Extensions in Firefox 82

Firefox

Before we get to the Firefox 82 updates, I want to let you know that Philipp has passed the baton for these blog posts over to me. I plan to stick to the same format you know and hopefully love, but leave a comment if there’s anything you’d like to see change in future installments.

Language Packs

Starting with Firefox 82, language packs will be updated in tandem with Firefox updates. Users with an active language pack will no longer have to deal with the hassle of defaulting back to English while the language pack update is pending delivery.

Misc updates in Firefox 82

The cookie permission is no longer required in order to obtain the cookieStoreId for a tab, making it possible to identify container tabs without additional permissions.

The error message logged when a webRequest event listener is passed invalid match patterns in the urls value is now much easier to understand.

Firefox site isolation by default starting in Nightly 83

As mentioned earlier, we’re working on a big change to Firefox that isolates sites from one another. In the next few weeks, we’ll be rolling out an experiment to enable isolation by default for most Nightly users, starting in Firefox 83, with plans for a similar experiment on Beta by the end of the year.

For extensions that deal with screenshots, we’ve extended the captureTab and captureVisibleTab methods to enable capturing an arbitrary area of the page, outside the currently visible viewport. This should cover functionality previously enabled by the (long deprecated) drawWindow method, and you can find more details about new rect and scale options on the ImageDetails MDN page.

While we haven’t seen many reports of extension incompatibilities till now, Fission is a big architectural change to Firefox, and the web platform has many corner cases. You can help us find anything we missed by testing your extensions with Fission enabled, and reporting any issues on Bugzilla.

Thanks

Thank you to Michael Goossens for his multiple contributions to this release.

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Extensions in Firefox 66

Firefox

Firefox 66 is currently in beta and, for extension developers, the changes to the WebExtensions API center primarily around improving performance, stability, and the development experience. A total of 30 issues were resolved in Firefox 66, including contributions from several volunteer community members.

Major Performance Improvements for Storage

I want to start by highlighting an important change that has a major, positive impact for Firefox users. Starting in release 66, extensions use IndexedDB as the backend for local storage instead of a JSON file. This results in a significant performance improvement for many extensions, while simultaneously reducing the amount of memory that Firefox uses.

This change is completely transparent to extension developers – you do not need to do anything to take advantage of this improvement.  When users upgrade to Firefox 66, the local storage JSON file is silently migrated to IndexedDB. All extensions using the storage.local() API immediately realize the benefits, especially if they store small changes to large structures, as is true for ad-blockers, the most common and popular type of extension used in Firefox.

The video below, using Adblock Plus as an example, shows the significant performance improvements that extension users could see.

Other Improvements

The remaining bug fixes and feature enhancements won’t be as noticeable as the change to local storage, but they nevertheless raise the overall quality of the WebExtensions API and make the development experience better.  Some of the highlights include:

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the Firefox 66 release, but a special thank you to our volunteer community contributors, including: tossj, Varun Dey, and Edward Wu.

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The future of themes is here!

Firefox

Themes have always been an integral part of the add-ons ecosystem and addons.mozilla.org (AMO). The current generation of themes – also known as lightweight themes and previously known as Personas (long story) – were introduced to AMO in 2009. There are now over 400 thousand of them available on AMO. Today we’re announcing the AMO launch of the next major step in the evolution of Firefox themes.

If you follow this blog, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’ve talked about theme updates a few times before. We actually turned on the new theme submission flow for testing a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t remove the old one. We’ve now flipped the switch and AMO will only accept the new themes.

What’s new about themes

Lightweight themes allowed designers to set a background image for the main browser toolbox, as well as the text color and background color. With this update, themes let you do much more:

  • Change other aspects of the browser, like the color of the toolbar icons, the color of the text in the location bar, and the color of the active tab.
  • Set multiple background images, with different alignment, and tiling. You no longer need a massive background image, or make guesses about the width and height of the browser toolbox.
  • Use color transparency to make interesting color blends.

Here’s an example of one of the recently-submitted themes using some of these new properties:

Orange theme

A detailed list of the supported theme properties can be found in this MDN article. If you scroll down to the compatibility table, you’ll find many properties that only very recent versions of Firefox support. That’s because Firefox engineers are still adding new theme capabilities, making them more powerful with every release.

How to submit themes now

If you’re a theme designer, the submission flow for themes has changed a bit.

  • In the Developer Hub, the Submit a New Theme button will take you to the new submission flow, which is the same used for extensions.
  • You’ll be able to choose if you want to host your theme on AMO or distribute it yourself. This feature has been available for extensions for years, and it allows you to create files you can host on your website or keep for personal use. More on Distribution.
  • On the next step, you can choose to either upload an XPI file or Create a Theme. The outcome of either path is the same.
  • These instructions explain how to build a theme XPI. If you prefer using a wizard like the one we had for lightweight themes, click on the Create a Theme button.

