Latest Firefox Stable Version 68 Offers About:Compat, A New Space To Find And Edit Website-Specific Compatibility Tweaks

Mozilla Firefox version 68 brings with it several important features, bug-fixes, and performance and reliability improvements. However, the popular web-browser now also contains an interesting space to view custom solutions for specific websites. The Firefox browser’s latest about:compat feature is a space that mentions all the custom tweaks and workarounds which ensure certain websites and online platforms function reliably in the browser. The new tab can be easily accessed and is meant to include custom fixes which are temporary in nature. Mozilla has currently offered very little controls. Users can simply choose to keep the site-specific custom tweaks active or disable them. However, it is quite likely that in the future there could a feature that enables the editing or adding new workarounds for other websites.

Firefox is one of the most popular web browsers. Majority of websites load quickly and perform reliably. However, there are quite a few websites that do not perform optimally. There are weird issues that users face even while visiting legitimate and popular websites. Mozilla usually takes note of the issues and tweaks Firefox to push compatibility and reliability. This is owing to the developers of the websites who prioritize compatibility with Chromium-based Google Chrome or other popular browsers. Under such circumstances, websites that have not been thoroughly tested for reliability on other browsers can fail to work as desired.

In a bid to ensure compatibility, performance, and stability of websites when accessed through the Mozilla Firefox browser, there now exists a new tab. The new feature, among several others in the new Firefox version 68, has been deployed to view or disable custom workarounds. These tweaks are solutions are highly specific, and work on particular websites only. Although users cannot add or edit these custom tweaks, they can certainly disable them. Currently, the list is quite small. However, it is apparent that Mozilla plans to keep the feature, possibly for perpetuity. The about:compat tab in Firefox could soon start getting populated by other website-specific tweaks and workarounds. Mozilla hasn’t confirmed yet when it will start adding them. However, it is quite likely that it will rely on its large and growing user community.

Why Does Mozilla Firefox Need a About:Compat Feature?

Mozilla first introduced the about:compat tab within Firefox in the Nightly version of the web browser. The internal page essentially serves as a repository of compatibility tweaks that Firefox makes when it connects to certain sites. In other words, the page contains a simple list of fixes that Mozilla has developed to ensure certain websites load and perform reliably within the web browser.

Several developers have been known to develop their websites with a set of preferences. Essentially, they take pains to optimize their websites for a particular web browser only. Owing to its massive and continually climbing user base, Google Chrome is one such web browser. Simply put, web developers put a lot of effort into ensuring their websites work flawlessly on Google Chrome. However, they tend to sideline Mozilla Firefox. Web developers are supposed to ensure their platforms load quickly and work reliably on all major or mainstream web browsers. However, oftentimes, this does not happen. Developers may be constrained by device types or customer demands. On several occasions, tight deadlines prevent web developers from testing and tweaking their websites to ensure optimum performance on all popular web browsers. In such a case, they ensure the websites work best at least on Google Chrome.

Lack of sufficient performance and reliability tests can lead to loading, reliability or even functionality issues. In other words, websites that appear to work or load correctly on other web browsers like Google Chrome may function erratically on Mozilla Firefox. This causes confusion in the minds of users because there’s no obvious logical explanation. Private website developers or companies seldom offer a cautionary note that asks users to access the website only on a particular website for best results. After all, these developers or platforms cannot openly show their preference to a particular web browser.

Google, on the other hand, has been known to use techniques that ensure Google Chrome remains a popular choice among internet users. The search giant may only allow certain browsers, e.g. Chrome, by “sniffing” user agents of connecting devices. Several users have experienced issues while trying to use web products made by Google on other browsers.

In the past, Google had attempted to make its popular Google Earth application Chrome exclusive. Granted that Google eventually relented and removed the restriction, but for two years, Google Earth could only work optimally on Google Chrome web browser. On the other side of imposing restrictions, Google Docs failed to work on Microsoft Edge. Moreover, attempts at accessing Google Docs from other web browser were often met with a message that indicated the users were using an “unsupported” web browser. Even the YouTube platform had previously blocked Microsoft Edge users from using the new design of the site. Users of the Microsoft-built web browser experienced YouTube in a significantly different or older visual format.

How Does The about:compat Feature In Latest Stable Firefox Version Work?

Mozilla was forced to implement non-standard features in Firefox for compatibility reasons. These workarounds usually come with the -webkit prefix. Mozilla’s primary intention is to add support for features that Firefox does not support by default because they are not standards. Interestingly, merely adding support for these non-standard features may not be enough to ensure websites and web platforms work optimally. This is because many websites and platforms actively investigate which web browser is being used to access them.

The sites may use “User-Agent” sniffing to determine compatibility. In other words, whenever a user enters a website address in the address bar and hits enter, the website first determines which browser is making the request. Depending on the web browser, the website may or may not choose to work correctly. Interestingly, Mozilla is constantly fighting a war against such tactics primarily because a website should not treat web browsers differently. While the not-for-profit Mozilla Foundation may choose to ignore websites that aren’t popular, it has to find ways to ensure popular websites work correctly. The organization chooses to call them Web Compatibility tools. They are segregated as Interventions and User-Agent Overrides.

In essence, Mozilla Firefox may either choose to masquerade as a different web browser or use its own tricks to ensure optimum functionality. The new about:compat page highlights and separates the two different approaches.

In addition to the about:compat tab, Mozilla also launched a new Web Compat website recently. The organization is offering users of its Firefox browser the ability to browse the list of bugs or report a new compatibility bug to Mozilla. Needless to mention, the list is constantly growing.

Alap Naik Desai
A B.Tech Plastics (UDCT) and a Windows enthusiast. Optimizing the OS, exploring software, searching and deploying solutions to strange and weird issues is Alap's main interest.