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GNOME Web logo--2018.svg
GNOME Web 3.32 on GNOME Shell
GNOME Web 3.32 on GNOME Shell
Original author(s)Marco Pesenti Gritti
Developer(s)The GNOME Project (mostly by Michael Catanzaro and Xan Lopez, both from Igalia)[1]
Initial release24 December 2002; 16 years ago (2002-12-24)[2]
Stable release(s) [±]
3.32.2[3] (8 May 2019; 3 months ago (2019-05-08)) [±]
Preview release(s) [±]
3.33.3[4] (20 June 2019; 59 days ago (2019-06-20)) [±]
Repository Edit this at Wikidata
Written inC (GTK)
Operating systemUnix-like
Sizeless than 2 MB (package file, without dependencies)
Available in60 languages[citation needed]
TypeWeb browser

GNOME Web (called Epiphany until 2012) is a free and open-source lightweight web browser based on WebKitGTK, developed by GNOME for Linux and other Unix-like systems.

The browser was forked from Galeon in 2002, after developers' disagreements about Galeon's growing complexity,[5] since then it has been developed as part of the GNOME Core Applications and uses most of GNOME's technology and settings when applicable, and follows the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines.

GNOME Web originally used Mozilla Gecko until version 2.28, but starting with version 2.20 in September 2007, it has switched to WebKitGTK due to technical problems in Gecko. This change allows the relatively small developer community to maintain a sufficient level of modern Web standards support.[6]

The features of GNOME Web includes best integration with GNOME and reuse of GNOME configuration settings, built-in integration with GNOME Keyring to securely store passwords, first-class support for new Linux technologies like major GTK versions and Wayland,[7] small package size (under 2MB in Debian and Ubuntu),[8] full multimedia support using GStreamer, reader mode/reading mode (since v3.30, September 2018),[9][10] mouse gestures, smart bookmarks and web application integration into user desktop with a management page for it, and support for Google Safe Browsing since v3.28 (2018-03).[11]

GNOME Web is default web browser on elementary OS. It is recommended for its excellent web application integration and security benefits related to it.[12]

Development history[edit]

Galeon fork[edit]

Marco Pesenti Gritti, the initiator of Galeon, originally developed Epiphany in 2002 as a fork of Galeon. The fork occurred because of the divergent aims of Gritti and the rest of Galeon development team about new features. While Gritti regarded Galeon's monolithic design and the number of user-configurable features as factors limiting Galeon's maintainability and user base expansion, the rest of the Galeon developers wanted to see more features added. At the same time the GNOME project created the GNOME human interface guidelines, which promoted simplification of user interfaces. As Galeon was oriented towards power users, most developers saw the implementation of those guidelines as unacceptable. As a result, Gritti created a new browser based on Galeon's codebase, with most of the non-mission-critical features removed. He intended Epiphany to comply fully with the GNOME human interface guidelines, with a very simple user-interface. As such, Epiphany does not have its own theme settings and uses GNOME's settings, which are specified in the GNOME Control Center.[5][13]

Gritti explained his motivations:

While Mozilla has an excellent rendering engine, its default XUL-based interface is considered to be overcrowded and bloated. Furthermore, on slower processors even trivial tasks such as pulling down a menu is less than responsive. Epiphany aims to utilize the simplest interface possible for a browser. Keep in mind that simple does not necessarily mean less powerful. We believe the commonly used browsers of today are too big, buggy, and bloated. Epiphany addresses simplicity with a small browser designed for the web—not mail, newsgroups, file management, instant messaging or coffee making. The Unix philosophy is to design small tools that do one thing, and do it well.

— Marco Pesenti Gritti[14]

Galeon continued after the fork, but lost its momentum due to the remaining developers' failure to keep up with the new features and changes Mozilla introduced. Galeon development finally stalled and the developers decided to work on a set of extensions to bring Galeon's advanced features to Epiphany instead.[13]

Epiphany's early philosophy included a commitment to creating a web browser specifically for GNOME:

Epiphany's main goal is to be integrated with the gnome desktop. We don't aim to make Epiphany usable outside Gnome. If someone will like to use it anyway, it's just a plus. For example: Making people happy that don't have control center installed is not a good reason to have mime configuration in Epiphany itself.

