Man, WebKit cannot catch a break today, can it? After Samsung announced that it would be teaming up with Mozilla to build their own mobile browser engine called Servo, Google says its planning to fork WebKit to create a new project called Blink. Unlike Servo, this one will still be based on WebKit, but this new fork actually seems to be aimed not at competing with whatever Samsung is putting out, but rather at gaining freedom from another browser: Safari.

You see, Chrome doesn't actually use the entirety of WebKit. It mainly uses what's called WebCore, which handles HTML and CSS rendering. A pure WebKit browser would use JavaScriptCore for Javascript, but Google uses its own V8 engine, just one of numerous differences.

On higher levels than just WebCore, Apple has actually been using WebKit2, which handles things like sandboxing (the feature that allows one tab to crash without bringing the whole browser down). Die hard Chrome fans may be aware, but Google already has its own method for sandboxing tabs and has no need for WebKit2's implementation. However, WebCore contains a lot of code that is designed to support features like that.

How much is "a lot of code," you ask? About 4.5 million lines of code, it seems. Seven build systems and "more than 7,000 files" can be removed if Google forks WebKit, according to a post on the Chromium blog. This could remove a lot of bloat from Chrome and make it easier to implement new features.

It could also piss a lot of people off, if everyone's not careful. WebKit is an open source engine and not only can everyone do what they like, but many have. If things aren't handled sensitively, it could result in yet more headaches for web developers. Google's promising that it's implementing strong guidelines and encouraging adherence to standards. We'll see how it shakes out, though.

Oh, and just in case you were worried that this means everyone is in their own camp, Opera is coming along for the ride, too. One spokesperson said that "Our ambition is to contribute Opera’s browser engine expertise to Blink, ranging from the implementation of new web standards to improvements in existing code."

So, Google and Opera in one corner, Mozilla and Samsung in another, and Apple still on the WebKit2 train—carrying 61% of all mobile browser traffic with it—in a third. Just when you thought you had this whole browser war thing figured out.

Source: Google

Eric Ravenscraft
Eric is a snarky technophile with a taste for the unusual. When he's not obsessing about Android, you can usually find him obsessing about movies, psychology, or the perfect energy drink. Eric weaves his own special blend of snark, satire, and comedy into all his articles.

  • http://www.facebook.com/koniczynek Michał Droździewicz

    Chrome will be good again as soon as it supports vertical tabs. They removed this feature nearly a year ago because it was bad. And AFAIK gave nothing in return. So I ditched Chrome.

    • http://twitter.com/zackeryfretty Zackery Fretty

      I promise you, that you are a very niche group. It's not a "Bad" browser because it doesn't have that poorly implimented feature.

      • http://www.facebook.com/koniczynek Michał Droździewicz

        Thank you for your promise. I presume you base your opinion on a poll of some kind or other reliable source.

        But that aside - feature was there, it worked like a charm and spared me some vertical space on my 16:9 screen allowing me to see all my tabs with captions at once - when I lost what I needed I switched browsers - that's all.

    • Pyrotek85

      If the feature was bad isn't it good that they removed it? Why did they need to add something else in return for removing it?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000003999549 Mike Harris

        I assume he meant it was badly implemented, but I still don't understand why anyone would want it. I honestly don't even remember this being a feature. Wouldn't you have to turn your head sideways to read the text on the (unpinned) tabs?

        The only feature I've always wished for is the ability to launch certain bookmarks as pinned tabs automatically. I would like to be able to edit a bookmark and tell it how to open, but I'd even settle for the ability to launch a pinned tab by opening it differently (such as holding a key down and clicking on a link or bookmark).

        • Matthew Merrick

          It was an experimental feature in about:flags that disappeared quite some time ago.

          And you can do that now - drag a bookmark onto your chrome apps Screen, right click, and choose "open as pinned Tab"

        • http://www.facebook.com/koniczynek Michał Droździewicz

          It's been a feature to put your tabs to the right of the screen instead of the top of the window. It spared some vertical space on 16:9 screens and allowed one to see full tab captions event when large amount of tabs has been opened. I used it a lot as my work routine requires me to have multiple tabs from one source opened and without captions visible it's hard to keep track on what's where. When this feature that helps me work disappeared I switched browsers.

