Flickr Badge in SVG

In October 2004 I added a Flickr 'badge' to my home page. Now that someone's asked me how this is done, I am going to explain in a reasonable about of detail how the SVG file is generated automatically from information on Flickr. Even if you don't feel a pressing need to create a SVG file celebrating your Flickr photos, the techniques described herein are fairly widely applicable if you happen to maintain your own web site.

Getting Flickr Information as XML

I want to generate the Flickr badge automatically from my most recent photos on Flickr. Since the SVG format is based on XML, so the first approach I would try is to get the information as XML somehow, and then convert that to SVG using XSLT. So how do I do that?

The Flickr FAQ list points to the Flickr badge wizard. The wizard works by asking you some questions and then giving you an HTML fragment to insert on your web page. Picking apart the HTML fragment, I discovered a URL that returns the information I want. I was able to confirm this by visiting the URL in my web browser. It does not quite return XML, however, but something like this:

document.write('<a href=""><img src="" class="flickrimg" id="flickrimg1" /></a>');
document.write('<a href=""><img src="" class="flickrimg" id="flickrimg2" /></a>');
document.write('<a href=""><img src="" class="flickrimg" id="flickrimg3" /></a>');
document.write('<a href=""><img src="" class="flickrimg" id="flickrimg4" /></a>');
document.write('<a href=""><img src="" class="flickrimg" id="flickrimg5" /></a>');

It has the XML I want, but wrapped up in JavaScript coating. So I saved it as flickr-badge.js (.js for JavaScript). It was easy enough to write a Python program that strips off the JavaScript and converts this to an XML document:


import sys

fileName = sys.argv[1]
input = open(fileName, 'r')
text =

text = text.replace("document.write('", '')
text = text.replace("');", '')

print '<badge xmlns=",2004:flickr">'
print text
print '</badge>'

I tested this by using typing in a command like

python flickr-badge.js | less

The output of this program is an XML document that feeds in to the next step.

Note. I think the Flickr badge generator produces different HTML from what it produced back in October 2004, and the new HTML uses a new URL for obtaining the image data. So if I were doing this all from scratch some of the above details might now be different.

Converting XML to SVG with XSLT

XSLT is a system for describing a transformation from one XML format to another one---in this case, from the XML format I just made up in the previous step in to SVG. (I could use the exact same system to generate an XHTML document instead, for example.) The XSLT language itself is an XML format, and as a result is verbose and a little difficult to read if you are not used to it. Unless you are an avid XML fan, you will want to skip the rest of this section.

We start with a 'blank' XSLT file:

<xsl:transform xmlns:xsl="" 
    <xsl:output method="xml" indent="no" omit-xml-declaration="yes"/>

The namespace introduced with xmlns:flickr=",2004:flickr" is the one used in my ad-hoc XML format; the URL uses the Tag URI scheme (RFC 4151). The xsl:output element's indent attribute is set to no because some SVG renderers include newlines between text tags and their contents as extra whitespace, which disrupts the layout. I no longer include doctype-system and doctype-public attributes; SVG implementations do not use them and future versions of SVG do not permit them.

The next step is adding a template that matches the outermost element of the input format and generates the outer structure of the output document:

<xsl:param name="width" select="200"/>
<xsl:param name="height" select="200"/>
<xsl:param name="creator" select="'Damian Cugley'"/>

<xsl:template match="/flickr:badge">
    <svg viewBox="0 0 {$width} {$height}" width="100%" height="100%">
            <xsl:value-of select="$creator"/>
            <xsl:text>&#x2019;s photos</xsl:text>
            <xsl:text>Link to </xsl:text>
            <xsl:value-of select="$creator"/>
            <xsl:text>&#x2019;s photos on</xsl:text>
        <!-- content will go here -->

The parameters $width and $height control the natural size of the image. Originally the width and height attributes would be set to those values as well, but using 100% instead prevents unwanted scrollbars in Firefox (Bugzilla bug 288276).

Next we add the actual content of the document after the defs element:

<xsl:param name="uri" select="''"/>

<xsl:template match="/flickr:badge">
    <svg ...>
        <a xlink:href="{$uri}" target="_parent">
            <g onclick="parent.location.href='{$uri}'; return false;">
                <xsl:apply-templates select="flickr:a/flickr:img"/>

The link (a element) has a target attribute of _parent, which I believe should cause clicking on the link in the image to replace the parent document. But alas! Firefox 1.5 does not support this attribute (bug 300868), so I also add an onclick attribute, which does the same thing, except using JavaScript. This can't be on the a element itself (bug 267664), so needs an extra g wrapper.

