GreenSock Tutorial for Beginners: Web Animation Library

JavaScript animation libraries come and go, but ✨GreenSock✨ remains — for over a decade more than 10 million sites have been using the GreenSock animation platform (GSAP) tools because there are so many of them and they can solve almost any task. We learned it from experience and decided to create our own GreenSock tutorial for beginners and shed some light on this acclaimed lib.

About GreenSock

GSAP is not just a library for JS animations, it’s a universal tool that allows creating both the most straightforward animations and transitions and incredibly complex scroll-driven animations and sequences. This library can animate any Document Object Model (DOM) elements (even SVGs), canvas elements (including the ones created with the help of other libraries), as well as any property or method of a JS object.

GSAP does not depend on the presence or absence of a JavaScript framework, it can interpolate units in different measurement units (like px in %, or RGB in HSL). GreenSock includes many useful plugins, easing tools, and utility methods.

There are many impressive and appealing demos both on CodePen and other resources like Awwwards, and GreenSock showcase. However, with all their diversity, they are often too complex for those who are just starting to get acquainted with GreenSock’s capabilities. So the goal of this GreenSock tutorial (with examples) is to get you started with making basic animations and show you how simple it is.

Let’s take a look at the basics of the GreenSock library.

Table of contents

Installation

Basics

Plugins

UI elements

Key takeaways: Benefits and Drawbacks

Installation

To install the GreenSock library, use the commands: yarn gsap or npm install gsap.

You can also use Codepen.io or install GSAP any other convenient way you prefer.

Basics

gsap.to()

See the Pen
gsap – gsap.to()
by Julia Shikanova (@jshikanova)
on CodePen.

The most common type of animation is to() tween, that is, animating to a certain value. GSAP determines the initial animation values ​​automatically.

Parameters:

  • target — an element that’s being animated (document.getElementById ('carousel')) or its selector (".box", "#item", etc.)
  • an object containing animated properties ({ opacity: 1, background:"#00CED1" }):
gsap.to(".box", { x: 200, rotate: 90, background: "#00CED1" });

If necessary, you can also specify the starting values ​​of the animated parameters using gsap.fromTo():

gsap.fromTo(".box", { opacity: 0.5 }, { opacity: 1 });

Or, you can set properties without animating them with gsap.set()

gsap.set(".box", { width: 300 });

To improve performance, we recommend you not to use fromTo(), but to set start values ​​in the styles of the element that’s being animated.

gsap.to() also can:

  • control tween animation (play(), pause(), resume(), reverse(), restart())
  • accept many useful properties (ease, duration, paused, repeat, reversed, stagger, etc.) and callbacks (onStart, onUpdate, onComplete, etc.)
  • calculate property values ​​as a result of executing functions (x: () => window.innerWidth), use random values ​​from an array of values (for example, x: "random (10, 20, 30)") or relative values (for example, x: "+=100").

Stagger

See the Pen
gsap – stagger
by Julia Shikanova (@jshikanova)
on CodePen.

GreenSock makes it very easy to make sequential animations with the help of the stagger property:

const tween = gsap.fromTo(
  ".card", 
  { opacity: 0, y: 100 }, 
  { opacity: 1, y: 0, duration: 1, stagger: 0.3 } 
);

stagger: 0.3 means that the elements will animate one by one every 0.3 seconds.

Take a closer look at the Restart and Hide buttons, with which you can control the animation:

restartButton.addEventListener("click", () => { tween.restart() });
reverseButton.addEventListener("click", () => { tween.reverse() });

This approach to animation has a big drawback: what if the elements are out of viewport? But there is a fairly simple solution for this problem (see ScrollTrigger).

Timeline

See the Pen
gsap – timeline
by Julia Shikanova (@jshikanova)
on CodePen.

