Why is XUL still relevant?

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Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by soundmodel » 2024-02-24, 07:44

Why is XUL still relevant?

In: https://yoric.github.io/post/why-did-mo ... ul-addons/

They write that:
If you’re thinking that sounds very much like HTML5 (and possibly Electron) with the right libraries/frameworks, you are entirely right. XUL was developed at the time of HTML4, when web specifications were stuck in limbo, and was designed largely as a successor of HTML dedicated to applications instead of documents.
Once the work on HTML5 started, Mozilla enthusiastically contributed the features of XUL.
But yes they also write that:
This considerably slowed down the development of Gecko and increased the number of bugs that accidentally killed XUL-based add-ons, hence increasing add-on developer’s maintenance tax.
So yes, perhaps XUL is useful, if there are enough people working on it. It seems like there wasn't.

Why is XUL still useful?

I was also studying ctypes interfaces (and e.g. JNI.jsm) for JS, and again I am not sure whether XUL is still relevant and why. While other projects aren't Mozilla projects, I think there are several other projects that achieve the same as XUL when combined with HTML5. While retaining the easy maintenance and security of HTML5 in browsers.

In particular, the strong point of web apps is not the same as cross-platform UI frameworks. It makes no sense to attempt to make the browser serve the use case of GTK or something. A limited UI framework (like HTML5) seems more sensical.

Or what about something like https://github.com/lc-soft/LCUI? Having a lot of browser bloat in such use case would not be useful. Heck, one of the LCUI example applications is a browser: https://github.com/lcui-dev/lcui-router-app

So why cannot XUL be replaced by IPCs and FFIs to apps written using a variety of technologies?
Last edited by soundmodel on 2024-02-24, 09:10, edited 6 times in total.

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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by vannilla » 2024-02-24, 08:42

However, it came at an ever-growing cost in terms of maintenance for both Firefox developers and add-on developers. On one side, this growing cost progressively killed any effort to make Firefox secure, fast or to try new things. On the other side, this growing cost progressively killed the community of add-on developers.
UXP and its core team are quite literally the proof completely discrediting this whole paragraph and I have yet to read past the introduction.

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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by Moonchild » 2024-02-24, 09:08

soundmodel wrote:
2024-02-24, 07:44
In: https://yoric.github.io/post/why-did-mo ... ul-addons/
This mechanism served us well for a long time. However, it came at an ever-growing cost in terms of maintenance for both Firefox developers and add-on developers. On one side, this growing cost progressively killed any effort to make Firefox secure, fast or to try new things. On the other side, this growing cost progressively killed the community of add-on developers.
That is literally nonsense and literally just Mozilla evangelism for their promoted justification narrative to deprecate it.

XUL is a fully cross-platform, fully extensible UI interface language. That's it. There was no maintenance cost for either the technology or extension development. There's a good reason why so many extensions were built and maintained with very low maintenance overhead for a very long time until they went "Chrome want WEs for control, and they pay our bills (so we must do this too)". The only "cost" there was, really, for XUL extensions, was Mozilla's need to maintain vetting and moderation of the extension ecosystem and with their desire to no longer do this, they instead offloaded that work to... well, nobody -- by clamping down on what extensions could do (by putting it in a protected/sandboxed environment). Web Extensions are exactly what the name says: they are extension to manipulate web content. While XUL extensions are browser extensions designed to change the way the browser itself looks and operates. Part of this is also because Mozilla wanted to kill customization if favor of "brand identity". They had many reasons to kill XUL from a corporate PoV but none of them were the technical cost or maintenance for the tech itself.

So you can choose to believe that post, or just look at what the technology is and how it provides native interfaces and customization to everything.
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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by athenian200 » 2024-02-24, 09:12

I guess it depends on your definition of "relevant." If you mean "how is XUL broadly relevant or significant to most people in 2024," then the answer is simply that it's not relevant. The vast majority of the world has gone along with the path carved out by Google and Mozilla and accepted HTML5 and WebExtensions as the replacement for XUL. If you are looking for something with mainstream appeal that will easily attract average developers, you are in the wrong place.

But if you're here asking us this question, I would hope that what you're really asking is "Why is XUL still relevant to us, even though the rest of the world decided they don't care about it anymore?" And that's the only question we are really qualified to answer.

