What's in Store for Firefox in 2017?

Martin Brinkmann
Jan 4, 2017
Updated • May 22, 2018

The year 2017 will be an interesting one for the Firefox web browser, Mozilla, and users of the browser. 2017 will see new technology being integrated in Firefox, and also some removed.

The following guide lists those changes. It needs to be noted though that some may or may not happen. I mention that explicitly if that is the case so that you know that a change is not a done deal but something that could happen.

Links to resources such as Bugzilla or Mozilla Wiki are posted whenever they are available. I encourage you to add more links or information in the comment section below.

Firefox in 2017

Electrolysis, or multi-process Firefox, became part of Firefox Stable in 2016. The process of enabling the feature to all users is still ongoing.

The feature improves the browser's stability and responsiveness, but will use more RAM.

Mozilla plans ahead already, as the organization wants to increase the number of content processes in Firefox. The current situation is that there is only one content process. All sites open in the browser share that one content process. The use of additional content processes will improve that, but it seems unlikely at this point in time that Mozilla will switch to Chrome's one content process per tab model anytime soon.

Finally, strong sandboxing will come to Firefox once multi-process is available to all users. This moves Firefox closer to Chrome which offered sandboxing from the get-go. It is interesting to know that Firefox's sandbox will be based on different technologies on supported platforms. The Windows sandbox will be based on on the Chromium sandbox, the Mac OS X sandbox on TrustedBSD MAC Framework, and the Linux sandbox on seccomp.

Sandboxing will improve Firefox security significantly.

The Tor uplift project is another ongoing process that will provide benefits to users of Firefox (and Tor, which is based on Firefox).

Basically, what is happening is that some of the privacy-focused changes of Tor are integrated in Firefox directly. They won't be enabled by default, but Firefox users who know about them can do so to benefit from them.

A basic example is a feature called First Party Isolation which will be integrated in Firefox 52 and provides strong anti-tracking protection. Firefox users who want to enable it can do so by setting privacy.firstparty.isolate to true on about:config.

The final bit in regards to browser stability and performance is Mozilla's Quantum project. Firefox will become a lot faster with Quantum components. These components make extensive use of modern hardware features and parallelism. The main idea for 2017 is to replace some browser parts with Quantum components.

Firefox Add-ons and WebExtensions

Mozilla announced recently that it plans to make Firefox rely on WebExtensions exclusively at the end of 2017. The final date is not set in stone yet though, and there is a chance that things will be delayed to 2018.

This has severe consequences for Firefox users who use one or more add-ons currently. All classic add-ons, won't work in Firefox anymore once the change is made.

This is big, bigger even than the switch to multi-process Firefox which also had its impact on add-ons.

The main issue right now is that WebExtensions APIs are nowhere near the level of what the browser's current add-on system provides.

This means that some add-ons cannot be ported to WebExtensions right now. Mozilla plans to add more APIs as time passes by, but the deadline is looming over the heads of add-on authors.

Ultimately, it is fair to say that WebExtensions will never be as powerful as Firefox's current add-on system. This in turn will mean that some add-ons won't be ported over to WebExtensions, at least not in their current form.

Mozilla is also working on a new theming API. It will be more powerful than what light themes offer currently, but it too won't be as powerful as Firefox's current theming options.

This and that in 2017

firefox tab container

Now that we have covered the two major areas, lets take a look at some other areas. Mozilla plans to rewrite the browser's DevTools using HTML, CSS and JavaScript. It may host the DevTools on GitHub as individual add-ons. This would allow for faster updates and would entice non-Mozilla contributors to improve the developer tools further.

Container Tabs may become a thing in Firefox. They are tested in Nightly currently, but it is not clear yet if they are uplifted to Firefox Stable.

Containers have their own browser storage that is separated from others. This is beneficial to privacy, but also to have different identities open on the same site -- think Gmail and two different mail accounts.

The main difference to Firefox profiles is that container tabs work under the same profile. With that said, it is probably more of a niche feature though unless Mozilla gets the integration -- and automation -- right.

Automation could help a lot. You could configure a tab for exclusive use for online banking, and another for shopping for instance. This would separate these activities from general browsing activities.

Dropping Aurora?

Mozilla might drop the Aurora release channel in 2017. This is not a done deal, and it may never happen. If the organization does it, it would bring new features more quickly from Nightly to Firefox Stable.

It is unclear what would happen to the Developer Edition of Firefox. One option would be to make it the same as Firefox Stable.

