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WebKit Group Strikes Back: Let's Remove Chrome

After Google revealed that it's forking WebKit with the launch of the Blink browser rendering engine for Chrome, WebKit developers began discussing the removal of Chrome-specific code from the project. This is by no means a "retaliation" despite how it sounds. It makes perfect sense to remove support for a browser that will no longer use the WebKit engine.

"Since we no longer need to support the Chromium port, let's take the opportunity to streamline," wrote Apple's Geoffrey Garen in a post to a WebKit development mailing list on Thursday. "Hopefully, this will make development easier and more coherent for everyone."

On Thursday, Google said the initial work on Blink will be architectural improvements and a simplification of the codebase. Seven build systems and more than 7,000 files -- comprising more than 4.5 million lines of code -- will be eliminated. This will lead to a healthier codebase, better stability and fewer bugs.

The WebKit group, in turn, plans to do something similar, eliminating everything specific to Chrome. That includes code which integrates with Google's V8 JavaScript engine, support for the Google-URL library, and whatever uses Google's Skia graphics library. The group will also likely eliminate Chrome-specific page rendering and layout test cases.

Apple and Google, two rivals in the smartphone and tablet markets, are seemingly parting ways with the launch of Google's Blink rendering engine. The search engine giant adopted WebKit, a forked version of KHTML that Apple open-sourced in 2005, for the Android and Chrome browser. But because Chromium uses a different multi-process architecture than Safari and other WebKit-based browsers, the use of WebKit was slowing down Chrome's development.

But even with Google now out of the picture, Apple doesn't plan to simply go into WebKit and start trimming the Chrome fat. As one developer points out, BlackBerry still uses Skia, and Samsung uses V8. There may also be ports using GoogleURL as well. That said, the WebKit group needs to double-check everything before pulling out code that could potentially crash browsers.

"We're not planning to remove things still in use," said Apple's Maciej Stachowiak, defending a list of possible Chrome components that could be removed from WebKit. "Geoff posted the list in part because we'd like to know if any of the things above are used by other ports."

Google's Eric Seidel wrote in a separate mailing-list thread on Wednesday that the company is willing to work with the WebKit group to remove Chromium-specific code and "other messes we may have caused over the years." He also added that Google will continue to participate in WebKit development discussions, and that he hopes the WebKit and Blink teams can continue a close relationship.

"I hope that others will see Blink as I do: as a chance to take the WebKit codebase to exciting new places," he said. "I hope someday that many of the ideas we pursue in Blink will find their way into many platforms, including WebKit."

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