Well, the first reason is the most obvious answer, which is the same reason we give for continuing to support NPAPI plugins. There's an entire wealth of old XUL extensions and themes that have already been created, which would not usable at all anymore without a project like Pale Moon. So in part, there is a desire for preservation. Most old XUL-based Firefox extensions can be made to work with Pale Moon with a minimum of tweaking, and while it's not bug-for-bug compatible with old Firefox, it provides a future path for those old projects that is more realistic than porting to WebExtensions. While some extensions may have been rewritten as WebExtensions, not all of them can be, and even those that can have been left behind in some cases. This is doubly true for entire applications built on XUL as a platform, which would obviously be even harder to adapt than just an extension.

The second answer is that WebExtensions are a lot more locked down and limited than XUL. XUL extensions have a lot more power to hook into the browser and change behavior in big ways than WebExtensions do. If you weren't around back then, think about the difference between Manifest v2 and Manifest v3, but even bigger... the move from XUL to WebExtensions was effectively that, but for a previous generation that was used to even more freedom than what people are angry Google is trying to take from them now. That is to say, the very "security" you're touting as a feature is precisely what we don't like about it. It sacrifices flexibility and power, in favor of trying to provide security and stability in a way that shifts the balance of power away from users and towards browser vendors. A lot of XUL extensions that did make the jump to WebExtensions had to sacrifice features in the process, and we are the minority that was not okay with that and decided to try and preserve the technology that made the previous extensions possible.

Finally, there is the fact that XUL tends to integrate well with desktop environments. On Windows, you have native Win32 widgets. On Linux, you get GTK. On Mac, you get Cocoa. HTML5 tends to be sealed off inside the browser and insulated from the underlying platform in such a way that you can't do that, and tend to be stuck with generic widgets that don't really fit in with your underlying OS, and look more like what you'd see on a smartphone than an average desktop PC. It's part of why Firefox is so ugly these days... the newer HTML5 stuff isn't really capable of providing the older look with a lot of native OS widgets and independent dialog boxes, instead having to offer up interfaces that render inside browser tabs, and which aren't really aligned with the underlying OS at all. Most Electron apps stick out like a sore thumb and look nothing like native applications for a given OS, instead looking more like an interactive website.

It's also worth noting that Pale Moon does support HTML5 as a standard, and that you can even use HTML5 with XUL if you want to...

If you want more evidence that having an XML-based syntax like XUL for writing GUI interfaces in something other than HTML does still have value, then consider that Microsoft still supports WinUI 3 that's based on XAML, and that only works on Windows. XUL does something very similar, but in a cross-platform way. The main difference between WinUI 3 and XUL, is that WinUI 3 is Windows-only and is intended to provide consistency between desktop and mobile environments, while XUL is cross-platform and intended to make applications look native on multiple desktop operating systems.
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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by soundmodel » 2024-02-24, 09:41

athenian200 wrote:
2024-02-24, 09:12
If you want more evidence that having an XML-based syntax like XUL for writing GUI interfaces in something other than HTML does still have value, then consider that Microsoft still supports WinUI 3 that's based on XAML, and that only works on Windows. XUL does something very similar, but in a cross-platform way. The main difference between WinUI 3 and XUL, is that WinUI 3 is Windows-only and is intended to provide consistency between desktop and mobile environments, while XUL is cross-platform and intended to make applications look native on multiple desktop operating systems.
Yes, but WinUI 3 is an OS-level project. Here XUL is about a browser.

Like in the starting post, there are such projects for the OS API layer. They are not browser extension APIs per se.

Also, why do we need to write add-ons in XUL or whatever? Why cannot we just make Flutter apps that connect with the browser API?

