Google to boost compression performance in Chrome 49

Google yesterday announced that a new in-house compression algorithm, dubbed "Brotli," will soon be added to Chrome to speed up page loading times and reduce data consumption on mobile.

Brotli is currently slated to show up in Chrome's "stable" build channel with version 49.

Google first publicly discussed Brotli in September 2015, touting it as more efficient in compressing website content than alternatives, including the most popular technology, "gzip." By compressing site components, Brotli, gzip and others shorten page load times and reduce the amount of data downloaded to the browser; the latter is important to users on metered and capped connections, most commonly those used by smartphones, where each byte is counted against a monthly allowance.

In a post on Google+ Wednesday, Ilya Grigorik, a Web performance engineer with the company, noted that Brotli is at the "intent to ship" milepost. In an answer to someone else's question, Grigorik said the goal is to add the new compression in the "next stable release."

With Google releasing Chrome 48 on Wednesday, version 49 -- with Brotli -- should appear in six to eight weeks, or in the first half of March.

Brotli will replace Chrome's current compression algorithm, Zopfil, also created by the Mountain View, Calif. company. Zopfil was published in 2013.

Google claimed Brotli outperforms gzip between 17% and 25%, and is especially efficient in dealing out fonts for web pages under the WOFF 2.0 (Web Open Font Format) optimization, an update on the standard submitted by Mozilla, Opera Software and Microsoft in 2010.

In October, content delivery network CloudFlare benchmarked Brotli, comparing it to gzip (the latter implemented by the very popular "zlib" code library), and concluded that Google's algorithm was a "big win" for static content compression and an improvement when dealing with files of 64KB and larger.

The bulk of website content, however, is dynamic -- where the page is essentially built on the fly by the server when a user punches in a URL -- and most pages are created from files smaller than 64KB.

But CloudFlare also pointed out that Brotli is new, and so has lots of potential room for improvement. "It is important to remember that zlib has the advantage of being the optimization target for years by the entire Web community, while Brotli is the development effort of a small but capable and talented team," CloudFlare said. "There is no doubt that the current implementation will only improve with time."

Firefox 44, scheduled to ship next week, will support Brotli, Google said, and other browsers may join in. Microsoft, for example, is considering support for the algorithm in Edge, the default browser for Windows 10 on desktop systems and mobile devices.


Gregg Keizer

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