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Introducing Aurora

Introducing Aurora

A collaboration between Chrome and open-source web frameworks & tools

On the Chrome team, we care about user experience and a thriving web ecosystem. We want users to have the best possible experience on the web, not only with static documents but also when they use rich, highly-interactive applications.

Open-source tools and frameworks play a large role in enabling developers to build modern apps for the web, while also supporting good developer experiences. These frameworks and tools empower companies of all sizes, as well as individuals building for the web.

We believe that frameworks can also play a big role in helping developers with key quality aspects such as performance, accessibility, security, mobile readiness. Instead of asking every developer and site owner to become an expert in these areas and keep up with the constantly changing best practices, the framework can support these with baked-in solutions. This empowers developers and enables them to focus on building product features.

In a nutshell, our vision is that a high bar of UX quality becomes a side effect of building for the web.

Aurora: a collaboration between Chrome and open-source web frameworks & tools #

For almost two years, we have worked with some of the most popular frameworks such as Next.js, Nuxt and Angular, working to improve web performance. We've also funded popular tools and libraries such as Vue, ESLint, webpack. Today, we are giving this effort a name - Aurora.

An aurora is a natural light display that shimmers in the sky. As we are trying to help user experiences built with frameworks shimmer and shine, we thought this name was an appropriate choice.

Aurora logo

In the coming months, we'll be sharing a lot more detail on Aurora. This is a collaboration between a small team of Chrome engineers (internally codenamed WebSDK) and framework authors. Our goal is to deliver the best user experience possible for production apps regardless of the browser you're rendering in.

What is our strategy? #

At Google, we've learned a lot while using frameworks and tools to build and maintain large scale web applications such as Google Search, Maps, Image Search, Google Photos etc. We discovered how frameworks can play a crucial role in predictable app quality by providing strong defaults and opinionated tooling.

Frameworks have a unique vantage point for influencing both DX and UX as they span the entire system: the client and the server, the development and production environments, and they integrate tools such as compiler, bundler, linter etc.

Chart that shows   common tooling in frameworks
Common tooling used by framework developers

When solutions are baked into the framework, teams of developers can use these solutions and focus their time on what matters most to the product -- shipping great features for users.

While we work to improve tools that live in every layer of the stack, frameworks such as Next.js, Nuxt, and Angular CLI, manage every step of an application's lifecycle. For this reason, and the fact that React adoption is the largest within the core UI framework ecosystem, most of our optimizations have begun with proving out in Next.js before expanding to the rest of the ecosystem.

Aurora supports success at scale by bringing solutions to the right layer of popular tech stacks. By bridging the gap between browsers and frameworks, it enables high-quality to be a side-effect of building for the web while acting as a feedback loop to improve the web platform.

Check out the Conformance post to learn more about a key component of our strategy.

What is our work process? #

Our principles for how Aurora bridges browsers and the developer ecosystem are: humility, curiosity, scientific enquiry and pragmatism. We work with framework authors on improvements, collaborate with the community and do our due diligence prior to landing any changes.

Aurora's partner driven process for improving Core Web Vital metrics

To summarize the steps we take for any new feature we work on:

  1. Identify user experience pain in a popular stack, using representative apps.
  2. Prototype solutions that address this, with an emphasis on "strong defaults" .
  3. Verify the feature with another framework stack, to ensure it is adaptable.
  4. Validate the feature by experimenting in a few production apps, typically with lab testing for performance.
  5. Drive design using the RFC process, addressing community feedback.
  6. Land the feature in a popular stack, typically behind a flag.
  7. Enable the feature in a representative production app to assess quality and developer workflow integration.
  8. Measure performance improvement by tracking metrics in representative production apps that adopted the feature or upgraded.
  9. Enable the feature as the default in the stack, so all upgrading users benefit.
  10. Once proven, work with additional frameworks to land the feature.
  11. Identify gaps in the web platform, with a feedback loop.
  12. Move onto the next problems.

The underlying tools and plugins (webpack, Babel, ESLint, TypeScript, etc…) are shared across many frameworks. This helps create ripple effects, even when contributing to a single framework stack.

Furthermore, the Chrome Framework Fund supports open-source tools and libraries with funding. While we hope that there is enough overlap in the problems and solution layers to our efforts above to translate to other frameworks and tools, we know we can do more. To that end, we want to do our part to ensure libraries and frameworks helping developers succeed can thrive. That's one reason we will be continuing to invest in the Chrome Framework Fund. To date, it has supported work towards Webpack 5, Nuxt and performance and improvements to ESLint.

What has our work unlocked so far? #

Our work has been focused on foundational optimizations for resources like images, JS, CSS, fonts. We've shipped a number of optimizations to improve the defaults of multiple frameworks, including:

  • An Image component in Next.js that encapsulates best practices for image loading, followed by a collaboration with Nuxt on the same. Use of this component has resulted in significant improvements to paint times and layout shift (example: 57% reduction in Largest Contentful Paint and 100% reduction in Cumulative Layout Shift on nextjs.org/give).
  • Automated inlining of CSS for Web Font declarations at build time. This feature has landed in Angular (Google Fonts) and Next.js (Google Fonts & Adobe Fonts) resulting in notable improvements to Largest Contentful Paint and First Contentful Paint (example).
  • Inlining critical CSS using Critters in both Angular and Next.js to reduce paint times. Resulted in a 20-30 point improvement in Lighthouse performance scores in a typical, large-scale Angular app when this was combined with font CSS inlining feature.
  • Out-of-the-box ESLint support in Next.js that includes a custom plugin and shareable configuration to make it easier to catch common framework-specific issues at build-time, resulting in more predictable loading performance.
  • An introduction of a built-in performance relayer in Create React App and Next.js to allow easier insight into page performance through web vitals and other custom metrics.
  • Granular chunking shipped in Next.js and Gatsby, resulting in 30 to 70 percent reduction in bundle sizes while improving caching performance. This has become the default in Webpack 5.
  • A separate polyfill chunk for older browsers, in collaboration with the Next.js team, to improve bundle size in modern browsers.

Every one of these features have either been automated to be enabled by default or only need a simple opt-in. This is essential to ensure that developers can easily reap their benefits without adding complexity to their workflow.

What are we planning for 2021? #

Through the rest of this year, we will be focused on helping framework stacks improve user experience and how well they perform on metrics such as the Core Web Vitals. This work will include:

  • Conformance for enforcing best practices. Check out the blog post to learn more.
  • Optimizing initial load performance by building on our collaborations to optimize Images, Fonts and Critical CSS.
  • Loading third-party scripts (3Ps) with minimal perf impact by building on our foundation of work on a Script component and performing deep research into how best to order and sequence 3Ps.
  • JavaScript performance at scale (e.g. supporting React Server Components in Next.js).

Our team will aim to post more regular information on RFCs and design docs for these ideas so that any framework or developer that wishes to follow along can do so.

Conclusion #

The Aurora team (Shubhie, Houssein, Alex, Gerald, Ralph, Addy) look forward to continuing to work closely with the open-source framework community on improving user experience defaults in Next.js, Nuxt and Angular. We'll be growing our engagement to cover even more frameworks and tools over time. Watch this space for more blog posts, talks and RFCs from our team over the coming year :)

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