Mozilla Foundation Memberships

Mozilla may introduce memberships in 2017. This would improve funding by making the organization less dependent on search engine money. Subscribers would gain benefits, but nothing has been mentioned so far in this regard. (thanks Callahad @ Reddit)

Now You: What's your take on Firefox in 2017?

What's in Store for Firefox in 2017?
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What's in Store for Firefox in 2017?
The year 2017 will be an interesting one for the Firefox web browser as features like multi-process Firefox, Quantum and strong sandboxing will launch.
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  1. XenoSilvano said on February 18, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    I am sticking with Firefox through hell or high water

  2. lolster said on January 5, 2017 at 11:18 pm

    l0l @ firefox updates

  3. Anonymous said on January 5, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    Wouldn’t rewriting the dev tools in HTML/CSS/JavaScript impact their performance? I’ve always found native browsers feature (which I assume are written in low-level language like C++ or Rust) are way faster than JavaScript programs. Although if I recall correctly the PDF reader is written in JavaScript and I admit I can’t reproach anything to it.

  4. crowhammei said on January 5, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    can we get a link regarding the potential elimination of aurora?

  5. Shiro said on January 4, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    After updating to 50.1 my navigation bar is screwed up and and attempts to repair fail (changes wiped after restart). Mozilla’s solution: ‘refresh’ firefox. Basically, export all settings, by hand, and reinstall everything.

    Once, and I’d say OK, shit happens. But this is the 6th time in 6 months. So how about some more stability both in coding and functionality for 2017? None of the changes the past year or two I agree with, instead they’re a pain and I have to install things like Classic Theme restorer to keep productive. And I rather loath the replies by Mozilla that boil down to ‘this is progress, it’s new and improved!’ Bull, it was working well for me until they started messing it up.

    So I’ll tell you what is in 2017 for Firefox, or rather what isn’t: me! After moving away from Linux, time to dump Mozilla too.

    1. trek100 said on January 4, 2017 at 9:35 pm

      “After moving away from Linux…”

      q1) Why did you move away from Linux, Shiro?

      q2) Also, which Linux distro did you use
      and which OS are you moving to?.

      Thanks for sharing your experience!.

      1. Shiro said on January 5, 2017 at 9:23 pm

        Woops, moving away from Windoze TO Linux. Sorry, had/still have a splitting headache yesterday and didn’t feel like proofreading -_-; My home server boxes are Suse, one small Intel NUC is sporting Mint, and my main workstation is still Win7, but moving soon to Suse too. Or Mint, I’m trying out both. Still one stupid scanner that has no Linux support, and it seems won’t ever. So I need to find a working vm solution first. And some other little tools that need a solution. I’m getting there, but it’s slow progress. And now I need to add Firefox to the ‘to be replaced list’ too. Where is this going to end? I just read the report on that presentation the nVidia CEO gave at CES. The man and all that follow his views are even more bonkers than Trump. Microphones with Google listening in EVERY nook and cranny of your own home! And trying to sell this as a good idea. And guess what, the majority of users, probably Microsoft/Apple junkies, are lapping it up. Yes, I’m cranky today as I was yesterday ^_^; The year’s starting off real bad, and my migraines are killing me.

  6. Lorri said on January 4, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    Serious question – why would anyone stay with Firefox if the add-ons don’t work? Isn’t that the main attraction?

    1. Count Soxington said on January 5, 2017 at 2:49 am

      Superior privacy vs other browsers atm?

    2. Brat said on January 4, 2017 at 4:47 pm

      What if 90% of the add-ons still work and you get 80,000 more from Chrome ?

      1. Pablo said on January 16, 2017 at 10:38 am

        We would be lucky if 10% of the addons that are UI customizations work after the death of XUL.
        As for the 80000 Chrome Extensions, the ones that are no filled with adware or even plain malware are just web services put on a chrome button.

      2. Brat said on January 4, 2017 at 5:14 pm

        Same here. That’s one reason I ended up agreeing with WebExtensions. Important changes and tech innovations like multi-process, sandboxing or Servo don’t break WebExtensions, and as such I don’t have to waste time adapting my habits. I don’t have to waste time worrying about whether or not my add-ons will work with the next Firefox version. I don’t have to check compatibility between new Firefox versions and those add-ons that are poorly maintained, I can just update Firefox period.