      • http://www.facebook.com/koniczynek Michał Droździewicz

        They said it's been bad, not me. Should have written it clearer, sorry.

  • blahmoomoo

    We can only hope that the forking will be done in a way that doesn't affect the rendering of the browser to the end-user negatively. Seeing how Chrome has evolved over the years, I can see them pulling it off. But I'm sure it'll take at least half a year for Blink to go stable.

    I wonder how they'll handle dev and beta releases. They may have to have two dev versions for a while Blink is unstable. Unless they'll use Canary for that.

    I wonder how much faster the desktop version will run after Blink is implemented. The mobile version should become much better too.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andrea.mennitto Andrea Mennì

      Can't agree more.
      Code polishing is good for the desktop client, but is necessary for the mobile version.

    • Jay T

      I don't know that it'll be as much a case of "version 26 uses webkit, version 27 uses blink." If the goal is just to remove baggage from webkit, it may be that version 26 uses 100% of webkit code, 27 uses 95%, 28 uses 85%, 29 uses 75%, etc, etc.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000003999549 Mike Harris

        I'm not disagreeing with that possibility, but if that was the process, wouldn't that mean for each new 5-10% of Blink they add, they would have to change some of the existing WebKit code in order to accommodate the new code? That seems like a lot of maintaining of old code that they plan on replacing.

        I've never developed or worked on a web browser, so I have no idea how much interoperability is necessary, but I've written lots of various code and that's almost always been a concern when changing anything in it.

    • w;lfjnw

      > But I'm sure it'll take at least half a year for Blink to go stable.

      Webkit is already stable, so making Blink stable is a non-issue. At all.

    • marcusmaximus04

      In theory, since Blink is just a fork of WebKit, they could release Blink today and it would be perfectly stable. And then just pull the unnecessary pieces out of it a bit at a time in subsequent releases.

  • nsnsmj

    I predict Samsung and Mozilla will not be successful in their endeavor.

  • woj_tek

    well... compatibility should not suffer much as they promise (like mozilla) to ditch prefixes...

  • http://www.facebook.com/wilhelm.vain Wilhelm Vain

    So we have a battle between Google & Opera vs Mozilla. I'm sorry to say that Mozilla stands little chance against a championship dream team like Google and Opera.

    • Joshua

      I know, I even feel kinda bad since Mozilla is a skilled and accomplished team. Let's see how it all pans out before we make any final calls here, though.

    • vitriolix

      Mozilla and Samsung. And don't knock out Mozilla, they have a massive budget of their own and this is their core competency.

    • barak

      Doesn't Google support Mozilla....?

      • Floss

        Google has a standard advertising contract with Mozilla. While technically it is funded by Google, I wouldn't go so far to say it was "supported by" Google. That implies that Google is giving them money simply to develop, which isn't the case. Google is merely giving Mozilla a piece of the advertising revenue back for them to have Google as the default search engine.

  • Steve Sy

    um, why is this even a war? This can be compared to what our favorite toilet paper brand is.

    • Matthew Merrick

      IF YOU USE CHARMIN YOU ARE A BUTT AND YOUR FACE IS ALSO A BUTT !!!!!!!!!1!1!ONE!!!!eleventy!!!!!!!

      • PhoenixPath

        I damn near lost my coffee...

      • QwietStorm

        Is this a meme I never heard of? Lol

  • Tj Hariharan

    I hope their new fork allows for control of audio within webpages etc. As of now, chrome CANNOT block audio for certain tabs, or block audio from ads etc (even though it has adblocker) due to some restriction on webkit

  • http://twitter.com/s99nj S. Ali

    Yay, more incompatibility.

  • bse88

    Its Chrome Blue!

    • Melissa Peterson

      That blue symbol is Chromium an open source web browser, which Chrome is based off of.

      • http://www.facebook.com/vivecuervo7 Isaac Dedini

        I think that went way over your head.

  • http://www.williamint.com William Aleman

    I use Chrome, but maybe I'm going to go to Firefox. Starting to prefer a browser supported by a foundation. Even thought I love Google.

    • dextersgenius

      I already prefer Firefox - on the mobile, it's a way faster browser than Chrome, and less buggy as well, and it can run on older devices too. Plus its Addons are quite handy (non-root users will appreciate AdBlock+). On the desktop, while Chrome still launches faster for me, Firefox is better when you're restoring a previous session because it doesn't attempt to load all the tabs at once, unlike Chrome - so in practice Firefox has better startup times. Finally, desktop Firefox has way better addons as well - notably, DownThemAll - which *still* hasn't made it to Chrome after all these years.

