Firefox is improving its handling of HTTP Basic Authentication (on Unix)

October 2, 2020

We're big users of HTTP Basic Authentication, and I use Firefox (and what is effectively Firefox Nightly). Recently I noticed a nice little quality of life improvement in Firefox Nightly's handling of HTTP Basic Authentication, at least for people on Unix.

(I haven't tried to check how Firefox on Windows handles HTTP Basic Authentication, either in released versions or in Nightly.)

Today, if you go to a website that requires HTTP Basic Authentication with even the very latest Firefox 81.0.1, you'll get a very old fashioned modal dialog popup (at least on Unix), with all of the many problems that those have. These days, at least the popup only blocks that Firefox window instead of all Firefox windows, but it does stop you from doing things like interacting with other tabs you have in the window, and if you used "Open Link in New Tab", Firefox force-switches you to that tab (and throws the modal dialog in your face) the moment the HTTP Basic Authentication pops up.

(If you're someone who mostly or entirely uses tabs instead of windows, this means that a HTTP Basic Authentication prompt basically locks your Firefox up.)

At some point recently, Firefox Nightly has changed this to make Firefox's authentication prompt to you effectively a modal thing attached to the tab, not a separate modal dialog popup (in other words, how Chrome behaves on Unix, more or less). This doesn't jump in front of you in quite the same way, is much less annoying, and no longer locks you out of other tabs in that Firefox window until you answer the authentication prompt.

(Firefox still force-switches you into the tab that wants you to authenticate, in contrast to Chrome, which just lets the tab sit there if it's not the current tab.)

On the one hand, this is a nice quality of life improvement that makes HTTP Basic Authentication better for Firefox people on Unix. On the other hand, it turns out that I'm so used to how Firefox works now that the new way feels a bit jarring every time I run into it (which is more often than you'd think, but that's another entry). I'm sure I'll get completely used to it in a few months, though.

Comments on this page:

I guess this is like how browsers changed the way they handle alert()/confirm() dialogs. Those were also once displayed as a native UI modal dialog window (and so it was easy for malicious JS to DoS your browser session simply with a while (1) alert('hi')), but haven’t been in a while. That felt odd at first, too, but I remember not even noticing how quickly I got used to it and only realizing after a while that I had – so I’d say it’s obviously how these dialogs should work.

Written on 02 October 2020.
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Last modified: Fri Oct 2 00:21:31 2020
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