Why I still have a custom-compiled Firefox

February 20, 2012

Not that long ago, I mentioned that I still use a custom-compiled version of Firefox and some people asked why I do it. I have a long history of compiling my own browsers, extending back to when the Mozilla browser was Mozilla instead of Firefox. Unfortunately, at this point I can't entirely remember why I started, but I do remember what the end result was.

(It may have been that Mozilla wasn't available as a system package at the time for Red Hat Linux (back when it was RHL instead of Fedora), or perhaps that the system packages were outdated due to the rapid pace of Mozilla development. This was during a time when Red Hat was doing minor update versions of RHL and thus trying to keep program versions relatively unchanged for a year or more.)

Starting from the early days, I piled on a variety of modifications and hacks. Some of them were simply differences between how Mozilla worked and how Netscape worked (I had a long history with Netscape and was very used to some aspects of its behavior), but others were bugfixes, font hacks, and strange alterations. For example, early versions of Mozilla did some strange and not necessarily desirable things with font mappings in X, and I overrode some of them and took others out. Since I wanted to be able to run Mozilla and Netscape at the same time, I believe that this is where I started customizing how the remote access works.

Over time, the need for most of these customizations and bugfixes dropped away (a bunch became obsolete when Firefox eliminated support for old style X fonts, for example). Today, the only necessary changes I make are my hacks to remote access and changing the Delete key act like the Backspace key in HTML content. I also fiddle the branding for obscure reasons.

(I used to have to hack things so that Backspace would scroll the page up the way control-space does, but Firefox added a preference for that. I care about this because Netscape used Backspace to scroll pages up and I have years of reflexes that I have carefully carried forward from the days when I used Netscape. Besides, control-spacebar is two keys and Backspace is just one.)

Just to show how crazy and recursive this gets, the reason I have to map Delete to Backspace in Firefox is that for reasons well beyond the scope of this entry I already swap Backspace and Delete on my keyboard; the Backspace key generates 'Delete' and vice versa. I believe that in the old days of Netscape both Backspace and Delete scrolled the text up, but I no longer have a runnable Netscape binary to check that with.

Sidebar: on keeping up with the main version of Firefox

Honestly it's not difficult. I build from the Firefox release source repository, which changes only very infrequently and generally on a predictable basis. Because Fedora is now generally shipping the current version of Firefox, a Fedora Firefox package update makes a good prompt for me to 'hg pull -u' the latest source repository update and do a rebuild. And Fedora is basically certain to update for security issues, which are the ones where I care most about being current.

(I'm generally not in a rush to update Firefox for functionality. If I wanted the latest and greatest bleeding edge Firefox I'd build from the beta repositories or the development source, but the days when I did that are now long over.)

Comments on this page:

From at 2012-02-21 10:37:05:

Defining Delete to scroll up is trivial with the keyconfig add-on:

Written on 20 February 2012.
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Last modified: Mon Feb 20 21:16:15 2012
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