Timeline is a tool for creating complex sequential animations, which can consist of tween animations and other timelines.

const timeline = gsap.timeline();

Timeline, like tween, can take on many different parameters, for instance:

  • repeat — number of animation iterations (where -1 means repeating animation to infinity).
  • yoyo — a boolean value. If true, it repeats the animation in the opposite direction upon completion.
  • defaults — it takes an object with default values for all animations included in a timeline (you can pass duration, ease, etc).
const timeline = gsap.timeline({ 
	repeat: -1, 
	yoyo: true, 
	defaults: { duration: 1, ease: "easeInOut" } 
});

Next, you need to describe the sequence of animations with the already familiar to() method.

timeline
  .to(".box", { y: 100 })
  .to(".box", { rotate: 180, borderRadius: "50%" })
  .to(".box", { scale: 1.5, duration: 1.5 });

You can animate one or several elements of timeline:

const timeline = gsap.timeline({ defaults: { duration: 1 } });

timeline
  .to(".box-1", { x: -10 })
  .to(".box-2", { opacity: 0 })  
  .to(".box-3", { skewY: 5 });

We can also manage the execution order of the individual constituent parts of the timeline animation with a third parameter:

  • timeline.to(".class", { ... }, 1) — to delay the tween animation by 1 second after the start of the timeline animation
  • timeline.to(".class", { ... }, "+=2") — to delay the tween animation by 2 seconds after the completion of the timeline animation
  • timeline.to(".class", { ... }, "-=3") — to insert a tween animation 3 seconds before the completion of the timeline animation, etc.

Timeline animations allow you to create sequential animations for one or more tween elements and/or other timeline animations. And a large number of properties and methods let you customize them incredibly flexibly.

Plugins

You can extend GreenSock with nearly two dozen plugins.

gsap.registerPlugin()

In order for a plugin to work together with the core of the library, it’s necessary to register it:

import { gsap } from "gsap";
import { ScrollTrigger } from "gsap/ScrollTrigger";

gsap.registerPlugin(ScrollTrigger);

This approach allows the GSAP’s core to remain relatively small. It also lets you conveniently apply and use plugins only when needed and prevents problems with Tree shaking when executing the project’s build.

ScrollTrigger

As mentioned in the Stagger paragraph, often we want the animation to play only if it’s in the viewport. But this is far from being the only use of ScrollTrigger. Let’s take a closer look.

ScrollTrigger and toggleActions

See the Pen
gsap – ScrollTrigger and toggleActions
by Julia Shikanova (@jshikanova)
on CodePen.

Let’s create an appearance animation for listItems.

Set each item to an initial value with gsap.set(). You can make the animation a bit more interesting. Depending on whether the element’s index is even or odd, define opposite values ​​for the x property. The list items will move from the position x: 100 or x: -100 to their original position x: 0 after they appear in the viewport.

It remains to define the properties of the scrollTrigger object to create the animation:

  • trigger — an element or its selector, whose position will be used to calculate the starting point of the animation
  • start — defines the actual starting position of the animation. It can take a string, a number, or a function. So, for example, in our case, "top 90%" means that the top border of the trigger touches 90% of the viewport. Other examples: "top center", "top bottom + = 20", etc.
  • end — similar to start, defines the end position of the animation
  • toggleActions — a string that defines how the animation will play at 4 key points: onEnter, onLeave, onEnterBack, onLeaveBack. It can take the following values: play, pause, resume, reset, restart, complete, reverse, and none.
const listItems = Array.from(document.getElementsByClassName("list__item"));

listItems.forEach((item, index) => {
  gsap.set(item, { opacity: 0, x: index % 2 ? 100 : -100 });  
  
  gsap.to(item, {
    x: 0,
    opacity: 1,
    scrollTrigger: {
      trigger: item,
      start: "top 90%",
      end: "bottom",
      toggleActions: "play reverse play reverse",
    }
  });
});

If you need to repeat the animation only once — exclusively for the first appearance of the element — use the once: true property. It’ll set toggleActions: "play none none none" and unsubscribe from scroll events, improving page performance.

To check the accuracy of the values of start and end, use the markers property. It allows you to clearly see the key points of the animation:

markers: true

ScrollTrigger, scrub, and pin

ScrollTrigger also allows you to create the so-called pinned animations and bind their execution to the scrollbar position (scrub).

See the Pen
gsap – ScrollTrigger, scrub and pin
by Julia Shikanova (@jshikanova)
on CodePen.

