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How the Google Chrome Browser Works


How Chrome Changed the Speed of Browsing
Google's marketing campaign for Chrome in 2010 featured a series of speed tests using some eye-catching homemade contraptions.
Google's marketing campaign for Chrome in 2010 featured a series of speed tests using some eye-catching homemade contraptions.
Screen capture by HowStuffWorks staff

Beyond its simplicity and extensibility, Chrome browser's most acclaimed advantage is its speed. The browser can't make your Internet connection faster, but it can make faster work of loading the Web pages you access. In an advertising campaign in 2010, Google demonstrated this using some creative homemade contraptions, comparing the browser's speed to the speed of sound waves, lightning and a potato gun. In each case, the browser was just as fast (or faster) at loading the page as the contraption was at performing its split-second task.

The big speed boost for Chrome comes from its V8 JavaScript Engine. JavaScript (not to be confused with the Java programming language) is a scripting language added to a page's code that allows that Web page make use of your browser's processing power. For example, a Web page can use JavaScript to show a certain menu when you move your mouse over a picture, or to submit the data you've entered in a form. JavaScript is so widely used on the Web today that nearly every browser includes some kind of JavaScript engine to run the code.

The JavaScript associated with a Web page is loaded when you load the page. Thus, if the browser wants to load pages quickly, it needs a fast JavaScript engine working behind the scenes. The V8 JavaScript Engine is reportedly the fastest JavaScript engine available in any Web browser. V8 is an open source engine written in C++ for use in Chrome. In a video about V8, Google engineer Lars Bak describes what makes V8 faster than other JavaScript engines from the programmer's point of view [source: Google]:

  • Rather than treating each JavaScript object as having its own separate class, V8 adds a hidden class that identifies common properties between those objects.
  • V8 translates the JavaScript code into machine code. You computer's processor can read machine code directly. Without this step, your browser would have to translate each piece of JavaScript into machine code every time you run a script on a Web page.
  • V8 has better garbage collection, which means that when it finishes using memory for one task, it can better reclaim that memory for another task.

If you're skeptical about Google's claims about V8's speed, or if you just want to see the speed boost in action, you can test it yourself just by visiting http://v8.googlecode.com/svn/data/benchmarks/current/run.html. As soon as you open the Web page, your browser runs a series of tasks simulating the background processes that happen when you're using Web pages. Chrome developers published these tests, known as the V8 Benchmark Suite, so that you could compare the speed of JavaScript engine between browsers. To make the side-by-side comparison, open the V8 Benchmark Suite in Chrome and in one or more other Web browsers (Firefox, IE, Safari, and so on), and compare the numerical results when the scripts finish running [sources: Google, Shankland].

Now that you know what makes Chrome so fast, what other advantages does Chrome have to offer? Next, let's see what Chrome can do to keep you safe while you're online.


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