Firefox’s Electrolysis multi-process framework will roll out in August

Firefox is getting multi-process support. No, seriously, this time it's for real! Only seven years after it was first announced, Mozilla is turning the knobs to enable the Electrolysis multi-process feature in Firefox 48, which is set to be released on August 2.

Firefox developer Asa Dotzler says the change is "the largest [the team has] ever shipped." The rollout will be a gradual one, though. Mozilla will enable Electrolysis for one percent of its users in the Firefox 48 release. Ten days after, the devs will look at the feedback from that release and evaluate whether to turn on Electrolysis on for more people. Asa Dotzler says Mozilla "can slow the roll-out, pause it, or even disable [Electrolysis] for those who got it."

To say that Electrolysis is a much-needed improvement for the Firefox is an understatement. The once-popular browser has seen its market share sharply decline over the years, mostly to the advantage of Google's Chrome browser, which has benefitted from multi-process support for years. StatCounter's 6-month browser market share stats are quite telling: Chrome holds the crown with 56%, followed by Firefox with 14% and the Internet Explorer family at 13%. Firefox's tendency to slow down or completely freeze as soon as any tab comes across a hitch certainly hasn't helped matters over the years.

It's worth noting that certain groups of users people won't be eligible for Electrolysis right off the bat. Users with extensions, those using Windows XP or screen readers, and those whose language is written right-to-left will all have to wait. Extensions in particular are a sticking point: a good number of them need to be updated in order to work with Electrolysis in the first place. The "Are we e10s yet?" site helpfully lists the currently-known status of many extensions.

There's another catch, too: for now, Firefox will only use separate processes for UI and page content. Dotzler says the team will first work on making sure that everyone can use Electrolysis, and only that will look into using multiple content processes. Sandboxing and isolating extensions into their own processes will be last on the Electrolysis shortlist.

Electrolysis has been enabled for a small portion of Firefox Beta users since last December, and for half the Beta users in the past six weeks. Daredevils looking to get in on the fun right now have multiple options: use a bleeding-edge Nightly or Aurora build, and click the appropriate checkbox under the Preferences menu. Beta version users can force Electrolysis on by going to the "about:config" URL, toggling the browser.tabs.remote.autostart option to "on," and restarting Firefox.

Comments closed
    • BIF
    • 4 years ago

    Electrolysis? Are hairy browsers really that big of a problem?

    • Beahmont
    • 4 years ago

    Exited for multi process support, but I am really hoping this doesn’t cause FF to start gobbling up RAM as quickly as IE and Chrome do according to Task Manager. FF is consistently using miniscule amounts of RAM compared to either of the other browsers with the same amounts tabs and the same sites open.

    As an aside, seeing as we have some Firefox and Chrome browser aficionados here, does anyone know if it’s possible to replicate IE 11’s tab coloring system in either of those browsers. It’s one of the reasons I still use IE for certain kinds of daily reading besides the font smoothing. I love being able to quickly identify tabs and the tabs opened from those tabs by color. I’d ditch IE completely if I could get FF to emulate this behavior.

    • albundy
    • 4 years ago

    you had me lol cuz IE was on the list

    • lilbuddhaman
    • 4 years ago

    I’m assuming the “lack” of extension support will be modded/fixed independently almost overnight(if not already) so I’m exciting for the first public stable release.

    • mFvwv0zduc
    • 4 years ago

    I am looking forward to see it. I tried e10s couple of months ago but it was still unstable, it requires a lot of bug fixing before such complicated change can be populated to all machines in mainstream.
    I’ve been using Firefox since version like 0.6 beta, I’ve been always happy with Firefox as my main browser. I am not going to try Chrome because I respect my privacy and I want my browser to respect it too.

    • flip-mode
    • 4 years ago

    [quote<] Only seven years after it was first announced[/quote<] Not a programmer, but from what I have heard, implementing multi-process support is often not a simple thing at all, and for something like a web browser, I can see how it would have been a couple notches down from the top of the priority list at first.

      • morphine
      • 4 years ago

      I would concur with that assessment, but even in 2009, when it was announcement, tons of people already had multicore PCs. And the whole “decouple the UI from the browser” is what makes Chrome so great in terms of speed. I still remember back when Chrome was new-ish, that was my #1 reason for recommending it to people.

