Google forks WebKit with new 'Blink' rendering engine for Chrome

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Google on Wednesday announced it will be forking the Apple-backed WebKit to create Blink, a rendering engine that will power the search giant's Chromium initiative, and consequently the Chrome Web browser, moving forward.

In a post to the official Chromium Project blog, Google said the decision to build out its own open source engine was driven by the fact that Chromium uses a different multi-process architecture than other WebKit browsers, making development an increasingly cumbersome task as both systems become more complex.

The Blink HTML rendering engine is based on the Apple-built WebKit and will reportedly bring speed improvements to the various iterations of Chrome, such as the Chrome desktop browser for Mac.

"This was not an easy decision," wrote Google Software Engineer Adam Barth. "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."

According to Google Product Manager for the Open Web Platform team Alex Komoroske, and Vice President of Engineering Linus Upson, who spoke with TechCrunch on Tuesday, the move to create Blink was a result of the engineering teams feeling constrained with the complexity of the WebKit ecosystem. Komoroske explained that integrating Google's workflow with those of other WebKit partners was “slowing everybody down.”

For now, Web developers won't see much of a difference with Blink, as Google plans to work on "internal architectural improvements and a simplification of the codebase" in the short term. The company said it will initially remove 7 build systems and cull of over 7,000 files to yield a "healthier codebase" with less bugs.

WebKit, which Blink forks, is itself an Apple fork of the KHTML engine. Apple used WebKit to power the Safari Web browser and subsequently took the engine open source in 2005. Since then, Google used the architecture in Chrome and now holds a majority of WebKit's reviewers, with Apple coming in second, followed by Blackberry, Intel, Nokia, Samsung and Adobe, among others.

It remains to be seen how Blink will change the Web development landscape, but some who were worried that the Web would become a WebKit "monoculture" see the change as an innovation driver. Opera, which recently announced it would be dropping its Presto engine for WebKit, chimed in with a statement to CNet, saying it will back Google's initiative.

"I know a lot of people worried that there would be less diversity on the Web once Opera Presto was retired, and the forking of WebKit into Blink restores that balance. Opera will be contributing to Blink in future," said Opera developer evangelist Bruce Lawson. "My personal feeling (not representing my employer, wife, children or hamster) is that Blink has a lot of promise for the Web. Its architecture allows for greater speed — something that Opera and Google have long focused on."