Living in a Go Faster, post-XUL world
July 13, 2015 § 31 Comments
A long time ago, XUL was an extraordinary component of Firefox. It meant that front-end and add-on developers could deliver user interfaces in a single, mostly-declarative, language, and see them adapt automatically to the look and feel of each OS. Ten years later, XUL has become a burden: most of its features have been ported to HTML5, often with slightly different semantics – which makes Gecko needlessly complex – and nobody understands XUL – which makes contributions harder than they should be. So, we have reached a stage at which we basically agree that, in a not-too-distant future, Firefox should not rely upon XUL anymore.
But wait, it’s not the only thing that needs to change. We also want to support piecewise updates for Firefox. We want Firefox to start fast. We want the UI to remain responsive. We want to keep supporting add-ons. Oh, and we want contributors, too. And we don’t want to lose internationalization.
Mmmh… and perhaps we don’t want to restart Firefox from bare Gecko.
All of the above are worthy objectives, but getting them all will require some careful thought.
So I’d like to put together a list of all our requirements, against which we could evaluate potential solutions, re-architectures, etc. for the front-end:
- Get rid of the deprecated (XUL) bits of Gecko in a finite time.
- Don’t break Firefox .
- Firefox should start fast.
- The UI should not suffer from jank.
- The UI should not cause jank.
- Look and feel like a native app, even with add-ons.
- Keep supporting internationalization.
- Keep supporting lightweight themes.
- Keep supporting acccessibility.
- Use technologies that the world understands.
- Use technologies that are useful to add-on authors.
- Support piece-wise, restart-less front-end updates.
- Provide an add-ons API that won’t break.
- Code most of the front-end with the add-ons API.
 I have heard this claim contested. Some apparently suggest that we should actually break Firefox and base all our XUL-less, Go Faster initiatives on a clean slate from e.g. Browser.html or Servo. If you wish to defend this, please step forward 🙂
Does this sound like a correct list for all of you?