Install Multiple 'Bleeding Edge' Firefox Versions in Linux
March 23rd, the German government project Bürger-CERT warned against using Firefox versions before 3.6.2. Though I was not sure if this vulnerability also applies to Linux versions of Firefox, I decided to update as quickly as possible. For Windows users, it's easy: Firefox tells them there's a new version, Mozilla did the Quality & Assurance testing of the new version, so they can click on 'Update available' and they're up to date and less prone to exploits.
For Linux users however things are not so easy. They have to rely on their distribution for the Q&A, and they will have to wait for the package maintainers to include the newest version of the browser. I use Gentoo, and there's no company behind it. Though it has a pretty big community, it is not nearly as big as the Debian community. As a result of this Gentoo isn't normally the first distribution to ship the newest versions of software. As a result, 3.6.2 was not yet available for Gentoo, though it was recommended by Mozilla.
If you want to install the newest pre-compiled version anyway there are roughly speaking three manners to do it: The good, the bad and the ugly.. Let's start with 'the good' way. That's waiting for the newest version to appear in your software repository. If not, your distribution will have guidelines how to ask for it. For Gentoo, this means filing a bug report and kindly asking if someone can make a 'recipe' (in Gentoo terms: ebuild) for the newest package. For other distributions, this means someone will have to compile and 'package' the result and submit it. However, Gentoo package maintainers are volunteers who have a life beyond Gentoo, and one thing they don't like is being bugged about a new version several times every three seconds after a new minor version is out. Normally, the package maintainers will know a new version is out before most users do anyway.
So let's progress to the bad way: About the same as the Windows way, but worse. Mozilla provides pre-built binaries on their website. Someone might download these, unzip and run them. Probably, you're probably going to be OK if you do this. However, this means 'bypassing' your package manager and this may lead to unexpected results: Dependencies might not be met, or the binary Mozilla provided may not be aware of quirks specific to the distribution you're using. Also, un-installing might be a problem.
Therefore I decided to use the ugly way: That's providing your own recipe or package. In Gentoo chances are big this is really easy, probably much easier than for any other distro as I will show. What you're basically doing is, take an 'old' recipe and just change version numbers in the file name. That's all it takes to make a new ebuild! After that Gentoo's package manager 'portage' is ready to install it. Of course there's no guarantee this will work, and you're on your own for supporting this dirty hack. Nonetheless, it worked flawlessly in this case. Here's how you do it:
This is where the recipes for 'pre-compiled Firefox' live. Note the recipes of 'compile it yourself' Firefox are in www-client/mozilla-firefox. For the following steps, be sure you're root, or use sudo for the following steps. Now copy:
Note for future reference: firefox-bin-3.6-r1.ebuild is the existing recipe, and 3.6.2 the one that didn't exist yet. When 'ebuilding' portage, it will look at the file name to decide which version number it should download. However it also does file fingerprint checking: it checks the files to download against given hashes. But it doesn't know about the 3.6.2 files yet so it doesn't have the right fingerprints. The following is at your own risk, as you're going to create your own fingerprints and _you_ are the one going to say the downloaded files are trustworthy:
This will download all files, assume whatever is downloaded is the right thing and add fingerprints to the fingerprint-file, the one called 'Manifest'. Now we're ready to install! As time of this writing, the existing 3.6-r1 is still not deemed stable. That's to say, the package maintainers are not sure if it's stable yet. This is comparable to the 'testing' branche other distributions use, and in Gentoo it's called 'keyworded'. By default, portage doesn't install 'keyworded' packages, so we have to inform portage it's ok. One way to do this is:
Now you can proceed with
as usual, and if it suggests to install 3.6.2 as we wanted, you're ready to go and remove the '-p' (pretend) and portage will install 3.6.2. When done, be sure to run Firefox-bin and not just 'firefox', as 'firefox' will refer to the 'compile yourself' www-client/mozilla-firefox and both can be installed at the same time using different versions on Gentoo.
Firefox 3.7-alpha4Then, we proceed with Firefox 3.7-alpha4. Please don't run this version before you have read the following paragraph about "Multiple versions"! Otherwise you might screw your existing Firefox profile, so you're warned! It's a good idea to back up your ~/.mozilla directory before proceeding. I proceed using the 'bad' way. Installing this one is pretty easy: Download your zipped archive from Mozilla. I chose firefox-3.7a4pre.en-US.linux-i686.tar.bz2. Move it to some dir where it can't cause harm, in my case it's ~/sys. unzip it:
You can delete the archive file if you want, and rename the resulting directory to Firefox-3.7 if you like claritiy. Then, you can simply cd to Firefox-3.7, and there's your binary! Please note, it's probably not in your $PATH (it shouldn't be!), the directories where your system looks if you want to start some command. So, to run this version, you have to manually cd to the directory where you unzipped 3.7 and manually run ./firefox. Note this 'tree' isn't "installed" on your system - which makes this solution only 'halve bad' - it can be considered a portable version of Firefox. That's why it's easy to remove. Say I wanted to remove this Firefox 3.7, all I would have to do is:
Now, let's run our new version, but not before we give it its own profile!
