You may have seen more images with the “.webp” extension on them instead of the ever-dominant JPEG and PNG formats since Google’s announcement of the image format in 2018. Normally, you’ll see these images when browsing the Web on a popular browser that already contains support libraries for displaying them. But when it comes time to view images you downloaded using your file explorer, you may run into problems.
Depending on your distro and desktop environment, image viewers may not have compatibility with Google’s WebP format.
Some Desktop Environments Support WebP Already
It’s been a while since the WebP format arrived on the scene, which means that there’s already a growing number of applications that support it. For Linux, developers have been no less than enthusiastic to incorporate support for this format in their own image viewers, with most desktop environments having one that inherently supports it.
Currently, any distro that includes KDE Plasma or Deepin should be able to view these images natively through their own default image viewers. For KDE Plasma, this would be Gwenview. Deepin has the cleverly named “Deepin Image Viewer,” which shows up in most repositories as
Adding WebP Support Natively
If you don’t happen to have a desktop environment that inherently supports the WebP image format, all you need is a library to make the magic work!
WebP GDK Pixbuf Loader is a small library that allows any GTK+ enabled desktop environment to thumbnail and open WebP images in its native image viewer.
Most versions of Linux have some version or another of this software in their repositories, with the exception of Ubuntu-based systems where it resides in a third-party repository.
Add the repository:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:helkaluin/webp-pixbuf-loader
Refresh your APT cache:
sudo apt update
Install the library:
sudo apt install webp-pixbuf-loader
sudo dnf install webp-pixbuf-loader
For Arch Linux:
sudo pacman -S webp-pixbuf-loader
If you still have issues opening images in your file explorer (e.g., an error shows up saying that an application can’t be found to open the file), you have to tell it to use your image viewer to open it by default.
To do this, we are walking through the steps in GNOME, though the process is very similar in other desktop environments.
- Right-click the image, then click on “Open With Other Application.”
- Click “View All Applications.”
- Scroll down to “Image Viewer” or use the magnifying glass icon on the top of the window to quickly find it then select it.
- As soon as you click “Select,” you should see the image in plain view, just as you would any JPEG or PNG image. The desktop environment will remember to use its own image viewer to open WebP images.
Open WebP Files in GIMP
There’s a good chance that if you’ve used Linux for a while, you’ve heard of GIMP. It’s the go-to image-editing suite for Linux users to replace tools like Adobe Photoshop. Although the GIMP way of doing things can be a bit janky, it can perform most of the tasks that people use Photoshop for without costing a kidney.
It’s an absolutely essential piece of software, and if you haven’t installed it, you definitely should consider it. GIMP comes with compatibility for most image formats, including WebP out of the box. If it doesn’t include something you want, you’ll definitely find a plugin that does.
sudo apt install gimp
sudo dnf install gimp
For Arch Linux:
sudo pacman -S gimp
Once you’ve installed GIMP, instead of trying to open a WebP image right away, make sure to select it as a program to open ithe image with first.
When that’s done, your desktop environment will open WebP images in GIMP, ready to be edited as you wish. You could even save the image as a PNG or JPEG by clicking “File -> Export As … “
Opening WebP Images in Your Browser
If installing software just to open a WebP image isn’t your kind of thing, you could always just use your browser to view it. Every modern browser that’s up to date has the ability to open and display images of various formats online, including native support for WebP. The standard was adopted relatively in the browser world, quickly following Google’s 2018 announcement.
Open your browser and file manager and drag and drop the image onto an open tab.
Your browser should immediately open the image and display it for you without any additional work needed!
Frequently Asked Questions
How is WebP different from PNG or JPEG?
The WebP image format is an attempt by Google to combine the best parts of PNG, JPEG, and GIF standards into a one-size-fits-all package. Surprisingly, it manages to do this without having to compromise much while presenting a highly versatile image technology.
WebP combines advanced compression algorithms with some aspects of lossless image rasterization to make a digital picture that contains the pristine, crisp quality that PNG is known for while occupying much less storage space. This is particularly useful in the Web, where bandwidth is precious and every image can become a bottleneck for page loading times.
Can WebP images be animated?
Absolutely! Although it’s mostly used for displaying still images on the Web, the WebP standard also allows for animation, just like GIF.
Unlike animated GIFs, WebP is capable of rendering images with an alpha channel, allowing for more consistent transparency. Although the GIF89a standard tried to fix this in 1989, it still struggles to properly make headway, even more than three decades later.
With smaller file sizes, better compression, a dedicated alpha (transparency) color channel, and widespread support among browsers, WebP is a no-brainer for the image format of choice, even for animations.
Why can't my browser view WebP images?
You’re probably using a browser that’s either very niche or hasn’t been updated in a while. If you’re using Firefox, check that you’re using at least version 65. Most other browsers (including Microsoft Edge) are now built on top of the Chromium codebase, meaning that any version released after 2018 should have support for WebP.
In short, make sure you’re using a browser that is up to date. This is important not just for the support of the WebP format but also your own safety while browsing the Web!
Image credit: a variety of different images on the theme of computers and high technology by 123RF
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