Google Chrome Continues Phase-Out of Old Netscape APIs

The NPAPI removals, which began in January 2014, now continue in the Chrome Web Store.

Google Chrome

Google is continuing the process of removing support for old Netscape-era APIs from the Chrome Web browser by now removing references to the old Netscape Plug-in APIs (NPAPIs) from its Chrome Web Store.

The latest move to remove the old, troublesome code was announced by Justin Schuh, a Google software engineer, in a May 27 post on The Chromium Blog.

"Last September, we announced our plan to remove NPAPI support from Chrome by the end of 2014," wrote Schuh. "This change will improve Chrome's security, speed, and stability as well as reduce complexity in the code base. Over the last few quarters, we've been encouraged to see an overall 12.9 percent drop in per-user instantiations of NPAPI plug-ins and declining usage of the most popular NPAPI plug-ins," including Microsoft Silverlight, Google Earth, Unity, Google Talk and Java.

The latest developments in the demise of NPAPI include the removal of NPAPI-based apps references on the home page, search results and category pages of the Chrome Web Store, he wrote. "In Chrome 37, Webpage-instantiated NPAPI plug-ins will be blocked using the harder-to-bypass page-action blocking UI."

Google added a new Native Messaging API to its Chrome Web browser starting with Version 29 last fall to replace the capabilities of a formerly popular Netscape-era NPAPI Web browser plug-in that had its support cut back in January 2014. The move to remove the old NPAPI from Chrome browsers came about because the old API isn't used or supported on today's mobile devices and because the Mozilla Foundation also blocked NPAPI plug-ins in the Firefox browser in December 2013, according to an earlier eWEEK report.

Replacement code for the old NPAPIs has been an ongoing project for some time, wrote Schuh. "Most use cases that previously required NPAPI are now supported by JavaScript-based open web technologies," he wrote. "For the few applications that need low-level APIs, threads, and machine-optimized code, Native Client offers the ability to run sandboxed native code in Chrome. To help ease the transition from NPAPI, NaCl recently exposed two new Pepper APIs for media playback and processing. The MediaStreams API enables low latency multimedia playback, and the Hardware Decode API enables efficient video decoding."

With the demise of NPAPI, some kind of support was still needed by some apps, which is why the Chrome Native Messaging API was created. The Native Messaging API is available on Windows, OS X and Linux starting from Chrome 29.

The old NPAPI ushered in an early era of Web innovation in early browsers and has been very important in Web apps for years, but that has become less so as users move to mobile devices that don't support the old API.

Another benefit of moving away from NPAPI, according to Google, is that NPAPI's '90s-era architecture has become a leading cause of hangs, crashes, security incidents and code complexity with today's browsers.

A Chrome team analysis of anonymous Chrome usage data found last fall that only six NPAPI plug-ins were being employed by more than 5 percent of users nowadays, according to Google.

Launched in 2008, Chrome presently holds 45.1 percent of the global Web browser market, compared with 19.9 percent for its closest competitor, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, according to the latest global statistics available from StatCounter. Chrome celebrated its fifth birthday in September 2013. In June 2012, it surpassed Internet Explorer as the world's most used browser for the first time.