Life of a Navigation

Navigation is one of the main functions of a browser. It is the process through which the user loads documents. This documentation traces the life of a navigation from the time a URL is typed in the URL bar to the time the web page is completely loaded. This is one example of many types of navigations, some of which may start in different places (e.g., in the renderer process).

See also:


Once a URL is entered, the first step of a navigation is to execute the beforeunload event handler of the previous document, if a document is already loaded. This allows the previous document to prompt the user whether they want to leave, to avoid losing any unsaved data. In this case, the user can cancel the navigation and no more work will be performed.

Network Request and Response

If there is no beforeunload handler registered, or the user agrees to proceed, the next step is making a network request to the specified URL to retrieve the contents of the document to be rendered. (Note that not all navigations will go to the actual network, for cases like ServiceWorkers, WebUI, cache, data:, etc.) Assuming no network error is encountered (e.g. DNS resolution error, socket connection timeout, etc.), the server will respond with data, with the response headers coming first. The parsed headers give enough information to determine what needs to be done next.

The HTTP response code allows the browser process to know whether one of the following conditions has occurred:

  • A successful response follows (2xx)
  • A redirect has been encountered (response 3xx)
  • An HTTP level error has occurred (response 4xx, 5xx)

There are two cases where a navigation network request can complete without resulting in a new document being rendered. The first one is HTTP response code 204 or 205, which tells the browser that the response was successful, but there is no content that follows, and therefore the current document must remain active. The other case is when the server responds with a Content-Disposition response header indicating that the response must be treated as a download instead of a navigation.

If the server responds with a redirect, Chromium makes another request based on the HTTP response code and the Location header. The browser continues following redirects until either an error or a successful response is encountered.

Once there are no more redirects, the network stack determines if MIME type sniffing is needed to detect what type of response the server has sent. This is only needed if the response is not a 204/205 nor a download, doesn't already have a Content-Type response header, and doesn’t include a X-Content-Type-Options: nosniff response header. If MIME type sniffing is needed, the network stack will read a small chunk of the actual response data before proceeding with the commit.


At this point the response is passed from the network stack to the browser process to be used for rendering a new document. The browser process selects an appropriate renderer process for the new document based on the origin and headers of the response as well as the current process model and isolation policy. It then sends the response to the chosen process, waiting for it to create the document and send an acknowledgement. This acknowledgement from the renderer process marks the commit time, when the browser process changes its security state to reflect the new document and creates a session history entry for the previous document.

As part of creating the new document, the old document needs to be unloaded. In navigations that stay in the same renderer process, the old document is unloaded by Blink before the new document is created, including running any registered unload handlers. In the case of a navigation that goes cross-process, any unload handlers are executed in the previous document’s process concurrently with the creation of the new document in the new process.

Once the creation of the new document is complete and the browser process receives the commit message from the renderer process, the navigation is complete.


Even once navigation is complete, the user doesn't actually see the new page yet. Most people use the word navigation to describe the act of moving from one page to another, but in Chromium we separate that process into two phases. So far we have described the navigation phase; once the navigation has been committed, Chromium moves into the loading phase. Loading consists of reading the remaining response data from the server, parsing it, rendering the document so it is visible to the user, executing any script accompanying it, and loading any subresources specified by the document.

The main reason for splitting into these two phases is that errors are treated differently before and after a navigation commits. Consider the case where the server responds with an HTTP error code. When this happens, the browser still commits a new document, but that document is an error page. The error page is either generated based on the HTTP response code or read as the response data from the server. On the other hand, if a successful navigation has committed a real document and has moved to the loading phase, it is still possible to encounter an error, for example a network connection can be terminated or times out. In that case the browser displays as much of the new document as it can, without showing an error page.


Chromium exposes the various stages of navigation and document loading through methods on the WebContentsObserver interface.


  • DidStartNavigation - invoked after executing the beforeunload event handler and before making the initial network request.
  • DidRedirectNavigation - invoked every time a server redirect is encountered.
  • ReadyToCommitNavigation - invoked at the time the browser process has determined that it will commit the navigation and has picked a renderer process for it, but before it has sent it to the renderer process. It is not invoked for same-document navigations.
  • DidFinishNavigation - invoked once the navigation has committed. The commit can be either an error page if the server responded with an error code or a successful document.


  • DidStartLoading - invoked once per WebContents, when a navigation is about to start, after executing the beforeunload handler. This is equivalent to the browser UI starting to show a spinner or other visual indicator for navigation and is invoked before the DidStartNavigation method for the navigation.
  • DOMContentLoaded - invoked per RenderFrameHost, when the document itself has completed loading, but before subresources may have completed loading.
  • DidFinishLoad - invoked per RenderFrameHost, when the document and all of its subresources have finished loading.
  • DidStopLoading - invoked once per WebContents, when the top-level document, all of its subresources, all subframes, and their subresources have completed loading. This is equivalent to the browser UI stop showing a spinner or other visual indicator for navigation and loading.
  • DidFailLoad - invoked per RenderFrameHost, when the document load failed, for example due to network connection termination before reading all of the response data.


NavigationThrottles allow observing, deferring, blocking, and canceling a given navigation. They should not generally be used for modifying a navigation (e.g., simulating a redirect), as discussed in Navigation Concepts. They are typically registered in NavigationThrottleRunner::RegisterNavigationThrottles or ContentBrowserClient::CreateThrottlesForNavigation.

The most common NavigationThrottles events are WillStartRequest, WillRedirectRequest, and WillProcessResponse, which allow intercepting a navigation before sending the network request, during any redirects, and after receiving the response. These events are only invoked on navigations that require a URLLoader (see NavigationRequest::NeedsUrlLoader). A NavigationThrottle that wishes to intercept a non-URLLoader navigation (same-document navigations, about:blank, etc.) should register itself in NavigationThrottleRunner::RegisterNavigationThrottlesForCommitWithoutUrlLoader, and will get a single WillCommitWithoutUrlLoader event instead of the full set of events centered on network requests. Page-activation navigations, such as activating a prerendered page or restoring a page from the back-forward cache, skip NavigationThrottles entirely.