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Goodbye JPEG-XL, The Future Image Format That Never Was

Goodbye JPEG-XL, The Future Image Format That Never Was

In our work, image optimization is essential. Every saved kilobyte matters when SEO is involved, and web developers have always been interested in the future of image formats. JPEG is outdated and has a few modern alternatives. We discussed some of them, but it seems that JPEG-XL is already on its way out. But why?

What happened with JPEG-XL?

By all means, JPEG-XL looked good. Royalty-free alternative to ancient JPEG, it had lossy and lossless support and promised unsurpassed optimization and performance. Alas, recently, Google decided to stop supporting it in Chrome, which basically means the end of the format. Like it or not, Chrome decides what stays and what goes. Even though the company co-authored it some time ago.

The full support for JPEG-XL appeared with Chrome 110 quite recently. The progress has been slow but steady, and nothing really seemed wrong. And yet, Google decided that it’s not worth the hassle — despite its early promises. The reason? Little interest from the ecosystem. Sounds vague, but it probably is connected to the fact that the format has been slow to develop and was standardized only in 2022.

Amongst the developers, the interest has been somewhat modest but definitely not nonexistent. Quite possibly, the real reason behind the decision is Google’s own AVIF format. Sadly, in this format war, there’s no way to fight with Google, which had no interest in supporting both formats it helped create. Unlike JPEG-XL, AVIF is less stable in generational loss, does not support progressive decoding, and performs generally worse at lossless conversion. Most importantly, being a clear successor to the defacto default web image format, JPEG-XL allowed for JPEG recompressing without quality loss.

What does the future hold for JPEG-XL? Without the support of the major browser, it doesn’t look great. There’s still the chance that photographers, who care about quality and lossless compression a great deal, will adopt the format.

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