How to Contribute to Firefox

Album Cover: No Code

"Are you woman enough to be my man?"
Pearl Jam / Hail Hail

Posted on December 17, 2007 1:11 AM in Browsers
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

Back in March, I received an email via this site from someone named Rahul who wanted to know how one could contribute to Firefox if he or she chose to do so. When I first read the email, a whole slew of quick answers flashed through my mind, and then I started to recall various blog posts I had read from authoritative sources like Asa Dotzler and others about the various ways that people fond of Firefox and the open source movement it has come to represent could contribute.

However, ideas flashing through my head and vague recollections of blog posts long since passed weren't things I could necessarily forward Rahul's way. So the email stagnated in my inbox (where it still sits to this very moment) as I continued to put off replying, hoping somewhere along the line I'd remember where I had seen the best answer to Rahul's question, or I came up with an answer of my own worth replying with.

Tonight, as I go through and attempt to respond to the emails still sitting in my inbox, I've decided to come up with a list myself, post it here, and then send a link to Rahul in case he hasn't found a suitable answer from some other, more timely source. So without further ado, let's jump into it.

Become a Feedback Source

One of the easiest ways to contribute to Firefox is to use the browser like you normally do, but become more vocal about any issues or inconsistencies you find in the process. Is there something the browser doesn't do that you think it should, or is there something it does do that you don't quite understand? If so, let those who develop and drive future versions of Firefox know. The best way to do this is to submit bugs via Bugzilla@Mozilla. However, entering a bug can be a bit of a daunting task for someone new to the process or who doesn't really understand how software works. Luckily for these types of users (the vast majority), the folks at Mozilla have set up Hendrix, a much simpler interface for providing quick feedback or suggestions regarding Firefox.

As a software developer, I can tell you from personal experience that bugs are seen as a good thing, even if they have a negative connotation. Afterall, what's better, a known, reported bug or an unknown, unreported bug that persists in a product and continually impacts or irks users from one product release to another? Even suggestions and feature requests are good, because they give those developing or driving the future of Firefox an indication of what users are looking for in their ideal browser.

Spread the Good Word

Another great way to contribute to Firefox is to let other people know what they're missing out on. If you use Firefox and believe in it enough to provide feedback or recommend it to your family and friends, why not kick that support up a notch and help out with larger community efforts like those regularly established at sites like Spread Firefox? That site in particular focuses on the type of marketing that gets large groups of people who might not have otherwise known about Firefox to try it out. Those new users may very well, in turn, continue to pay it forward.

Another good way to spread the word is to blog about your experiences with Firefox. It doesn't matter if you're a MySpace user, a Facebook user or if you have a different blogging platform of choice; it's still very easy to broadcast a message to all your friends or readers including a link to getfirefox.com. Or more passively, to include a Firefox button on your website or blog's sidebar or as part of your signature in the online forums in which you participate. Or better yet, if there's a particular feature that you feel sets Firefox apart from other web browsers you've used, blog about that. Often times, a simple "me too" reaction from a reader will spark their interest in trying out something new.

If you're not really the blogging type, there are other ways to spread the good word about Firefox as well. For instance, you can kill two birds with one stone by purchasing t-shirts, stickers and/or other merchandise at the Mozilla Store. I say "two birds" because not only will you wearing or showing off the gear help promote the browser out in public, but the money you'll spend goes directly to the Mozilla Foundation, who are the driving force behind the continued development of the web browser.

Finally, another great way to spread the word is through simple word-of-mouth. Does your grandma keep asking you why her web browser crashes every time she tries to view the photos you've sent to her Gmail account? Tell her "it won't do that in Firefox, grandma!" Or does your little sister keep blogging with "words" like "omg" and "lollerpops?" Install and set up Firefox as her default web browser and teach her to make use of the built-in spell checking! I've found most of these victims of Firefox recommendations end up thanking me later.

Test Alpha, Beta and Nightly Builds

If you're already privy to the above methods of contributing and you want to get a little more involved, this and the following topic will likely be of more interest to you. The developers of Firefox regularly make alpha and beta versions of Firefox available ahead of the official release so that those with a taste for adventure (e.g. a willingness to lose all their bookmarks and other personalized data at any given moment) and an eagerness to provide feedback can help ensure the forthcoming official release will be as rock-solid as possible. Those with an extreme thirst for adventure can even download nightly builds that contain all of the latest fixes and new features checked in to the development branches.

A great way to keep up on the latest developments in this general area of contribution is to participate in the Firefox Test Days, to follow The Burning Edge and to subscribe to or routinely check up on the mozilla.announce.prerelease newsgroup.

Develop Patches, Themes or Extensions

In my opinion, this is probably the most involved way one can contribute to the development of Firefox, but it may also be the most rewarding. If you're willing to get your hands a little dirty with some web development and/or graphical work, some XUL and JavaScript coding, or dive right in with some C++ programming, you can work on a new Firefox theme, a cool Firefox extension or a bug fix or feature addition, respectively. Or if you try one of those and it ends up being too involved, you can even help out with documentation.

I can speak from personal experience in this area on three accounts (not documentation...I do enough of that at my full-time job). First, I spent a great deal of time learning how to develop themes for Firefox and eventually released GrayModern, a theme (which was really a port of an already existing Mozilla theme) that became fairly popular among Firefox users. It was a fun project, and it was a cool feeling to notice, over time, how many people were impacted by my efforts.

Second and third, I've spent more than a few hours going through the extension development process, even though I've never officially released an extension, and I even built Firefox from source several times, eventually even going so far as to submit a patch to Bugzilla back when Firefox was known as Firebird.

Conclusion

So there you go, a rather broad list of ways that you can contribute to Firefox and ensure that tomorrow's build is always better than today's. The great thing is that this list only scratches the surface, and for every idea I've shared here there are probably ten others (or more) that you'll likely stumble upon as you start to investigate the avenues that seem most interesting to you.

Have you contributed to Firefox already, or do you know of another good way to help out that isn't listed here? Please leave a comment and let us know. I'd love to see this post, along with your contributions, end up as the #1 search result for "how to contribute to Firefox." Right now, that list of results leaves quite a bit to be desired.

That will be part of my excuse to poor Rahul, to whom I will finally be able to reply tonight :)

Comments

Myk Melez on December 17, 2007 at 11:56 AM:

Besides these very good avenues to contributing, there's also writing and improving documentation for both developers and users. You can write docs for developers at the Mozilla Developer Center, where all it takes is signing up for a wiki account. And you can contribute user support documentation at the new knowledge base.

Another great way to contribute is to localize Firefox into your own language.

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