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Mozilla to build PDF viewing into Firefox

June 19, 2011

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In the "new and exciting" category, word has it that Mozilla is currently working on built-in PDF viewing functionality for Firefox. Once complete, the technology will make Firefox the second major web browser (after Google's Chrome) to include its own PDF viewer and eliminate the need for users to install Adobe's Reader plug-in. Work on the PDF renderer known as "pdf.js" began on the QT about a month ago, and could be completed within three more, according to Andreas Gal, a Mozilla researcher.

With a name like "pdf.js", it is perhaps unsurprising that the technology will be built using HTML5 and JavaScript rather than relying on an application programming interface (API), as do Chrome's PDF viewer and Adobe's own browser plug-in. In a post to his personal blog, Gal explained why Mozilla's approach is more secure than the API-based alternative:

The traditional approach to rendering PDFs in a browser is to use a native-code plugin, either Adobe's own PDF Reader or other commercial renderers, or some open source alternative (e.g. poppler). From a security perspective, this enlarges the trusted code base, and because of that Google's Chrome browser goes through quite some pain to sandbox the PDF renderer to avoid code injection attacks. An HTML5-based implementation is completely immune to this class of problems.

In addition to having pdf.js up-and-rendering inside Firefox within three months, Mozilla has bigger ambitions for the technology: the company hopes to see it incorporated into other browsers and web applications. Gal describes the project as "community driven and open source", and points out that, since it is being developed using standards-compliant web technologies, it will run in any compliant browser.

For those so inclined, Mozilla welcomes external contributors. You can also find out more about pdf.js at its MozillaWiki page, read up on its technical "guts" or follow it on Twitter (@pdfjs).

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