      IMO: the writing was on the wall. The years moved on, and people stopped having any reason to use Firefox over Chrome—much the opposite. I’ll even go as far as saying that Firefox just became bigger, buggier, and slower (from a whole-browser standpoint, not just benchmarks), and only in the last year or couple yeras (again, IME), started getting any better.

      I think this long-awaited change is very positive for Firefox. Now if only they’d fix the sometimes-stupid font smoothing.

    • DancinJack
    • 4 years ago

    lol firefox. how cute.

    • adisor19
    • 4 years ago

    As long as TabMix Plus will work with it, I’ll keep using FireFox. The moment it stops is the moment I switch browsers.

    Adi

      • Meadows
      • 4 years ago

      No you won’t, loudmouth. Other browsers won’t give that functionality either and you’ll miss it

        • adisor19
        • 4 years ago

        Indeed, but other browsers are faster than FF already so I’d still be winning some speed. FF has indeed suffered a lot and I’ve put up with it only because it’s the only browser out there with multiple rows of tabs thanks to TMP.

      • stdRaichu
      • 4 years ago

      From reading AbRASiON’s posts, it seems like I’ve got an almost exactly opposite way of organising my tabs to them… and yet TMP makes the whole thing [s<]manageable[/s<] possible! TabMixPlus is just a great extension because the same thing can be used to obtain completely different workflows so you can find out what works best for you. TMP is an extension that accepts no right or wrong configs B^) Personally I always have new tabs open on the right so that a left > right scroll through tabs is basically like chronological strata (and for when you can't remember what group of tabs had the content you're looking for... FinderBarTweak and its "search in all tabs" function). I'm one of those "lots of tabs!" guys and make liberal use the following settings in TMP: Tabs at bottom of the screen not the top (my mouse spends most of its time nearer the bottom) Single window mode (everything opens in a tab) When closing a tab, focus last selected tab Cycle through tabs with ctrl-tab Undo "close tab" (bound to ctrl-alt-Z, hangover from when Opera was the browser to rule them all*) Highlight current active tab (in my case, a fetching chernobyl orange) Multi-row tabs for when I'm in a super-busy session Reload tab every X minutes (most of my go-to sites never get closed and are refreshed every 2hrs) * Much of what defines tabbed browsing was done by Opera aeons ago, and whilst most browsers have regressed in that regard, FF/PaleMoon + TMP or Vivaldi are still awesome entries in the browser-for-power-users tool belt.

        • adisor19
        • 4 years ago

        That Multi-row tabs feature is unique to TMP and no other browser offers it. I wonder how popular TMP is with FF users. I figure I’m not the only one using it.

          • cygnus1
          • 4 years ago

          I get that, but I work around it. I usually keep separate browser windows for separate tasks/purposes. And I tend to not open so many tabs in any particular window that multiple rows would be helpful. The tabs CAN get pretty small, but not too small.

          One thing I think I will want in the future though, when I get a 21:9 monitor, will be vertically stacked tabs on the right or left. I’ve been contemplating switching to Vivaldi, so I might get that ball rolling before the monitor purchase comes.

    • atari030
    • 4 years ago

    I’ve been using Electrolysis in the Aurora developer edition of FF for some time now….it makes a gigantic difference in the speed/feel of the browser. As a long time FF user I can’t wait for this to become a standard feature.

    I was never enamored with Chrome and IE is IE. Long live FF.

      • davidbowser
      • 4 years ago

      I tried using Aurora a while back, but lost too many add-ons. At first, I would actually look at the add-on code to fix it myself, but that got old quick.

      I will wait for the stable version and then tackle add-ons.

      • backwoods357
      • 4 years ago

      I was a diehard Firefox user for many years, when chrome dropped I refused to switch despite the urging of co-workers. I tried it but just didn’t like it much. Shortly thereafter the next version of Firefox dropped (I think this was v2 moving to v3?) and completely broke FF. I spent a bunch of time digging in and ended up finally fixing it by ripping out a bunch of registry mess that the uninstaller left behind. Not long after it did it again on an update and I uninstalled it and switched to chrome. I’ve gone back and tried FF since then and can’t stand it. Updates are obnoxious, UI is clunky ect. Chrome just works, is fast, has seamless updates, has great plugin support and runs like a bat out of hell.
      This is just too little, to late for me to consider using Firefox again.

