Modifying Firefox Files Inside Omni.ja (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sat, 23 Jun 2018

Modifying Firefox Files Inside Omni.ja

My article on Fixing key bindings in Firefox Quantum by modifying the source tree got attention from several people who offered helpful suggestions via Twitter and email on how to accomplish the same thing using just files in omni.ja, so it could be done without rebuilding the Firefox source. That would be vastly better, especially for people who need to change something like key bindings or browser messages but don't have a souped-up development machine to build the whole browser.

Brian Carpenter had several suggestions and eventually pointed me to an old post by Mike Kaply, Don’t Unpack and Repack omni.ja[r] that said there were better ways to override specific files.

Unfortunately, Mike Kaply responded that that article was written for XUL extensions, which are now obsolete, so the article ought to be removed. That's too bad, because it did sound like a much nicer solution. I looked into trying it anyway, but the instructions it points to for Overriding specific files is woefully short on detail on how to map a path inside omni.ja like chrome://package/type/original-uri.whatever, to a URL, and the single example I could find was so old that the file it referenced didn't exist at the same location any more. After a fruitless half hour or so, I took Mike's warning to heart and decided it wasn't worth wasting more time chasing something that wasn't expected to work anyway. (If someone knows otherwise, please let me know!)

But then Paul Wise offered a solution that actually worked, as an easy to follow sequence of shell commands. (I've changed some of them very slightly.)

$ tar xf ~/Tarballs/firefox-60.0.2.tar.bz2
  # (This creates a "firefox" directory inside the current one.)

$ mkdir omni
$ cd omni

$ unzip -q ../firefox/browser/omni.ja
warning [../firefox-60.0.2/browser/omni.ja]:  34187320 extra bytes at beginning or within zipfile
  (attempting to process anyway)
error [../firefox-60.0.2/browser/omni.ja]:  reported length of central directory is
  -34187320 bytes too long (Atari STZip zipfile?  J.H.Holm ZIPSPLIT 1.1
  zipfile?).  Compensating...
zsh: exit 2     unzip -q ../firefox-60.0.2/browser/omni.ja

$ sed -i 's/or enter address/or just twiddle your thumbs/' chrome/en-US/locale/browser/browser.dtd chrome/en-US/locale/browser/

I was a little put off by all the warnings unzip gave, but kept going.

Of course, you can just edit those two files rather than using sed; but the sed command was Paul's way of being very specific about the changes he was suggesting, which I appreciated.

Use these flags to repackage omni.ja:

$ zip -qr9XD ../omni.ja *

I had tried that before (without the q since I like to see what zip and tar commands are doing) and hadn't succeeded. And indeed, when I listed the two files, the new omni.ja I'd just packaged was about a third the size of the original:

$ ls -l ../omni.ja ../firefox-60.0.2/browser/omni.ja
-rw-r--r-- 1 akkana akkana 34469045 Jun  5 12:14 ../firefox/browser/omni.ja
-rw-r--r-- 1 akkana akkana 11828315 Jun 17 10:37 ../omni.ja

But still, it's worth a try:

$ cp ../omni.ja ../firefox/browser/omni.ja

Then run the new Firefox. I have a spare profile I keep around for testing, but Paul's instructions included a nifty way of running with a brand new profile and it's definitely worth knowing:

$ cd ../firefox

$ MOZILLA_DISABLE_PLUGINS=1 ./firefox -safe-mode -no-remote -profile $(mktemp -d tmp-firefox-profile-XXXXXXXXXX) -offline about:blank

Also note the flags like safe-mode and no-remote, plus disabling plugins -- all good ideas when testing something new.

And it worked! When I started up, I got the new message, "Search or just twiddle your thumbs", in the URL bar.

Fixing Ctrl-W

Of course, now I had to test it with my real change. Since I like Paul's way of using sed to specify exactly what changes to make, here's a sed version of my Ctrl-W fix:

$ sed -i '/key_close/s/ reserved="true"//' chrome/browser/content/browser/browser.xul

Then run it. To test Ctrl-W, you need a website that includes a text field you can type in, so -offline isn't an option unless you happen to have a local web page that includes some text fields. Google is an easy way to test ... and you might as well re-use that firefox profile you just made rather than making another one:

$ MOZILLA_DISABLE_PLUGINS=1 ./firefox -safe-mode -no-remote -profile tmp-firefox-profile-*

I typed a few words in the google search field that came up, deleted them with Ctrl-W -- all was good! Thanks, Paul! And Brian, and everybody else who sent suggestions.

Why are the sizes so different?

I was still puzzled by that threefold difference in size between the omni.ja I repacked and the original that comes with Firefox. Was something missing? Paul had the key to that too: use zipinfo on both versions of the file to see what differed. Turned out Mozilla's version, after a long file listing, ends with

2650 files, 33947999 bytes uncompressed, 33947999 bytes compressed:  0.0%
while my re-packaged version ends with
2650 files, 33947969 bytes uncompressed, 11307294 bytes compressed:  66.7%

So apparently Mozilla's omni.ja is using no compression at all. It may be that that makes it start up a little faster; but Quantum takes so long to start up that any slight difference in uncompressing omni.ja isn't noticable to me.

I was able to run through this whole procedure on my poor slow netbook, the one where building Firefox took something like 15 hours ... and in a few minutes I had a working modified Firefox. And with the sed command, this is all scriptable, so it'll be easy to re-do whenever Firefox has a security update. Win!

Update: I have a simple shell script to do this: Script to modify omni.ja for a custom Firefox.

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[ 20:37 Jun 23, 2018    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | comments ]
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