Chrome Team Removes Forced Dark Mode Flags But It's Still Coming

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According to recent reports, developers on Google's Chrome browser appear to be removing flags to force websites on mobile into dark mode. But that may not tell the entire story, based on recent changes in the Chromium Gerrit. Instead, the change in flags — spotted by Redditor 'u/MMyRRedditAAccount' — seems to showcase a switch in direction for how Google is implementing the feature. And that means it may be pushed back even further.

As noted by the Redditor, Googlers have removed the last flag in Chrome Canary. That bug-heavy test variant of Chrome is presently on Chrome version 86. And the flag in question is titled "Force dark mode for web contents."

The removal seems to point to the abandonment of dark mode in the context of websites and the content they display. With that flag enabled, the backgrounds and other elements of pages were forced to show in a dark gray hue. That's not unlike what's been seen in other Android apps from Google. The end goal, of course, is to make pages that are typically a bright white color easier on the eyes. Particularly where health issues make the hue problematic for users.

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There were plenty of problems with Chrome forced dark mode in its most recent iteration

Now, Chrome dark mode was never perfect as it was presented under the flags settings. It was a complicated process that involved swapping color schemes based on CIELAB inversion. It effectively inverted bright and dark colors but it wasn't perfect because web pages are not all designed the same. The web itself is a complex mix of elements and not every site can be forced to a darker scheme without causing problems.

In effect, it could result in pages that showed missing or invisible text. Especially where pages weren't initially designed with the swap in mind. Images and other media content were sometimes adversely impacted too. And the same holds true for other elements.

At the very least, that's one reason it has taken so long for Chrome to feature a setting to turn on dark mode for websites. It's easy enough for Google to control the UI it has built for menus and settings pages. It's another matter entirely to control the UI created by millions of web developers.

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Google also doesn't appear to be removing this permanently

Digging deeper into associated changes in the Chromium Gerrit, however, reveals that this may be a change that is meant to enable forced dark mode — as opposed to eliminating it. Particularly in one discussion around a change titled "Make PrefersColorSchemeTest notify WebPreferences change."

The removal of dark mode flags in Chrome, conversely, could be an outward-facing sign of the change. And it may be pushed back further or accelerated by that change.

In the Chrome repository, Googlers don't appear to be discussing the removal of the feature. Instead, they appear to be discussing a way to 'move' dark mode elsewhere in the code. That's as recently as shortly before the change in the Nightly Canary version of Chrome was reported on Reddit. The company seems to be adjusting where the dark mode is implemented in the code itself, precisely because some implementation methods result in bigger problems.

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As noted in comments made in the Gerrit, different WebViews could have different darkening strategies. So "storing it as a singleton didn't work well." But the discussion around how to best handle dark mode is also ongoing, at least into today. The removal of flags makes sense in that context because those change values for the browser in a specific way. If the changes are being implemented as described, that renders those particular flags useless.

So it appears as though this feature is not quite dead. But that it won't be available for end-users of any kind. At least until the finer details about the implementation are worked out.