Opera creates new JavaScript engine

February 6, 2009 // 10:46 a.m.

Tags: #benchmark #browser #carakan #chrome #ecmascript #firefox #futhark #ie #ie8 #ie-8 #javascript #opera #performance #safari #webkit

After its embarrassing showing in the next-generation browser speed tests carried out by ZDnet last week, Opera is keen to reassure users that it won't be accepting the results lying down.

According to a report over on CNet, Opera is planning a replacement for the Futhark JavaScript engine that featured in the build of Opera 10 Alpha that was tested as part of ZDNet's benchmark suite with a shiny new engine dubbed Carakan – and it should boost the performance considerably.

Many were surprised that the minority browser, often considered one of the fastest and most standards-compliant around, scored so poorly in the benchmarks based around the SunSpider JavaScript tests – especially when the results showed it taking nearly three times as long as its nearest competitor, and only being beaten to last place by Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

The good news is that the poor performance should be fully resolved by launch, with Opera boasting that the new engine will run JavaScript around two and a half times as fast as Futhark – bringing the speed in line with competing next-generation browsers, and leaving Internet Explorer 8 all on its own as the slowest performer by far.

In a post on Opera's blog, programmer Lars Erik Bolstad claimed that the company has “taken on the challenge to once again develop the fastest [JavaScript] engine on the market.” With a variety of optimisations under its belt – including native code generation capabilities, register-based bytecodes replacing Futhark's stack-based set, and automatic object classification – Carakan is looking good, but the Bolstad warns that the code “is not yet ready for full-scale testing,” citing some compatibility problems with the native code generation system.

The potential for even greater speed boosts is there: without the native code generation system, the JavaScript performance is boosted by around two and a half times; when the system is able to be used it shows an improvement of between five and fifty times when compared to Futhark. Now that's performance worth boasting about.

We're unlikely to see Carakan before the launch of Opera 10, but it certainly makes the next release one to watch – and should have Firefox, Safari, and Chrome worried.

How important is JavaScript performance to you? Would you consider switching browsers just to get a speed boost when browing script-heavy sites, or is functionality more vital than raw speed? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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