The web starts to blink: Chrome drops WebKit as its rendering engine – announces Blink

Recently, concerns arised that WebKit could become the new IE6 (the majority of web developers optimized and tested only for compatibility with IE6 before the great browser wars).

As it turns out, these concerns will not fullfill, as the world’s most used browser (according to StatCounter, march 2013) – Google Chrome – drops WebKit as its rendering engine. Google actually forks WebKit, abandoning a common codebase with, well, primarily Apple. The new rendering engine will be called Blink.

According to Google, a shared codebase with other browsers slowed down development and prevented innovations.

It has gotten to a point now where we think everybody could move faster if we didn’t have to share the same code base for these different architectures.

(Linus Upson, VP Engineering at Google)

Opera – who has recently announced to switch to WebKit – will instead switch to Blink. Opera developers will actually contribute to the Blink project. This looks like they form a strategic alliance with Google.

Mission Statements and possible Improvements

With Blink, Google wants to dramatically change the architecture of the rendering engine.

Some planned changes are:

  • no more vendor prefixes, instead use browser config flags for experimental features, like Firefox does for quite some time.
  • Speed up the rendering performance, as Google did to JavaScript execution speed with V8.
  • Out-of-Process-iFrames – to split page fragments into sandbox processes.
  • Simplify and accelerate the network code (some Mac specifics prevented improvements in this area).
  • Move the DOM to JavaScript, which could speed up DOM manipulations. This could be a big improvement to modern web applications that heavily use DOM manipulations, like apps build with Google Web Toolkit (GWT).
  • Better usage of multicore CPUs with parallelization.
  • Increase security of the browser – with improved safety for the compositor thread and sandboxes for iFrames.
  • Refactor the codebase – dropping approximately 4.5 millions lines of code.
  • Transparent development and roadmap – see the Chromium Feature Dashboard.

Why is it called Blink?

According to Linus Upson:

It was widely derided as the worst HTML tag ever created and so we picked the name Blink because it kind of suits our slightly ironic taste in names. We called our browser Chrome because the whole idea was to minimize the chrome. We called our computer Pixel because we tried to make all the pixels disappear. Now, we are calling this rendering engine Blink because it doesn’t support the blink tag.

A lot of Web old timers will probably get a good chuckle over the name.

What could this mean for the future of the web?

IMHO, Google wouldn’t promise a dramatic performance improvement if they wouldn’t be sure to be able to achieve this goal. So we can expect to see a Chrome browser that will be faster than its competitors. Other browser vendors will take the challange, improving there rendering engines, too. So the rendering speed of browsers in general could improve.

The impact for Safari on desktop and mobile is unclear, as Safari already uses WebKit 2, whereas Chrome still uses WebKit 1. But as part of the sourcecode is shared with Chrome, this could mean a slowdown in terms of HTML5 and CSS3 support. Maybe Apple will start to invest more on WebKit to be able to stay competitive.

The danger of a rendering engine monopoly is banned. For developers this means another rendering engine to test for compatibility. But as browser developments are driven by open standards and specifications, this is not a problem as serious as it was back in the old days.

Welcome Blink!

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