Building Google Chrome: A first look

Google's open source browser has much to offer prospective hackers (provided they use Windows)

Last week I said I would look at Google Chrome "from a developer's perspective." I should have specified what kind. I meant I was considering it from a Web developer's perspective: What does it mean for Web application builders to have yet another browser enter the already-crowded field?

But the more I thought about it, the more I felt it would be worthwhile to look at Chrome from the perspective of the other kind of developer. After all, Chrome is open source, and there's clearly still some work to be done on it. So I decided to take a peek under Chrome's hood and view it through the eyes of the developers who will improve and maintain it in the coming years.

Dude, where's my code?

The first stop on my quest was, the Chromium Developer Documentation site, to get a copy of the source code. "Chromium" is the name of the open source version of the Chrome browser, while "Chrome" is Google's official stable release. Get the idea? In real life, chrome is smooth and polished, while chromium is just a raw element.

The Chromium site explains how to download the source code for Linux, Mac OS X, or Windows. Unfortunately, if you're eagerly awaiting a Mac version of Chrome, you shouldn't hold your breath. As the Mac OS X area of the Chromium developer site explains, "Right now, the Mac build is a work in progress that is much closer to the start than the finish." In fact, according to the latest status report, the Chrome developers have yet to get even the browser core running under Mac OS X. Rendering actual Web pages is still a long way off, to say nothing of a usable Aqua GUI.

Then again, the Linux version is in arguably even worse shape. If you were laboring under the assumption that a new open source browser from Google meant an automatic win for Linux, you'd better think again. The Windows version of Chrome isn't just the first to market; it's also the master mold for all the other versions. You won't see a Linux version until the Chrome developers manage to port the original Win32 codebase over to Linux, with all the headaches that implies.

In short, don't expect a Mac or Linux version of Chrome any time soon. Not even close.

So for my project, Windows was it. But even then, getting the code wasn't as easy as simply clicking a link. Instead, I first had to install a set of scripts to give me access to Chromium's Subversion source code repository. These are command-line tools, but they should feel familiar to anyone with a modicum of development experience. What checking out code from Subversion meant, however, was that I'd be working with the latest, bleeding-edge version of the code. At this early stage of the project, Chromium is definitely a moving target.

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