Rain, Water, Ripples with HTML Canvas, Javascript, JQuery

One of the exciting reasons to work with canvas is that you are not only able to create 2d graphics easily with javascript, one can easily do do pixel manipulation on images.

Think about it, in case you don’t think its cool right now, is that you only need notepad, a recent web browser and a few lines of code to do cool stuff work with 2d graphics without compilation. Take an example, you can create a greyscale image from a color photo into without photoshop or other software as see in pixastic.

In this post, I will outline how easy it is to code with javascript and canvas to simulate water ripples, along with some issues encountered. After I discovered this old water algorithm (during the DOS era I suspect) on creating waves, I thought why not try this with HTML Canvas, and so I did.

Ripples with Javascript

STEP 1. Creating a canvas element.
This can created easily with javascript, or just add some html code into the body

<canvas id="jripples"></canvas>

STEP 2. Load an image with JS when document is loaded for which we can use the jquery $(document).ready

init(); // Run stuff when document is ready.

Here’s the code to load an image

var img = new Image();
img.src = "hello.jpg" // path and filename of image
img.onload = function() {} // run the next portion of code when the image loads

STEP 3. Draw the image onto the canvas

canvas = document.getElementById('jripples');
$('#jripples').width(img.width); // We set the canvas width and height with jquery
canvas.style.height = canvas.height = img.height ; // Set the canvas size to the image
canvas.style.width = canvas.width =img.width;

ctx = canvas.getContext("2d"); // Get the 2d drawing context
ctx.clearRect(0,0,canvas.width,canvas.height); // Clear the canvas
ctx.drawImage(img, 0,0,canvas.width,canvas.height); // Draw the image

Just a caveat though, to get or manipulate pixels from an image, the image needs to be loaded from the domain or would result in a browser security violation.

STEP 4. Build the data structures behind the wave
orginalData = ctx.getImageData(0,0,canvas.width,canvas.height).data; // The array of pixels for the image
myImageData = ctx.getImageData(0,0,canvas.width,canvas.height); // Modifications of pixels
buffer1 = []; // Create new array for the image buffer
buffer2 = [];
// orginal data length is 4 times the pixel dimensions since they store RGBA (red,green, blue, alpha)
for (var i=0; i buffer1[i] = 0;
buffer2[i] = 0;

STEP 5. Creating ripples (the wave algorithm) function

function processWater(source, dest) {
for (var i=imagewidth; i< source.length-imagewidth; i++)
// check for bounds
var xi = i % imagewidth;
if ((xi==0) || (xi==imagewidth-1)) continue;

dest[i] = (
source[i+imagewidth]) >>1) ) -dest[i];

dest[i] -= (dest[i] >> 5); // Damping - Quick divde by 32 (5 bits)


while the original article explains how this works, this article explains it in another simpler manner

Two height maps are used to store the current and previous states of the water.
Each frame you will toggle between state maps.
For each array element in the current state array:-
Look at the neighbouring pixels from the previous state, i.e. above, below, left and right. Take the sum and divide by 2. Because we are dividing by 2 a right-shift will work beautifully.
Now subtract the value in the current state map.
If we left it like that the ripples would never subside so we need to diminish the strength of the ripple every pass. The most realistic way of doing this is to reduce the resulting height by a fraction of itself. Once again we can use right-shift to optimise this.

Note that I ensured the loops avoid any edge bound pixel to prevent wrap arounds.

STEP 6. Render the new image with waves.
function texture(buffer) {
var xoffset, yoffset;
for (var i=imagewidth; i {
// check for bounds
var xi = i % imagewidth;
if ((xi==0) || (xi==imagewidth-1)) continue;

xoffset = buffer[i-1] - buffer[i+1];
yoffset = buffer[i-imagewidth] - buffer [i+imagewidth];

var offset = i+xoffset+yoffset*imagewidth;

if (offset>0 && offset

for (var x=0;x<3;x++) { //4 for alpha
myImageData.data[i*4+x] = orginalData[offset*4+x];


// Draw
ctx.putImageData(myImageData, 0, 0);


This estimates the pixel offset due to refraction of water (read more on Transparent Surface Ray-Tracing) based on height of the wave and copies the pixels from the orginal array into the new imagearray object. This imagedata is returned to the 2d object using putImageData to be drawn.

STEP 7. Call the rippling function in a timer
rippling = setInterval(ripple, 50); // This calls the ripple function every 20 times a second

We can calling another timer to add rain
raining = setInterval(function() { // random rain
var randomX = Math.round(Math.random() * canvas.width);
var randomY = Math.round(Math.random() * canvas.height);
buffer1[randomY*imagewidth+randomX] += Math.round( Math.random()*-500);

STEP 9. Add more raindrops/ripples reactivity to mouse clicks. We use jquery to add mouse listeners quickly.
$(canvas).mousedown(function(e) {
var x = e.pageX - $(this).offset().left;
var y = e.pageY - $(this).offset().top ;

buffer1[y*imagewidth+x] = -400;
clicked.dragged= true;


STEP 10. Provides FPS(Frames per second)
setInterval(function() {
$('#jdebug').html(fpsCount + " fps");
fpsCount= 0; // recent

This isn't the most accurate way to calculate FPS, since the callback may not be accurate in itself. Rather, one should try getting the actual time subtracted from the last elapsed time to calculate the fps.

Enjoy. Here's the link to javascript ripples demo
Remember that you may need to upload your html and images to a webserver to test (or change your browser security settings).

Other Considerations.
This run on all modern browsers (Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera) except IE due to the lack of support with Canvas. While the Excanvas provides some compatibility, it does not provides get/putImageData calls. Until IE9 releases, flashcanvas pro may solve this compatibility issue.

From my observations, the bottleneck seems to be when the browser render the image after the putImageData javascript. Right now firefox seems to be able to render 2x faster than chrome, and the self proclaimed fastest browser on earth, Opera, seems to renders about 3 times faster than chrome (to 100fps on small images).

While this wave algorithm may be efficient when there are many waves, this method may not be as efficient when there are few waves on large images/canvases. Even a image of 640 pixels can hang the browser (be warned).

One simple way to speed up the waves is scale down the image. If putImageData is the bottleneck, then we can hope that the browser would optimize these soon. (with Direct2D just implemented for firefox nighties, maybe soon will be soon!) Other interesting alternatives would be to implement WEBGL or O3D which uses the C++ stack or GPU to speed up the rendering, although these are not widely supported right now. The better idea, I imagine, is to implement another algorithm which renders the ripples from its wave source, which would probably run faster on large images with few waves.

Finally, creating ripples seems to be a classic challenge and if you were to do a simple search, would be able to find implementations for DOS graphics, OpenGL or other 3d Programming, Java graphics, and for the most recent implementations, Processing applet and Flash/AS3. One can even find this effect on desktops with dreamrender or beryl/compiz fuzion. Still this seems to be the first implementation with javascript/canvas other than one other on the net have seem to created a "ripple effect" with canvas, which is not really similar.

School work along other commitments is keeping me really busy, besides this is not even part of any computer graphics classes I required to take. So while there are perhaps more enhancements and optimizations that can be done, I'll be leaving that up to you readers :)

4 thoughts on “Rain, Water, Ripples with HTML Canvas, Javascript, JQuery

  1. Wow! This is really nice, I’ve not come across anything like this in Javascript. Do you mind if I use this in one of my non-commercial projects?

  2. Hey,
    great thing this script,
    but what aout the for- loop in step 4?
    there`s missing the condition, I think.. :/


  3. in fact, there is missing much more information in step 6 (for- loop), step 7 (which ripple fct.?)

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