Mozilla has announced a new extension API (Application Programming Interface) for Firefox called WebExtensions — in plain English, that means add-ons written for Chrome and Opera will work on Firefox as well with very little extra coding required. A beta version of the new feature is already available in the developer edition of Firefox and is going to roll out to the stable channel in due course.
You won’t simply be able to install a plug-in from the Chrome Web Store — all Firefox add-ons will still need to be verified by Mozilla and added via the official Firefox extensions portal — but from a developer point of view it’s going to be much easier to maintain a tool that works across all of the major browsers. APIs are used to enable interoperability between platforms, whether that’s a third-party client running on Twitter or the ability to post a picture to Instagram and Flickr at the same time.
“For some time we’ve heard from add-on developers that our APIs could be better documented and easier to use,” writes Mozilla’s Kev Needham. “In addition, we’ve noticed that many Firefox add-on developers also maintain a Chrome, Safari, or Opera extension with similar functionality. We would like add-on development to be more like Web development: The same code should run in multiple browsers according to behavior set by standards, with comprehensive documentation available from multiple vendors.”
Needham says Microsoft Edge could be added to the fold once the new Windows browser gets official support for extensions. He also notes that many existing extensions and add-ons might need to be tweaked in order to fit in with the new WebExtensions approach.
Ultimately it should be a win all round for developers, end users and Firefox as well. Switching to the WebExtensions API will also make extensions safer to use and quicker to update. If you’re wondering which browser should be your number one choice in 2015, check out our comprehensive guide.
Header image courtesy of Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr
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