By Brad Chen, Native Client Team

Modern PCs can execute billions of instructions per second, but today's web applications can access only a small fraction of this computational power. If web developers could use all of this power, just imagine the rich, dynamic experiences they could create. At Google we're always trying to make the web a better platform. That's why we're working on Native Client, a technology that aims to give web developers access to the full power of the client's CPU while maintaining the browser neutrality, OS portability and safety that people expect from web applications. Today, we're sharing our technology with the research and security communities in the hopes that they will help us make this technology more useful and more secure.

At its core, our release consists of a runtime, a browser plugin, and a set of GCC-based compilation tools. Together, these components make it possible to build applications that run in a web browser but incorporate native code modules. To help protect users from malware and to maintain portability, we have defined strict rules for valid modules. At a high level, these rules specify 1) that all modules meet a set of structural criteria that make it possible to reliably disassemble them into instructions and 2) that modules may not contain certain instruction sequences. This framework aims to enable our runtime to detect and prevent potentially dangerous code from running and spreading. We realize that making this technology safe is a considerable challenge. That's why we are open sourcing it at an early stage: we believe that peer review, community feedback, and public scrutiny greatly improve the quality of security technologies like this one.

While it's a big challenge to secure Native Client, we believe that the ability to safely run fast native code in a browser has the potential to provide benefits to users and developers. For example, imagine that you run a photo-sharing website and want to let your users touch up their photos without leaving your site. Today, you could provide this feature using a combination of JavaScript and server side processing. This approach, however, would cause huge amounts of image data to be transferred between browser and the server, leading to an experience that would probably be painfully slow for users who just want to make a few simple changes. With the ability to seamlessly run native code on the user's machine, you could instead perform the actual image processing on the desktop CPU, resulting in a much more responsive application by minimizing data transfer and latency.

To learn more and help test Native Client, please visit our developer site. There you can read our documentation and the Native Client research paper, browse the source code, and download the research release. The release contains the experimental compilation tools and runtime so that you can write and run portable code modules that will work in Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Google Chrome on any modern Windows, Mac, or Linux system that has an x86 processor. We're working on supporting other CPU architectures (such as ARM and PPC) to make this technology work on the many types of devices that connect to the web today.

Once you've gotten your bearings, please report any bugs you find (especially security bugs) using our issue tracker, and join our Google Group to share your thoughts on the technology. We look forward to your feedback!