Web Browser Diversity

The Current State of Web Traffic:

I wanted to start off by just showing the user base each of the major browsers have as background information and will reference it below throughout this article. According to W3Counter, Chrome is the major player in the browser game, followed by Safari, Internet Explorer/Edge, Firefox and Opera. Exact percentages can be found below (sourced again from W3Counter). This data is current as of March 2020.

What Makes Up a Browser?

A browser is just more than the user interface that we see such as a search bar, back and forward buttons, etc. It also consists of a Javascript engine, and composition & rendering engines. Rachel Nabors goes into much more detail about this in an article of her’s that is well worth the read to better understand what makes up a browser. I will be focusing on the rendering engine for the rest of this article.

Rendering Engines

Current browsers come from three different rendering engines: WebKit, Gecko, and EdgeHTML/MSHTML. Blink, the rendering engine used by Google Chrome, branched off from WebKit.

How Do These Rendering Engines Relate to the Current Browser Marketshare?

Chrome runs on Blink, which branched off from WebKit. Safari, both iOS and MacOS versions runs on WebKit. Firefox uses the Gecko engine and Opera uses a Chromium/Blink engine. Up until 2019, Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer used EdgeHTML/MSHTML but was rebuilt based on Chromium.

Potential Future Implications

What’s the big deal? Wouldn’t a single rendering engine be a better experience? In theory, yes. A single rendering engine could make things easier for both users and developers. Developers wouldn’t need to accommodate different rendering engines, which would reduce or eliminate the need to test in different browsers. Users would also see a more uniform experience because of this.

What Can We Do?

As developers it is very important that we make sure our websites and web applications work in Firefox. Cross browser testing has never been so important and there are even tools to help you with the process. If your site/app doesn’t fully function on Firefox but does on Chrome or another WebKit/Blink based browser, users are more likely to use one of those. As users we can simply use Firefox in our personal/daily lives. It is imperative that we have at least two rendering engines moving forward to keep web standards moving forward.

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