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One of the coolest new features of SP 2013 is that you can now click "edit document" in Chrome and Fire Fox and the document is loaded for editing in the applicable Office application without first being downloaded to the client PC and then having to be re-uploaded to the server.

How does SharePoint 2013 achieve this functionality under the hood?

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it is using web-based protocol handlers to open the file directly in word.

That's something that exists from a while now, for example, in ubuntu, you can create an html link like this to download a packet :

<a href="apt:wine" title="Get Wine">Wine</a>

The one used to open Microsoft Word is :

<a href="ms-word:ofe|u|https://gobbe.sharepoint.com/Shared Documents/A simple test.docx" title="Open in Word">Open in Word</a>

You can check for more informations about web-based protocol handlers there : https://developer.mozilla.org/en/docs/Web-based_protocol_handlers

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