The animation declaration is not much different from the previous example, but there are a few differences:

  • gsap.to() — it can take for the first argument not only an element or its selector, but also an array of elements or selectors (for example, gsap.to([".box1", ".box2"], { ... }))
  • x — the value is calculated using a function. This is extremely useful in cases when the value differs (for example, depending on the width of the screen or element)
  • trigger — the beginning of the animation doesn’t have to depend on the position of the animated elements itself, but on another element, in this case, the parent one
  • end — let’s omit this property since the default value is suitable for us ("bottom top" —  when the bottom border of the trigger touches the top of the viewport).

Pay special attention to the properties we didn’t mention previously:

  • pin — it allows you to pin an element on the page, that is, to make it visible while the animation is running. It can be either a boolean value (then the trigger will be fixed) or an element or a selector.

Don’t animate a pinned element, this will cause an error in the calculation of the element’s dimensions. You can animate any of its children instead.

  • scrub — it binds the progress of the animation to the page scroll. It can be a boolean or take a number (scrub: 0.5 is the value in seconds, during which the progress of the animation will catch up after the end of the scroll)
  • invalidateOnRefresh — it accepts a boolean value. If true, >ScrollTrigger will call the invalidate() method to update or refresh() (it usually happens upon the page resize) to recalculate the start and/or end values ​​of the animation.

In this case, the invalidateOnRefresh property is needed to recalculate the x value. Without it, the animation will break down on page resize (internal blocks will move either less or more than necessary).

gsap.to([".images-wrapper", ".text-wrapper"], {
  x: (_, el) => -(el.scrollWidth - window.innerWidth),
  scrollTrigger: {
    trigger: ".scroll-wrapper",
    start: "top top",
    pin: true,
    scrub: true,
    invalidateOnRefresh: true
  }
});

Learn more about other properties and callbacks and ScrollTrigger.

Alternative syntax

You can also use ScrollTrigger with timeline, here’s a demo.

gsap.timeline({
	scrollTrigger: { ... },
})
.to(".box1", { ... })
.to(".box2", { ... });

Or ScrollTrigger.create() (also demo) — this method allows you to use more extensive callback functions (onEnter, onToggle, onLeave, etc).

ScrollTrigger.create({
	trigger: ".scroll-wrapper",
	start: "top top",
	end: "bottom",
	onToggle: self => { console.log("toggled, isActive:", self.isActive) },
  onUpdate: self => {
    console.log(
			"progress:", self.progress.toFixed(2), 
			"direction:", self.direction, 
			"velocity:", self.getVelocity()
		);
  }
});

ScrollTrigger can have many different uses. It’s really up to you and your imagination.

Draggable

The Draggable plugin makes it incredibly easy to create draggable, spinnable, tossable, and even flick-scrollable animations.

See the Pen
gsap – Draggable
by Julia Shikanova (@jshikanova)
on CodePen.

  • bounds — it defines the bounds for the dragged element. Can be an element, a string or an object (for example, bounds: { top: 0, left: 100, width: 500, height: 300 })
  • type — it defines the type of drag (for example, "x", "y", "x, y", "rotation", etc).

📌If for some reason drag on an element that extends beyond the viewport does not work, try adding display: inline-flex or float: left to the element’s styles.

gsap.registerPlugin(Draggable);

Draggable.create(".carousel", {
  bounds: ".wrapper",
  type: "x",
  edgeResistance: 0.8, // 0 - 1
  dragResistance: 0.5, // 0 - 1
  overshootTolerance: 0
});

You can also use InertiaPlugin to create animations based on the velocity of the user’s mouse/touch movements.

⚠️InertiaPlugin is only available with the paid subscription, but its capabilities can be tested in Codepen or CodeSandbox.

gsap.registerPlugin(Draggable, InertiaPlugin);

Draggable.create(".carousel", { 
	..., 
	inertia: true
} );

UI elements

Let’s start with a basic element of almost any web page — the menu.

See the Pen
gsap – basic menu
by Julia Shikanova (@jshikanova)
on CodePen.

Everything is extremely simple here. First, we need to declare the variables:

  • isOpen — a boolean variable for menu state
  • menuButton — a button to open/close the menu
  • timeline — animation.

We’ll also need two functions: animateShowMenu() and animateHideMenu() to describe the tween animations.

