np237 (np237) wrote,

News@11: Mozilla gives the finger to embedders

There have been a lot of web browsers embedding the Gecko engine, especially through the gtkmozembed “library” (it was not really a proper library but let’s call it like that). I remember being a happy user of galeon, which went on as epiphany, but there were also all these small applications that just need a good HTML renderer in one of their widgets, like yelp, or several Python applications using python-gtkmozembed.

Anyone having had to deal with these applications, especially the most complex ones, could tell you a few things:

  • the Mozilla developers never gave a friggin’ damn about embedding;
  • they don’t know how to develop an easily embeddable library;
  • the notion of a stable interface is a very arcane concept that they don’t wish to grasp.

So, today, it is official: Mozilla is dropping gtkmozembed from their codebase.

I don’t think this will come as a surprise to anyone. You can’t develop a new version of a behemoth, monolithic application every 3 months while still caring about the interfaces underneath. Embedded applications have been migrating to webkit over the recent years, and those that don’t do it really soon will die.

The interesting part of the announcement is not here. It can be found hidden in a bug report: a stable and versioned libmozjs will just never happen.

What does it mean?

First of all, it means that Debian and Ubuntu will have to go on maintaining their own versioning of libmozjs so that it can be linked to in a decent way by applications using the SpiderMonkey JS engine. It also means that this version will have to be bumped more often.

But it also puts into question the whole future of SpiderMonkey as a separate library. With a shortened release cycle, the Mozilla developers will be tempted to add more specific interfaces to SpiderMonkey, reducing its genericity in favor of its use in Firefox itself. This will produce less and less useful libmozjs versions, until we reach the point when they’ll make the same announcement as above, with s/gtkmozembed/libmozjs/.

This is especially relevant in the context of the GNOME Shell, which is at the core of the GNOME 3 experience. The developers deliberately chose to avoid using JavaScriptCore (the JS library inside webkit) through the Seed engine, and used GJS instead, that relies on libmozjs. In my opinion this was done for frivolous reasons (being able to use more language extensions); and not only this put the GNOME developers in an awkward situation where 2 JS interpreters compete in the same desktop, but now it puts a risk on a technology which is at the core of the desktop.

One of the reasons for the limited adoption of JSCore is that it lies currently in the same library as Webkit, which is a huge dependency. I’ve been very glad to learn that Gustavo is considering the idea of splitting it. We need to provide an escape route for applications using libmozjs, and it looks like more than a decent one. I hope that GNOME Shell follows it sooner than later.


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