Google almost 'broke the web' with its latest Chrome update

Google's latest edition of Chrome has been released, which almost included a throttling feature that could "break the web".

The latest version, Chrome 56, brings a host of smaller performance improvements, including faster page loads and unsecure page alerts, but narrowly avoided adding a tab-throttling feature, which could have made it impossible for some apps to run.

The well-intentioned addition, designed to reduce the strain on battery life from background web apps, would in fact limit the ability for applications to sync and "massage" data to create alerts.

"Avoiding expensive CPU work is not a panacea; that some applications must do significant work in the background, including syncing data, reading delta streams, and massaging said data to determine whether or not to alert the user," said Samuel Reed, CTO at BitMex, on the STRML blog.

This approach to background apps is "ignoring the new reality" that Chrome is no longer used to simply read webpages but is the "world's largest application platform", according to Reed. "This will break the web."

Popular web-based applications, including communication platforms like Slack and Discord, are heavily reliant on the ability to process notifications in the background and would be "hugely and adversely affected" by a throttling feature.

Thankfully, Google responded to feedback prior to the launch of Chrome 56, although the idea of throttling background apps has not entirely disappeared.

"Unfortunately, our current implementation throttles WebSockets. Because of this we are not shipping this intervention in M56," a Google response read.

"The current plan is to disable time-budget background timer throttling for the pages with active connection (websocket, webrtc and server-sent events) and to ship M57 (subject to further feedback). We will keep you updated with the progress.

It appears the move is the latest in the attempt to reduce the amount of drain the browser places on battery life. Microsoft recently fueled the on-going battery life war with Google after claiming that Chrome's power consumption was 45% higher than that of Edge.

Dale Walker

Dale Walker is the Managing Editor of ITPro, and its sibling sites CloudPro and ChannelPro. Dale has a keen interest in IT regulations, data protection, and cyber security. He spent a number of years reporting for ITPro from numerous domestic and international events, including IBM, Red Hat, Google, and has been a regular reporter for Microsoft's various yearly showcases, including Ignite.