a stroke of luck

Dynamic shared fonts in Flash

Shared fonts in Flash have always promised a great deal but failed to deliver due to a confusing and buggy implementation.

Recently I built a site which made extensive use of shared fonts. To make the site load smoothly it is made up of a number of swfs – one for each section. And rather than embedding Helvetica Nueue Bold Condensed (the font used for navigation and headings) in each swf I used a shared font. This means that the 17kb of font information is only loaded once and is then cached and shared between swfs. This seemed to work exactly as advertised with none of the bugs I remember from previous attempts – maybe something was fixed in the Flash Player?

So far so good. But then I ran into a problem… The site is available in a variety of locales including Russia and Poland. These require different versions of the font (the Cyrillic and Central European respectively). The problem is that Flash doesn’t provide a way to dynamically choose a shared font library to load – the location of the shared font is hard coded in the library item in your FLA.

So what do you do? Abandon shared font libraries and dynamically load a different font swf dependant on the locale and use actionscript to apply a text format referencing the correct font to all of the relevant text fields? Pay for the Shared Fonts Manager? Neither seemed like a nice solution so I tried something else…

Instead of pointing your shared font directly to an swf you instead point it to a serverside page (of the technology of your choice – the site above uses .NET while the example below uses PHP). This page reads the current locale from a cookie and passes the correct font swf back based on this value. Surprisingly enough this seems to work perfectly and allows Home of HD to work across different locales while providing only the necessary font to each user.

An example is probably worth a thousand words so you can see this technique in action and download the source files if you want to see how it’s done.

The only other issue is that you want your fonts to show up while developing. No problem. Just rename the default font swf file to the name of the serverside script (e.g. fonts.php in my example) and magically it works. Just remember not to overwrite your actual serverside script with this dummy one when you upload your changes!


While writing this article and looking for links about shared fonts I stumbled across a post by Mario Klingemann where he suggests this exact technique. Back in 2003! Since I already wrote the examples and article I thought I might as well publish it but kudos to Mario for coming up with the idea years before me!

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