content - the innerHTML
  • attributes - DOM attributes
  • properties - CSS style properties
  • classes - an array of comma-separated CSS classes

Surfaces can listen to any DOM events, such as click, by calling the on method. This is also true of Contexts.

surface.on('click', function(event){
    console.log("I've been clicked");


The DOM output of Samsara is generally flat, with the heirarchical nesting happening in JavaScript, instead of HTML. Occasionally nesting is necessary, for example, to provide clipping. For these purposes Samsara has a class similar to a Surface called a ContainerSurface.

A ContainerSurface maintains its own render tree, similar to a View and nests Surfaces inside it, similar to a Context. Here's an example of using a ContainerSurface to clip another Surface:

var container = new ContainerSurface({
    size : [150, 150],
    origin : [.5,.5],
    properties : {
        overflow : 'hidden',
        border : '1px dashed black'

var surface = new Surface({
    size : [150, 150],
    origin : [.5,.5],
    properties : {background : 'red'}

    align : [.5,.5],
    transform : Transform.rotateZ(Math.PI/4)

context.add({align : [.5,.5]}).add(container);

See the Pen container surface by SamsaraJS (@samsaraJS) on CodePen.

Render Tree Construction

The Render Tree is enlarged by calling the add method with nodes, surfaces or views. By chaining add calls we linearly build up the tree, whereas by calling add on the same node successively we branch the tree.


By chaining nodes, their effects compound: their transforms are composed, and their opacities are multiplied, etc.

  context             var context = new Context();
   node1              context.add(node1)
     │                       .add(node2)
   node2                     .add(surface);


By branching nodes, we create independent parts of the tree.

      context                var context = new Context();
 node1      surface2         context.add(node1).add(surface1); // left branch
surface1                     context.add(surface2); // right branch

Relative Layout

By mixing branching and chaining, we can group surfaces together and change their properties simultaneously. In the below example, if we change the data in node1 it will change both surfaces. If we change the data in node2 only surface1 will be affected.

      context                var context = new Context()
       node1                 var relativeNode = context.add(node1);
 node2      surface2         relativeNode.add(node2).add(surface1); // left branch
surface1                     relativeNode.add(surface2); // right branch


So far we've seen that you can add nodes and Surfaces to the Render Tree. These can be thought of as the lego blocks of more complicated objects. A section of the render tree can be encapsulated in what's called a View. Samsara comes with a View class that can be extended for custom views, and then added to the render tree just like nodes and Surfaces. A View provides methods for constructing its own render tree, and also includes support for receiving and broadcasting events, and taking in default options. SamsaraJS also ships with a library of common views that we will keep adding to. You can read more about views here. For now we will only be concerned about how Views are used to encapsulate their own render trees.

In the example below, we add a Scrollview.

      context                var context = new Context();
       node0                 context.add(node0).add(scrollview);

Internally, Scrollview has its own complex logic, but that is hidden from the developer, who can simply include it in her project by adding it like any other node.

The scrollview itself has its own render tree, populated with nodes and surfaces (or other views) from its own custom logic.

     scrollview              scrollview.addItems([S0, S1, S2, ... , S9]);
S0  S1  S2   ⋯  S9

In the above example, S9 doesn't have to be a Surface; it could have been a View with its own render tree, even another scrollview itself. Perhaps the render tree for S9 looks like this:

         S9                  S9.add(node1).add(surface1);
  node1       node2          S9.add(node2).add(surface2);
    │           │
surface1    surface2

If we were to unravel the entire render tree, we would find it looks like:

S0  S1  S2   ⋯  S9
         node1       node2
           │           │
       surface1     surface2

By encapsulating complex logic in Views, understanding an app becomes more manageable. And unlike DOM, there is no performance degradation incurred from nesting structure. This nested structure only exists in JavaScript, and is flattened by the time it gets to the DOM.