Mozilla adds BarTab-like feature to Firefox for Android, desktop next?

Martin Brinkmann
Nov 6, 2012
Updated • Dec 1, 2012

Firefox mobile is a popular web browser for Android 2.2 or higher devices that millions of users have downloaded and installed. It offers many of the features of the desktop browser, including synchronization of sync date between devices and an add-on engine to install browser extensions.

One of the limitations of Firefox for Android currently is that it can only be installed on phones that have at least 512 Megabytes of memory, and that is what Mozilla's Project 256meg tries to fix.  The goal of the project is to drop the hardware requirements so that Firefox will work on devices that only have 256 Megabyte of memory. That's especially important in developing countries where phones may not have 512 or more Megabytes of RAM.

To achieve that goal, new features are currently implemented in the mobile version that reduce the browser's memory usage. Zombify tabs for instance unloads tabs under certain conditions so that most of the memory used by the tab is freed up for other tasks. This is actually something that add-ons like BarTab or Dormancy for Firefox, and TabMemFree for Google Chrome have offered for some time on the desktop.


BarTab for instance offered an option to unload a tab after a certain time of inactivity (not being visited) to free up memory. Firefox uses a similar option to only load select tabs on browser startup when sessions are restored to free up the loading of the browser and use less RAM during that time. This is actually a feature of BarTab that Mozilla has integrated into the browser natively. Many existing BarTab users never understood why Mozilla did not implement other features of the popular extension, especially since development was stopped by the original author.

When a tab gets zombified, it will remain visible in the browser. If you access it again, its contents will be loaded again so that the resource can be accessed in the mobile browser. When you open a web page in a new tab in Firefox for Android, the least used background tab will automatically be zombified provided that it has not been used for a certain amount of time (default is 1 hour, -1 disables the feature, controlled by browser.tabs.expireTime).

This behavior is on by default on low memory devices, and will be turned on dynamically on other devices as soon as a low memory event is received.

The engineer responsible for the project promised to fill a bug after a user asked whether this could be implemented into the desktop version of Firefox as well. This would basically add another much requested feature to Firefox. (via Geek)


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