        • atari030
        • 4 years ago

        Different strokes, different folks. FF ‘just works’ for me. Glad you enjoy Chrome, regardless!

      • moog
      • 4 years ago

      I love FF. Works well. Guilt free.

    • Yan
    • 4 years ago

    I would think that the proportion of Firefox users with no extensions at all is minuscule. Or do only “power users” use extensions?

      • aceuk
      • 4 years ago

      Surprisingly 40% of Firefox users do not install any extensions at all.

      [url<]http://www.ghacks.net/2016/01/06/surprise-40-of-firefox-users-dont-use-add-ons/[/url<]

    • Meadows
    • 4 years ago

    9 years too late, but a step in the right direction nonetheless.

    • slowriot
    • 4 years ago

    I may be alone in this but I honestly feel Internet browsers are in a bad place again.

    I can only speak from my own experiences. Chrome has been my go to browser for the last few years but lately it feels each new update and “feature” that’s been added is making the experience worse. Plus for me the stability has been going down hill. I have been experiencing, across multiple systems, a nasty bug where Chrome fails to open my user profile correctly. I’ve done quite a bit of digging in it and tried various suggestions with no luck. The work around? Repeatedly open and close Chrome until magically it can open the profile correctly again.

    Firefox? Honestly the default UI setup is dreadful. Its performance feels even worse than Chrome. I loathe the need to have Adobe Flash installed, but its something I do still need. Chrome baking it makes that easier. Maybe if Electrolysis here brings major performance benefits I’ll suck it up and work on the UI, still don’t care for the Flash situation but could use Chrome for that.

    It might also just be time to start looking at other options more closely.

      • meerkt
      • 4 years ago

      Vivaldi?

        • slowriot
        • 4 years ago

        I’ve installed it, played around a bit and haven’t gone back. The default UI is even worse than Firefox IMO. It’s very cluttered. Lots of features I’d never use. Seem they give you the ability to hide/turn off most of them though, so I may have to spend more time with it.

          • Meadows
          • 4 years ago

          That’s the point. Too many options is never a bad thing as long as you can customise it.

            • DancinJack
            • 4 years ago

            That’s not necessarily true.

            • Meadows
            • 4 years ago

            Waiting for your counter-argument.

            • NoOne ButMe
            • 4 years ago

            User confusion. Although for me it seems Vivaldi to confuse you would need to do so on purpose to yourself.

            • w76
            • 4 years ago

            User confusion? Vivaldi pretty much explicitly targets users that won’t get confused by some options. It’s not a browser for grandma, by any stretch, and I don’t think they want to be. Therefore, while I like what they’ve managed so far (though I think passing the “1.0” version is a little premature when so many issues exist for video playback), I don’t really think of it as a competitor to Chrome or FF in general personally.

            • TheMonkeyKing
            • 4 years ago

            Counter: 2 things

            1) What constitutes “plain” browser? Do we say HTML5 complaint container with widget-enabled configuration? Do we have some other features specific to the company like a JIT compiler added to the browser for application differentiation? Do we include company-specific shims or methodologies added? This is even before we get to the addons.

            2) Addons. So which play well with application and components? While the addon idea itself may be snazzy, how it is implemented may drop the application use through sloppy implementation of an API or SDK, or bending the framework in ways it was never intended? Also, how well do the addons play with each other? I kinda look at my addons like my grandma looks at her pills for unintended side effects of drug interactions.

            My point is that no company can afford to test everything in every permutation. So we still live in a caveat emptor world where even one valid browser + addons instructions may not work for all users because of too many hardware and software variables outside the application and addons themselves.

            The way I look at this is that you have to pick what experience do want to have? Find out how to get there with “base + addons” and rigorously test it. Once you have that down, you might be able to plan for variations on these high level themes.

            The biggest takeaway from all this: We need better browsers more than ever because of the current state of television. What is Google Chromecast, Plex, XBMC, Roku, and all the others but a variant of the browser in kiosk mode? And to video content producers, how can they lock it down to push advertising at will and prevent copying?

            • slowriot
            • 4 years ago

            Key here is if you can customize it. For instance, Vivaldi as far as I can tell doesn’t offer a way to fully hide the side panel. Best you can get is a toggle that shrinks it. *shrug* Stuff like that drives me a bit batty. Likewise, I’d rather the page zoom controls be relocatable from the status bar (which I’d like hidden).