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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by athenian200 » 2024-02-24, 09:56

soundmodel wrote:
2024-02-24, 09:41
Yes, but WinUI 3 is an OS-level project. Here XUL is about a browser.
I don't think it's that simple. XUL is actually both something used within a browser to allow it to be extended, and also a cross-platform application framework in which applications that can be extended by XUL are written. That is to say, it's browser-level, OS-level, and cross-platform all at once. It operates at all three levels. That's kind of a reductive way of thinking about it that doesn't really capture what it's about.
Like in the starting post, there are such projects for the OS API layer.
Right, but none of them do everything that XUL does, at least not without help from another project. Sure, there are cross-platform toolkits, but none of them are able talk to the underlying OS, applications, and websites and make them all work together quite the way XUL does. They're always missing one part of the equation they would need to replace XUL. People often miss what is really impressive about XUL and reduce it to thinking of it as either a simple cross-platform GUI toolkit, a precursor to Electron, or just the predecessor to WebExtensions for browsers. The reality is that it's more than the sum of its parts... yes, it can do all those things, but it is something bigger than any of those things when seen as a whole.

Anyway, if you are trying to convince us that we have to respect the decisions the rest of the world has made as valid and give up on the project, bowing to the pragmatism of Google-defined standards and modern sensibilities, then you are wasting your time and I really wish you would leave us in peace. We don't need you to "save us from our delusions" or "talk sense into us," as if we were children who need an adult to explain to us why Mozilla and Google's decisions make sense and what we're working on is redundant. Believe me, we've heard it all before, argued much more persuasively.
soundmodel wrote:
2024-02-24, 09:41
Also, why do we need to write add-ons in XUL or whatever? Why cannot we just make Flutter apps that connect with the browser API?
You don't need to. This project is here for people that want to. If you don't want to... then why come here just to tell us what we should be doing instead? People seem unable to accept non-conformity these days, and really push hard for everyone to get on board with the big thing and don't like a lot of parallel things existing at once. :/
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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by soundmodel » 2024-02-24, 10:44

Oh now I see it.

Yes, this made me feel more like Mozilla and Google are just focusing on other things (the main cake of frontend).

I came here looking for a cross-platform framework, because I didn't like React (doesn't feel like native to anything) or Flutter (Dart is pointless), and because I used Mozilla Web API, but yes it's limited. Electron is limited too. Node is. ...

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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by athenian200 » 2024-02-24, 10:55

soundmodel wrote:
2024-02-24, 10:44
Oh now I see it.

Yes, this made me feel more like Mozilla and Google are just focusing on other things (the main cake of frontend).

I came here looking for a cross-platform framework, because I didn't like React (doesn't feel like native to anything) or Flutter (Dart is pointless), and because I used Mozilla Web API, but yes it's limited. Electron is limited too. Node is. ...
Okay, it sounds like you get it better than I thought. :) Sorry if I sounded a little defensive earlier, it's just we've had so many people here come here and tell us that what we're working on is dumb and redundant over the years.

But yeah, most modern frameworks are kind of awful. I definitely get that XUL isn't growing with the web, and since we don't support mobile, that really limits the appeal of what we're doing here. So ours is limited too... limited to supporting desktop operating systems, and also currently isn't being extended. But I would ideally like to change that some day.

If I had the resources to make it happen, I'd love to extend our version of XUL to be able to do all the kind of things Silverlight as used for defining UI used to be able to do that HTML5 still can't do. Truth be told, if Microsoft had embraced open source a few years earlier, and Silverlight had an actively-maintained open source implementation, it might actually be better than XUL and have the potential to be a true successor to both that and possibly even Flash/Shockwave stuff that HTML5 also falls short of being able to do. But this is the closest thing that was both open source and semi-popular enough to draw at least a few contributors.

HTML5 left so much on the cutting room floor, and threw away the previous effort to reformulate HTML as XML instead of SGML, among other things. I feel like there's definitely a lot of potential here, even if sometimes we do seem stuck prioritizing maintaining existing stuff over extending it and making it do more things.
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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by soundmodel » 2024-02-24, 11:04

athenian200 wrote:
2024-02-24, 10:55
But yeah, most modern frameworks are kind of awful. I definitely get that XUL isn't growing with the web, and since we don't support mobile, that really limits the appeal of what we're doing here. So ours is limited too... limited to supporting desktop operating systems, and also currently isn't being extended.
Why?

My main use case is to have cross-platform over mobile and desktop. So e.g. mirror as much code as possible between Debian and Android. The best tool I found for this currently is the Mozilla Web APIs (possibly with JS ctypes to JNI, haven't tried that yet, https://devdoc.net/web/developer.mozill ... I.jsm.html) + Android NDK (+ whatever the equivalent "backend" is on iOS). And on Android I think that Jetpack is pointless, since I cannot afford the full native dev cycle.