— Marco Pesenti Gritti[14]

Gritti ended his work on the Epiphany project and a GNOME team led by Xan Lopez, Christian Persch and Jean-François Rameau now direct the project.[6] Gritti died of cancer on 23 May 2015.[15]

While some promote Epiphany as the default web browser in Linux distributions with GNOME as the default desktop environment, most distros offer Firefox instead.[16] In most minimalist distributions, Epiphany is installed with the GNOME meta-package or packages group.[17][18]


The first version of Epiphany was released on December 24, 2002.[2]

Epiphany initially used the Gecko layout engine from the Mozilla project to display web pages. It provided a GNOME integrated graphical user interface for Gecko, instead of the Mozilla XUL interface.[19]

The development process of Epiphany was mainly focused on numerous small usability improvements. The most notable of them was the new text entry widget, which first appeared in 1.8 stable version series. The new widget supported icons inside the text area reduced the amount of screen space needed to present the information and improved GNOME integration.[20]

The second major milestone (after version 1.0) in Epiphany development was the 2.14 release. This was the first Epiphany release which followed GNOME's version numbering. It also featured network awareness using NetworkManager, smart bookmarks-related improvements and the possibility of being compiled against XULRunner. The latter was critical, as previously Epiphany could only use Firefox or Mozilla/SeaMonkey as a layout engine provider, so it could only be installed alongside one of those browsers. The XULRunner support made it possible to install Epiphany as the sole web browser on the system.[21][22]


Epiphany 2.26.1 (left) showing its larger user interface chrome area than in 3.2.0 (right)

The development process suffered from major problems related to the Gecko backend.[6] To address these issues, in July 2007, the Epiphany team added support for WebKit as an alternative rendering engine for Epiphany.[23] As the backend development advanced, on April 1, 2008, the Epiphany team announced that it would stop using the Gecko rendering engine and proceed using WebKit.[6]

The size of the development team and the complexity of porting the whole browser to a new backend caused Epiphany to re-release version 2.22 with bugfixes instead of the actual development code,[24] so browser development remained stagnant until July 1, 2009, when the project team announced that Epiphany 2.26 would be the final Gecko-based version.[25] Eventually, in September 2009, the Webkit-powered Epiphany 2.28 was released, as part of GNOME 2.28.[26]

With GNOME 3.4 release Epiphany was renamed to Web.[27] However, the name Epiphany is still used internally for development, such as for bug tracking and in the source code.[28] The package remains epiphany-browser in Debian-based distros[29] and epiphany in RedHat-based distros.[30]

Release history[edit]


GNOME Web is based on the WebKit browser engine, which provides support for HTML 4 and XHTML, CSS 1 and 2, substantial degree of implementation of HTML5 and CSS 3 features,[70] Web Inspector (HTML and JavaScript debugging tool)[56] and NPAPI, including Adobe Flash and IcedTea-Web plug-ins support.[13]

GNOME integration[edit]

Web reuses GNOME frameworks and settings.[71][72] Therefore, its user interface theme is the GNOME default theme, the network settings with GNOME NetworkManager configuration, printing with the GNOME printing system, settings with GSettings and GNOME default applications settings are used for internet media types handling.

The built-in preference manager for Web is designed to present user only basic browser-specific settings. All the advanced configuration is done with the stand-alone GSettings configurator tools such as GNOME's default dconf (command line) and dconf-editor (graphical).[73]

It follows the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines[74] and follows the platform-wide design changes. For example, in Web 3.4 release the menu for application-wide actions was moved to the GNOME Shell's top panel application menu and the menubar was replaced with "super menu" button, which triggers the display of window-specific menu entries.[75]


Bookmarks management and categorisation

While most browsers feature a hierarchical folder-based bookmark system, Web uses categorized bookmarks, where a single bookmark (such as "Web") can exist in multiple categories (such as "Web Browsers", "GNOME", and "Computer Software").[76] A special category includes bookmarks that have not yet been categorized. Another innovative concept supported by Web (though originally from Galeon)[5] is "smart bookmarks". These take a single argument specified from the address bar, or from a textbox in a toolbar.[13] Bookmarks, along with browsing history, are accessed from the address bar in find-as-you-type manner.[77]


GNOME Web was extensible with official and third-party extensions[13] up until version 3.6, with a plug-in system called Web extensions. This package was distributed by the developers of GNOME Web and contained the official extensions. For version 3.8, this system was removed due to problems with stability and maintainability, but some popular extensions, such as ad blocking, being moved to the core application instead.

