Google to Bring More Native Features to Web Apps

Posted on November 13, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Chrome OS, Cloud, Dev, Mobile with 20 Comments

Google this week said that it would work to close the functional gap between native apps and web apps. The goal is to let web apps do everything that native apps can across mobile and desktop platforms.

“There are some capabilities, like file system access, idle detection, and more that are available to native but aren’t available on the web,” Google’s Pete LePage explains. “These missing capabilities mean some types of apps can’t be delivered on the web, or are less useful. To cope, some developers build native apps, or use wrappers like Cordova or Electron to access the underlying capabilities of the device.”

To close this functional gap, Google has committed to establishing which native platform capabilities are still unavailable to web apps and then bringing those capabilities over. It will prioritize this work based on need, so that the most useful missing features are implemented first.

“We’ve identified and prioritized an initial set of capabilities we feel are critical to closing the gap between web and native, and have already started work on a handful of them,” Lepage notes. “Personally I’m really excited about the writable file API that makes it possible to create web-based editors, and event alarms that help perform arbitrary work at some point in the future. But there are plenty more: Web Share Target, Async cookies, Wake Lock, WebHID, user idle detection, just to name a few.”

Indeed, the writable file API—which would enable more sophisticated web-based text editors and word processors that can seamlessly access local files, is up first.

You can find the current list of capabilities that Google is looking to implement in the Chromium bug database. But developers who are interested in this work might also consider chiming in about the evolution of these features tool.

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Comments (20)

20 responses to “Google to Bring More Native Features to Web Apps”

  1. Boris Zakharin

    2 things:

    1. If a web app is integrated to Chrome to this extent, is it still a web app or is it a "native" Chrome app?
    2. Despite Google's assurances of security, it's only a matter of time until a bug (or feature?) in something like native file access over the web will be exploited to take control of a user's file system.
  2. wright_is

    No. Just no!

    Browsers, and especially JavaScript are a security nightmare as it is, with drive-by-downloading, now they actually want to provide a native virus-writing toolkit directly in the browser's API?

    It all sounds nice on the face of it, but I'd much rather keep it separate. Keep the web for web stuff and local apps for stuff done locally. Better security and better compartmentalization is what is needed, not throwing out more security for more (unneeded) functionality.

  3. FalseAgent

    wait, so are these chrome features or actual web standards? it's a big difference between the two and google has arguably already fragmented the way developers make PWAs.

  4. jwpear

    Grumpy old man issues aside, Microsoft should be looking at this as a way to keep Windows relevant. It's a chance to bring interesting consumer apps back to Windows and remove the need for all the legacy crud.

  5. hrlngrv

    There's already approaches to providing native executable functionality delivered through the web: remote application servers. Maybe overkill for some types of software, but Citrix and VMWare work for large enterprises, and rollApp works for mere end users. Someday people with decent network connections may have several alternatives for application providers.

  6. skane2600

    A potential security issue as a solution for a non-existent problem. Native apps work just fine, maybe the problem for Google is a lack of ad revenue.

  7. Chris_Kez

    "The goal is to let web apps do everything that native apps can across mobile and desktop platforms"... in Chrome? For those looking at things through a Microsoft lens, the question remains whether or to what extent Google's web-app push will actually benefit Edge users. A lot of folks seem to think web apps will help close the Windows 10 app gap, particularly by bringing in Google apps, but I remain skeptical and keep waiting for Google to pull out the rug.

  8. shmuelie

    Excuse me while I play grumpy old man but...

    They've been promising me write-once-run-everywhere using the network/internet since forever. I think we'll get Fusion power first

  9. christian.hvid

    Yes!! Please give web browsers write access to the local file system ASAP! After all, what could possibly go wrong? :)

    Sarcasm aside, I'm sure Google has already pondered the security implications of this particular feature. But on a more general note, complete functional parity between web apps and native apps also requires equal levels of trust. In essence, loading an unknown web page will be like downloading and running an unknown EXE. The operating system will warn us and protect us to some extent, but if the API is there, it's open to misuse. There's a world of difference between providing an API with some protective measures and not providing the API at all.

    • Alexander Rothacker

      In reply to christian.hvid:

      I see huge security implications with this, what could go wrong? It's not like we've gone down this road before. All I'm saying is IE and ActiveX, no security issues were ever associated with that. ROTFL.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to earlster:

        I haven't tried this, but I suppose it'd be possible to mimic Linux/BSD/Unix ability to mount partitions noexec under Windows by setting the permissions of a secondary volume's to deny execute to EVERYONE and enable inheritance. That wouldn't help with scripts, but it should mean no binaries could be executed.

        ACLs restricting particular applications to particular parts of the file system would be better still.

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