Pointless features add to browser bloat and insecurity

83 per cent of browser features are used by under one per cent of top websites


It might be time for the warlocks of the Web and brewers of JavaScript to revisit their ever-burgeoning developer wish-lists and sweep away the rubbish.

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.

As they write at Arxiv: “We find, for example, that 50 per cent of the JavaScript provided features in the web browser are never used by the top ten thousand most popular websites,” the paper states.

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?

The Encoding standard would let JavaScript code read and convert between different text encodings if anyone used it, but it's even more unloved than ALS. Nobody bothers blocking Encoding, because only one out of the 10,000 Webmasters was doing anything with it.

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
HTML: Canvas H-C 54 7061 33.1% 15
Scalable Vector Graphics 1.1 (2nd Edition) SVG 138 1554 86.8% 14
WebGL WEBGL 136 913 60.7% 13
HTML: Web Workers H-WW 2 952 59.9% 11
HTML 5 HTML5 69 7077 26.2% 10
Web Audio API WEBA 52 157 81.1% 10
WebRTC 1 WRTC 28 30 29.2% 8
XMLHttpRequest AJAX 13 7957 13.9% 8
DOM DOM 36 9088 2.0% 4
Indexed Database API IDB 48 302 56.3% 3
Beacon BE 1 2373 83.6% 2
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
Fetch F 21 77 33.3% 1
Gamepad GP 1 3 0.0% 1
High Resolution Time, Level 2 HRT 1 5769 50.2% 1
HTML: Web Sockets H-WS 2 544 64.6% 1
HTML: Plugins H-P 10 129 29.3% 1
Web Notifications WN 5 16 0.0% 1
Resource Timing RT 3 786 57.5% 1
Vibration API V 1 1 0.0% 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. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021