However, in this context, I briefly thought that the ideas in https://devdoc.net/web/developer.mozill ... I.jsm.html give about the same amount of flexibility as XUL or something. The browser is just one target. The main chunk is still in C/C++ + Java.

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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by athenian200 » 2024-02-24, 11:15

soundmodel wrote:
2024-02-24, 11:04
My main use case is to have cross-platform over mobile and desktop. So e.g. mirror as much code as possible between Debian and Android. The best tool I found for this currently is the Mozilla Web APIs (possibly with JS ctypes to JNI, haven't tried that yet, https://devdoc.net/web/developer.mozill ... I.jsm.html) + Android NDK (+ whatever the equivalent "backend" is on iOS). And on Android I think that Jetpack is pointless, since I cannot afford the full native dev cycle.

However, in this context, I briefly thought that the ideas in https://devdoc.net/web/developer.mozill ... I.jsm.html give about the same amount of flexibility as XUL or something. The browser is just one target. The main chunk is still in C/C++ + Java.
Well, yeah, if you need to have cross-platform over mobile and desktop, then XUL won't work for that... Mozilla never ported that over to mobile, and basically always built their mobile variants without XUL.

I do definitely think XUL could be adapted to work on mobile, but that's currently outside the scope of our project, and also we would need to avoid making the kinds of unpleasant compromises other frameworks make when targeting mobile that make them worse to use on desktop.
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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by soundmodel » 2024-02-24, 11:17

athenian200 wrote:
2024-02-24, 11:15
soundmodel wrote:
2024-02-24, 11:04
My main use case is to have cross-platform over mobile and desktop. So e.g. mirror as much code as possible between Debian and Android. The best tool I found for this currently is the Mozilla Web APIs (possibly with JS ctypes to JNI, haven't tried that yet, https://devdoc.net/web/developer.mozill ... I.jsm.html) + Android NDK (+ whatever the equivalent "backend" is on iOS). And on Android I think that Jetpack is pointless, since I cannot afford the full native dev cycle.

However, in this context, I briefly thought that the ideas in https://devdoc.net/web/developer.mozill ... I.jsm.html give about the same amount of flexibility as XUL or something. The browser is just one target. The main chunk is still in C/C++ + Java.
Well, yeah, if you need to have cross-platform over mobile and desktop, then XUL won't work for that... Mozilla never ported that over to mobile, and basically always built their mobile variants without XUL.

I do definitely think XUL could be adapted to work on mobile, but that's currently outside the scope of our project, and also we would need to avoid making the kinds of unpleasant compromises other frameworks make when targeting mobile that make them worse to use on desktop.
Maybe it isn't then relevant even, because the mobile platforms are not meant for extensive use anyways. Maybe the JNI.jsm kind of thing is more useful there. It says on the page:
With this module, all of the Android SDK functions that Firefox has permissions for are at your fingertips.
Last edited by soundmodel on 2024-02-24, 11:21, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by athenian200 » 2024-02-24, 11:20

soundmodel wrote:
2024-02-24, 11:17
Maybe it isn't then relevant even, because the mobile platforms are not meant for extensive use anyways. Maybe the JNI.jsm kind of thing is more useful there.
Could be. I mean, honestly, there are a lot of limitations with mobile platforms anyway. You just can't make mobile as feature-rich as desktop, the problem is that people are ripping out the extensive features of desktop applications in order to make mobile and desktop work more similarly. Mobile first has effectively meant desktop last, and that desktop just winds up stuck with a lot of stuff that isn't suited to its strengths anymore.

If you're asking about XUL being relevant on mobile, then I would have to say it's not relevant there at all, because mobile has always been very limited and not as extensible just due to the nature of the beast. If you are targeting mobile, you will have to use something else, and that's okay... we have a very specific niche we're targeting, we aren't expecting to become the next Google Chrome.
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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by soundmodel » 2024-02-24, 11:28

Maybe there's also a link in adapting the mobile UI made in HTML5 to XUL on desktop, since you said HTML5 can be put into XUL applications. I originally tried to explore WebView on Android (https://developer.android.com/reference ... it/WebView) to put the website on the app itself, but this was said to be not for GUIs in particular.

