Google Moves Beyond WebKit With Blink - InformationWeek

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4/3/2013
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Google Moves Beyond WebKit With Blink

Google announces plans for Blink, a new open source rendering engine.

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Google has decided to fork the open source WebKit project to form the basis of Blink, a new open source rendering engine that will power Chromium, the open source foundation of the Chrome browser and Chrome OS.

As a browser rendering engine, WebKit has been used for years in Apple Safari and Google Chrome to generate the layout of Web pages from HTML, CSS and JavaScript code. Recently, Opera committed to adopting WebKit. But Microsoft and Mozilla each prefer their own rendering engines, Trident and Gecko respectively.

Google has decided to move away from WebKit to simplify the challenge of supporting multiple architectures -- Chromium relies on a different multi-process architecture than other WebKit-based browsers. Google software engineer Adam Barth contends the complexity of supporting multiple architectures has slowed down innovation for all WebKit contributors.

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"This was not an easy decision," Barth said in a blog post. "We know that the introduction of a new rendering engine can have significant implications for the Web. Nevertheless, we believe that having multiple rendering engines -- similar to having multiple browsers -- will spur innovation and over time improve the health of the entire open Web ecosystem."

Barth says that the shift to Blink should not affect Web developers in the short term because much of the initial work will involve removing some 7,000 files and 4.5 million lines of code. But eventually, differences in the way Google's browsers render Web pages are bound to emerge, and developers will have to test for these differences when building websites and Web applications.

The Chromium team in its developer FAQs insists it will do its best to maintain compatibility. "We're keenly aware of the compatibility challenges faced by developers today, and will be collaborating closely with other browser vendors to move the Web forward and preserve the interoperability that have made it a successful ecosystem," the document states.

The debut of Blink coincides with another significant shift in Web technology: Mozilla and Samsung on Wednesday announced a collaborative effort to bring Mozilla's experimental Servo layout engine to Android and ARM hardware. Servo may end up replacing Mozilla's Gecko engine when it's more mature.

Alex Russell, a developer on the Google Chrome team, said in a blog post that the most important thing to understand about the decision move away from WebKit is that speed matters.

"To make a better platform faster, you must be able to iterate faster," Russell said. "Steps away from that are steps away from a better platform. Today's WebKit defeats that imperative in ways large and small. It's not anybody's fault, but it does need to change. And changing it will allow us to iterate faster, working through the annealing process that takes a good idea from drawing board to API to refined feature."

What's not clear is how this will play out on Apple's iOS hardware. Apple requires that third-party browsers for iOS use WebKit. If Apple is planning any policy change or browser technology shift, it's likely to say so either at its Worldwide Developer Conference this summer, or toward the end of the year when iOS 7 is expected.

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