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New Compression Algorithm Hitting Chrome Soon

January 20, 2016 - Written By Daniel Fuller

Google’s Chrome Browser has historically been loaded up with new features on a near constant basis. The dev, or canary, channel of Chrome, as well as the open-source Chromium, have served as playgrounds of sorts for Google’s developers. The latest features are normally put into these builds first for testing before rolling out to a wider selection of users. One of the features that Chrome and its derivatives have had for some time is the ability to compress incoming data from the web somewhat, which saves data and power, especially on mobile devices. The current compression algorithm, called Zopfli, takes a backseat to the new algorithm’s capabilities, to the tune of between 20 and 26 percent. The new algorithm, known as Brotli, is in “intent to ship” status and should be making its wide debut fairly soon.

At this time, Brotli is only available over HTTPS connections, although that could change with time. The algorithm has shown “great success” in testing on the implementation, performance and maintenance fronts. It will support Windows, Mac, Linux, Chrome OS, Android and Android WebView upon initial roll out, though there has been no word on support for other platforms such as Blackberry or iOS. Although the intent to ship order makes Brotli out to be nearing prime time, those using the Chrome canary or dev channels can access Brotli through the flag, chrome://flags#enable-brotli . Brotli is to be made available for devs and webmasters through a server-side upgrade. According to a Google Groups post on the matter written by Kenji Baheux, “This intent to ship is about making Brotli available as a Content-Encoding method, advertised via Accept-Encoding: br. ”

Brotli is shown to outperform GZIP for most standard operations, but should still support it if needed. A discussion on blink-dev also indicates that Brotli is in “intent to implement” status for some projects. Although you won’t see much effect from it just yet unless you’re a developer or systems administrator, this is a rather big development that could lead to massive data and power savings for the average user in the near future without using third-party compression utilities such as Opera Max.