        WebExtensions don’t break, that’s the entire point, but existing add-ons have to first migrate to WebExtensions…

      3. Lorri said on January 4, 2017 at 5:02 pm

        I have everything set up exactly as I like on Firefox, so I have no reason to experiment with Chrome or other browsers for now. If the add-ons I actually use continue to work, then great, no problem, I’m with Firefox forever. I don’t really care if other browsers have 4 billion add-ons available – it’s whether the handful I need and use every day are available. Others may be more interested than I am in experimenting with new toys – I’m trying to spend *less* time on line these days!

  7. Brat said on January 4, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    There’s also WebGL 2, to be released in Firefox 51. I know of more good tech that is coming but I don’t know if it’s for 2017 or not, so that would be off topic.

    Regarding theming, people often cite Vivaldi as an example of good theme customizability. I can see no reason to believe that Firefox’s future theming APIs won’t be as good as Vivaldi’s, considering Mozilla does know about Vivaldi’s capabilities and they also know that users expect Firefox’s to be superior, even if Mozilla intends to compromise.
    Firefox complete themes are indeed more flexible, but at the cost of less flexibility for everyone’s Firefox — something worth mentioning considering the small percentage of users relying on complete themes. 2018 will tell us if the new tech is good enough to mostly satisfy complete theme users.

    Quantum is awesome but I think the most impressive changes brought by this project come in 2018. They’re not ready plus they probably need WebExtensions or add-ons would break left and right again.

    The Tor uplift project is amazing. Tor team’s blog post that you linked to is good at hinting as to why this is great news. These guys are battle-tested experts when it comes to privacy and anti-fingerprinting, and it’s in their best interest that Firefox gets the proper privacy protections implemented properly. That means Firefox will rise head and shoulders above competitors when it comes to privacy, even more so than now, to a point that other browsers may start to move and improve as well.

    Well, Quantum 2018 will have the same effect but with performance, responsiveness, smoothness and crash-protection instead. (For what I mean by crash protection, see the video. Should an add normally be responsible for a crash or a hang, the browser will simply not display it and the page itself, let alone the browser, will be unaffected.)

  8. Ben said on January 4, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Well FF added font.system.whitelist.
    And you can use the fonts TB uses ( https://gitweb.torproject.org/tor-browser.git/tree/browser/app/profile/000-tor-browser.js?h=tor-browser-45.6.0esr-6.5-1#n316 ) but why do they not add those settings by default? It’s completely useless to give out a font list anyway, so they should add it by default.
    And the other big tracking problem is webgl, as you cannot prevent it besides disabling webgl (what TB does).

  9. Anonymous said on January 4, 2017 at 9:33 am
  10. Pants said on January 4, 2017 at 8:39 am

    Another thing is that Mozilla are going to start pushing FF32 or 64 bit versions to users based on their OS. Initially for downloads by automatically linking/redirecting to the correct version, and then later via the update mechanism. This should see a vast jump in percentages of users from 32bit to 64bit.

  11. Sören Hentzschel said on January 4, 2017 at 8:12 am

    > Container Tabs may become a thing in Firefox. They are tested in Nightly currently, but it is not clear yet if they are uplifted to Firefox Stable.

    There will be a Test Pilot experiment soon. ;)

    > Mozilla is also working on a new theming API. It will be more powerful than what light themes offer currently, but it too won’t be as powerful as Firefox’s current theming options.

    That’s right but it’s also important to know that full themes are not only a pain for Mozilla but also for almost every theme developer. So hopefully the new theme API will be a good compromise.

    One of the most important things of the Reddit comment in my opinion: CSS grid! Nothing special to Firefox, but a great web standard.

    By the way, WebExtensions are not that bad. I will publish more add-ons in 2017 (WebExtensions), the next one (for bookmark management: find broken bookmarks, duplicates, …) really soon.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 4, 2017 at 8:52 am
      1. Sören Hentzschel said on January 4, 2017 at 9:51 am

        It will contain some features of Incredible Bookmarks, but not all. For instance, there are no plans for a toolbar (I never used the bookmarks toolbar). I want to focus on “detect and repair”, for example detect that a URL has changed and offer a option to change the bookmark so that there is no longer a needles redirect, or to detect totally broken bookmarks or duplicate bookmarks.

        There are already several add-ons for such tasks, for example CheckPlaces, but most are no longer maintained and won’t work in Firefox 57+ or are already dead. My add-on will be a future-proof WebExtension.

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