Firefox to get more powerful web development tools

Aurora, Firefox alpha development branch, has just got some important additions to its web development tool set.

Among these, perhaps the highlighter is the single most important feature of the group. With highlighter, you enter into inspect mode, where you just need to hover web page elements to highlight them, while breadcrumbs in the lower part of the screen tell you the exact path to that element. You switch from inspect to no-inspect mode by pressing Esc. Pretty easy.

I have seen similar tools before (including the great and simple Aardvark), but Firefox’s implementation is just and plainly smooth: the transition from highlight to highlight makes it just as fun to see as it is informative. Whatever it is doing, we need the same for everything in the user interface: tab animations, location bar menu, tab groups, Firefox menu, etc.

Firefox with highlighter screenshot

For more details, press the Style button in the bottom toolbar to see the rules that are applying to the current element and the effective properties. You can edit the rules and see the changes in real time

Firefox with highlighter, HTML code and CSS view screenshot

To see the HTML code of the selected item, press the HTML button in the inspect toolbar.

Firefox with highlighter and HTML code screenshot

The web console is now more powerful thanks to additional objects now available for debugging. If you have previously used Firebug, you should recognize a few of them, like console.dir, console.time, For example, enter console.dir(window) to see all the window object properties.

Finally, a more powerful code editor is now available for Scratchpad making it easier to write scripts for the current page.

A complaint I have is styling among the several web tools. The web console looks dull. The highlighter looks on fire. So together they seem part of completely different products. Hopefully, this will get sorted out in the Aurora or Beta phases to make them look good as they work.

Don’t hold your breathe for these tools though. Aurora means we are getting all the cool stuff in Firefox 10, scheduled for release on January 31st. If you feel ready to try them, check Mozilla’s Aurora web page.


Forward button to become optional in Firefox

Do you need the forward button? Most likely yes, but it is rarely used compared to the back button, which is the single most used widget in any browser user interface. So it doesn’t make sense to keep it present at all times, stealing focus from its helpful neighbor.

To address this, current Firefox nightlies feature the forward button as optional. If there is nowhere to go further, the button is hidden instead of just disabled as shown in the screenshot below.

optional_forward_button screenshot

Since it is only in nightlies at this time, Firefox 10 (expected for early 2012) is the earliest we will see this change in a final Firefox release.

If you want this behavior and remove some clutter today, add these lines to your userChrome.css file located in your profile folder*:

/* Conditionally hide the Forward button */ 
#forward-button[disabled="true"] {  display: none; } 

Note that the back button won’t integrate with the location bar as in the nightlies.

* To open your profile folder, go to about:support and push the Open Containing Folder button. If userChrome.css is not present, just copy or rename userChrome-example.css and add the lines below.