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A layout engine, or rendering engine, is software that takes marked up content (such as HTML, XML, image files, etc.) and formatting information (such as CSS, XSL, etc.) and displays the formatted content on the screen. It "paints" on the content area of a window, which is displayed on a monitor or a printer. A layout engine is typically used for web browsers, e-mail clients, or other applications that require the displaying (and editing) of web contents.

The term "layout engine" reached popular use when these became easily separable from the browser.[citation needed] For example, Gecko, the Mozilla project's open-source layout engine, is used by a variety of products derived from the Mozilla code base, including the Firefox web browser, the Thunderbird e-mail client, and Seamonkey application suite. Trident, the layout engine from Internet Explorer, is used by many applications on the Microsoft Windows platform, such as Outlook Express, some versions of Microsoft Outlook, and the mini-browsers in Winamp and RealPlayer. Opera Software's proprietary Presto engine is licensed to a number of other software vendors, and is used in Opera's own web browser. KDE's open-source KHTML engine is used in KDE's Konqueror web browser and is adapted for the basis for WebKit, the rendering engine in Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome web browsers.

The term rendering engine can also refer to text rendering engines like Pango, International Components for Unicode (ICU) or Uniscribe which make multilingual texts present in proper shape, taking into account bidirectional text, combinations of "basic characters" with accents, and other intricacies of multilingual text.

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