The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently announced “Polaris,” a new open-source software that could radicalize the speeds of Internet browsers. MIT shows a 34% browser performance increase in their study, and this could translate into dramatically enhanced Internet usage efficiency for users.
The Speed Gain Explained
MITs research focused on changes in the way an Internet browser fetches files, even before it starts searching for them. By preparing a ‘plan of action’ for how it will retrieve all the files that make up the webpage, Polaris will determine the best route to collect everything. This reduces the overall number of server requests a website makes, which is ultimately where they achieve the speed gain.
To do this, Polaris will keep a list of “dependencies” of all objects you need to load on the website. A “dependency” is when an object on a website depends on a piece of information from somewhere else.
For example, imagine an image slideshow that auto-scrolls on a webpage you visit. This image slideshow is really a small bit of code that tells your browser where to find the images, which are stored in a separate location, and then tells it to scroll four images on a 12-second rotation.
That bit of code depends on the server storing those images. The server allows access to the files and serves them up to the webpage you’re visiting. By speeding up the process for the browser to find those dependencies, it can show you the image slideshow 34% faster.
How Polaris Maps Out Webpages
Polaris also includes a “dependency graph,” which charts out the total number of inquiries a webpage makes. With this dependency graph, the browser can choose the fastest route to find all the objects from their various sources.
To help understand the dependency graph, you may think of it as a shopping list. If you were baking cookies you might create a list for all the items you need to purchase at the store. Then you head to the store and buy everything all at once. But without the list you may make a trip to buy flour, then later you realize you need eggs, butter and chocolate chips—so you head back to the store for those as well.
With Polaris, you are not making multiple visits to the store. Your list tells you everything you need in the one trip.
As another example, your favourite sports webpage may display a sports ticker with tonight's hockey scores scrolling across the screen, plus a few stories below it that each reference a score from the same games. All of these items, or ‘objects’ on the website, are dependent on the same server for the same up-to-date information.
Today, each object may request the score information as a unique server request. That will slow down your browser speed and overall performance since it duplicates efforts.
Instead, Polaris uses the dependency graph to tell your browser when the ticker is updated, and then it will automatically update the same information in the other locations that are coded to look for that score. So all of the stories reporting scores on that page will be up-to-date.
A complex website may have thousands – yes thousands – of these dependencies. The potential for speed boosts is incredible.
Beyond these straightforward examples, there are many other website optimization techniques and similar approaches from Polaris not yet imagined that could improve website efficiency.
When Will We See This In Action?
There are no defined timelines announced for the technology yet. But there is talk that Polaris could find its way into browser extensions or be built natively into major Internet browsers in the future.
Indeed, a 34% browser speed increase is significant, and right now Polaris is still in the research and planning phase. However, the team at MIT wants to make Polaris completely open-source, and that will open the floodgates for faster and even more imaginative development.
Stay tuned for the software’s arrival within your favourite Internet browser in the future.
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