Google Leaves WebKit: What Does It Mean?

browsersEarlier this week on the blog, we discussed cross-browser compatibility testing, which is so important for making sure your website works across multiple browsers. We mentioned that different browsers render your website differently because they all use different rules (based on different software, or rendering engines) for converting HTML and CSS into a visible site. Mozilla has it’s own rendering engine and Internet Explorer has… well it depends on the version… and Safari and Chrome both base their renderings on a software called WebKit.

Until now.

Google has recently announced that it will be abandoning WebKit in favor of it’s own web-rendering software called Blink. The changeover will occur in the next 10 weeks, with the release of Chrome 28. Another popular browser, Opera, has announced that they will follow Google’s lead to drop WebKit and adopt Blink as it’s rendering engine too.

So you have a little background, WebKit is an open-source software (originally developed by Apple) that both Apple and Google have been working on collaboratively since Google Chrome’s release in 2008. But apparently, Google finds that the rendering engine is not progressing fast enough for them. As Adam Barth, a software engineer at Google, wrote on the official Chromium blog, “having multiple rendering engines — similar to having multiple browsers — will spur innovation and over time improve the health of the entire open web ecosystem.”

For developers, this means that Chrome and Safari can no longer be expected to be so close in their web renderings. For years, WebKit has been almost a golden standard for designers because of it’s versatility and wide usage (WebKit based browsers across desktop AND mobile accounted for nearly 50% of all Internet usage in late 2012).

Web developers may also need to pay close attention to Safari’s next move. Much of the WebKit project’s original coding and maintenance was contributed by Google, and Safari depends on much of that code. Without the developers to sustain WebKit, Safari will need to pare down the project or beef up their dev teams.

The good news is many-fold, though. Blink is based on WebKit and won’t differ all that much during it’s initial implementation. Even further down the line when the two do diverge significantly, Blink-based browsers will just require the same compatibility testing that web developers already do.

With Blink, Google is also seeking to simplify the web-rendering process, and cut out some 4.5 million lines of code from WebKit’s complicated structure. Blink promises to be faster, less buggy, and more mobile friendly than current rendering engines, and we’re excited to see it.

In the long term, developers can look forward to new innovations and even simpler coding practices as a result of Google’s WebKit departure. So don’t despair, but DO keep cross-browser testing!!