Web Application mode[edit]

GNOME Web 3.2 (September 2011) in "Web Application mode" showing Wikipedia main page

Since GNOME 3.2, released in September 2011,[78] Web allows creating application launchers for web applications. The subsequent invocation of a launcher brings up a plain site-specific browser (single instance) of Web limited to one domain, with off-site links opening in a normal browser.[79] The launcher created this way is accessible from the desktop and is not limited to GNOME Shell. For instance it may be used with Unity, used on Ubuntu.[80] This feature facilitates the integration of the desktop and World Wide Web, which is a goal of Web's developers.[81] Similar features can be found in the Windows version of Google Chrome. For the same purpose Mozilla Foundation previously developed a standalone application Mozilla Prism, which was superseded by the project Chromeless.[82]

Web applications are managed within Epiphany's main instance. The applications can be deleted from the page, accessible with a special URI about:applications. This approach was supposed to be a temporary solution and a common GNOME-wide application management was intended to be implemented in GNOME 3.4, but was not rolled out.[32]

Firefox Sync[edit]

Since GNOME 3.26, Web has support for Firefox Sync, which allows users to sync their bookmarks, history, passwords, and open tabs with Firefox Sync, which can then be shared between any copy of Firefox or Web that the user signs into Firefox Sync with.[83]

Google Safe Browsing[edit]

Since GNOME 3.28, GNOME Web has support for Google Safe Browsing, to help prevent users from visiting malicious websites.[11]

System requirements[edit]

Being a component of GNOME desktop environment, Web has neither software, nor hardware dependencies beyond the GNOME platform. Though the GNOME Project does not list the minimum system requirements, it states that GNOME 3 should run on any modern computer.[84]

CPU architecture[edit]

GNOME Web can be run on many hardware platforms, including i386, amd64 and several other instruction set architectures.[17]


In reviewing the WebKit-powered Epiphany 2.28 in September 2009, Ryan Paul of Ars Technica said "Epiphany is quite snappy in GNOME 2.28 and scores 100/100 on the Acid3 test. Using WebKit will help differentiate Epiphany from Firefox, which is shipped as the default browser by most of the major Linux distributors."[26]

In reviewing Epiphany 2.30 in July 2010, Jack Wallen described it as "efficient, but different" and noted its problem with crashes. "When I first started working with Epiphany it crashed on most sites I visited. After doing a little research (and then a little debugging) I realized the issue was with JavaScript. Epiphany (in its current release), for some strange reason, doesn't like JavaScript. The only way around this was to disable JavaScript. Yes this means a lot of features won't work on a lot of sites – but this also means those same sites will load faster and won't be so prone to having issues (like crashing my browser)."[76] Wallen concluded positively about the browser, "Although Epiphany hasn't fully replaced Chrome and Firefox as my one-stop-shop browser, I now use it much more than I would have previously.[76] [It has a] small footprint, fast startup, and clean interface."[76]

In March 2011, Veronica Henry reviewed Epiphany 2.32, saying "To be fair, this would be a hard sell as a primary desktop browser for most users. In fact, there isn't even a setting to let you designate it as your default browser. But for those instance where you need to fire up a lighting-fast browser for quick surfing, Epiphany will do the trick."[85] She further noted, "Though I still use Firefox as my primary browser, lately it seems to run at a snail's pace. So, one of the first things I noticed about Epiphany is how quickly it launches. And subsequent page loads on my system are equally as fast."[85] Henry criticized Epiphany for its short list of extensions, singling out the lack of Firebug as a deficiency.[85] Web instead supports Web Inspector offered by the WebKit engine, which has similar functionality.[56]

In April 2012, Ryan Paul of Ars Technica used Web as an example to his criticism of GNOME 3.4 design decisions: "Aside from the poor initial discoverability of the panel menu, this model works reasonably well for simple applications. [...] Unfortunately, it doesn't scale well in complex applications. The best example of where this approach can pose difficulties is in GNOME's default Web browser. [...] Having the application's functionality split across two completely separate menus does not constitute a usability improvement."[75] This was addressed in later versions, with a single unified menu.

In an October 2016 review, Bertel King Jr. noted on MakeUseOf, "Later versions offer the best integration you will find with GNOME Shell. It lacks the add-ons found in mainstream browsers, but some users will like the minimalism, the speed, and the tab isolation that prevents one misbehaving site from crashing the entire browser."[86]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]