Google Chrome recently dumped support for plugins such as Java and Silverlight, and now it’s Firefox’s turn. Late Thursday, Mozilla announced on its blog that Firefox would stop supporting plugins based on the Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface (NPAPI) architecture by the end of 2016.
For many years, NPAPI plugins helped browsers add functionality such as gaming, rich interactive maps, and video support. But plugins also came with problems such as security vulnerabilities, stability issues, and performance drawbacks. The Web standards community overcame these problems by creating native functionality, such as HTML 5 video, in order to do away with plugins.
For Mozilla’s Firefox, that journey will end at an unspecified date in 2016, three years after Firefox first started restricting plugin behavior with click-to-play functionality.
Update: To clarify, plugins are different beasts than Firefox’s add-ons, which aren’t going anywhere.
Even though plugins are going away, Flash will continue to receive special status in Firefox, as it does with Chrome. Although it’s falling out of fashion, Flash video and Flash-based ads are still widely available online. Once Flash becomes less pervasive support for it will likely disappear, and many companies are working toward that end. Amazon, for example, recently announced it would ban Flash-based ads.
While most NPAPI plugins can be replaced by native Web solutions, browser games based on the Unity gaming engine aren’t so lucky. Mozilla and Unity hope to bring Unity-based games to the browser without the need for plugins by optimizing the Web Graphics Library (WebGL). On Thursday, Unity officially deprecated its Web Player plugin and said Unity 5.4 will ship in March 2016 without Web Player support. Looks like Flash-based gaming websites will have to change this message:
The impact on you at home: The average web user probably won’t notice much of a change when NPAPI disappears from Firefox. Very little functionality is being lost thanks to native Web technologies. A major exception to that would be gaming. If you play a Unity-based browser game, one solution is to keep the final NPAPI-supporting version of Firefox—or a Firefox-based alternative—around so you can continue to play. Using an outdated browser is not advisable, however, so make sure you use it only for gaming. For banking, email, and the like, stick with a regularly updated browser.