The real reason why Google forked WebKit

The real reason why Google forked WebKit

Summary: So why is Google going to all the effort of forking the WebKit rendering engine in order to create Blink? It's down to one thing — the post-PC era that we find ourselves in.


Yesterday came the surprise news that Google was going to kick Apple's WebKit rendering engine to the curb and replace it with a new open source rendering engine called Blink, based on WebKit.

According to Google, the reason behind the switch is the fact that WebKit has grown too complicated, and making the switch to its own rendering engine will benefit projects such as the Chrome browser and Chrome OS.

"Chromium uses a different multi-process architecture than other WebKit-based browsers, and supporting multiple architectures over the years has led to increasing complexity for both the WebKit and Chromium projects," writes Adam Barth, software engineer at Google.

"This," he continues, "has slowed down the collective pace of innovation."

It seems like Google has given this a lot of thought, and the company believes that it will be able to remove seven build systems and delete more than 7,000 files from its rendering engine compared to WebKit, which means some 4.5 million fewer lines of code.

This has already tempted Opera to adopt Blink.

Now, I'm all for simplification, and getting rid of 4.5 million lines of code from a project is undoubtedly good for stability and security. And, as noted by Barth, having multiple rendering engines will no doubt lead to more innovation.

But there's more to this switch than meets the eye.

The fact that Google focused on simplifying the WebKit is telling. Sure, Google is interested in adding new features, but in such a multi-platform world, the idea of filling Blink with features that are incompatible with other rendering engines is almost unimaginable.

The reason Google wants Blink is down to one thing — the post-PC era. WebKit is long in the tooth, and is a product of PC thinking. Google wants to change that.

There's no doubt that Apple has effectively managed the project and transformed it into a capable post-PC era rendering engine, but it is clear that if Google can eliminate 4.5 million lines of code from the project, then there's a lot of dead wood in there. And while having all that dead wood buried in the codebase might be fine on desktop and notebook systems with a beefy processor and bags of RAM, on mobile systems with limited processing power, storage, RAM and power, a more focused, streamlined rendering engine would be better for all.

Google, it seems, is also very good at optimizing code when it comes to browsers. It's done an excellent job of the V8 JavaScript engine, creating a fast, capable engine. Given its track record there, it makes sense for the company to take control of its own rendering engine.

Another reason why having its own rendering engine will be good for Google is differentiation. If Google can make Blink significantly better than WebKit (faster, less buggy, safer), then this gives products such as Android, Chrome, and Chrome OS an advantage over the competition. Given the world we now live in, a faster, more efficient, safer browser is something that would be welcomed by many.

Blink could be big for Google.

Topics: Google, Android, Apple, Web development

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • termonology?

    what is "forking?" What is a "rendering engine?" Is this high tech stuff?
    • April Fool?

      Thunderbolt, You're reading a tech blog and are really asking this? I bet I am replying to an April fool joke right?
      • 3 days late... just a plain fool lol

        • Fork Google and Fork This

          Post PC Era? Gag me. Not going to happen.

          Just what we need, another fat headed company that thinks they can do as they please and the World will follow them like lemmings off a cliff. Anybody that writes javascript will understand why this is a bad idea.

          Microsoft screwed things up enough already.

          If they could adhere to W3C standards and not create CSS extensions then I have no problem. I will never use Chrome or any Google service. I read every word of their terms of service and privacy policy. Evil. Do not trust Google.
          • What do you browse with?

            Microsoft and the Trident engine are a mess. Both Gecko and Webkit follow standard better than any time I can remember and I don't think changing that is the issue. Google need to get out from under webkit because of Apple. Now they can focus on many of the things Mozilla has asked them too. Both the Chrome and Firefox team do a great job in working together and innovating while still be direct competitors. That is not going to change anytime soon. This one of those turning points for Google, will they bring Chromium, Chrome, and Chrome Mobile together like they should or let them drift apart?
          • FireFox with Ad Block

            I am concerned about FireFox accepting payments from Google to make Google the default Search.

