[tbb-dev] Future Plan for Tor Browser for Android

Georg Koppen gk at torproject.org
Mon Jun 18 12:44:00 UTC 2018

Matthew Finkel:
> At the Mozilla All-Hands in SF we had some discussions about Mozilla's
> future plans on Android. Currently, Mozilla are actively supporting four
> Android app web browsers - Fennec[0], Focus[1], Rocket[2], and Firefox
> on Fire TV[3].
> Focus, Rocket, and Firefox on Fire TV are all minimal browsers, and they
> do not have the same features as Fennec. Fennec is the codebase Orfox
> uses, and it is the browser we are currently planning on using for Tor
> Browser. However, Fennec is not being actively developed, but Mozilla
> are keeping Fennec alive and they do not have an EOL date.
> The two important parts from this are:
>   1) The Fennec code will not change much over the next 12+ months
>   2) We can safely continuing using Fennec for the 12+ months
> This effectively means Fennec 67 will be very close to Fennec 60ESR.
> Therefore, I propose we backout our current plan of following Fennec
> releases and we make this simple and follow ESR (exactly the same as
> desktop). We can track on-going changes in mozilla-central that affect
> Fennec, but these changes should not happen often - backporting any high
> priority patches shouldn't be difficult.
> The two additional components I should mention are GeckoView[4] and
> Fenix[5]. GeckoView is an Android library acting as a glue-layer between
> the Gecko native code and the UI/Browser app layer. Firefox Focus is
> currenty using Android WebView (Android's built-in renderer), but they
> are moving Focus onto using GeckoView in the very near future. Fennec
> currently uses parts of GeckoView, so if we decide we should use the ESR
> then we should also watch the work done on GeckoView in case there are
> any improvements we want.
> Fenix is the last piece in this puzzle. It is a new browser Mozilla will
> be working on, and it has a lot of promise - but currently it does not
> exist in a form we can use. We may want to consider using Fenix in 2-3
> years.
> Mozilla's Android Components project is also interesting. When it is
> ready, we could create our own browser by picking-and-choosing the parts
> we want. Unfortunately, this isn't as easy as hardening an existing
> private browsing mode. This is the reason I think we should continue
> working on Fennec right now.
> In conclusion, I propose we develop Tor Browser for Android based on
> Firefox Fennec ESR. This is not an official ESR, but the changes between
> Fennec releases will be very small (if any changes at all). This will
> allow us maintain the same branches for desktop and mobile.

Sounds almost like a best-case scenario for us, great. We should think
about how we get timely information about possible security updates we
need to backport. I guess we can create a weekly "monitor
mozilla-central for possible security/privacy related backports"-role
and/or I can try to get a more timely access to Fennec-only security bugs.


> [0] https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.mozilla.firefox
> [1] https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.mozilla.focus
> [2] https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.mozilla.rocket
> [3] https://www.amazon.com/Mozilla-Firefox-for-Fire-TV/dp/B078B5YMPD
> [4] https://wiki.mozilla.org/Mobile/GeckoView
> [5] https://github.com/mozilla-mobile/fenix
> [6] https://github.com/mozilla-mobile/android-components
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