Almost exactly one month after Chrome 86 appeared in the Beta Channel, it's now rolling out on the stable branch to all platforms (except Chrome OS, that should come next week). This update is definitely light on interface/functional changes, but there are plenty of new features lurking underneath. Let's dive right in!
Google added a feature to Chrome's package manager last year that periodically checks for stolen/leaked passwords, and if one of your passwords is compromised, the browser will prompt you to change it. Starting in Chrome 86, those notifications will now have a 'Change password' button to take you to the right page in one press. The functionality is currently behind a flag, so you'll need to switch chrome://flags#well-known-change-password to 'Enabled' for it to work.
This uses a feature that Apple implemented in Safari 12 and iCloud Keychain on iOS 12, called 'well-known URL for changing passwords.' Websites can tell the browser where the account page to change passwords is located, making the process a bit faster and easier. Since this isn't a brand new feature, it already works for Twitter, WordPress.com, Spotify, Postmates, and other sites.
It can be hard to quickly find what you're looking for in large menus, and the Chrome team has seemingly realized that. Chrome 86 has two new flags that modify the browser's overflow menu, making it much easier to navigate.
There are two new flags to try out, #tabbed-app-overflow-menu-icons and #tabbed-app-overflow-menu-regroup. The first adds helpful icons next to each entry in Chrome's overflow menu, and the second flag re-organizes the menus into sections.
Left: Default menu; Center, Right: Menu variations
As the number of options in Chrome's menu continues to expand, this is definitely a great improvement. Here's hoping it rolls out to everyone soon.
File System Access API
Web pages have never been able to directly access your computer's (or phone's) file system, unless there was a plugin like Java or ActiveX involved somewhere. The Native File System API changed that when it appeared in Chrome 78 as an Origin Trial, and now it's rolling out widely as part of Chrome 86 as the 'File System Access API'.
Here's how it works: a web page can bring up a file picker dialog, just like you would see when clicking an Upload button on any web site. One file, a group of files, or an entire folder can be selected (it's up to the web page).
Before you start freaking out that web sites can now alter your files, there are plenty of security precautions built into this. Sites can only see the files you specifically select, they can only save changes back to those files if granted permission, and an indicator is added to the address bar if a site has file permissions (on the desktop, anyway). Also, the permission is only valid until the site is closed.
There are already some great examples of this functionality, like a web app that watermarks an existing PDF file, a recreation of Microsoft Paint, and a viewer for tomography scans. I'm looking forward to seeing what sites will do with the API now that it's widely available.
As always, this update includes changes for both users and developers. Here are some smaller changes included in Chrome 86:
- The Backward-Forward Cache, which can speed up page load times and was added as a feature flag in Chrome 79, is now also available as a flag on Android. You can try it out by enabling #back-forward-cache in chrome://flags.
- The Cross-Screen Window Placement API is now available as an origin trial on desktop Chrome.
- The new #restrict-gamepad-access flag in chrome://flags forces the Gamepad API to only work on HTTPS connections, to prevent fingerprinting and other security concerns.
- The WebCodecs API is now available as a flag, which "provides efficient, low-level access to built-in (software and hardware) media encoders and decoders," according to Google documentation.
- The asynchronous Clipboard API now supports copying and pasting HTML from the clipboard.
- The VP9 video codec now works on macOS Big Sur.
- Chrome 86 may send notifications on Android reminding you to use it, if you switch browsers.
The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.