            I used Chrome until I read their new Terms of Service.
            I did not approve of their thinking it is OK to collect information on religion, sexuality, all incoming and outgoing phone calls, Text and email messages, and to snoop around on my PC and gather information and transmit what they find back to Google. They now link everything they can find about you to your personal information. Google Analytics collects where you go even if you do not use Google Search. All this information is available to law enforcement and civil subpoena.

            Google's stand is "If you do not want others to know what you are doing, then maybe you should not be doing those things"

            And they state in their ToS if you do not like it, do not use the service.

            They get very deceptive. The obvious and common deceptive practice is where they state up front like MSFT in the privacy statement:

            "we will not disclose your personal information outside of Microsoft and its controlled subsidiaries and affiliates without your consent."

            Knowing full well that the user is reading the Privacy Statement is either a current user of, or prior to using, their services

            Then in the Terms of Service they say, using the service constitutes consent.

            Why the deception? They knew when they said they would not disclose your Personal Information without consent when they knew they already had your consent.

            More deceptive is Google's statement that the terms of service documents are aggregated. This means if you have a gmail account and use Chrome, the ToS for gmail also applies to Chrome. This way they can distribute the Terms in hope no one will connect the dots.

            This became obvious when I found where Google saves all phone calls, text and email messages in a Google ToS that had nothing to do with Phone calls or text and email messages.

            I assume it applies to Google Voice, gMail and possibly Android. But the same clause is not in the ToS for any of those 3 services but you are still subject to the terms if you use the other service.

            Seeing almost no one reads the ToS, Google feels pretty safe you will not discover what you are actually agreeing to.

            Even if you fall in to the category where you do not do things and could care less about what is collected about you, what if there is an error?

            You wife sues you, she subpoenas your Google records and it shows you were on cross dressing sites. It does not matter if you were or were not. You will have to defend yourself.

            Or you become a suspect in a rape. And your Google record inaccurately reflects your behavior and now the rape investigation gains probable cause rather than mere reasonable suspicion.
          • Default Browser Settings War

            Firefox announced they were going to change the default privacy options to where accepting 3rd party cookies by default will be disabled rather than enabled.

            This created a big stink by the companies that use 3rd party cookies to track you.

            There are other Browser Privacy settings that can reduce Google's ability to track. Such as not passing the "referer" [sic].

            FireFox could make AdBlock a default and install AdBlock with every new install and update.

            AdBlock is used by 15 million FireFox users. This has got to affect Google's bottom line. Not significantly now but it could if All FireFox users used Adblock.

            AdBlock disables Google Analytics, Double Click and Ad Sense.

            The question I have about the FireFox 3rd party cookie setting is the motivation. Is FireFox genuinely concerned about the user's privacy or is it being used as leverage to increase the flow of money from Google to FireFox.

            I had heard that Google pays Apple $1 Billion to make Google the default on the iPhone and FireFox ~$200,000. I do not know if this is true, but suspect it is.

            If FireFox does not make the default setting change then it is a little more clear that Google's influence is working.

            If Google is working with FireFox Google's only motive is to have influence on any FireFox decision that would have an adverse affect on Google revenue.
          • foolish to think you are not being tracked

            Google is actually fighting a certain agency in court right now about information of its users. You should realize that all isp's track you and turn over that information. Also 50% or more website you visit will have Google track you (since you like TOS's read each on every website you visit). Unless you are using HTTPS all the time there will always be a large amount of risk. You want a secure computer dig a hole and burry it, you won't be able to use it but it will be secure.
          • ISP Tracking

            ISPs track you because the US Department of Justice requires them to track you. I am not saying Google is alone in tracking you for profit. I am saying Google and MSFT are intentionally deceptive in their Privacy statements and ToS. Google has taken deceptive to the Nth degree.

