GNOME Web (called Epiphany until 2012) is a free and open-source web browser based on WebKitGTK, developed by GNOME for Unix-like systems. It is the default web browser of GNOME; forked from Galeon in 2002, it has since been developed as part of the GNOME Core Applications.
GNOME Web 3.34
|Original author(s)||Marco Pesenti Gritti|
|Developer(s)||The GNOME Project (mostly by Michael Catanzaro and Xan Lopez, both from Igalia)|
|Initial release||24 December 2002|
|Stable release(s) [±]|
|3.34.2 (25 November 2019 ) [±]|
|Preview release(s) [±]|
|3.35.2 (24 November 2019 ) [±]|
|Written in||C (GTK)|
|Size||less than 2 MB (package file, without dependencies)|
|Available in||60 languages|
GNOME Web as a component of GNOME Core Applications provide full integration with GNOME settings and components like GNOME Keyring to securely store passwords, following the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines and GNOME stack to providing first-class support for the all new-adopted edge technologies such as Wayland and the latest major GTK versions, multimedia support using GStreamer and small package size (~2MB) due to using shared components; other features include the reader mode, mouse gestures, smart bookmarks, web application integration, built-in ad blocking, and Google Safe Browsing.
Web was originally named "Epiphany", but was rebranded in 2012 as part of GNOME 3.4. The name Epiphany is still used internally for development, such as for bug tracking and in the source code. The package remains epiphany-browser in Debian-based distros(to avoid a name collision with a video game that is also called "Epiphany") and epiphany in Fedora-based distros.
Marco Pesenti Gritti, the initiator of Galeon, originally developed Epiphany in 2002 as a fork of Galeon. The fork occurred because of the disagreement between Gritti and the rest of Galeon developers about new features. While Gritti regarded Galeon's monolithic design and the number of user-configurable features as factors limiting Galeon's maintainability and usability, the rest of the Galeon developers wanted to add more features.
Around the same time, the GNOME project adopted a set of human interface guidelines, which promoted simplification of user interfaces. As Galeon was oriented towards power users, most developers dissapproved. As a result, Gritti created a new browser based on Galeon, with most of the non-critical features removed. He intended Epiphany to comply with the GNOME HIG. As such, Epiphany used the global GNOME theme and other settings from inception.
Gritti explained his motivations:
While Mozilla has an excellent rendering engine, its default XUL-based interface is considered to be overcrowded and bloated. Furthermore, on slower processors even trivial tasks such as pulling down a menu is less than responsive. Epiphany aims to utilize the simplest interface possible for a browser. Keep in mind that simple does not necessarily mean less powerful. We believe the commonly used browsers of today are too big, buggy, and bloated. Epiphany addresses simplicity with a small browser designed for the web—not mail, newsgroups, file management, instant messaging or coffee making. The Unix philosophy is to design small tools that do one thing, and do it well.
Galeon continued after the fork, but lost momentum due to the remaining developers' failure to keep up with changes in the Mozilla platform. Galeon development stalled and the developers decided to work on extensions to bring Galeon's advanced features to Epiphany.
Epiphany's early philosophy included a commitment to creating a web browser specifically for GNOME:
Epiphany's main goal is to be integrated with the gnome desktop. We don't aim to make Epiphany usable outside Gnome. If someone will like to use it anyway, it's just a plus. For example: Making people happy that don't have control center installed is not a good reason to have mime configuration in Epiphany itself.
The development of Epiphany was mainly focused on usability improvements compared to major browsers at the time. The most notable was the new text entry widget, which was introduced in version 1.8. The new widget supported icons inside the text area and reduced the screen space needed to present information, while improving GNOME integration.
The next major milestone was version 2.14, which was the first to follow GNOME's version numbering. It also featured network awareness using NetworkManager, smart bookmarks improvements, and the option to build with XULRunner.
The latter was critical. Previously, Epiphany could only use an installed Mozilla web browser as a web engine provider. The XULRunner support made it possible to install Epiphany as the only web browser on the system.
