For me Chrome clearly wins over Firefox on Javascript-heavy websites

April 19, 2017

For my sins, I periodically use a number of Javascript-heavy websites (some of them are sites where the Javascript is core to the experience). I have similar Javascript enabled environments in both Chrome (in incognito mode) and Firefox, with relatively similar sets of extensions (Firefox version and Chrome version). My consistent experience over the past while is that Chrome is clearly faster on these sites than Firefox, and in particular Firefox often feels actively laggy.

(Years ago I sort of had the same experience on Flickr, but I believe that more or less went away later for a while. It returned a couple of years ago, and I quietly switched from using Firefox on Flickr to mostly using Chrome.)

This result sort of surprises and depresses me (partly because using Chrome has its pains). My understanding is that in theory Firefox and Chrome are usually relatively neck and neck as far as performance goes, with Firefox at least competitive, and that especially on common sites Firefox should not be laggy. There are a number of things that could be causing this for me and not for other people, especially general users. For a start I'm on Linux and using Fedora's build of Firefox instead of the Mozilla build, while I think most performance comparisons are made on Windows or MacOS and use the official Mozilla builds.

(I'm also using a relatively odd Linux environment with relatively modest OpenGL and compositing support, which might hurt Firefox more than Chrome.)

Beyond that, possibly my core Firefox extensions are slowing down Firefox more than I expect. But if so, well, they're my core extensions for a good reason (and the obvious suspect of NoScript is not entirely the cause, since some of my Firefox usage is without it). What matters to me is the performance of the browsers I've created from Firefox and Chrome, not the performance of the stock versions in some platonic ideal state that I will never use them in. Given that I have one decently performing browser, that's what I'll wind up using for Javascript-heavy sites even if it's not Firefox.

(And I'm using some extensions in Chrome's incognito mode that I would expect to be sort of heavyweight, like uBlock Origin and a mouse gestures extension.)

PS: I care about this partly because I dislike some things Google does with Chrome and partly because I care about Firefox being competitive and good in general. The overall web ecology benefits when we have a real choice in browsers, and part of having a real choice is good performance.

(I also think that Mozilla fundamentally cares more about Linux for Firefox than Google does for Chrome. As a non-Windows, non-Mac user, I remember the days when I was a second class citizen on the web and I would rather like to not go too far back to them.)

Comments on this page:

By James (trs80) at 2017-04-19 12:47:41:

When you browse these sites, are they the only open tab in the browsers? And is Firefox in multi-process (well, two process at the moment, there's only one content process) mode?

My understanding is that GC is much worse in Firefox than Chrome, even if raw speed is otherwise competitive, and that this results in jank – i.e. Firefox is mainly less responsive rather than slower, technically speaking. They’re working on it… but it’s taking a lot time.

(That’s just a hearsay impression rather than something I have specific knowledge of, though.)

By cks at 2017-04-19 13:27:18:

These sites are the only open tab in each browser, and I'm not using multi-process mode in Firefox because some of my extensions are incompatible with it. The JS-enabled instances of both Chrome and Firefox are things that I only start when I need them; I don't have them with tabs active all the time.

Written on 19 April 2017.
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Last modified: Wed Apr 19 00:05:29 2017
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