Like it writes there:
In most cases, we recommend using a standard web browser, like Chrome, to deliver content to the user.
After all, it also doesn't often make sense to run web apps on the desktop, where there are better tools available.

The other thing I looked at is GKT to WebKit: https://webkitgtk.org/ But I use WebKit for nothing.

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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by soundmodel » 2024-02-24, 13:23

soundmodel wrote:
2024-02-24, 11:28
The other thing I looked at is GKT to WebKit: https://webkitgtk.org/ But I use WebKit for nothing.
But how is a Pale Moon browser going to fit into this since GTK is still well-established on some Unixes? So does XUL make sense for Unixes only?

Some answers:

https://stackoverflow.com/questions/263 ... ons-framew

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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by Moonchild » 2024-02-24, 15:05

I'm not sure to what level your whiteboarding is relevant here.

XUL is simply one of the choices you can make for creating applications. It is no better or worse than other languages as that choice will be situational. If your application should be extensible, cross-platform, able to display web content, localizable and portable, then XUL would be a prime choice. Even if it doesn't need all of those features you could still choose it.

So yes, you can easily use XUL instead of other development frameworks/languages, if you choose to do so...
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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by soundmodel » 2024-02-24, 15:13

It's just surprising if a "from app" technology would be comparable to "from OS" technologies (or possibly the OS developers are not interested in such technology). This is what I am confused about. Or well, GTK is still GIMP Toolkit, so maybe there's nothing confusing on "GTK-Unixes".

So if the OS is all about <native GUI toolkit>, then how does XUL fit there?
Or how does it fit to Windows (with XAML)? Yes, so it sort of seems like "from Mozilla" technology cannot possibly be exactly the same as "from Microsoft" (where they own the entire stack on Windows).

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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by Moonchild » 2024-02-24, 17:28

The widget toolkit is irrelevant for the development of XUL applications/extensions. That's the entire point.
XUL will translate its GUI definitions to whatever the underlying widget toolkit is; whether that be GTK, Windows, cocoa, raw X11, or something else! The developer of a XUL application or extension does not necessarily need to know, since it is abstracted to cross-platform elements/definitions in XUL. once again, look at the XUL documentation for a XUL technology overview and what it exactly entails.
With XUL you use an XML-based interface definition to build (and potentially localize through XML definitions) your UI, usually with javascript to "drive" the core of your application or extension and perform its tasks, making use of the various XPCOM interfaces or higher level APIs that are available in Goanna. You don't need to know anything about GTK or other widget toolkits for this as you are dealing with well-defined XUL elements.
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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by moonbat » 2024-02-24, 23:38

Mozilla's crown jewel which they pissed away was the application platform - XUL + XPCOM + javascript. Its real strength was leveraging XML and Javascript skills that are easily learned and easy to find developers in - to create powerful standalone desktop applications. Both Firefox and Thunderbird were initially showcased as that. There were plenty of other applications that used the platform, from Songbird to Chatzilla to FireFTP (the last two began as Firefox extensions and later became standalone applications).

So imagine how easy it would've been for any web developer in the 2000s to pick up XUL application development had only Mozilla provided decent documentation and tried to license it for corporate use. Internal corporate applications built with this technology, and it was much easier to build cross-platform full featured desktop applications without having to learn Qt or GTK or whatever Windows offers, separately.

Instead, courtesy Google, everyone's decided to just stuff a webpage into a separate Chrome instance and call it a day.
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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by andyprough » 2024-02-25, 00:16

moonbat wrote:
2024-02-24, 23:38
There were plenty of other applications that used the platform, from Songbird to Chatzilla to FireFTP
Songbird was remarkable, I don't think I've seen anything like it since. Someone should make a Palebird one of these days.

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Re: Why is XUL still relevant?

Unread post by suzyne » 2024-02-25, 00:36

moonbat wrote:
2024-02-24, 23:38
There were plenty of other applications that used the platform, from Songbird to Chatzilla to FireFTP (the last two began as Firefox extensions and later became standalone applications).
I use FireFTP (and FireSSH) every week and find them perfect for my needs. I love just going to a new tab in Pale Moon to do those little website maintenance jobs.
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