When Google introduced individual processes for its tabs in the Chrome browser, it was hailed as a milestone feature — no longer would the entire browser be beholden to individual tabs. In contrast, Mozilla’s Firefox has remained stubbornly in the past, without a separation of tabs and user interface (UI), but that will change now that version 48 is here.
The Mozilla Foundation is looking to put a stop to crashes of entire browsers because one tab misbehaved with its newly released Firefox 48, which introduces a new “Electrolysis” feature. It makes the content of a tab and the user interface surrounding it separate. That way, if the tab crashes or gets stuck in a loop trying to load some heavy duty content, you can still control the browser and close the tab if you like.
This is a feature that Mozilla has been testing in one form or another since December, but it’s being cautious with it. Although it claims that it’s ready for prime time, it has so far made the feature only available to a fraction of its 500 million-plus users.
If all goes well, half of all Firefox users will gain access to the new multiprocess browser version, and from there it will eventually show up on handheld devices and in right-left languages.
Conversely, if all doesn’t go well and for some reason the new process handling causes more issues than it solves, Mozilla will instead slow the roll out to give it more time to fix them before affecting everyone with those problems.
Ars reports that although the new multiprocess platform is a welcome change of pace for Firefox, it’s not quite as fully featured in its current guise as those offered by Microsoft’s Edge or Google’s Chrome browsers. While Firefox 48 does separate out the tabs from the UI by making them separate processes, it will still use a single process for all tabs. In contrast, Edge and Chrome have individual processes for individual tabs, making them more robust, as one tab crashing doesn’t take the others with it.
Still, Mozilla’s efforts do make Firefox much more contemporary, and it’s all part of Mozilla’s attempt to revamp its service to recapture its relevance. Once upon a time ,it was the most popular alternative browser to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, but over the past few years it’s continued to slide into a single-digit percent share of the market.
Switching to a multiprocess browser is a major step toward that goal, and 48 also introduces Rust, Mozilla’s programming language, which has the power of C++, but without its regular security holes. Version 48 will ship out with Rust in place of traditional C++ code used for handling media formats.
In the future, Mozilla plans to phase out the XML User Interface Language that has handled its UI. It will also be isolating tabs further in sandbox environments to make it harder for them to infect a host PC, and the same will be done for add-ons to further create security and stability.
Updated 08/03/2016 by Jon Martindale – added release information.