      • Lalit Mali

        Say no to Adblockers. Have some ethics.

        • dextersgenius

          I don't use them on all sites - unfortunately, many sites are completely obnoxious in their abuse of ads and make them impossible to use on a mobile device. We're doing the site admins a favor - if it weren't for the adblockers, I wouldn't even be visiting those sites in the first place.

          • Sam Hollis

            Except you aren't doing the admins a favor. That's like saying you're doing a store a favor by shoplifting, because if you weren't stealing from there you wouldn't be there at all.

          • http://www.facebook.com/CraigHwk Craig Hawkins

            Adding Adblock Plus = First thing anyone should do with a new browser install.

          • dextersgenius

            Except, one thing is illegal and the other isn't. I wonder why.

      • Generalkidd

        I prefer the newest generation of Internet Explorer actually (IE 10). It also now supports add-ons and extensions like most of the other browsers. I occasionally use adblock in IE as well. In fact, IE on the desktop launches faster for me compared to Chrome. Plus, IE uses a lot less system resources than Chrome. I haven't used firefox extensively yet, but i'm sure it's a fine browser.

    • s427

      If anything, I prefer Mozilla because of their philosophy (to promote openness and diversity on the web) and because it's a non-profit foundation.

    • Matthew Merrick

      So wouldn't that be chromium?

  • http://chrisbrownweb.com/ Qnowledge (Dominique)

    As a web developer, this scares me a bit - but excites me also.

    • QwietStorm

      Isn't it always the way

  • GraveUypo

    let's trade 7 million lines of code in the browser for 349 quadrillion extra lines of code all over the internet to support all these fucking different engines. they BETTER stick to standards

    • vitriolix

      Google more than pretty much any company have a track record of pushing open standards

    • Adrian Meredith

      They are defining some pretty strong rules for standardisation. Basically the unfinished standards (that were previously vendor prefixed) are now disabled by default and can only be enabled by turning them on in chrome://flags. This means bleeding edge devs can test new features without having to write custom code for them

      • Generalkidd

        The rendering engine doesn't really matter much anymore. All the major engines including Trident from IE, all support the same sets of standards. The difference is how they go about rendering this stuff and that affects browser speed and performance
        I think it's a good thing that everyone is making their own rendering engines again. We don't need every browser to converge around Safari like how every browser in the past converged around Internet Explorer. The competition is good for everyone, Thanks to Chrome, IE has evolved into a fine browser now that performs just as well as the competition now. If every browser becomes webkit browsers like safari, it'll just be a repeat of the IE dominance years.

  • Abhisshack D

    " Google and Opera in one corner, Mozilla and Samsung in another, and Apple still on the WebKit2 train" So what About Dolphin Browser ???!!!

    • http://profiles.google.com/danielm.nc Daniel Marcus

      Dolphin uses WebKit, they just extend it a bit, and are an Android browser, not a rendering engine. Still, Dolphin has remained one of my favorite Android browsers.

  • http://twitter.com/SParKlngCyaNide SparklingCyanide

    I really really hope this turns out well. If done correctly it sounds as if it could be incredible. Just hoping it doesn't turn out to be a mess. Universal compatibility is a main concern.

  • Elias

    If it works better/as good as (speed and code compatibility) competition but saves RAM, that'll be a major win.

    • Elias

      BTW, I could see that coming. It's reasonable to expect such thing from a company focused on internet and so obssessed about browsers that they made their own and turned it into an OS.

  • Bleakvision

    Dick move.

  • http://profiles.google.com/danielm.nc Daniel Marcus

    I could actually see this being very good. In a lot of ways, this moves back toward the KHTML roots. As someone who once browsed the web with Konqueror, I know that at one time KHTML was simple, fast, clean, and perfectly capable of being sandboxed (years before Chrome, too!). I could actually see KDE picking up this project as a much more slim replacement for qtWebKit.

    • David Loring

      Oh man Konqueror... what a clanking, bloated, powerful, ridiculously overfeatured file manager/web browser that thing was... It was a good browser for its time, and an amazingly complicated (and powerful) file manager. Why they needed to be combined is anyone's guess.

