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Google forks its WebKit browser engine – Blink is born

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Google Blink web engine

Yesterday Google forked its WebKit browser engine, the same engine used by Apple’s Safari browser and many other mobile browsers, and will now focus its efforts on “Blink”, which will gradually diverge from the WebKit project on which Google Chrome is based.  Developers at Google expressed their excitement and enthusiasm for the change noting that the fork will make it easier to make changes to the core engine, allow them to improve the security of the web browser, and provide the framework for an even faster browser engine.

According to Ziff Davis, the switch to a Google maintained engine could prove problematic for web developers:

“That may sound like a pretty dry list of perks, but Wilson has reason to value them. In the first half of the last decade, Microsoft’s IE6 dominated the Web, and Web developers programmed their sites to work with it, not to Web standards. The legacy still holds programmers back years later.”

Google on the other hand, seems to have planned for this.  According to one developer,

“The Chromium team has already put in place strong guidelines for new features that will help mandate standards focus, openness, and interoperability.  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.”

Whether or not the Google fork results in website compatibility issues, as often seen with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, or is a play to further distance the gap between Google and Apple (who will continue to use the WebKit engine) remains to be seen.  Regardless, the change in browser engines is a good one.  Chrome never used WebKit in quite the same way that Safari did. For example, Chrome ignored WebKit’s JavaScriptCore component in favor of Google’s homegrown JavaScript engine, V8. The removal of WebKit will result in a lighter-weight browser as “dead” code is removed from the package (7,000 files and 4.5 million lines of code have already been marked for removal).  Google also handled multiple browser processes in a significantly different way than Safari did.  Google recently forked its JavaScript engine and the result was a cleaner, and much faster implementation of the JavaScript standard.  We may see the same outcome with Blink.

Christian Heilmann, a Mozilla evangelist, commented, “With a blink of an eye the argument ‘everything runs WebKit’ gets more washed out.

Like the rest of the Chromium project, Blink will remain open source software and anyone will be welcome to examine the code and contribute to it.  Google says the first builds of Chrome to be based on Blink will arrive in the browser’s bleeding-edge Canary release channel in the next couple of days. In keeping with Chrome’s standard release cycle, those versions will then migrate to the Developer, Beta, and Stable channels as they are deemed stable.