Mozilla explores a non-WebKit version of Firefox for iOS in anticipation of App Store changes

Mozilla is testing a new non-WebKit version of Firefox for iOS according to The Register. Currently, App Store rules mandate all browser apps on iOS and iPadOS to use Apple’s WebKit browser engine. This restriction prevents Mozilla from introducing any version of Firefox for iOS based on its own layout engine, Gecko. 

Mozilla Firefox for iOS

Web browsers need a layout engine to interpret HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and embedded content (like images) and draw everything to your screen. Developed by Mozilla Project, Gecko is used in many apps and devices, including Firefox and Firefox OS which makes sure that associated APIs work on all supported OS. MDN states:

This means that Gecko includes, among other things, a networking stack, graphics stack, layout engine, a JavaScript virtual machine, and porting layers. Since all Firefox OS apps are Web apps, Firefox OS uses Gecko as its app runtime as well.

In the future, Firefox for iOS might be based on Gecko not WebKit

The report explains that Mozilla posted an issue in the Github repository which contained code for a Firefox for iOS version with reference to Geckoview which indicates that the company is preparing for upcoming changes in App Store’s rules.

While the requested Firefox for iOS settings page for toggling GeckoView could be for internal browser testing, it appears to be something more. The brief public discussion of the GitHub issue suggests Mozilla has anticipated that Apple’s rules may change – something sought by Mozilla and others through ongoing regulatory lobbying.

Firefox for iOS

The EU will implement a new Digital Markets Act (DMA) in the spring of 2023 which aims to regulate the growing power and influence of tech giants on the digital market and end anti-competitive practices to provide small businesses opportunities to flourish.

This means DMA would force Apple to allow sideloading or third-party app store on iOS which is currently prohibited. Thus, in anticipation of those changes, Mozilla confirmed that it was developing a Gecko-based version of Firefox on iOS.

In an emailed statement, a Mozilla spokesperson said, “We abide by Apple’s iOS app store policies, and are simply doing some exploratory work to understand the technical challenges for Gecko-based browsers on iOS if those policies were to change. We hope the day will come when people can freely decide to use the browser of their choice, including the opportunity to select the engine that underpins it.”

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Addicted to social media and in love with iPhone, started blogging as a hobby. And now it's my passion for every day is a new learning experience. Hopefully, manufacturers will continue to use innovative solutions and we will keep on letting you know about them.

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