  • http://twitter.com/Pascalwb Pascal

    best engine was in opera mobile, I never saw better and faster text wrapping. Sad they choose webkit.

  • http://profiles.google.com/haragog Hugo Correia

    Browser wars were going stale, as so as inovation. This might help bring fresh meat.

  • Vikramaditya

    Blink... Sounds interesting.
    Just hope it isn't something as foolish or useless like the Samsung's Smart Stay.

  • s427

    "Google and Opera in one corner, Mozilla and Samsung in another, and Apple still on the WebKit2 train in a third."

    You seem to forget Microsoft (IE) in the fourth corner. I know they're far from significant in the mobile world, but they're still the dominant player on desktop (unfortunately).

    • Generalkidd

      There's nothing wrong with Internet Explorer being the dominant browser. The newest generation of IE is a fully standards compliant browser with HTML5 performance proven to be faster than Chrome thanks to IE's more advanced GPU acceleration.

      And I wouldn't say Microsoft has been pushed into a corner. It's more like they're in the center of the room with everyone else trying to tug on them and push them in one direction. But anyways, you're right that IE is virtually non-existent in the mobile world. However, as Windows Phone starts gaining more ground and Windows 8 adoption increases, Internet Explorer will start to make a name for itself in the mobile world. It still has a chance to become the greatest browser again and there's nothing bad about that as long as it fully meets the needs of everyone.

      • s427

        The problem I have with IE being the dominant browser is the same I would have if Chrome was the dominant browser. It's owned by a private company which runs for profit. Although I have to say I trust Google slightly more than MS when it comes to playing fair and understanding the web and its core values.

        We already saw what happened when IE became the only browser on the market: MS simply shut its development team down, because it saw no interest in it, and the evolution of web technologies was seriously slowed down for several years. You can hope and believe they will behave differently next time, but I prefer not to bet on it (especially now that they pushing their apps and services and mobile OS every way they can).

        I'm not complaining, though. I think the situation now is quite healthy, with a lot of competing browsers ensuring that we still have the choice between several fairly good products, and that competition drives technology forward instead of being controlled by one company alone (*especially* MS). I just think that judging a browser solely in terms of performance (or even compliance to standards) is a bit short-sighted.

  • Carjon Distra

    WebKit isn't in danger here. Users are.

    Chrome is in danger of being the new IE - instead of working hard to be compatible, it will chart its own course.

    Chrome is currently based on WebKit, used by numerous other browsers. By branching, Google will have a new open source project that they politically own and control, instead of having to work with a community. All other players will be stuck playing by Google's rules. Want to check in a new privacy feature? Google will be the decider.

    Users will be the victim. After all, Chrome exists so that Google can drive the advertising & privacy experience of the user.

    • marcusmaximus04

      Right, because once Chrome gets this, it will magically have 90% of the web market share and be able to dictate everything.

  • Melissa Peterson

    As long as it follows the standards as set out by the W3C so developers don't have to add extra code just so webpages can look right, I'll be happy.

  • Matthew Fry

    We seem to be having a problem with defining the context of these changes. All three of these have much more implications in the overall browser market. Mozilla is planning on making this change across the board, cross-compiling Android with other platforms. I assume Firefox for Android will be very similar to the Samsung Mobile browser. Chrome's goal is to shrink the gap between the Android and the desktop variety. Safari already uses the same backbone. What we have here is less fragmentation and more a unification of brand lines.

    Having that defined, let's talk Safari. While it is 61% of the mobile browser market the mobile browser market is 2.3% of the overall browser market. Safari for OS X only consists of 4.1% of the market so this is hardly a majority.

    Chrome on the other hand, has 51.7% of the overall browser market share. It has more users than all the other browsers combined. Webkit is not ubiquitous because of Safari, it's ubiquitous because of Chrome. When everyone bails on Webkit, it will again hold only 4.1% of the market.

    The bottom line is that while you hold the lead you decide the standards. Blink will be the standard and as long as Webkit, Servo, and Blink stay open source, the communities will push the drive to ubiquitous standards. Meanwhile, rendering engine differences allow more choices for users.

    statistics: http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp

    • Matthew Fry

      Another possibility is that the decision here is less about Android and more about making ChromeOS more robust with their recent push of the Pixel.