WebGPU project twins browsers and low-level graphics APIs

— 2:00 PM on February 8, 2017

The World Wide Web Consortium, better known as the W3C, allows members to propose community groups for discussion and consideration of future web standards. Yesterday the team behind the popular WebKit engine for browsers proposed just such a group to help develop and standardize an API—tentatively called "WebGPU"—that will allow web-based applications to interface with graphics processors in the low-level manner enabled by modern graphics APIs like Vulkan, Metal, and DirectX 12.

The proposal is still at an extremely early stage, although the WebKit team says it has been working on its prototype for a few years. The group says its decision to work on a new standard came out of the realization that the existing WebGL standard for 3D web graphics wasn't keeping pace with developments in both graphics hardware and software. The OpenGL ES API on which WebGL is based was designed in an era of fixed-function hardware and single-threaded programming. Modern hardware is fully programmable through low-overhead APIs that can blend compute and graphics work seamlessly. The WebKit team wants to bring those modern advantages to web-based applications.

In turn, WebGPU is meant to serve as an abstraction layer between web-based applications and the native graphics APIs running on client devices. The final standard will support both high-performance graphics applications as well as general-purpose compute tasks running on graphics processors in desktops, laptops, phones, tablets, and other devices. In theory, any operating system with a Vulkan, DirectX 12, or Metal implementation should be able to work with WebGPU applications. Perhaps one day, this team's work will let us enjoy Crysis in Chrome. For now, qualified developers can join the effort in the "GPU for the Web Community" working group.

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