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31 March 2011, 10:24

Mozilla kills embedding support for Gecko layout engine - Update

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Gecko Logo Mozilla has officially ended support for embedding the Gecko layout engine in applications other than Mozilla core applications. The move will have an impact on any application which has used the Firefox layout engine in their applications and the first to announce that it will have to make significant changes is the Camino browser. A layout engine provides all the functionality needed to take HTML or other web content and convert it into a displayable form.

In a posting to, Embedding Module owner Benjamin Smedberg said that Mozilla had been considering the future for embedding Gecko in other applications. He cites the difficulty involved to date, the expected complexity of moving to a multiple process model and the desire to "strongly prioritize" Firefox as the key product of Mozilla. There is a possibility that embedding support could return in the future after Mozilla has moved Firefox to a multi-process model, but the developers are not going to prioritise that as a goal in their design work.

The plan is to remove the code for Gtkmozembed, Javaxpcom, the ActiveX control and all their supporting code from the Mozilla codebase. Smedberg says that various people have expressed an interest in taking over the maintenance of these embedding solutions but asks if they could get in touch with him again as he "lost their email addresses in a recent computer crash".

The end of embedding support will directly affect projects such as the Camino browser. In a posting to the Camino blog, the developers pointed out that they had worked with embedding being a low priority for the Mozilla project, spending significant time fixing embedding issues to create the Gecko based browser with a Cocoa user interface for Mac OS X. The developers are continuing work on Camino 2.1 which will see the browser support the same version of Gecko as in Firefox 3.6; they expect that to be released in May and will continue to work on security and stability updates.

The Camino developers have not decided what path to take beyond that point. The manpower needed to maintain an embeddable fork of Gecko is beyond the community-based volunteer-only Camino project. A more realistic option they say, would be to switch Camino to Webkit, but while that would be less work, it would still require a substantial amount of initial effort.

How the end of support will affect other applications which use Gecko, such as Songbird, K-Meleon, DevHelp and Sugar is currently unknown. Some applications may be able to stick with their current versions of Gecko.

Update: An earlier version of this article incorrectly suggested that DevHelp would be affected but as Frédéric Péters, points out DevHelp was switched to WebKit in 2007. The H apologises for the error.


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