The line

<xsl:apply-templates select="flickr:a/flickr:img"/>

in the middle of all that is the bit that looks for images in the XML input and generates the SVG equivalent. Because all of this is wrapped in the a and g elements, clicking on any of this will cause the user's web browser to visit that page.

At this point, I needed to decide how I wanted my 'badge' laid out. The approach I have used is fairly simple: the most recent photos are stacked on top of each other, but are all transparent (opacity = 0·0) and one at a time is made visible (opacity = 1·0). This creates the effect of a slideshow.

So we add a second template that matches those flickr:img elements:

<xsl:template match="flickr:img">
            x="0" y="0" width="{$width}" height="{$height}"
            preserveAspectRatio="xMidYMid slice"

This uses the magic of SVG's preserveAspectRatio conventions to take care of scaling and cropping the photo to fill our badge's area.

This actually shows only the least-recently-added photo from the recently-added photos list, because it is stacked on top, and is opaque. The next step is to make a slide-show be arranging that all of them be transparent most of the time, and take turns in becoming visible. After a fair amount of fiddling and head-scratching, this is what I came up with:

<xsl:template match="flickr:img">
    <xsl:variable name="i" select="count(../preceding-sibling::flickr:a)"/>
    <xsl:variable name="n" select="count(../../flickr:a)"/>
    <xsl:variable name="total-seconds"
            select="$photo-seconds + $crossfade-seconds"/>
    <xsl:variable name="photo-frac" 
            select="$photo-seconds div ($total-seconds) div $n"/>
    <xsl:variable name="crossfade-frac" 
            select="$crossfade-seconds div ($total-seconds) div $n"/>
            x="0" y="0" width="{$width}" height="{$height}"
            preserveAspectRatio="xMidYMid slice"
        <animate attributeName="opacity" values="0;1;1;0;0" 
                keyTimes="0;{$crossfade-frac};{$photo-frac + $crossfade-frac};{$photo-frac + 2 * $crossfade-frac};1"
                begin="{$i * $total-seconds}s" dur="{$n * $total-seconds}" repeatCount="indefinite"/>

The list of xsl:variable elements calculate the slice of time this image should be made visible, and then we use these values in the keyTimes attribute of the svg:animate element. There is still one slight problem: when it starts up, none of the images is visible---which is a big problem in Firefox, which ignores the animate element (bug 216462). So I modified it so the opacity="0" attribute is not added to the most-recent image:

<xsl:template match="flickr:img">
            x="0" y="0" width="{$width}" height="{$height}"
            preserveAspectRatio="xMidYMid slice"
        <xsl:if test="$i &gt; 0">
            <xsl:attribute name="opacity">0</xsl:attribute>
        <animate ... />

Firefox users don't see the animation, but at least they see a recent photo.

Finally, we can go back to the first template and add some extra decorations, in the form of my userpic, and a version of the Flickr logo:

<xsl:template match="/flickr:badge">
    <svg ...>
        <a ...>
            <g ...>
                <xsl:apply-templates select="flickr:a/flickr:img"/>
                        x="1" y="1" width="48" height="48"
                <rect x="{$width - 50}" y="{$height - 20}" width="52" height="22" 
                        rx="2" ry="2" fill="#FFF" opacity="0.75"/>
                    x="{$width - 1}" y="{$height - 1}"
                    font-family="Helvetica, Ariel, sans-serif"
                    text-anchor="end" stroke="none"
                    <tspan fill="#0063DC">flick</tspan><tspan fill="#FF0084">r</tspan>

I've had some trouble identifying the font used in the Flickr logo; WhatTheFont failed to find one with that distinctive vertical-terminated c and square dots on the i. On the other hand, the only sanserif fonts I can depend on on user's browsers are Helvetica and Arial, so I specify those.

The complete XSLT program is in a file flickr-badge-to-svg.xslt. I can test this using a command like

xsltproc flickr-badge-to-svg.xslt flickr-badge.xml > flickr-badge.svg

and then examining the file flickr-badge.svg in an SVG-savvy browser (or in a text editor, to check the SVG being generated is exactly what I expect).