Now, besides 3.6.2 installed in the first paragraph, we're going to run 3.7a4, the newest alpha at times of this writing. To do this, we need multiple profiles to make sure a 3.6 profile won't crash 3.7 and the other way around. Also, as 3.7 is considered 'Alpha' it shouldn't touch our 'production' profile for 3.6. Here's how to proceed: In a console, run (as your normal user):
Now a window will open listing your available profiles. In my case the default profile is named "71vcz8af.default". I rename that one to "3.6". Then I say: Create profile, and a wizard will make a new profile for me. You can give your new profile a name, in my case I call the new one: "3.7". However, I don't want it to be populated by FF 3.6, so instead of "Start Firefox" I choose "Exit". We now have our profiles in place, and it's time to consider the -no-remote option. When you or some other application (many do!) run 'firefox URL' from the command line, firefox would normally look to see if there's already an open window of Firefox. But we don't want 3.6 and 3.7a to interact, so whenever we start one of the two, we run 'firefox-bin -no-remote'.
If you start Firefox with this option, it will start a new instance of Firefox instead of adding a tab to the current open Firefox window. Now, we have to make sure 3.6 starts with the old profile. I use WindowMaker as my desktop environment, so I map my Firefox shortcut key / start menu entry to "/usr/bin/firefox-bin -P 3.6 -no-remote'. The /usr/bin part is the part which makes sure my 'global' system Firefox is started (the one that's installed), and the "-P 3.6" part is the part which makes sure the 3.6 profile is used. Now if I simultaneously wanted to run 3.7, here's how to do it:
Here the ./ part is what makes sure I'm running the executable in this directory, and not from $PATH, which would normally default to /usr/bin/firefox - and that might be another version. The "-P 3.7" part, as you might have guessed, makes sure it's run with the new 3.7 profile.
Installing Flash 10.1 betaOne of the big annoyances I have with Firefox is that it always becomes unstable and hangs after watching a few Youtube vids. This also goes for Opera. This is caused by the shitty Flash plugin provided by Adobe, most Linux users will probably have 10.0.45. However, Adobe bettered its life with 10.1 beta it seems, but it's not in most software repositories as far as I can tell. Therefore we're going to use the 'ugly' method again to install this one. It's rather easy: In the url-bar of Firefox I type 'flash beta linux' and I hit enter. In the green square on the right, I choose: Get the Flash Player 10.1 pre-release.
In the next screen, I click "Download plug-in for Linux (TAR.GZ). I unzip it and move 'libflashplayer.so' to ~/.firefox/plugins, and I'm done! To be sure, I uninstalled www-plugin/adobe-flash from my system. Restart Firefox, 3.6 or 3.7 doesn't matter, go to about:plugins, and with a bit of luck it will tell you it's running Shockwave Flash 10.1d 51 (or higher!). What I noted using this 'pre-release' is that, even though it's not that well tested yet, it's not as cripple as 10.0.45 and I can watch multiple Youtube vids consecutively without Firefox hanging.
For what it's worth: I downloaded Google's V8 benchmark suite (easy to 'wget') and ran version 5 of it using the JM command line interpreter. With the -m switch, it uses the new method-jit, and without the switch it doesn't. With the switch and the JIT enabled, I reached a 38% higher score than without it, but I'm not really sure of this results given I'm not a developer and it was the first time I ever compiled a js-engine and ran benchmarks using the command line version of said js-engine. But anyway, if you're an end user and you're not sure of what you're doing and you're using something aimed at developers only, chances are you finally reached the bleeding edge!
ConclusionSo what did we learn? Windows users are lucky, being served with well tested upgrades which are easy to install. Linux users are lucky having multiple ways to install new versions. It's pretty easy installing and using some new Alpha version of Firefox in Linux. Installing and running multiple versions of Firefox on Linux is not that hard, as long as you know what you're doing and keep them apart. WebGL is really cool, and it will change the cloud: It's theoretically possible CAD and games will be web-based running on fat power hungry x86 servers and available from power efficient ARM-netbooks and smart phones acting as clients, where rendering is done with hardware acceleration of the ARM portable devices!
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