Google's Brotli algorithm will soon compress web traffic in Chrome

— 11:35 AM on January 20, 2016

Google will soon enable support in Chrome for a new compression algorithm called Brotli. The algorithm has been in the works for a while, and now the Chromium team has deemed it fit for general consumption.

Brotli is a general-use lossless compression algorithm. Although it can be used for any kind of data, Google expects Brotli will be used for compressing web page data sent from servers to visitors. That already happens everywhere with the universally-supported gzip algorithm, but Brotli improves on gzip's compression ratio by roughly 17-25%.

The new algorithm should prove a boon for general page loading, and for mobile devices in particular. Since Brotli's decompression speed is comparable to gzip, web pages should load faster while using fewer CPU cycles, less bandwidth, and less power.

Chrome will support the new algorithm across all major desktop platforms and Android. Mozilla has also added Brotli support to Firefox. The only problem is that servers must send their content encoded in Brotli to begin with. Most of the web runs on either Apache, nginx, or IIS, and a quick search reveals that only nginx has a Brotli module in development. Brotli support in Chrome is also restricted to HTTPS connections, which the web in general has been slow to adopt.

Nevertheless, it should be just a matter of time before the World Wide Web sees the benefits of Brotli's space savings. Cloudflare, for example, has already done some extensive benchmarking of the new algorithm with promising results. Brotli could also have important implications for the performance of the WOFF 2.0 spec. This is one of those rare situations where everybody wins.

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