Mozilla is one of the browsers known for its extra customization features, using a variety of add-ins and extensions compared to other browsers. Yet there is one area where it lags behind almost every other browser in the market including Internet Explorer (and that is saying something!!).
That area is ‘multi-process architecture’ — which allows web pages and browser interface to run in separate processes instead of a single process, used in Mozilla at present.
There are several benefits of using multiple processes for various tasks of a browser, primarily affecting stability, performance, and security.
It limits the ability of a web page or plugin to access resources of the system and so if a page or plugin fails, it does not lead to crashing of entire browser. This also helps in shielding the system from external attacks by limiting the privileges thus making browsing more secure.
And of course, this splitting of various processes efficiently makes use of multiple processor cores available on modern desktop computers and the next generation of mobile processors, thereby helping in increasing speed and responsiveness of the browser.
While other browsers like Chrome, Explorer, have been using multi process architecture for years now, the plans of Mozilla have largely been on paper and under development in a project code-named Electrolysis.
Mozilla first introduced Electrolysis (also known as E10s) way back in 2009 to bring multiprocess architecture to Mozilla browsers. It was then put on hold in 2011 but resumed in 2013. And now it finally seems to be ready for a wider launch and is included in Firefox 48 beta which was released earlier this week.
Mozilla plans to bring E10s in Firefox 48 which is scheduled for an August release, to a larger set of users who will be isolated and compared to beta users. Once tested for bugs and stability, all users will get E10s, meaning an improved and snappier browser experience from Mozilla.
In future, Mozilla also plans to isolate processes for individual tabs and extensions and add security sandboxing (both already being employed in Chrome). Sandboxing will serve the task of separating and limiting access of external plugins and web pages thereby increasing security.
However, some users are also concerned about the possible increase in memory usage with multi-process architecture. Addressing this concern, Asa Dotzler, Director of Firefox at Mozilla, said,
Firefox uses less system resources than the other major browsers so we have some headroom. Our engineering team has been laser focused designing and implementing an architecture that doesn’t cost a lot in terms of memory usage.
This release will also introduce changes in add-ons and extensions for Mozilla browsers coming with E10s. Like Chrome and upcoming Edge extensions, Mozilla add-ons and extensions will also have to be digitally signed by the foundation and distributed through addons.mozilla.org.
This will also be implemented to the current add-ons, which will stop working without a digital signature, post the release Firefox 42 on November 3rd.