This document describes Chromium's high-level architecture.
It's nearly impossible to build a rendering engine that never crashes or hangs. It's also nearly impossible to build a rendering engine that is perfectly secure.
In some ways, the state of web browsers around 2006 was like that of the single-user, co-operatively multi-tasked operating systems of the past. As a misbehaving application in such an operating system could take down the entire system, so could a misbehaving web page in a web browser. All it took is one browser or plug-in bug to bring down the entire browser and all of the currently running tabs.
Modern operating systems are more robust because they put applications into separate processes that are walled off from one another. A crash in one application generally does not impair other applications or the integrity of the operating system, and each user's access to other users' data is restricted.
We use separate processes for browser tabs to protect the overall application from bugs and glitches in the rendering engine. We also restrict access from each rendering engine process to others and to the rest of the system. In some ways, this brings to web browsing the benefits that memory protection and access control brought to operating systems.
We refer to the main process that runs the UI and manages tab and plugin processes as the "browser process" or "browser." Likewise, the tab-specific processes are called "render processes" or "renderers." The renderers use the Blink open-source layout engine for interpreting and laying out HTML.
Each render process has a global
Each render process has one or more
In the render process:
In the browser process:
In general, each new window or tab opens in a new process. The browser
will spawn a new process and instruct it to create a single
Each IPC connection to a browser process watches the process handles. If these handles are signaled, the render process has crashed and the tabs are notified of the crash. For now, we show a "sad tab" screen that notifies the user that the renderer has crashed. The page can be reloaded by pressing the reload button or by starting a new navigation. When this happens, we notice that there is no process and create a new one.
Given the renderer is running in a separate process, we have the opportunity to restrict its access to system resources via sandboxing. For example, we can ensure that the renderer's only access to the network is via its parent browser process. Likewise, we can restrict its access to the filesystem using the host operating system's built-in permissions.
In addition to restricting the renderer's access to the filesystem and network, we can also place limitations on its access to the user's display and related objects. We run each render process on a separate Windows "Desktop" which is not visible to the user. This prevents a compromised renderer from opening new windows or capturing keystrokes.
Given renderers running in separate processes, it becomes straightforward to treat hidden tabs as lower priority. Normally, minimized processes on Windows have their memory automatically put into a pool of "available memory." In low-memory situations, Windows will swap this memory to disk before it swaps out higher-priority memory, helping to keep the user-visible programs more responsive. We can apply this same principle to hidden tabs. When a render process has no top-level tabs, we can release that process's "working set" size as a hint to the system to swap that memory out to disk first if necessary. Because we found that reducing the working set size also reduces tab switching performance when the user is switching between two tabs, we release this memory gradually. This means that if the user switches back to a recently used tab, that tab's memory is more likely to be paged in than less recently used tabs. Users with enough memory to run all their programs will not notice this process at all: Windows will only actually reclaim such data if it needs it, so there is no performance hit when there is ample memory.
This helps us get a more optimal memory footprint in low-memory situations. The memory associated with seldom-used background tabs can get entirely swapped out while foreground tabs' data can be entirely loaded into memory. In contrast, a single-process browser will have all tabs' data randomly distributed in its memory, and it is impossible to separate the used and unused data so cleanly, wasting both memory and performance.