Progressive Web Apps for Firefox Extension

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 4, 2021
Firefox add-ons
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11

Progressive Web Apps for Firefox is a browser extension for Mozilla's Firefox web browser and a command line utility to install, manage and use Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) in Firefox.

firefox install web app

Mozilla's Firefox web browser supports many of the APIs that PWAs use, but Mozilla decided some time ago to remove installation options from Firefox. Most Chromium-based browsers support installing PWAs directly from within. Installation on desktop systems adds these applications to the Start Menu for quick access, and these apps launch in their own dedicated window.

Progressive Web Apps for Firefox introduces a number of features to Firefox that users of the browser may find useful. Some functionality may even be useful to users who don't use PWAs.

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PWAs that are installed in Firefox through the extension benefit from a number of extra features. One of the most interesting features of the extension is that PWAs are run in an isolated Firefox extension that may use multiple profiles to store the PWAs. These instances support all Firefox features and extensions that are installed, which means that content blockers and helper extensions, e.g. for downloading images, work in these instances as well.

Progressive Web Apps for Firefox does not limit the installation to PWAs. You can use it to install any website as a Progressive Web Application, and that means that you can run these in the isolated environment.

The extension requires the helper program, which is open source and available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. It can be downloaded from the project repository, while the Firefox add-on is available on Mozilla's official add-on repository. Instructions on how to install the program are provided after installation of the extension.

Windows users need to install a specific Visual C++ Redistributable, if not installed, before they run the FirefoxPWA MSI installer. Winget users may run the command winget install -e Microsoft.VC++2015-2019Redist-x64 to install the redistributable. Follow the instructions of the setup wizard, provided by the extension, to complete the installation.

firefox pwa

Installations of web applications or websites happen through the extension's menu after setup. Just activate the icon and click on the install button to install the current site as a web application. It may then be launched from the Start menu of the operating system, or through the extension's icon. Installed sites can be launched, edited or removed through the extension icon.

All web apps are installed in a single profile by default, but use of the command line tool for profile management opens up options to create and use separate profiles. In theory, it is possible to create a separate profile for each web app to isolate apps from each other. Instructions on how to do that are found in the readme.

Closing Words

Progressive Web Apps for Firefox is a useful extension and tool for Firefox users who'd like to run progressive web apps or websites as apps in Firefox. Installation is a bit complicated, as several separate pieces need to be installed to get going. Firefox users who just want to isolate sites from each other may want to consider using containers or different Firefox profiles for that.

Now You: do you use PWAs?

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Progressive Web Apps for Firefox
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Comments

  1. Anonymous said on December 5, 2021 at 2:47 am
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    People have to be desperate to install this when they can just install a Chromium browser and don’t have to do all this crap to support a browser because of some probable lame reason like they have can’t allow Blink to take over even if Firefox is not resource efficient compared to chromium, some pages don’t render properly and you have to do a bunch of crap to make it private because Mozilla talks too much but don’t care about privacy.

    Better install Chromium if you need PWA, there are many Chromium based browsers you can use if you believe in privacy and you don’t want to give too much info to google.

    1. Anonymous said on December 5, 2021 at 11:35 am
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      But aren’t people like you the desperate ones commenting on the superiority of Chromium-derivatives at every Firefox article on this website? I cannot read one Mozilla related article without Google-desperados voicing their opinions.

      These are some of the Google services that Microsoft removed from the open source Chromium browser: https://www.theverge.com/2019/4/8/18300772/microsoft-google-services-removed-changed-chromium-edge-browser

      The reason why pages don’t render properly is because Google’s dominance is so prevalent (YouTube, Google.com, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Drive, etc.) that they can practically control web standards and develop technology that becomes so prevalent it becomes a de facto standard (one example: https://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2021/10/16/google-chrome-new-warning-chrome-standards-upgrade/). Then you have web developers that are occupied with jumping from one developer framework to another that they don’t bother with browser compatibility. Microsoft attempted to do it with Internet Explorer but they failed. With people like you Microsoft would have succeeded.

      Google is aware what they are doing and they are paying Mozilla (in their current form) money to stay afloat. Because if Mozilla fails, you can be sure that it will only be a matter of time when Google is forced into breaking up into smaller companies.

      1. poopooracoocoo said on January 17, 2022 at 4:13 pm
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        You do realise that Microsoft just replaced those services with their own in Microsoft Edge? But that is good information nevertheless.

        It’s difficult to support Mozilla when they don’t support many web features users have come to love, and features that we’ve seen in other browsers. And no one can forget what they did to their Android browser.

  2. PD said on December 5, 2021 at 3:54 am
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    As an organisation that purports to promote the open web, it’s very disappointing Mozilla has routinely chosen to toy with, but invariably neuter and disable, all use of the web stack in a native desktop context.

    XULRunner, Prism were predecessors to PWAs that used the same premise: the web stack integrated natively. All have been aborted and yet the usage case of installing a website into a native desktop-based OS (Windows, Linux, Apple) appears to still exist.

    Whilst many users may find the barriers to installing this new Extension, it may serve as a demonstration to Mozilla of how much work is actually required to support PWAs in Firefox proper. After all, resources is likely the most common reason Mozilla would cite for their lack of PWA support.

    Unfortunately, there appears to be zero information on who “Filip S” actually is. Another project contributor at least has a headshot for an avatar but for a project with a probable security footprint (what code does not have a security footprint, large or not so large though it may be?) and that requires ongoing support and maintenance (what code does not? Arrgh, I can hear Mozillians shouting “yes, that’s where the resources get heavy, told you!”.