Themes Creation Wizard

  • The new wizard supports the theme features of its predecessor, as well as some of the new ones. To take advantage of all new properties, however, you’ll need to upload an XPI.
  • The browser preview image at the bottom of the screenshot is what becomes the main image for the theme on your theme page. It better reflects how Firefox will look after you install the theme, instead of just showing the background image.

If you run into any problems with these new tools, please report it here.

What about Personas Plus?

The Personas Plus extension has been a handy companion for theme designers for years. It makes it easy to create themes, preview them, and use them locally. Its successor in the new world of themes is Firefox Color.

Firefox Color is exclusively a development tool for themes, so it doesn’t match all features in Personas Plus. However, it should cover what is needed for easy theme creation.

Migrating Lightweight Themes

What about the 400K+ themes already hosted on AMO? We’re keeping them, of course, but we will transform them to the new format later this year. So, if you’re a theme designer and want your theme to be updated, don’t worry, we got you covered. And please don’t submit duplicate themes!

After the migration is done, we’ll notify you about it. The main difference you’ll notice is the new preview image in the theme page. You’ll then be able to submit new versions of your theme that take advantage of the new theme properties.

You’ll also notice that all new and migrated themes have different editing tools to change their descriptions. They are very similar to the tools we use for extensions. They may take a bit of getting used to, but they provide great benefits over the lightweight theme tools. You’ll be able to set a Contributions URL, so your users can compensate you for your work. Also, you get a detailed stats dashboard so you can learn about your users.

uBlock Statistics Dashboard

This level of success not guaranteed

This may seem like a small step, but it’s actually been a large undertaking. It’s taken years and over a dozen people on the Firefox and AMO teams to finally get this out the door. I won’t even try to list everyone because I’m sure I’ll forget some (but thank you all anyway!). We’re very excited with about these new themes, and hope they will lead to even more and better Firefox customization.

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The New Thunderbird Add-ons Site is Now Live

Firefox

As we announced last week,  SeaMonkey and Thunderbird add-ons will now reside on https://addons.thunderbird.net. Add-ons for Firefox and Firefox for Android will remain on https://addons.mozilla.org (AMO). We wanted to let you know that the split is now done and the new site is live.

If you run into any issues on the new site, you can file them here. For AMO, use this link instead. We’ve also set up an FAQ on the Mozilla Wiki explaining the reasons behind this move and providing some guidance for people looking for help on it.

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Extensions in Firefox 62

Firefox

Last week Firefox 62 moved into the Beta channel. This version has fewer additions and changes to the WebExtensions API than the last several releases. Part of that is due to the maturing nature of the API as we get farther away from the WebExtension API cutover back in release 57, now over seven months ago. Part of it was a focus on cleaning up some internal features — code changes that increase the maintainability of Firefox but are not visible to external developers. And, let’s be honest, part of it is the arrival of summer in the Northern hemisphere, resulting in happy people taking time to enjoy life outside of browser development.

User Interface Improvements

Extensions with a toolbar button (browser action) can now be managed directly from the context menu of the button.  This is very similar to the behavior with page actions – simply right click on the toolbar button for an extension and select Manage Extension from the context menu.  This will take you to the extension’s page in about:addons.

Manage Extension Context Menu

You can now manage hidden tabs, introduced in Firefox 61, via a down-arrow that is added to the end of the tab strip. When clicked, this icon will show all of your tabs, hidden and visible.  Firefox 62 introduces a new way get to that same menu via the History item on the menu bar. If you have hidden tabs and select the History menu, it will display a submenu item called “Hidden Tabs.”  Selecting that will take you to the normal hidden tabs menu panel.

Hidden Tabs Menu

API Improvements

A few enhancements to the WebExtensions API are now available in Firefox 62, including:

Theme Improvements

A couple of changes to the WebExtensions theme API landed in this release:

Tab Background Separator

Bug Fixes

A few noticeable bug fixes landed in Firefox release 62, including:

Thank You

A total of 48 features and improvements landed as part of Firefox 62. As always, a sincere thank you to every contributor for this release, especially our community volunteers including Tim Nguyen, Jörg Knobloch, Oriol Brufau, and Tomislav Jovanovic. It is only through the combined efforts of Mozilla and our amazing community that we can ensure continued access to the open web. If you are interested in contributing to the WebExtensions ecosystem, please take a look at our wiki.

 

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