Google Chrome team explains what shift to Blink means for Web developers

WebKit wasn't that interoperable anyway, Google Chrome reps Paul Irish and Paul Lewis argue as they herald a faster, more secure browser engine

The Google Chrome team threw Web developers for a loop in announcing it is dumping WebKit in favor of a new browser engine dubbed Blink. The announcement came in near lockstep with Mozilla's declaration that it had teamed up with Samsung to create a new browser engine called Servo, built on Rust. Opera, meanwhile, announced it too would shift to Blink (rather than WebKit).

The winds of change are blowing through the browser world, and developers are understandably concerned -- particularly when a titan like Google is part of the shift. How might Google's move affect interoperability, for example? Does it signal that Chrome is moving toward the dreaded closed source side?

Fear not, say Paul Irish and Paul Lewis, members of the Chrome Developer Relations team, who are evidently working furiously to quell developers' worries. The duo will be hosting a video Q&A today at 1 p.m. PT at Lead engineers for Blink will also be on hand.

For those who can't wait for the briefing -- or want to come equipped with extra knowledge -- Irish and Lewis provided answers to some of the key questions about the shift to Blink.

Among their answers was an explanation for why Chrome is moving from WebKit to Blink in the first place, citing two primary reasons: First, the fact Chromium uses a different multiprocess architecture than other WebKit-based browsers, which has made it increasingly difficult to innovate while struggling to support all the other WebKit architectures.

Second, Irish and Lewis said the shift will allow the development team "to do open-ended investigations into other performance improvement strategies. We want web applications to be as fast as possible."

The million-dollar question, however, pertains to compatibility. If you're a developer, you want to be confident that your Web apps will be interoperable with the Blink-based Chrome. Here's what Irish and Lewis had to say: "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 duo also dismissed the notion that more browsers running on WebKit translates into greater compatibility. In short, they argued that interoperability issues already exist among the various WebKit architectures. "It's important to remember that WebKit is already not a homogenous target for developers. For example, features like WebGL and IndexedDB are only supported in some WebKit-based browsers," they wrote.

As for mobile, Irish and Lewis said Google is focused on making Chrome for Android "the best possible mobile browser," and that developers "should expect the same compatibility, rapid release schedule and super high JS and DOM performance that you get in desktop Chrome."

The reps re-pledged Chrome's allegiance to open source, saying that Google's goal is to "drive innovation and improve the compatible, open Web platform" by not loading it up with proprietary features. "We're introducing strong developer-facing policies on adding new features, the use of vendor prefixes, and when a feature should be considered stable enough to ship. This helps us codify our policy on thoughtfully augmenting the platform, and as transparency is a core principle of Blink, we hope this process is equally visible to you," they wrote.

They also took pains to emphasize that the shift to Blink "is not just a ruse to land the Dart VM or Native Client."

As to how Chrome will benefit from Blink under the hood, they provided an extensive list including:

  • The ability to deliver a speedier DOM and JavaScript engine
  • Better security via better sandboxing and out-of-process iframes
  • Superior performance through improved style resolution and better utilization of multicore
  • More powerful rendering and layout
  • Fresh new networking code that, unlike WebKit, "is not limited by old Mac WebKit API obligations which cannot be changed"

Finally, Irish and Lewis were hazy as to when a Blink-based version of Chrome will emerge. In the short term, the Chrome team will "improve performance, compatibility and stability for all the platforms where we ship Chrome." In the long term, the team aims to "improve Chrome and inspire innovation amongst all the browser manufacturers" and increasing its investment conformance tests (shared with W3C working groups) "as part of our commitment to being good citizens of the open Web."

This story, "Google Chrome team explains what shift to Blink means for Web developers," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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