Firefox 18 boasts 25 percent speed boost, Mozilla claims

New IonMonkey JavaScript compiler revs up app performance while Safe Browsing aims to fend off mobile malware

Mozilla today rolled out Firefox 18, touting speed boosts of up to 25 percent thanks to faster JavaScript performance, courtesy of the IonMonkey compiler. The foundation also announced support for Apple Retina Display technology and WebRTC on the desktop side, and Safe Browsing enabled out of the box on the mobile side.

Mozilla has stayed true to its controversial rapid-release vision revealed in April 2011, cranking out updates to Firefox in approximate six-week increments. Version 17 emerged on Nov. 20, 2012, preceded by Version 16 on Oct. 9.

Mozilla is especially bullish about IonMonkey, its new JavaScript JIT compiler that's a marked improvement over the old TraceMonkey and newer J├ĄgerMonkey compilers, according to Mozilla developer David Anderson. "Both had a fairly direct translation from JavaScript to machine code. There was no middle step," he wrote. "There was no way for the compilers to take a step back, look at the translation results, and optimize them further."

IonMonkey provides a new architecture that's capable of translating JavScript to an IR (intermediate representation), running various algorithms to optimize the IR, and translating the final IR to machine code. On the Kraken benchmark, Firefox 17 ran in 2,602ms, according to Anderson; whereas Firefox 18 ran in 1,921ms, making for roughly a 26 percent performance improvement.

IonMonkey aside, Firefox 18 also brings support for Retina Display, Apple's LCD technology, on OS X 10.7 and up. Mozilla also added preliminary support for WebRTC, an initiative that aims to enable standards-based real-time communications in browsers.

The mobile version of Firefox 18, meanwhile, comes with Safe Browsing enabled. The feature is designed to provide phishing and malware protection for mobile users. It works by regularly updating a local list of known malicious sites, provided by Google through the company's SafeBrowsing database. "Whenever Firefox detects that you navigate to such a site, or that a page you visit is trying to pull data from it, Firefox will present you with a warning page and allow you to abort the operation," according to Firefox developer Gian-Carlo Pascutto.

Speaking of security, Mozilla said it squashed a few more bugs in Firefox 18, including disabling insecure content loading on HTTPS pages.

Firefox 19, based on Gecko 19, is slated to ship in February 2013, with nightly builds available via the Aurora channel. It will include a built-in PDF viewer, private browsing on mobile devices, a Browser Debugger add-on, and improved support for HTML5.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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