The development process suffered from major problems related to the Gecko backend. To address these issues, in July 2007, the Epiphany team added support for WebKit as an alternative rendering engine. On April 1, 2008, the team announced that it would remove the ability to build it using Gecko and proceed using only WebKit.
The size of the team and complexity of porting the browser to Webkit caused version 2.22 to be re-released with bugfixes alongside GNOME 2.24, so the releases stagnated until July 1, 2009, when it was announced that 2.26 would be the final Gecko-based version.
|0.4||December 25, 2002||Initial release.|
|0.5||April 13, 2003||Ability to drag bookmarks, smart bookmarks, and topics to the toolbar. Optional "Go" button for URL bar. "Help" support.|
|0.6||May 4, 2003||Drag and drop of links to tab bar. Security preferences. User language automatic detection. New history dialog. Default bookmarks toolbar.|
|0.7||June 7, 2003||Zoom control for the toolbar. Ability to reload page while bypassing cache (shift+reload). Traditional bookmarks menu. Exit fullscreen button.|
|0.8||July 13, 2003||Tooltips. Improved GNOME integration. Fast search for bookmarks and history. Drag and drop of URLs in the bookmarks toolbar.|
|0.9||August 22, 2003||Bugfixes only.|
|1.0||September 8, 2003
|Support for Mozilla 1.6.|
|1.2||March 15, 2004
|Support for Mozilla 1.7 and 1.8, Lockdown mode. Caret navigation.|
|1.4||September 13, 2004
|Offline mode. Per-site pop-up blocking.|
|1.6||March 9, 2005
|1.8||September 5, 2005
|Python bindings, Find toolbar, Favicon and SSL icons displayed in location bar. Gecko 1.8 support. Error messages display in content area. Use of the GNOME printing system.|
|2.14||March 12, 2006||XULRunner backend supported. Topic suggestions in bookmarks manager. Version numbering synced to GNOME. NetworkManager DBUS interface support.|
|2.16||September 6, 2006||History preserved for links opened in new tabs. Spell checking support. Page security info dialogue from Certificates extension. New GTK Printing dialog. Stability improvements.|
|2.18||March 14, 2007||Bookmarks online storage. UI for Ad Blocker.|
|2.20||September 19, 2007||Migration from Gecko to WebKit. PDF printing. Migration from GnomeVFS to GIO.|
|2.22||March 12, 2008|
|2.24||September 24, 2008|
|2.26||March 31, 2009|
|2.28||September 24, 2009||Gecko backends removed. Python extension support removed. WebInspector.|
|2.30||March 31, 2010||Broken SSL certificate warning, custom page menus support.|
|2.32||September 29, 2010||Bugfixes only.|
|3.0||April 6, 2011||Reduced the amount of user interface chrome. Geolocation support. Switched from text zooming to full content zooming. New download manager. Migration to GTK 3 and GNOME 3 technologies.|
|3.2||September 28, 2011||Separate font settings. WebKit's page source viewer made default. Web Applications mode introduced.|
|3.4||March 28, 2012||Renamed from Epiphany to Web. Major interface overhaul. Performance improvements. Super menu introduced.|
|3.6||September 26, 2012||Overview screen and Full Screen mode introduced.|
|3.10||September 26, 2013||New toolbar placement into "Header Bar", the new GNOME titlebar design.|
|3.12||March 25, 2014||A major update version, including improved performance and user interface enhancements. Implemented a single process for each tab.|
|3.14||September 24, 2014||A minor update adding support blocking invalid SSL certificates, warning users about mixed content for improved security, adblocker performance improvements and overall small UI improvements and polishing.|
|3.16||March 23, 2015||UI updated, fixes to improve incognito mode's privacy and discoverability.|
|3.18||September 23, 2015||UI improvements. Enabled Do Not Track and the ad blocker by default.|
|3.20||March 23, 2016||UI improvements. Session restore.|
|3.22||September 21, 2016||UI improvements.|
|3.30||September 6, 2018||Reader mode, others.|
|3.34||September 12, 2019||Rewritten and improved ad blocker which uses Webkit's content filtering. Web process sandboxing for improved security. Favorite tabs can be pinned. Plugin support removed.|
Web Standards Support
Web once supported NPAPI plugins, such as Java and Adobe Flash, but with the modern web platform, these plugins have fallen out of favor and are being deprecated in major browsers and, in the case of Flash, by Adobe itself. Additionally, Flash had gained infamy throughout the years for usability and stability issues, incessant security vulnerabilities, its proprietary nature, its ability to let sites deploy particularly obnoxious web ads, and Adobe's poor and inconsistent Linux support. Many of these issues were raised by Steve Jobs, then CEO of Apple, in his essay Thoughts on Flash. Since GNOME Web 3.34 and WebkitGTK 2.26, plugin support is removed.