        • Peter.Parker
        • 4 years ago

        He dead, Jim! Nice music though (if you’re into that classical stuff)

      • flip-mode
      • 4 years ago

      Coincidentally, I was just looking at this article this morning:
      [url<]http://www.itpro.co.uk/web-browsers/24796/which-is-the-best-browser-chrome-vs-firefox-vs-internet-explorer-3[/url<] The final verdict is rather interesting in that Firefox is seen as technically superior to the other browsers, but Chrome is chosen as the "winner" because of the fact that it offers a connected browsing experience across all the different devices. I've switched from Chrome to Firefox probably a year ago. The reason I did was because of changes made to Chrome's bookmark manager that I found to be COMPLETELY unacceptable, I mean I think it took me two days after that update to decide to jump to Firefox. And it's been totally fine to use. The Flash situation sucks but that is legitimately not Firefox's fault. The Flash situation sucks because Flash sucks and Flash has always sucked but it was really the only option for such a long time. If I need Flash I will jump to another browser momentarily, but these days the need for Flash support is becoming pretty infrequent. Anyway, opinions and preferences vary. I'm good with Firefox, but I definitely do wish it offered that same feeling of seamless transition from one device to another. On my phone Chrome is without a doubt a better experience than Firefox mobile.

      • DoomGuy64
      • 4 years ago

      Cyberfox.
      [url<]https://8pecxstudios.com/[/url<]

      • tipoo
      • 4 years ago

      I agree, but for me on the OSX side. Safari is the only browser I’ll get remotely near their battery life ratings at (I’m still at about 6 if they estimate 8), but it still gunks up every once in a while and just opening a new tab will be slow, or it will look like it requested a page but just stall there forever. I tried everything, DNS settings on every device, went through three routers and one with DD-WRT, just can’t solve this.

      Chrome feels faster on OSX, but a little extra snap isn’t worth the lesser battery life, even if they say they “fixed” it it’s still an hour and a half to two hours behind.

      Firefox…Ehh, I just feel like it’s been left by the wayside years go as this article evidences. Nor the fastest nor the longest lasting.

      Opera is in a similar boat to Chrome but less extensions (I only need adblock, but still).

      • torquer
      • 4 years ago

      Netscape

    • meerkt
    • 4 years ago

    I don’t see why multiple processes should inherently help with performance? Threads in a process are just as independent. If there are synchronization bottlenecks they’d be a problem just the same when syncing multiple processes, assuming the same general design.

      • xeridea
      • 4 years ago

      It prevents rogue JS scripts, extensions, flash, and from slowing down the whole browser. Since they are different processes, timesharing is handled better, and since pretty much all mainstream CPUs are 2-8 cores, (an ever increasing), the load can split between several CPU cores, enabling much more work to be done, much more fluidly. Similar to the benefit from
      when multi core CPUs came out many years ago, if one program is using 100% CPU, it only uses 100% for one core, so your computer doesn’t grind to a halt. It is still possible for tabs, or programs to slow down browser/computer, but it is a lot less likely.
      It is also more stable since if a tab or extension crashes, it only crashes that process, and not the whole browser.

        • blahsaysblah
        • 4 years ago

        This. You would assume wrong that your bank tab is totally isolated from any other tab…

        Firefox has the profile feature so you can create isolated browsing experiences, but its not exactly easy to setup and missing some usability UI.

        • meerkt
        • 4 years ago

        If a script takes 100% CPU I don’t see how it matters whether it’s one of two threads in process A, or a single thread in process B? Threads in a single process can be run on different CPU cores just the same.

        Security and stability are something else, but that’s for another discussion. 🙂

          • xeridea
          • 4 years ago

          Security and stability are the main benefits, the multicore use is a nice bonus. Processes seems like the best way to do the multicore thing since you also get security and stability, even though threads could be slightly faster.

          • cygnus1
          • 4 years ago

          Processes mostly guarantee logical separation and available time slices. Multi-threading doesn’t guarantee anything. Multi-process means not having to manage/code a very complicated scheduler and core management either. Mixing many, different-purposed threads inside the same process while maintaining responsive performance is not all that easy. Using the OS task scheduler to do what it’s good at is smart.

