Pointless features add to browser bloat and insecurity
83 per cent of browser features are used by under one per cent of top websites
Researchers from the University of Illinois have looked at how users and Website designers respond to the feature-list, and their study suggests there's a whole lot of kruft that nobody – site owners or end users – are using.
Or, as El Reg would put it: your browsers and Web servers are bloating with features nobody wants, and contribute nothing but extra lines of code.
It'll surprise nobody that at least some of the non-execution of features is down to site ad-blockers and the like, but the end result is: “83 per cent of available features are executed on less than 1 per cent of the most popular 10,000 websites.”
A couple of features that the researchers found provide good examples.
ALS, “ambient light events”, would let browsers respond to the light level the laptop, phone or desktop is exposed to if anybody used it. Since 14 Websites out of the 10,000 in the study used it, and since it's blocked by 100 per cent of blocking browser extensions, why not kill it off?
Iframes fall into a different category: half of the sites use iframes (because who doesn't love a popup?), but “is prevented from being executed over 77 per cent of the time”.
All of this adds to the Web's security woes as well, as the table below (an extract of a much larger table from the study) shows. The study notes, “unpopular and heavily blocked features have imposed substantial security costs to the browser”.
|Standard Name||Abbreviation||Features||Sites||Block Rate||CVEs in 3 years|
|Scalable Vector Graphics 1.1 (2nd Edition)||SVG||138||1554||86.8%||14|
|HTML: Web Workers||H-WW||2||952||59.9%||11|
|Web Audio API||WEBA||52||157||81.1%||10|
|Indexed Database API||IDB||48||302||56.3%||3|
|Media Capture and Streams||MCS||4||54||49.0%||2|
|Web Cryptography API||WCR||14||7113||67.8%||2|
|CSSOM View Module||CSS-VM||28||4833||19.0%||1|
|High Resolution Time, Level 2||HRT||1||5769||50.2%||1|
|HTML: Web Sockets||H-WS||2||544||64.6%||1|
SVG, for example, has a problem however you look at it: on one hand more than 15 per cent of the sites use it, on the other hand, nearly 87 per cent of blockers block it, but it's had 14 security warnings (CVEs, Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) in the last three years. ®
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