Web reuses GNOME frameworks and settings, including the user interface theme, network settings, and printing. Settings are stored with GSettings and GNOME default applications are used for internet media types handling. The user configures these, centrally, in GNOME's settings app.
The built-in preference manager for Web presents basic browser-specific settings while advanced settings which could radically alter Web's behavior can be changed with utilities such as dconf (command line) and dconf-editor (graphical).
Web follows the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines and platform-wide design decisions. For example, in Web 3.4, the menu for application actions was moved to the GNOME Shell's top panel application menu and the menu bar was replaced with "super menu" button, which triggers the display of window-specific menu entries.
Since GNOME 3.32, Web can adjust to various form factors with the help of
libhandy, a library sponsored by Purism. It supports desktop, tablet and phone form factors. ("Narrow Mode")
Ad Blocking and Do Not Track
Since GNOME 3.18, Web is configured to block ads and pop-ups by default, and to send Do Not Track headers to websites,. Other browsers typically make the user seek out an extension and toggle settings.
Google Safe Browsing and Security Sandboxing
Since GNOME 3.28, Web has support for Google Safe Browsing, to help prevent users from visiting malicious websites.
Since GNOME 3.34, Web explicitly requires a minimum of WebkitGTK 2.26 or later. This provides the "Bubblewrap Sandbox" for tab processes, which is intended to prevent malicious websites from hijacking the browser and using it to spy on other tabs or run malicious code on the user's computer. If such code found another exploit in the operating system allowing it to become root, the result could be a disaster for all users of the system.
Making the sandbox a priority was brought on, according to Michael Catanzaro, because he was particularly concerned with the code quality of OpenJPEG and the numerous security problems that had been discovered in it, including many years of failing security reviews by Ubuntu. He further explained that web compatibility requires that sites believe that Web is a major browser. Sending them the user agent of Apple Safari causes fewer broken websites than others (due to sharing the Webkit engine), but also causes caching servers to deliver JPEG 2000 images, of which Safari is the only major browser to support. There is no other usable open source option for JPEG 2000 support. Fixing OpenJPEG, which is the official reference software, will be a massive undertaking that could take years to sort out. Enabling the Bubblewrap Sandbox would cause many vulnerabilities in this and other components to become "minimally useful" to potential attackers.
While most browsers feature a hierarchical folder-based bookmark system, Web uses categorized bookmarks, where a single bookmark (such as "Web") can exist in multiple categories (such as "Web Browsers", "GNOME", and "Computer Software"). A special category includes bookmarks that have not yet been categorized. Another innovative concept supported by Web (though originally from Galeon) is "smart bookmarks". These take a single argument specified from the address bar, or from a textbox in a toolbar. Bookmarks, along with browsing history, are accessed from the address bar in find-as-you-type manner.
