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Mozilla moves to cross-browser testing to ease developers' workloads

Mozilla takes the wrapping paper off a project that could one day make Web developer's lives much easier by allowing them to build once and test everywhere.

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Mozilla's new Firefox Developer Tools add-on frees developers from having to debug code in the same browser where it will run. Mozilla

Much like the difficulty you'll have using a metric wrench on an Imperial-sized bolt, Web developers currently have to debug their code using the developer's tools that come with each browser.

But a new developer add-on released on Thursday from Mozilla lets website builders test code written for Android Chrome and iOS Safari in Firefox. Called the Firefox Tools Adapter, developers can use the add-on for script debugging, running Web code through the developer console and altering site layout on iPhones, iPads, and Androids.

The experimental add-on, developed from the same tools that Firefox natively uses to debug Firefox for Android and Firefox OS, will allow tools in Firefox to work on Android's Chrome and iOS's Safari when the developer connects one of those devices to his or her desktop.

Developers currently must familiarize themselves with different debugging tools in each browser, which can take extra time -- sometimes up to a full day.

"Debugging across devices can be a real pain," Christian Heilmann, Mozilla's principal developer evangelist, said to CNET. "People have been dreaming of this kind of functionality for a long time."

The Firefox Tools Adapter will only work in Firefox Nightly for the time being, although Dave Camp, Firefox's director of developer tools, expects it to move up the Firefox food chain, eventually landing in the stable build in four or five months.

"The add-on depends on some very bleeding edge stuff, so you must use the Nightly," said Camp, who noted that the add-on has rough edges. Developers shouldn't expect it to work perfectly just yet.

Getting the Firefox add-on to communicate with the Safari and Chrome developer's tools was no easy feat, Camp said. He explained that getting developer tools across different browsers to communicate was like translating the word "dog" into another language: Sometimes it's the same or a similar word, but sometimes it's completely different.

Originally called "Fever Dream" because the idea to pursue the project came to Camp in a dream, solving the developer tool problem could earn Mozilla a solid round of applause from the Web developer community.

Heilmann said that the add-on is part of Mozilla's strategy to get more people to publish in HTML5 and with open Web technologies.

"It would be interesting if this leads to more collaboration between developer tools in the different browsers," Heilmann said.

The add-on could reduce complications for developers who are eager to build but less interested in hashing out arcane cross-platform differences when Android and iOS are dangling attractive, lucrative carrots.