Firefox and Java

If you’re an IT administrator or poweruser, you’re probably aware that the range of browsers which support the Java and Silverlight plugins has been slowly shrinking.

This has affected the Netilla/NetConnect platform, which has prompted great efforts to make all the existing functionality available via HTML5. And as an administrator, you’ll often run across server, device and application management tools which require Java. Until the particular device or application is replaced, you have no choice but to find a browser which can access them.

So the news that Firefox 52 has dropped support for the NPAPI plugin architecture, and with it the ability to run Java and Silverlight applications, is most unwelcome. There is a way around it though. Firefox also maintain an Extended Support Release (ESR) version, which receives security updates but not feature updates. Firefox 52.0 ESR does support NPAPI plugins (and hence Java) and will continue to do so until the next ESR refresh in about a year’s time.

You can make the change to the ESR channel in two ways. The simplest way is to uninstall Firefox and install Firefox ESR. You can get it from the Mozilla download page, keep in mind that none of the Windows 64 bit versions support Java.

The other option is to change your existing Firefox installation to use the ESR channel. Your Firefox will automatically update itself. The change involves editing two files in your Firefox program directory – good instructions are here.

As for the future, the fate of the Java browser plugin is basically sealed. It’s not supported in Edge, Chrome and now Firefox. Even Oracle are planning to mark the plugin based technology as deprecated in the next release of Java, scheduled for July 2017.