How to Try Out Firefox’s New Web Rendering Engine Servo on Linux

For too long Mozilla has been running with a very dated web-rendering engine. Google, Microsoft, Apple and even Opera have passed them by as they embrace Webkit, Blink, or whatever it is that Edge runs on. Suffice it to say, the modern browsers are running on some killer rendering engines with a lot of power and kick behind them.

Mozilla has been sticking it out with Gecko, a rendering engine that used to be good enough. And sure, for what it’s worth the engine does its job quite well. However, “well” isn’t enough, as most of the mobile Web (and Web in general) is now catered to Webkit, or at least rendering engines that have a little bit more under the hood.

That’s where Servo comes in. It’s the new web rendering engine by Mozilla. Chances are in a few years this is what will be replacing Gecko in everyone’s favorite open source browser. Still, why wait to try it out? What if you want to see what they have going right now? Here’s how you can!

Note: Servo is unstable and will not run perfectly. Use it at your own risk!

servo-start-page

First, make sure you have Git installed on your system. If you’re running a different Linux distribution, just try installing the package “git” with your system’s package manager. It shouldn’t be much different than the command above. If you’re on Ubuntu, install git with this command:

sudo apt-get install git

Once the git package is installed, it’s time to take the Servo browser code from the official repository and clone it to your local system.

git clone https://github.com/servo/servo

After the code has been cloned to your machine, it’s time to enter the directory for building.

cd servo

When you enter the directory, things can get started. Before Servo can really be used, you’ll need to build it first. Since this browser is in development and not usually used with consumers, you’ll need to specify the release flag. This is so that Servo runs at an optimized pace. Usually it doesn’t.

./mach build --release

Note: the compiling may take a bit of time. Be patient.

servo-browser-info-page

After tagging it with the release flag, it is then possible to run it. Enter this command into the terminal, and it’ll start with the test page. This is just about the only way you’ll be able to use Servo unless you create a desktop entry.

./mach run --release -b

Arch Linux users, you are lucky. Instead of having to go out and build everything, you’ll be able to install the Servo web browser with the AUR. When you install it, you get a desktop launch icon and everything. Point your favorite AUR helper here, and install the package.

servo-tab-switching

Start out by opening your favorite text editor and pasting the following code into it.

#!/bin/bash
cd servo
./mach run --release -b

Save it as “servorun.sh” in your home directory. This is a shell script, and it’ll make sure that the browser runs every time. Next, open a new file in your text editor, and paste the following code:

[Desktop Entry]
Name=Servo
Comment=Servo, the Parallel Browser Engine Project.
Exec=/home/username/servorun.sh
Terminal=false
Type=Application
Categories=Internet;

servo-desktop-icon

Note: replace “username” with your user name.

After the code has been pasted, save this file as Servo.desktop in your home folder. Then, open a terminal and enter the following commands:

sudo chmod +x servorun.sh
sudo chmod +x Servo.desktop

The above commands make it so that the run script and desktop file are both executable. Now it’s time to “install servo” to the system. In terminal, tpe in this command:

sudo mv Servo.desktop /usr/share/applications

Mozilla created Servo as a way to play catchup. Gecko, as impressive as it still is today, is just behind technology-wise. When you look at the new engine, you begin to see how much more improved it is. Obviously, we have yet to see it implemented inside of Firefox, so everything could be completely changed.

However, going from what I have seen over just a few hours, there is a lot to be excited about, even if you’re not a web developer and just like to use cool new things. The way it handles pages and everything is much improved, and everything is very smooth, crisp, speedy and clean.

Time will only tell with Servo. Mozilla could totally re-write everything from the ground up next year and totally change directions for their new web rendering engine. However, as Mozilla fans, we can only be excited to see what Servo has in store for the future.

Image credit: Firefox Car

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