Google, Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla announced a new WebExtensions Community Group (WECG) to explore a “common browser extension platform.”
Created as part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C),WECG hopes to specify a “consistent model and common core of functionality, APIs and permissions” for browser extensions. Moreover, the group wants to outline extension architecture “that enhances performance” and security.
However, the group doesn’t want to specify “every aspect” of extensions, nor does it plan to standardize extension signing or delivery. WECG wants browsers to “keep innovating and shipping APIs” that could further improve extensions platforms and continue operating their own extensions stores with independent technical, review and editorial policies.
In other words, the group wants to make developing secure extensions that perform well easier for developers without infringing on each company’s independent browser extension ecosystem.
The four companies invited other browser makers to join the WECG. However, it’s worth noting that the companies cover the four main browsers: Chrome, Safari, Edge and Firefox. Further, many other popular browsers are based on Chromium, the open-source foundation of Google Chrome, and utilize the same extension ecosystem. That should mean any WECG improvements that come to Chrome extensions will also trickle down to Chromium-based browsers.
Generally, the WECG sounds like a good idea. If it succeeds in helping developers build secure extensions across browser platforms, that’s a win. At the same time, it comes as many browsers work to implement Manifest v3, an update to Chrome’s extensions APIs. Manifest v3 should improve security and performance for extensions, but also comes with significant drawbacks — for example, several v3 changes aren’t backwards compatible, which means extension makers will need to update their extensions to maintain compatibility.
Manifest v3 was also criticized for changes it made to an API commonly used by content blockers, which would make those extensions less effective. Most Chromium-based browsers will adopt Manifest v3 since Chrome will go in that direction. However, Mozilla announced in May that it will maintain support for the old API as well, allowing developers to build on the API that works best for their needs.
The WECG appears set up to enable that kind of freedom for browsers to maintain independent extension ecosystems. Hopefully it doesn’t become a tool to push changes that would benefit Google and hurt users.