Last week, Google announced Blink as the new rendering engine behind Chromium, the open source project that powers the Web browser Chrome. While most casual Chrome users will likely never hear about this change, Web developers like me are taking note and looking forward to the innovations that will be rolled out to increase Chrome’s rendering power.

What is a rendering engine anyway?

First off, let me explain what a rendering engine does. Behind every browser is a rendering engine. It’s a software component of the browser that takes all HTML, XML, images and formatting information (such as CSS) and displays it on the page in the way the Web designer and developer of that page intend. In other words, the reason you can read and navigate this page is because a rendering engine has done its job.

When Google Chrome first arrived on the browser scene, it adopted a lightweight and powerful rendering engine called WebKit. WebKit is an open source engine used by many other popular applications, such as Safari, Mac Mail and Adium.The pairing of Chrome and WebKit was mutually beneficial; Chrome was released quickly, and WebKit received a huge amount of developers in its open source community. Since then, WebKit has continued to grow and improve, thus giving Chrome users an excellent experience on the Web.

So why did Google create Blink?

Let’s get back to Google’s announcement about Blink. Why did Google decide to replace WebKit with a new rendering engine? Actually, Blink is what is known as a “fork” of WebKit. In the open source world, a fork is essentially what it sounds like: developers take the source code from one software package and branch — or “fork” — off to build upon it and create a totally new software package. Google forked from WebKit for multiple reasons, including:

– To spur innovation to continually improve Chrome’s rendering engine.
– To help Chrome take advantage of its specific multi-process architecture (helps keep your browser tabs running when a Web page crashes) in order to make the browsing experience faster and more reliable.
– To improve “the health of the entire open Web ecosystem.”

A win for open source, a win for the Web

I, for one, am eager to see the improvements Blink will bring about to the Web — not just within Chrome, but also within other browsers as they continue to innovate to keep pace with Google. Because Blink is just a fork from WebKit, in the short term it will bring little change for us as Web developers. In the long run, though, we could see the total disappearance of vendor prefixes, a faster DOM and JavaScript engine, better security and better performance. It’s exciting to imagine.

All of us at Skyhook value open source development and the kind of innovation it brings. We tip our hats to Google for making such a bold move, and we look forward to the ongoing creation of a more open and standardized Web.