I have a browser-based application that I'd like to transform into a "normal" desktop application.
My situation is fairly unique, but here's my motivation:
- My app is already web-based (using HTML, CSS, TypeScript, with a corresponding HTTP API that's deployed to Netlify Functions), and I don't want to rewrite any of my code
- I'm planning to use a distribution service that's based on plain old desktop executables (this is probably an unusual requirement)
Some more typical reasons for porting from web to desktop might be:
- Wanting to take advantage of libraries, devices, or system APIs that aren't available in the browser
- Wanting to integrate with native code that (probably due to performance) won't be ported to WebAssembly
- Electron (the most popular desktop framework for web technologies) produces large binaries (100+ MB) that use a lot of memory (due to bundling an entire browser engine within each application, presumably to ensure consistency across devices)
- This also means that copyright notices for a huge number of open source libraries Chromium uses must be included
- These frameworks typically have their own unique build processes, which adds additional complexity as compared to building a desktop app "the normal way"
My research turned up the following relevant frameworks:
And here is my uneducated, subjective comparison (all of these frameworks currently support Windows, Linux, and macOS, with Tauri planning to eventually support iOS and Android):
|Electron||Chromium||Stable||Many (via Chromium)||VS Code, Slack, Discord|
|NW.js||Chromium||?||Many (via Chromium)||?|
Note that I'm ignoring native code interop because it's not relevant to me, but I believe NW.js uses Node and Tauri uses Rust.
For my purposes:
- I only need to support Windows (at least initially)
- I may not need desktop integration or native code
- I'd like to produce a minimal binary package (i.e. I don't want to bundle an entire browser runtime if I don't have to)
Based on that last requirement, Tauri (or maybe Neutralinojs) seemed like the best match, but I had concerns about reliability:
- Tauri is built on WebView2, which is installed separately from the operating system (so not all Windows computers will have it installed)
- Tauri's bundler produces installers on Windows that apparently don't clearly communicate this requirement, possibly leading to broken installs
- This also means that installation inherits the WebView2 runtime's need for elevated privileges (avoidable by distributing the runtime as well, but that's basically Electron at that point)
- Obviously, if I want to later expand to Linux and/or macOS (where Tauri uses WebKit) I might run into incompatibilities (although I haven't heard of any with the web version of my app)
Taken as a whole (and given that WebView2 is relatively new), unless I have some way to ensure the WebView2 runtime will be present, I will likely end up using Electron, despite my reservations around download size and efficiency. At least in my case, there are some mitigating factors:
- This isn't an app I expect users to have open all the time (so memory usage is less of a concern)
- There is a simple fallback for anyone who wants to avoid a large download: just use the web version!
This isn't the answer I had hoped for, but I'm trying to be pragmatic. Hopefully in the future WebView2 will be installed by default and I can switch to something more lightweight like Tauri.