Mozilla prepares coders for Firefox 4 features

Web developers, brace yourselves for Firefox 4 features. One in particular, IndexedDB, gives Web applications new data storage abilities.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

It was with delight that I read these words on Thursday: "The proposed IndexedDB standard, which provides a local database store for Web applications, will be supported by Firefox 4."

The statement appears on Mozilla's new Firefox 4 for developers site, boding well for those of us who use the Web a lot: the IndexedDB interface gives Web applications a way to work even without a network connection.

The proposed IndexedDB addition to the HTML standard is one of a collection of technologies opening new horizons for Web programmers and putting competitive pressure on Adobe Systems' Flash Player plug-in. The main reason I'm interested in it in particular: the restoration and, I'd hope, improvement of Google Docs offline access and editing features. But I could see it as improving performance for some Web sites, too, through more sophisticated caching, for example.

When earlier this month Mozilla detailed Firefox 4 plans, including a desire to release the new version by November, the organization left IndexedDB support as a grayed-out item, meaning it wasn't committing. When I asked if things had changed since then, Mozilla displayed some optimism but left itself some IndexedDB wiggle room.

"Our team continues to work on both the implementation of IndexedDB as well as on the specification in collaboration with Microsoft and others," said Director of Firefox Mike Beltzner. "This work is moving fast; over the past two weeks there has been a lot of progress on the specification. We're still aiming to ship it with Firefox 4, assuming the quality of the specification and implementation meet the needs of Web developers looking to build applications that use client side storage."

Firefox faces new competition from Google Chrome in particular, but its usage continues to grow, and at least for newer Web sites, being something other than Internet Explorer isn't the liability it once was.

IndexedDB is one of a number of technologies developers should be aware of. Mozilla mentioned some earlier, but the developer page has a full list that's still under development. Some highlights:

• WebM. Google hadn't announced its royalty-free, open-source Web video project when Mozilla gave its May 11 list. It's no surprise, but WebM has indeed arrived on the Firefox 4 to-do list. Some raw developer-oriented builds of the software have support already.

• Multitouch. Apple's iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad don't run Firefox, but an increasing number of touch- and multitouch-operated devices will, including Google Android phones.

• WebGL. This technology for bringing 3D graphics to the Web uses the OpenGL ES 2.0 graphics interface, but Google is working on a technology to bridge to computers that only have Windows Direct3D drivers installed. Google's also working on a higher-level 3D graphics interface based on its O3D plug-in.

• WebSockets. This HTML feature is for better communications between a browser and a server.

• HTML5 parser. The HTML5 specification, while not finalized, brings some improvements to the rules for how to interpret Web pages, and Mozilla is moving to a new parser to handle that task. The HTML5 parser is faster than its predecessor and can display SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) amid other elements on a Web page.

• SMIL. The Synchronized Multimedia Integration Languagecan be used for some animation chores, encroaching somewhat on the toes of Adobe Systems' Flash.

This story was corrected at 9:51 a.m. PDT to correct Mike Beltzner's title. His title is director of Firefox.