Progressive Web Apps Get Better Thanks To Chrome 86 Native File API

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Chrome 86 has arrived and brought tons of new security measures but it's also delivering a Native File System API that will make PWAs a whole lot better.

That's based on recent reports detailing the change following the update to Android and desktop platforms. Now, there are a few other changes too. Mostly, those are tucked behind flags. So users don't really need to be too concerned with those just yet. As they're still very experimental. But the biggest changes, other than Native File System API, are going to be limited in scope and functionality.

For instance, support for  VP9 video codec on macOS Big Sur is now part of the build. So is asynchronous Clipboard API for copying and pasting HTML from the clipboard. Across all platforms, a new Document-Policy header is now enabled. That enables site developers to more readily block features as needed. For instance, the Scroll-to-text-fragment feature and JavaScript APIs that are slowing down the site.

More Chrome 86 Native File support is great right where users need it

The big change is mostly going to be impactful for PWAs, which are Google's bid to eventually replace a lot of standard apps and software. Summarily, PWAs are intended to function on the web but work like native applications. They're easy to install on any Chrome-ready platform and they update anytime there's a connection.

Best of all, they can combine web tools and resources with native hardware to provide, at least theoretically, as powerful a software experience as that installed directly on a given machine. But in a package that's effectively universally available by just typing in a URL and using the app or downloading it for later use offline.

What does this actually mean for end-users?

For end-users, the change means that PWAs have even more native-app-like functionality where developers are using the new API.

Or that's the theory. Before now, they didn't have widespread access to user-selected files in the native file system. With Chrome 86, that's spreading through Native File System API. Now, websites — clearly marked to meet privacy standards — can request permission to access native files that the user selects. They can interact with and even write to those files, with user permission. Entire folders can be selected too, as needed.

The permission is valid until the site is closed, then needs to be granted again.