            I think it would only be fair that Google and the other tracking jackals be required to reveal to ever user what they have stored on each user giving the user the ability to correct any errors that could be misused in civil litigation or by law enforcement.

            That's not entirely true. I really just want YOU to understand what it is Google is recording about YOU. You would be shocked at how much they have stored about YOU.

            When people begin to understand what Google is actually doing and the possible ramifications, there will fewer Google fans.

            I think Google is taking advantage of the rampant ignorance of the general population.

            So Flag me. Just remember. I am telling you [about 5 years] in advance, I told you so.

            And Fork Google!
          • You bored me.

            All you say looks to make sense.
            However, you live in this era. If you're uncomfortable with it then go back to the cavern.
            Have a good stay.
          • Let's be serious

            Google is not a ghost haunting your computer poking is every hole. It is just a remote server talking to a client using http. That is it.

            It can not collect information about someone - that would require SSN. It collects the content of http requests and cookies.
          • Patrickgood1

            I suggest you read the Microsoft terms of service and privacy policy.

            Different words - same intent.
          • Re: Post PC Era? Gag me. Not going to happen.

            Tell that to HP and Dell.
    • Forking is a word that can get you fired.
      • WTF?

        All I can say is forking hell, doesn't take much to lose your job...
        • Nope, gotta love that PC movement bu11

          This whole politically correct bit has gone so far past the edge it's disgusting
    • To fork, or not to fork, that is the question!

      When you "fork" a source code branch, you are saying you are going to let the existing code go on its merry way along the path of development where it will spawn many more versions (branches) along the way. But, at the point you forked your source code, you have created a brand new branch that you intend to support seperately with it's own development cycles and source code. Maybe just some giant dumps of old and obsolete code (who supports BAUDOT or dot matrix printers, nowadays?), maybe some new features (3D printing, anyone?), maybe brand new code for a new rendering engine.
    • Forking Google it!

    • Better Late Than Never

      I didn't get to this until after the weekend. But, there are answers to your questions.

      1. A "Fork" is a program made by taking another program and modifying the code. The forked code is at first almost the same as the original version. sometimes the forked version wins out over the original version. Forking is common in the Open Source / Free Software world, but is also common in the propitiatory software world. All the BSD Unix systems are forks off of the original AT&T Unix of long ago. They are also forked off of the first BSD Unix system. Solaris is also forked off of AT&T Unix.

      2. A "Rendering Engine" is a program that draws on screen the pictures and text that is sent over the Web. The rendering engine can be a stand alone program that sends all it's information to another program (this is called 'Piping'), or it can be a program that exists inside another program. This is something you don't need to be concerned about, unless you are a programmer. Yes, it is somewhat technical.


      Both Microsoft's IE browser family and the original Netscape browsers were forked off of the original Mosaic browser. Mozilla started out as a fork of the Netscape browser, but, it was a mess, and they rewrote the thing from scratch to create Gecko, the engine that draws the pictures and text for Firefox. As the Article mentions, Webkit is itself a fork of the old KDE KHTML rendering engine, so this isn't a unique situation.

      We could even see Apple dropping Webkit for Blink in a couple of years. It happens. We could also see Blink and Webkit recombined in the future, or Blink dying and Google going back to Webkit, or even to Gecko. All are possible.
  • Web kit

    I got bored 30 seconds into this post. This is another article written to demonstrate that pc are a thing of the past which is not true. The fact the Google is moving away from webkit is simply because webkit, like any computer program got fat with time. A leaner, more efficient way is better I agree. However pcs have nothing to do with this divorce. I hope this author can understand that pcs, phone, tablets, are all the same, in different format. They are ways to communicate, work, access information. There is no post pc era and I hope there never will be. That stupid paradigm in fact is just a way to lure is that the ones who pretend to be a post pc specialist are understanding things the others don't. It's pretentious. On the other hand, Google is a big boy and it will do everything it can to differentiate itself from the others.

    Ounce and for all. There is no post pc era, only a pc evolution era. The era started on the first day pcs where invented.