Category mozilla

  • After twelve years of working on Adblock Plus, the time seems right for me to take a break. The project’s dependence on me has been on the decline for quite a while already. Six years ago we founded eyeo, a company that would put the former hobby project on a more solid foundation. Two years ago Felix Dahlke took over the CTO role from me. And a little more than a month ago we launched the new Adblock Plus 3.0 for Firefox based on the Web Extensions framework. As damaging as this move inevitably was for our extension’s quality and reputation, it had a positive side effect: our original Adblock Plus for Firefox codebase is now legacy code, not to be worked on. Consequently, my Firefox expertise is barely required any more; this was one of the last areas where replacing me would have been problematic.

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  • Recently, I reported a security issue in the new Firefox Screenshots feature (fixed in Firefox 56). This issue is remarkable for a number of reasons. First of all, the vulnerable code was running within the Web Extensions sandbox, meaning that it didn’t have full privileges like regular Firefox code. This code was also well-designed, with security aspects taken into consideration. In fact, what I found were multiple minor flaws, each of them pretty harmless. And yet, in combination these flaws were sufficient for Mozilla to assign security impact “high” to my bug report (only barely, but still). Finally, I think that these flaws only existed due to shortcomings of the Web Extensions platform, something that should be a concern given that most extensions based on it are not well-designed.

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  • Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a blog post explaining how permission prompts are a particularly problematic area for a functioning extension ecosystem. While at this point it was already clear that Firefox would show some kind of permission prompt, I hoped that Mozilla would put more thought into it than Chrome did. Unfortunately, this didn’t quite happen. In fact, as I now experienced, the permission prompt in Firefox turned out significantly worse than the one in Chrome.

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  • As Mozilla’s Web Extensions project is getting closer towards being usable, quite a few people seem to expect some variant of Chrome’s permission prompt to be implemented in Firefox. So instead of just asking you whether you want to trust an add-on Firefox should list exactly what kind of permissions an add-on needs. So users will be able to make an informed decision and Mozilla will be able to skip the review for add-ons that don’t request any “dangerous” permissions. What could possibly be wrong with that?

    In fact, lots of things. People seem to think that Chrome’s permission prompt is working well, because… well, it’s Google and they tend to do things right? However, having dealt with the effects of this prompt for several years I’m fairly certain that it doesn’t have the desired effect. In fact, the issues are so severe that I consider it security theater. Here is why.

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  • Easy Passwords is based on the Add-on SDK and runs in Firefox. However, people need access to their passwords in all kinds of environments, so I created an online version of the password generator. The next step was porting Easy Passwords to Chrome and Opera. And while at it, I wanted to see whether that port will work in Firefox via Web Extensions. After all, eventually the switch to Web Extensions will have to be done.

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  • I became a Mozillian more than twelve years ago. I’m not sure whether the term “Mozillian” was even being used back then, I definitely didn’t hear it. Also, I didn’t actually realize what happened — to me it was simply a fascinating piece of software, one that allowed me to do a lot more than merely consume it passively. I implemented changes to scratch my own itch, yet these changes had an enormous impact at times. I got more and more involved in the project, and I could see it grow and evolve over time.

    Not all of the changes were positive in my eyes, so this blog post hit a nerve with me: is Mozilla still an open source project? How is Mozilla different from Google or Microsoft who also produce open source software? See Android for example: while being technically open source, the project around it is completely dominated by Google. Want to contribute? Apply at Google!

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  • So WebExtensions are the great new way to build Firefox extensions, and soon everybody creating a new extension should be using that over everything else. But what about all the people who already have extensions? How can one be expected to migrate a large extension to WebExtensions and still keep it working? Chances are that you will first spend tons of time rewriting your code, and then even more time responding to complains of your users because that rewrite introduced bugs and unintended changes.

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  • Mozilla’s announcement to deprecate XUL/XPCOM-based add-ons raises many questions. Seeing the reactions, it seems that most people are very confused now. I mean, I see where this is coming from. XUL and XPCOM have become a burden, they come at a huge memory and performance cost, impose significant limitations on browser development and create the danger that a badly written extension breaks everything. Whatever comes to replace them certainly won’t give add-on developers the same flexibility however, especially when it comes to extending the user interface. This is sad but I guess that it has to be done.

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  • A few weeks ago I released JavaScript Deobfuscator 2.0 — finally something that works with current Firefox versions again. Why did it take me a year to fix this compatibility issue? Well, it really wasn’t that simple. After considering all the possibilities I decided that rewriting it from scratch was the only possibility, and that was hard to accomplish in my spare time.

    Before I continue with the technical details, allow me to introduce JavaScript Deobfuscator in its new reincarnation: it now adds a panel to Firefox Developer Tools. Instead of messing with filters your view is limited to the current tab automatically. Both compiled and executed scripts go into the same list, with some text indicating whether we’ve seen the script being compiled or executed or both. Starting with Firefox 39 even code running in Web Workers will be displayed. And JavaScript Deobfuscator will beautify the code instead of relying on the JavaScript engine to do so.

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  • Two months ago Mozilla announced the big news: the default search engine in United States will be Yahoo! rather than Google. The change should be introduced in Firefox 34 but rolled out gradually after the release. That announcement already made me scratch my head and wonder how that rollout would actually work — not enough to go figure out the details however.

    Recently however I saw this blog post claiming that the Yahoo! market share on Firefox 34 in the US increased by factor 3 compared to the previous Firefox release — already on December 2, a day after the release. Quite impressive, but how is that even possible if the rollout was supposed to be gradual?

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