    As extensions contradicting Mozilla policy go, if there are no resources (money, moolah, spondulics!) behind it, is the primary beneficiary usually the developer who created the code? Perhaps in an attempt to audition for a Mozilla gig? I hope not. Would be great if some sort of foundation or grant like Apache or even Google Summer of Code could be given to this project to keep it bubbling along enough to let Mozilla see what they are missing, so to speak.

    1. Kris said on December 5, 2021 at 12:10 pm
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      +1 for sure with your opinion

    2. ULBoom said on December 6, 2021 at 12:40 am
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      What?

    3. Rex said on December 6, 2021 at 11:29 am
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      Mozilla was sitting on potential gold that they squandered. The application platform was their crown jewel – Firefox and Thunderbird were just applications written for that platform. XUL + Javascript could’ve been a powerful alternative to other cross platform GUI toolkits like Qt and it would’ve achieved what Sun tried and failed to do with Java – creating platform independent desktop applications with XULRunner.
      Imagine a world of powerful desktop applications that look and feel exactly like native applications on each OS be it Windows, Linux or Mac, with web connectivity for services. There were already such examples like the media library Songbird, the XMPP chat client Instantbird, IRC client Chatzilla, FireFTP the FTP client (the last 2 available as Firefox extensions as well as standalone XULRunner applications). These applications use the same design as Firefox, were similarly extensible with custom extensions that could be written for each of them and could be auto updated online the same way without the headache of individually installing them.

      There needn’t be a learning curve for developers since they use XUL which is just an XML dialect along with regular Javascript, and XPCOM bindings for other languages to make specialized components when required.

      All they had to do was use some of the millions got in revenue to hire a competent technical writer team to create and maintain professional documentation (instead of the moth-eaten, incomplete mess that was itself the work of volunteers or copied from elsewhere with permission) and provide proper sample applications. The web developer community would’ve risen to the opportunity for sure.

      Instead we’re stuck with goddamn Electron which wraps an entire Chrome instance bundled with the website itself and calls it a day – to hell with following desktop conventions. Look at the absolute trash that messaging apps have become, from Whatsapp to Telegram to Signal to Teams – all just a glorified web app running on the desktop instead of a classic instant messenger interface with multiple chat windows similar to Yahoo/AIM/Pidgin etc of yore.

      1. ShintoPlasm said on December 6, 2021 at 7:52 pm
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        I thought the Telegram client was a native application? Or is that just the macOS and UWP variants?

      2. Anonymous said on December 7, 2021 at 1:37 am
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        @Rex
        XUL was really powerful. I used Chatzilla often because I don’t want to install additional software just to chat and FireFTP: I just need a simple FTP client to upload some data.

        Mozilla is really stupid to let go of such powerful platform, either they don’t have resources(I doubt that) or really lazy to continue it.

        Nowadays devs are really lazy to make cross platform apps, they just embed their websites on a browser and call it an ‘app’.
        Compared to Electron shit, those extensions’ size is really small.

        Only Telegram is the sane one tho, it’s using Qt for its apps.
        I have tried making apps with Electron and Qt so I know hard to make a cross platform apps with Qt and how easy just to slap your existing site codes in Electron.
        I give props to the Telegram team for that.

        I hope that it will become number one messaging apps someday.. Which sadly is pretty impossible I think.

  3. Anonymous said on December 5, 2021 at 3:02 pm
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    A browser is supposed to provide a form of sandbox for site code that would naively hint at PWAs being more trustworthy than native applications. However I suspect that the opposite happens in practice, that spyware and other anti-features are much more common in PWAs than in the typical desktop application, not only because of the site code where it’s the norm to spy on every move and generally speaking be annoying and hostile to the user, but also because it requires a layer of browser to run on, so Google, Apple, Microsoft and derivative companies are going to add their spying and other nuisances to every such application automatically. And PWA are often designed to have all the malicious features of the web sites and browsers without even allowing the few counter-measures that web browser companies still allow us to use, like changing privacy settings in about:config and elsewhere or using nuisance blockers or other extensions, although that may not be fully the case here. Add to that that PWAs are probably terribly unefficient compared to native applications. But that Mozilla link about PWAs gives another example of the sort of motivations that trumps all those problems: higher conversion rates for some web businesses.

    https://developer.mozilla.org/fr/docs/Web/Progressive_web_apps/Introduction#est-ce_que_%C3%A7a_vaut_le_coup_de_faire_tout_%C3%A7a_

    In fact the english version, that is supposed to be only a translation of the previous, doesn’t contain the section with examples of higher conversion rates for some reason:

    https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/Progressive_web_apps/Introduction#is_it_worth_doing_all_that

    The ease to update the code compared to native applications, shown as a benefit, reminds me of that discussion of the current business-driven web as being equivalent to the worst app store:

    https://www.fsfla.org/ikiwiki/blogs/lxo/pub/wwworst-app-store.en.html

    The Progressive Web Apps trend comes to mind immediately when reading that. By the way this great FSFLA guy doesn’t seem corrupt, which may explain why he was kicked out of the US FSF board, probably in the wake of the soft coup there.

  4. ULBoom said on December 6, 2021 at 12:54 am
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    All these weird mixtures of stuff, Android on Windows, FF in Windows, Edge is Chrome, Apple’s developing a spy operation, all the trackers get so confused they track themselves.

    What a mess, wait for the so called Metaverse which kinda works for Minecraft block figures and Wii Me’s, tempting those with too much money to spend it on what IDK. Meanwhile games are getting more and more realistic.

    Perpetually, there are those way out in front, those stuck in the last decade and those warring over who can best carpet bomb users with crap ads.

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