Serving the perfect image to every device with Astro 3.3 and up

Serving the right image to every device is difficult. Luckily, Astro 3.3 offers a toolbox of tools to make it easier.

Sun Nov 05

Written by: Pelle van der Knaap

Why should we care about serving the right image to every device?

Images are a huge part of the web. They are used to spice up content, to make it more interesting and engaging. However, images are also one of the biggest performance bottlenecks on the web. You’ve probably seen a plethora of warnings in your Lighthouse reports about images.

To be honest, images are difficult to get right. One of the reasons for this is that websites are viewed on a wide variety of devices. Images need to look good on big devices (like a 4K monitor), but also on small phones.

If we could only serve one image to every device, we would have to make a tough compromise. We could make the image small enough to load fast on a phone, but it would look blurry on a big monitor and vice versa.

In the past, we only had one option: serve the same image to every device. With the means of compressions and newer image formats (webp & avif), the impact could already be greatly reduced.

However, it didn’t solve the problem at the root.

Luckily, we have the srcset attribute.

At the end of the article, we will have a look at how we can use srcset in Astro. If you want to immediately implement it, you can skip to the end of the article.

How can we serve different images based on screen size?

The srcset attribute is an attribute that can be added to the img tag. It allows us to match specific image variants to specific widths of the viewport. The browser will then select the best image variant for the current viewport width.

A simple example of an image that spans the whole viewport

    alt="image alt text"
    srcset="small.jpg 240w, medium.jpg 300w, large.jpg 720w"

In the example, we have an image that spans the whole viewport. The sizes attribute tells the browser that the image will always span the whole viewport (100vw means 100% of the viewport width). The srcset attribute tells the browser that there are three image variants available and that it can pick the best one based on the current viewport width.

The browser will then select the best image variant for the current viewport width.

As you might have guessed, this is already a huge improvement over serving the same image to every device. Unfortunately, it’s not perfect yet. Not every image variant spans the whole viewport width.

A more complex example of an image that doesn’t span the whole viewport

   alt="image alt text"
      small.jpg 240w,
      medium.jpg 300w,
      large.jpg 720w
      <!-- Tablet, 50% -->
      (min-width: 600px) 50vw,
      <!-- Desktop, 25% -->
      (min-width: 1200px) 25vw,
      <!-- Phone, 100% -->

In this example, we have an image that doesn’t span the whole viewport. On desktops, it spans 25% of the viewport width, on tablets 50%, and on phones, it does span 100% of the viewport.

As you can see in the example, the sizes attribute is basically a list of media queries. The value at the bottom of the list is the default value, which is used when none of the media queries match (in our example, <600px screens in width).

The pitfall of srcset & sizes

The srcset and sizes attributes are a great way to improve image performance. However, it takes a ton of work to get it right. You have to manually create all the different image variants, and you have to manually write the sizes attribute.

As developers, we want to make it as easy as possible. Luckily, modern web frameworks have a solution for this.

How to use srcset & sizes in Astro

In Astro 3.3, a new Image component was introduced. This component allows us to easily generate the srcset attribute on the fly and pair it with the sizes attribute.

Generating different image variants with the Image component

Generating image variants is as easy as specifying the widths as an HTML attribute. The Image component will then generate the image variants for you.

    alt="A description of my image."

This will generate a srcset attribute with three image variants: 240px, 540px, and 720px.

If you want to read more about this technique, read the amazing documentation.

Bypassing the sizes attribute

Unfortunately, adding a few variants doesn’t solve the problem of the sizes attribute. We would still have to manually specify the sizes attribute. Astro can’t infer the client-side width of an image from the mark-up.

There are some libraries that try to solve this problem, but they are not completely perfect. Lazysizes is one of these libraries. It solves the problem by extracting the display width of images on the client-side. As you might have already guessed, this means that the right image variant can only be selected after the page has already loaded. This is okay for images that are below the fold, but it’s not ideal for images that are above the fold. Waiting for the mark-up and css to render before loading the right image is suboptimal for performance.

Therefore, I recommend manually specifying the sizes attribute. Nevertheless, if you are on a strict time budget, a library like lazysizes is definitely a great alternative.

Generating images for different pixel ratios

To make it even more complicated, devices have different pixel ratios. Most Apple devices have a pixel ratio of 2 (MacBook) or 3 (iPhones), which means that they have 2 or 3 pixels for every CSS pixel. This means that a 100px wide image will actually be 300px wide on an iPhone. For normal users, this is great, because it makes images look sharper.

Unfortunately, this means that we have to generate even more image variants if we want to serve the best image to every device. Luckily, the Image component can also generate image variants for different pixel ratios.

Our previous solution already solves the issue but requires us to manually specify the sizes attribute. There is another solution to only solve the pixel ratio issue that requires less work.

If you don’t care about serving different image variants to different devices (maybe your images are already tiny due to compression), you can use the densities attribute.

    alt="A description of my image."

You can read more about this technique in the documentation.


Images are a huge part of the web and can be hard to get right. Fortunately, Astro 3.3 offers a toolbox of tools to make it easier to serve the right image to every device.

I hope this article was helpful to you. Send me a message on Twitter if you want to have a chat about this topic!