Marvelous Automation with Make

This makes for a nice enough badge, but when I take new photos (assuming I buy a camera to replace the one that was stolen!) I need to do several steps to update the badge to match the new photos:

  • visit the strange URL that gets the photo information
  • File → Save As
  • python flickr-badge.js > flickr-badge.xml
  • xsltproc flickr-badge-to-svg.xslt flickr-badge.xml > flickr-badge.svg
  • FTP the updated files to the Alleged Literature web server.

This is tedious and error-prone; let's instead automate it using cron and make.

For the benefit of readers who are interested in SVG and XML but don't know about make, I will now attempt a brief description. The make command is the standard Unix tool for building programs. It has a configuration file (called a makefile) full of little recipes. For example, the following makefile recipe

flickr-badge.svg: flickr-badge.xml flickr-badge-to-svg.xslt
        xsltproc flickr-badge-to-svg.xslt flickr-badge.xml > flickr-badge.svg

is shorthand for something like this:

To make: flickr-badge.svg

Ingredients: one cup of flickr-badge.xml, dash of flickr-badge-to-svg.xslt

Method: feed flickr-badge-to-svg.xslt and flickr-badge.xml in to xsltproc. Serve immediately in flickr-badge.svg.

It's a bit like cooking, except the ingredients and outputs are always files rather than foods and the method is a sequence of Unix commands. The clever bit is that a recipe can have ingredients that are described by other recipes in the makefile; make will take care of building things in the correct order. It also knows not to bother making something if it is already up to date.

The make command is installed as standard on Unix systems, including Mac OS X. If you are stuck with a Windows system, you can install various flavours of make, either as part of a commercal development environment like Microsoft Visual Studio .NET 2003, or one of the Windows ports of the GNU tools.

Anyway, the makefile for the badge machine is fairly straightforward:

flickr-badge.svg: flickr-badge.xml flickr-badge-to-svg.xslt
        xsltproc flickr-badge-to-svg.xslt flickr-badge.xml > flickr-badge.svg

flickr-badge.xml: flickr-badge.js 
        python flickr-badge.js > flickr-badge.xml

You will notice that we treat the programs used to munge the files ( and flickr-badge-to-svg.xslt) as ingredients: this means that when we change these files, the SVG file is considered out-of-date and will be rebuilt.

On my system, the process of copying files from my build directory to the local copy of my web site is done through a 'virtual' recipe named install, which is also included in the makefile:

install: install-flickr

install-flickr: flickr-badge.svg flickr-badge-to-svg.xslt
        cp -p flickr-badge.svg $(htmlDir)
        cp -p flickr-badge-to-svg.xslt $(htmlDir)

The makefile now takes care of all the processing steps between getting fresh copies of the photos list from the Flickr web site to uploading to my website.

The first step---getting the data files from another program of mine, called It has a configuration file that lists URLs that I want a copy of. It maintains its own metadata database that lists the time each URL was last downloaded, its ETags, and its MD5 digest: if the remote resource has not been changed since last time, the file on disc is not changed, and that means make will know not to update the output files, and that in turn stops them from being needlessly uploaded to my web site.

Finally, I have a cron script that runs to freshen my downloaded files and then invokes make to update anything that is affected by the changed files (if any). In principle, it would be run every day, say; in practice, since my PowerBook is not left running 24 hours a day, this does not work, and I instead run the script myself when I remember to. But in principle this last step could be automated as well.

Update (4 February 2006). I have renamed to to try to make the name more likely to be unique. It is described in my next article.

Isn't this a Lot of Effort?

I use XSLT a lot, especially at my day job (which has nothing to do with SVG, but does use a lot of XML in various applications), so using XSLT to generate badges is the straightforward option for me. By the same token, I already had a system for maintaining my web site using make and; slotting the Flickr badge processing in to this system was pretty easy. If neither of the above apply to you, then you probably do not want to be running out to install xsltproc and GNU make just to make a Flickr badge---especially as Flickr supply a perfectly fine badge based on Macromedia Flash that requires no programming effort on your part at all.

The advantage to me is that I can change the way my badge looks by editing the XSLT. (Emulating the sliding tiles in Flickr's prefabricated badge is an exercise for the reader.) And the same techniques could be adapted to other photolog web sites if you don't use Flickr.