Rob Hunter

Luakit -- the Vim of Minimalist Browsers

Luakit was recently updated and now seems like as a good a time as any to talk about what is, in my opinion, the best of the current batch of minimalist browsers. It’s a surprisingly crowded field of contenders, depending on how define just what counts as “minimalist.” Uzbl is probably at least as popular as Luakit, if not more so; it focuses on adherence to the Unix philosophy of writing programs that only perform the tasks intended and that can be configured using text files. (And it must be admitted that Uzbl’s main configuration file is very easy to modify.)

What Luakit and Uzbl both do is focus on the keyboard as the main interface (both use vim-style keybindings for page navigation), and strip away as much window chrome as possible, cutting down on memory costs and visual clutter. There’s also surf, among others, and there are extensions such as Vimium and Vimperator, keysnail, PentaDactyl, and others, which modify browsers like Chrome and Firefox to accept vim or Emacs-style keybindings.

I prefer Luakit because it comes with sane defaults (the keybindings are very vimmy) and it does a better job of dealing with web pages that are heavy on Javascript and other such bells and whistles. The reliance on Lua as the framework for writing extensions as scripts may or may not tickle your fancy; but I find that out of the box Luakit does everything that I want from a browser. The default search engine is DuckDuckGo rather than Google, to the delight of users seeking to protect their privacy. However, clearing browsing history or cookies is slightly non-obvious: you actually have to remove the relevant files:

$ cd ~/.local/share/luakit/
$ rm cookies.db history.db

Luakit also supports tabbed browsing (and rather more elegantly than Uzbl); the tabs, like the status bar, are unobtrusive and take up very little space (unlike, say, Chrome’s tab bar). Fullscreen is just a button press (F11) away.

There’s only one thing that’s really missing: which is support for ad-blocking and tracker-inhibiting extensions such as AdBlock Plus. I’m still somewhat wary of using any browser other than Firefox with such extensions enabled; perhaps some day their equivalents will emerge for Luakit (or some other minimalist browser, which I would then gladly switch to).