            • meerkt
            • 4 years ago

            Can you point me to anywhere to read about this? Threads also have priorities, and the OS takes care of their scheduling (though you can block on purpose). On Windows you also have “fibers” which are manually scheduled but that’s not threads.

      • chlamchowder
      • 4 years ago

      Stability is probably the driving factor behind using separate processes, rather than threads. Separate processes = separate memory address spaces, so code in one process running wild and overwriting stuff will just crash that process and not others.

      If you just wanted speed, yeah, threads would be better. There should be less overhead with threads. For example, you wouldn’t have to switch between different memory address spaces when switching from one thread to another.

      • DoomGuy64
      • 4 years ago

      Agree, to an extent. We do need some multi process, but full multi process is inherently redundant and wasteful. Everything is duplicated and eats resources. Small scale use around 10-15 tabs would see benefit, but tab usage in the 40-50’s+ would see a massive performance degradation.

      It’s a trade off. IMO, sandboxing doesn’t address vulnerabilities nearly as well as noscript. Blocking flash by default? How about java too while we’re at it.

      The excuse for walled garden app stores is that they are more secure coming from a singular source. So why don’t we use that logic for web browsing? Nothing like loading a webpage that has 20-30 3rd party scripts running on it to inspire confidence.

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 4 years ago

      It doesn’t inherently. It means the UI never freezes because flash or something is maxing out a core. The thing maxing out the core doesn’t go any faster.

      • jensend
      • 4 years ago

      chlamchowder already mentioned that threads in the same process have the same address space while separate processes don’t.

      Beyond extreme bugs and security issues, another benefit to having separate address spaces is that it simplifies memory management problems. And ending a process is a good way to be sure no memory leaks persist.

      On 64-bit Windows and using the default 32-bit builds, FF has access to almost 4GB in theory, but it will grind to a halt and crash long before it reaches that point. I don’t know how much of that is due to heap fragmentation and other memory management woes but it seems likely to be a main culprit.

        • meerkt
        • 4 years ago

        Using multiple processes to contain memory leaks sounds like a kludge instead of tackling the core problem. Unless the problem is out of your hands, like third part native plugins, but I thought they wanted to phase out these.

        Using an old version of FF here, Flash at least seems to launch separate processes: FlashPlayerPlugin_*.exe, so that seems mostly external already.

    • tipoo
    • 4 years ago

    Wow!
    Firefox still didn’t have that? I gave up on it a very long time ago, even if it looked equivalent in browser benchmarks, the *feel* of it was always so much more sluggish than Opera or Chrome to me. Plus it’s not like it made that tradeoff for good battery life either.

    On OSX I just use Safari, Chrome feels snappier but the scrolling is a bit off and it drains the battery faster still, on Windows it’s Chrome.

    • ronch
    • 4 years ago

    Wow. Late, and now, there are so many conditions? Why does it feel like having multi-core support is such a huge privilege?

    I’m sticking with Chrome. Then maybe in another 10 years Mozilla will finally use two of my 32 Zen CPU cores.

      • swaaye
      • 4 years ago

      My only issue with Chrome is their love of having everyone run VP9 by default. No video acceleration most of the time.

        • tipoo
        • 4 years ago

        Use this, even if you shouldn’t have to. GPU accelerated H264 in chrome.

        [url<]https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/h264ify/aleakchihdccplidncghkekgioiakgal?utm_source=chrome-app-launcher-info-dialog[/url<]

        • setaG_lliB
        • 4 years ago

        Is video acceleration really needed these days? Even my old laptop doesn’t have any trouble playing videos.

          • tipoo
          • 4 years ago

          Still a big burden on battery life to do it on a CPU, near every GPU has a much easier time of it and stays at lower usage and power than the CPU would.

    • jihadjoe
    • 4 years ago

    I still use FF (well, Pale Moon actually) for the plugins, but it’ll be really nice when a single bad tab won’t be able to cripple the entire browser.

      • tipoo
      • 4 years ago

      I used to use Pale Moon, but they were always so far behind the main release that any speed benefits from specific compilation were usually nullified. WaterFox updated faster iirc. Is that still the case?

        • jihadjoe
        • 4 years ago

        Well the main reason I use PM is because they are so far behind that it still supports the old plugins. I’m not sure if they can backport Electrolysis while still keeping that, though.

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