Why Firefox Had to Kill Your Favorite Extension

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Firefox 57, or Quantum, is right here, and it’s an enormous enchancment. Firefox has lastly caught up with Chrome when it comes to velocity, the interface is rather a lot cleaner, and there are some nice new options to boot. There’s not rather a lot to complain about right here.

Simply kidding. On the web, there’s all the time one thing to complain about.

With Firefox Quantum, the grievance de jour is that sure extensions don’t work anymore. Quite a few excessive profile extensions, together with DownThemAll and Greasemonkey, don’t at present work with Quantum. Others, together with Firebug and ScrapBook, will seemingly by no means work once more.

That is irritating should you’re a person of one in every of these companies, and also you may assume it’s considerably arbitrary. It isn’t. Prefer it or not, Mozilla felt they didn’t have a alternative however to abandon what it calls “legacy” add-ons so as to transfer ahead. Right here’s why.

How Legacy Firefox Extensions Labored

Conventional Firefox extensions have been typically written in XML Person Interface Language (XUL). That is the language Firefox’s person interface is constructed with, and XUL-based extensions may modify that interface immediately. These add-ons additionally had close to full entry to XPCOM, the highly effective part object mannequin utilized by Firefox.

If that went over your head, simply know this: Firefox extensions had a more-or-less complete potential to change your browser, they usually made these adjustments immediately. For this reason these extensions have been so highly effective: there wasn’t a prescribed set of issues they might and couldn’t change. It’s additionally why these extensions tended to break with new Firefox releases.

Extensions for Chrome or Safari don’t work this manner. These browsers supply extension builders particular APIs they will use, which means there’s a set record of issues extensions can and might’t management. For 2 years now, Firefox has supplied an identical API referred to as WebExtensions, which it has inspired builders to undertake.

Conventional Extensions Made Enhancing Firefox Tough

Firefox Quantam isn’t the primary replace to break an extension: this has been an ongoing downside for years. As a result of Firefox extensions may have an effect on Firefox so immediately, it was potential for even minor adjustments to Firefox itself to break add-ons utterly, or simply introduce performance-sapping bugs.

Firefox customers, not understanding the extensions have been inflicting the issue, would assume the brand new Firefox model is buggy, and from their perspective it was. The Firefox crew would do their greatest to guarantee widespread extensions have been working earlier than pushing a brand new model, nevertheless it’s simple to think about all of this slowing down improvement.

The WebExtensions API makes all of this simpler by particularly defining what extensions can do and the way they will do it. This implies builders solely want to make sure that the API is functioning correctly, and never fear efficiency tweak or UI change will break specific extensions. The outcome needs to be fewer extensions breaking in the long term, however to make this potential, Mozilla wanted to abandon the outdated extension ecosystem.

The change additionally makes a few of Quantam’s greatest options potential. The multi course of functionality, for instance, is an enormous a part of Firefox Quantam’s velocity enhance. 4 separate processes deal with Firefox’s interface and tabs, which means Firefox can use all 4 cores of your processor as a substitute of only one. It is a actuality that the normal extension ecosystem merely was not constructed for, and it’s laborious to think about making it work with out lots of layers of abstraction that will inevitably gradual issues down. Many upcoming adjustments to Firefox have been equally being held again by legacy add-ons, which means the ecosystem had to change to ensure that Firefox to evolve.

Cross Platform Compatibility Was a Downside

As soon as upon a time, add-ons gave folks a compelling motive to use Firefox over Chrome. Today, Chrome is by far the chief when it comes to add-ons, whereas Firefox can really feel like a graveyard of unmaintained extensions from years passed by.

Positive, there are just a few Firefox extensions that you could’t get in Chrome, however Chrome has the larger ecosystem by far. The brand new WebExtensions API gained’t repair this in a single day, nevertheless it does make it rather a lot simpler for Chrome extensions to be ported over to Firefox as a result of the language used to write extensions is analogous sufficient to make porting superficial. In lots of instances, just a few tweaks are wanted for a Chrome extension to run in Firefox, which means there’s no motive your favourite Chrome extensions can’t come to Firefox now should you ask the developer properly sufficient. This could lead to a flood of recent extensions in an ecosystem that would frankly use it.

Firefox Was Already Shedding Customers

Some might argue that Firefox will lose customers due to damaged extensions, nevertheless it’s price noting that Firefox was already dropping customers to Chrome at an alarming charge, and has been for years. Comparative velocity and a scarcity of sure add-ons weren’t serving to on that entrance, and Firefox Quantum goals to repair each these issues.

Is there an opportunity it will backfire? Positive. Some folks will soar ship to Chrome, and others may hunt down historical forks that preserve the outdated extension ecosystem. However it’s not like issues have been going effectively earlier than. Firefox wanted to evolve to keep related, and that is how they determined to do it.

Builders Had Time to Change to the New API

Some customers gained’t discover this swap has even occurred, as a result of the extensions they work with already use the WebExtension API. Different extensions haven’t switched.

This might be as a result of the developer deserted the extension a very long time in the past, or doesn’t really feel like re-writing it to use the API. In some instances, the API doesn’t supply sufficient management to re-create the unique extension, so builders are abandoning their initiatives. And in lots of instances, the conversion merely isn’t achieved but.

Regardless of the case, the extensions aren’t breaking as a result of Mozilla modified one thing all the sudden. WebExtensions has been a part of Firefox for 2 years, and the deadline for updating extensions was introduced a 12 months in the past:

By the tip of 2017, and with the discharge of Firefox 57, we’ll transfer to WebExtensions solely, and can cease loading another extension varieties on desktop.

Nonetheless lacking an extension you rely upon? This Google doc is monitoring a number of widespread extensions, and supplies alternate options to a number of widespread ones. This record can also be helpful.

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