And the last step is to set an event listener on click on the menuButton button. This listener will change the boolean variable isOpen to the opposite (true / false) and call, depending on this value, a function to animate the menu (animateShowMenu() / animateHideMenu()).

// ... - other irrelevant props

let isOpen = false;
const menuButton = document.getElementById("menu__icon");

const timeline = gsap.timeline();

const animateShowMenu = () => {
  timeline
    .to(".menu__list", { ... }) 
    .to(".menu__item", { ..., stagger: 0.1 })
};

const animateHideMenu = () => {
  timeline
    .to(".menu__item", { ..., stagger: 0.1, reversed: true })
    .to(".menu__list", { ... }) 
};

menuButton.addEventListener("click", () => {
  isOpen = !isOpen;
  
  isOpen ? animateShowMenu() : animateHideMenu();
});

Accordion

Accordion (or drop-down in other words) is also a very useful and common interface element.

See the Pen
gsap – accordion
by Julia Shikanova (@jshikanova)
on CodePen.


We need an array of accordion elements. You can simplify this task a little and use the utils GSAP method:

const list = gsap.utils.toArray(".accordion");

Next, let’s iterate over our list using forEach loop.

For each individual element, declare the variable isOpen, while in order to leave the first element of the list open by default, we’ll assign the value true to the variable with the condition of index === 0.

We’ll also need the title, icon, and content elements — these are the ones we are going to animate. Set the initial state of the animated elements with gsap.set(). We also highly recommend that you write the same values ​​in the styles to prevent shifts when loading the page.

And the last step is to add an event listener to title element where we change the value of isOpen to the opposite and animate the elements.

// ... - other irrelevant props, code, etc

list.forEach((accordion, index) => {
  let isOpen = index === 0 ? true : false;
  
  const [ title, icon, content ] = [ ... ];
  
  gsap.set(title, isOpen ? { ... } : { ... });
  gsap.set(content, { height: isOpen ? "auto" : "0px" });
  gsap.set(icon, { scale: isOpen ? -1 : 1 });
  
  title.addEventListener("click", () => {
    isOpen = !isOpen;
    
    gsap.to(title, isOpen ? { ... } : { ... });
    gsap.to(content, { height: isOpen ? "auto" : "0px" });
    gsap.to(icon, { scale: isOpen ? -1 : 1 });
  });
})

More examples

A couple of additional demos using the previously discussed timeline animations.

Modal

See the Pen
gsap – modal
by Julia Shikanova (@jshikanova)
on CodePen.

Navbar

See the Pen
gsap – navbar
by Julia Shikanova (@jshikanova)
on CodePen.

Key takeaways

In the process of studying and using the GreenSock library, we noticed that it has many advantages and only a couple of minor disadvantages.

Benefits

  • Flexibility and versatility.
  • Low entry threshold.
  • Detailed documentation.
  • Active community and forum with tens of thousands of questions already being resolved so you can very quickly get an answer and/or solution to a particular problem.
  • An incredible number of demos and examples of the library application.
  • Support for interpolation of different values ​​(px in %, RGB in HSL, etc.)
  • Utility methods.
  • Callback functions (onEnter, onToggle, onLeave, etc.)
  • Plugins.

Drawbacks

GSAP’s size can seriously inflate the project. In the screenshot below, you can see a report on the size of a small landing page project’s bundle made with Vite.js (TypeScript + Tailwind, with no JS frameworks). The size of the GSAP core and several plugins exceeds 413KB (Gzip: 119KB) or, in other words, it accounts for almost 88% of the total bundle size. 

GreenSock tutorial: GSAP core size

In general, the shortcomings are not critical and are rather subjective: the developers of any product have every right to make their product or its parts paid.

And the size of the library may not be a problem also. But in some cases, it can affect the decision whether the functionality and the scope of tasks solved by GreenSock are worth a bundle of this size.

* * *

GreenSock💚 is a unique multifunctional web animation library that not only solves browser inconsistency problems under the hood but is also high-performing and easy to use.

This GreenSock tutorial describes only a small part of the capabilities of the library. We hope it turned out to be interesting and useful and will serve as an impetus for further study of both GreenSock and web animations in general.

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