Web Application Mode
Since GNOME 3.2, released in September 2011, Web allows creating application launchers for web applications. The subsequent invocation of a launcher brings up a plain site-specific browser (single instance) of Web limited to one domain, with off-site links opening in a normal browser. The launcher created this way is accessible from the desktop and is not limited to GNOME Shell. For instance it may be used with Unity, used on Ubuntu. This feature facilitates the integration of the desktop and World Wide Web, which is a goal of Web's developers. Similar features can be found in the Windows version of Google Chrome. For the same purpose Mozilla Foundation previously developed a standalone application Mozilla Prism, which was superseded by the project Chromeless.
Web applications are managed within the browser's main instance. The applications can be deleted from the page, accessible with a special URI about:applications. This approach was supposed to be a temporary while a centralized GNOME web application management was to be implemented in GNOME 3.4, but this never happened.
Since GNOME 3.26, Web has support for Firefox Sync, which allows users to sync their bookmarks, history, passwords, and open tabs with Firefox Sync, which can then be shared between any copy of Firefox or Web that the user signs into Firefox Sync with.
Web once supported extensions and a package was maintained containing the official ones. This was later removed due to problems with stability and maintainability.
The project has expressed an interest in implementing support for the WebExtension add-on format used by Chrome, Firefox, and some other major browsers, if interested contributors can be found.
Despite being a component of GNOME, Web has no requirements on beyond GNOME components, so it can be potentially installed on any system supporting GTK and Webkit. Though the GNOME Project does not list specific system requirements, it states that GNOME 3 should run on any modern computer.
In reviewing the WebKit-powered Epiphany 2.28 in September 2009, Ryan Paul of Ars Technica said "Epiphany is quite snappy in GNOME 2.28 and scores 100/100 on the Acid3 test. Using WebKit will help differentiate Epiphany from Firefox, which is shipped as the default browser by most of the major Linux distributors."
In March 2011, Veronica Henry reviewed Epiphany 2.32, saying "To be fair, this would be a hard sell as a primary desktop browser for most users. In fact, there isn't even a setting to let you designate it as your default browser. But for those instance where you need to fire up a lighting-fast browser for quick surfing, Epiphany will do the trick." She further noted, "Though I still use Firefox as my primary browser, lately it seems to run at a snail's pace. So, one of the first things I noticed about Epiphany is how quickly it launches. And subsequent page loads on my system are equally as fast." Henry criticized Epiphany for its short list of extensions, singling out the lack of Firebug as a deficiency. Web instead supports Web Inspector offered by the WebKit engine, which has similar functionality.
In April 2012, Ryan Paul of Ars Technica used Web as an example to his criticism of GNOME 3.4 design decisions: "Aside from the poor initial discoverability of the panel menu, this model works reasonably well for simple applications. [...] Unfortunately, it doesn't scale well in complex applications. The best example of where this approach can pose difficulties is in GNOME's default Web browser. [...] Having the application's functionality split across two completely separate menus does not constitute a usability improvement." This was addressed in later versions, with a single unified menu.
In an October 2016 review, Bertel King Jr. noted on MakeUseOf, "Later versions offer the best integration you will find with GNOME Shell. It lacks the add-ons found in mainstream browsers, but some users will like the minimalism, the speed, and the tab isolation that prevents one misbehaving site from crashing the entire browser."
In an April 2019 review, Bertel King Jr. wrote another article on MakeUseOf, this time reviewing GNOME Web for its Web Applications Mode. He stated, "When you check your email, you’re using a web app. If you open YouTube, Netflix, or Spotify in a browser, again, you’re using a web app. These days, you can replace most of your desktop apps with web apps. [...] GNOME Web provides tools to better integrate web apps with the rest of your desktop, so you can open them via your app launcher and view them in your dock or taskbar. This way they feel more like apps and less like sites." He also praised the security provided by walling off Web Applications from the rest of the browser and each other. Like Mozilla's container feature, this helps prevent sites such as Facebook from seeing what the user is doing in the main browser. It also allows the user to create multiple "apps" for the same site, to easily switch between different accounts.
- Midori, another web browser based on GTK and WebKitGTK
- List of web browsers for Unix and Unix-like operating systems
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