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Need for speed spurs Opera JavaScript overhaul

Opera is reworking the JavaScript engine for its browser, with aspirations to have the industry's fastest. It's got plenty of competition.

With Web applications imposing new demands on Web browsers, a previously behind-the-scenes programming technology called JavaScript is getting new visibility, and Opera is the latest case in point.

The Norwegian browser maker announced on Wednesday a new JavaScript engine project called Carakan.

Carakan runs JavaScript code about 2.5 times as fast as the Futhark engine in the alpha version of Opera 10, programmer Lars Erik Bolstad said in an Opera blog post.

Opera's main business is browsers for mobile phones, and its current JavaScript engine is optimized for minimum memory demands, but now performance is the priority, Bolstad said.

"The Web is a changing environment however, and tomorrow's advanced web applications will require faster ECMAScript execution, so we have now taken on the challenge to once again develop the fastest ECMAScript engine on the market," he said. ECMAScript is a standard group's official name for JavaScript.

JavaScript isn't the only way to build Web applications, but it's increasingly widely used. It's the foundation for Google Docs and Gmail, for example, and enables Yahoo Mail users to drag-and-drop messages into folders.

Speed is particularly important because JavaScript is used for interactive aspects of Web pages, where fast response or annoying lags are noticeable by people controlling the application. But it's also widely used for many more mundane aspects of Web pages, so faster JavaScript helps improve Web browsing performance broadly.

Opera isn't alone here with a fancy name for its JavaScript engine. Mozilla's Firefox has TraceMonkey, Google's Chrome has V8, and WebKit, the rendering engine used by Apple's Safari, has Squirrelfish Extreme. (Chrome uses Webkit for some other tasks in displaying Web pages, but not its JavaScript engine.)

For details on Opera's improvements--register-based bytecode, native code generation, and automatic object classification--check the blog post about Carakan.