Firefox Automatic Extension Updates - gHacks Tech News

Firefox Automatic Extension Updates

Firefox users will be automatically notified if an update to an installed extension or theme is available for public download. The add-on can be downloaded directly from within the web browser's interface. It will be installed and the browser restarted afterwards. Several problems with this procedure exist which can be exemplified by looking at the latest Fast Dial update. Roman Sharp send me information about the problems this add-on was causing with its 2.16 update.

The developer of the Fast Dial add-on did add malware like features to his add-on according to hundreds of angry commenters on the official add-on page at Mozilla. The latest versions of the Fast Dial add-on changed the default search engine and removed the first three fast dial fields with links pointing to websites selected by the author of the extension. The add-on did also change the browser's homepage to a Fast Dial page. What makes the matter worse is that there is no dialog to notify the user about the changes and no way to opt out during the installation.

fast dial extension

The problems with the automatic update of add-ons and themes are therefor the following:

  • There is no telling what changes are made to the system. No direct display of a changelog or information about the changes.
  • There is no lock on system settings, add-ons can change various user defined settings without notification
  • A backup is missing which could be used to restore the old properties prior to the installation

It would be really great to see a System Restore like feature in Firefox so that it would be possible to undo changes done by add-ons, themes or even Firefox updates.

Update: Fast Dial is still maintained and updated by its author. We have added a screenshot to this article so that you can see how the extension looks like in the browser.

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Comments

  1. Dels said on January 8, 2009 at 2:05 pm
    Reply

    This is why Opera Browser keep strict with their add-on, they only allowed add-on as widget or UserJS, why? Since the quality of product (especially browser stability) are their top priority.

    I think it’s time for Mozilla team to make improvement for their add-on/themes update system, if not i’m sure there would be add-on that can destroy Firefox functionality soon.

    /me long Opera user (Since v5) & using K-Meleon for Gecko based browser instead of Firefox

  2. Transcontinental said on January 8, 2009 at 3:19 pm
    Reply

    There is indeed no restore function, but it is possible to backup the Firefox profile(s) before installing/updating an extension. That is what I do and should a problem or disagreement arise all I have to perform is to delete the profile(s) and restore from the backup. Et voila.

    As for ‘Fast Dial’, gosh, what a pity, even if personally I never used it.

  3. metaeuphoria said on January 8, 2009 at 4:58 pm
    Reply

    The previous version of fast dial was great; I had been using it for months, but the latest update completely ruined it. I’ve switched to SpeedDial.

    A restore function would be nice, but if there are security issues with an extension; the downside of restoring it down the line is that it might remove those fixes as well.

  4. Roman ShaRP said on January 8, 2009 at 5:02 pm
    Reply

    There is partial restore: you can just install back early version of add-on, backed up daily or weekly via FEBE (on couple of issues I reinstalled all add-ons I had).

    You can also restore settings, options etc.

    But it took some time for me to find what causing problems – new installed add-on, compatibility issues, NoScript update or FastDial update.

  5. Roman ShaRP said on January 8, 2009 at 5:29 pm
    Reply

    Dels says:
    This is why Opera Browser keep strict with their add-on, they only allowed add-on as widget or UserJS, why? Since the quality of product (especially browser stability) are their top priority.

    I was long-time Opera user too (2000-2008), and I want to say that Opera way has its own disadvantages:
    1) It’s harder to make substantial change to functionality of the browser. Flashgot handles downloads to download manager I use much more better than Opera (one of the causes of my switch).
    2) If something goes wrong, you have to reinstall browser completely, and wait until it be repaired (may be losing some improvements of the newest versions). With add-ons you can just revert back to previous add-on version or uninstall add-on causing problems (QTL v11 and v12 cause some problems for me, and I were keeping QTL v10 – but from QTL v13 I use last version again).
    3) If something goes wrong with one add-on, you can possibly move to another (SpeedDial instead of FastDial – like metaeuphoria said). If something is wrong in browser code – what can you do?
    4) Opera have bundled some features I don’t need – mail client is not good for me, and torrent support is better in Utorrent. They can work on improving mail client or torrent support, but that features never will be better for me than standalone software. With add-on approach you have hundreds of developers working on different add-ons. This adds to the speed of development, and to flexibility too. If you don’t need something – just don’t install it. If some add-on is spoiled or discontinued – keep previous version or move to another.

  6. What is Go-oo? said on January 8, 2009 at 5:34 pm
    Reply

    Another disadvantage with Firefox’ current update method in regard to extensions is the browser update itself. Often, this leads to situations where the installed extensions are not compatible with the new browser version, and are disabled. Some extensions are critical to some workflows, and this is unacceptable.

  7. Roman ShaRP said on January 8, 2009 at 5:49 pm
    Reply

    What is Go-oo?, this can be easily solved whit MR Tech’s Toolkit extension – it allows to override compatibility check.

  8. RG said on January 8, 2009 at 8:33 pm
    Reply

    When upgrading have to keep using the info panel on the side that most add-ons have, and if there is no info check it by going to its home page (right click on the extension name in FF). Just because it is FF doesn’t mean security practices can be laxer.

  9. barney_ghl said on January 8, 2009 at 8:36 pm
    Reply

    Well, Roman,
    Yes and no.
    Mr Tech does allow override on compatibility _checks_, but it doesn’t _make_ the extension compatible. Some extensions simply cannot co-exist with some FF updates.
    (I’ve been fighting that battle since early v2.x with one particular extension I’d like to be able to use: it’s a chrome issue, and the author has not updated to match the chrome changes.)

  10. Roman ShaRP said on January 8, 2009 at 9:06 pm
    Reply

    Mr Tech does allow override on compatibility _checks_, but it doesn’t _make_ the extension compatible.

    Yes, it’s true. But most of the compatibility alarms I met last year was the false alarms on FF 3 upgrades. And with disabled compatibility check extensions just continue to work.

  11. barney_ghl said on January 9, 2009 at 3:31 am
    Reply

    Yep, Roman, that’s the thing …

    *Many* continued to work. But a lot didn’t, and some worked in a funky fashion, to say the least.

    Much as I appreciate the efforts of MR Tech, his efforts are not a panacea.

    Perhaps you got lucky, but I found that over half of the extensions that I used _disable compatibility_ to install failed to work, or even worse, worked improperly w/o my [immediate] knowledge.

    That’s not a slam against MR Tech, it’s just a fact of life in any upgrade scenario … when you upgrade the core, many ancillary functions fall by the wayside.

    Wish I’d been as lucky as you .

  12. Ajay said on January 10, 2009 at 10:25 pm
    Reply

    Even the updates do not mention the malware added by the program.

    The extension is excellent, however, its rating is going to fall all over considering this update.

  13. WindPower said on January 11, 2009 at 7:40 pm
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    There is a changelog when extensions get updated. Just click on the extension that’s going to be updated and click on “Show Information”, it should show you the new version’s changes. Of course, it’s up to the author of the extension to make such a changelog, and he/she might not decide to make one, which is a shame.

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