Why versions 100 of Chrome or Firefox worry Google and Mozilla?

The 100 versions of Chrome and Firefox are fast approaching and this worries many specialists. They could prevent you from accessing certain sites.

Chrome, Firefox and even Edge are about to wait for version 100. This jump to a three-digit version number is a symbolic step that could create problems with certain websites. Indeed, version 100 of these browsers may cause bugs and compatibility problems that Google, Mozilla and Microsoft are trying to anticipate.

Chrome 100 and Firefox 100, what’s going on?

Long gone are the days when Internet users were waiting for Internet Explorer 9 or Firefox 4. Google went through this with its Chrome browser and the Internet giant imposed its style. Rather than wait to release a major version with new features, Google Chrome has embarked on a race for “new releases”. In a few years, Chrome has caught up with Firefox or the ancestor of Microsoft Edge and this decision is not trivial. It allowed Google to show that its browser is constantly evolving, contributing to the success of a tool that now dominates the market. Behind, the competitors have modeled their strategy and this is not without consequence.

Google Chrome 98
Chrome version 100 is coming soon. © Screenshot/JDG

The version number of a browser is not only intended for the Internet user. It is also part of the information transmitted by the software to the websites they visit. These elements form a character string called “User Agent (UA)” (or user agent); also including application name, operating system or language. Currently, the Google Chrome User Agent can take this form:

  • Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/98.0.4758.102 Safari/537.36

Firefox’s looks more like this:

  • Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64; rv:97.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/97.0

You get good information about the operating system (Windows 11) and the browser. Its name, major and minor version number appear. However, some sites are only interested in the first two-digit number and this may cause problems when switching to a three-digit version number.

A “remake” of the year 2000 bug

This problem is reminiscent of the famous bug of the year 2000. More than twenty years ago, we feared the transition to the year 2000 because certain computer programs only took into account the last digits, i.e. “98”. for “1998” or “99” for “1999”. At the time of the year 2000, the fear was to see many machines revert to the year 1900.

Finally, the case caused a lot of noise and few incidents were noted. This is also explained by the precautions taken following the alerts of computer scientists, years before the fateful date.

One more figure disturbs browsers

The phenomenon could recur and the main market players, aware of the problem, are working on a solution. They also benefit from a certain experience, because the risk already existed twelve years ago when switching to a two-digit version number. “When browsers hit version 10 just over 12 years ago, many issues were discovered with the user agent parsing libraries when the major version number went from one digit to two. »recall three Mozilla development managers, Karl Dubost, Chris Peterson, Ali Beyad, in an article from February 15, 2022.

Mozilla Firefox 97
Firefox will also be upgraded to version 100. © Screenshot/JDG

This evokes the transition to version 100 and presents the tracks followed by Chrome and Firefox to limit the damage. “Without a single specification to follow, different browsers have different formats for the User-Agent string and site-specific User-Agent parsing”, say the three authors. They add that many sites have taken their disposal during the transition to double digits, “so the switch to the three-digit version should cause fewer problems”.

The tests carried out revealed in particular that major sites such as HBO Go, Bethesda or Yahoo remain affected by this problem. They show error messages like “this browser is not supported” or 403 errors.

Are there solutions?

Firefox and Chrome are working on different back-up plans to avoid such mishaps. One of them is to “freeze” part of the User Agent to continue using the 99 at the beginning of the chain. Instead of Firefox/100.0, Firefox version 100 would display as Firefox/99.1 or Firefox/99.100. Same observation for Chrome which would adopt the Chrome/99.100 format instead of Chrome/100.

“At Firefox, the strategy will depend on the importance of the rupture. Firefox has a site intervention mechanism. The webcompat team can hot fix broken websites in Firefox using this mechanism […] If a site goes down when the major version is 100 on a specific domain, it is possible to fix it by sending version 99 instead says Mozilla. And to add: “If the outage is widespread and interventions on individual sites become unmanageable, Mozilla may temporarily freeze the major version of Firefox at 99 and then test other options”.

On the Google side, a similar plan is planned and plans to move the version number. If needed, the User Agent can look like Chrome/99.101.4988.0.

As testing continues, Mozilla is pushing for a common solution. “Every strategy that adds complexity to the User-Agent chain has a strong impact on the ecosystem. Let’s work together to avoid another strange behavior [à l’avenir] “. Version 100 of Chrome should arrive around March 29, while Firefox 100 is expected on May 3.

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