Mozilla plans to release so-called unbranded versions of Firefox Stable and Beta in the near future to provide add-on developers with tools to test add-ons in those browser versions.
When Mozilla announced that it would introduce a signing requirement for add-ons, and enforce it on Stable and Beta versions of Firefox, add-on developers were left in the dark in regards to how they would be able to test their add-ons against Stable and Beta versions.
The main issue faced by add-on developers was that Mozilla decided to enforce the use of signed add-ons. This meant that add-on developers could not use Stable or Beta versions of Firefox for tests during development anymore once the signing became mandatory.
Options to test add-ons only against Developer or Nightly versions of Firefox, and getting each iteration of an add-on signed during development are not practicable.
That’s why Mozilla announced that it would release unbranded versions of Firefox Stable and Beta that developers could use to test their add-ons. Unlike release versions, those would allow developers to turn off the add-on signing enforcement so that unsigned add-ons could be loaded in the browser.
Add-on signing postponed time and time again
Mozilla’s initial plan was to introduce add-on signing in Firefox 40. The organization postponed add-on signing several times since then.
It seems dedicated to introduce it in Firefox 48, out August 2, 2016 though. One of the main reasons why the enforcement was pushed time and time again was that unbranded versions of Firefox were not ready.
If Mozilla would enforce the signing requirement in Stable and Beta versions of Firefox without making available unbranded versions of Firefox first, it would prevent developers from testing add-ons effectively against Stable and Beta versions of Firefox.
Status of unbranded Firefox version
If things go as planned, unbranded editions of Firefox Stable and Beta will be made available to the development community with the release of Firefox 48 Stable.
Beta builds are already available according to the main tracking bug on Bugzilla. Those builds are not linked directly yet.
The main difference to regular builds of Firefox is that add-on signing is not enforced. It is unclear right now if they differ in other aspects as well.
Considering that these builds will be made available publicly, it seems likely that some regular users will switch to them as well. Doing so allows them to continue using add-ons that are not signed using Firefox Stable or Beta. Another option for users is to switch to Firefox ESR builds which won’t enforce the signing of add-ons either.
The release of unbranded versions of Firefox marks the last chapter in the 18 months journey to enforce add-on signing in Firefox Stable and Beta.
One has to wonder whether resources spend on add-on signing, or the enforcement, would not have been more beneficial elsewhere.