Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Java in Firefox extension hosed again

A full-featured browser, an XUL front end, and the wealth of libraries available in Java makes for a powerful and flexible combination. The browser extension capability of Firefox, along with LiveConnect has been used by at least three extensions:

Most of what I've figured out about using Java from an extension came from Simile's David Huynh. Sadly, development of Piggy Bank has now "quiesced".

I don't know about the others, but Firegoose is hosed by the latest Java 6 update 10. Apparently, Java 6.10 introduces some significant changes into LiveConnect and the Java browser plugin. It's certainly good that Java in the browser is getting some attention, but I wish Java in a Firefox extension was a supported and regression tested use case (see whining here). The fact that it's such an arcane, unsupported and brittle hack is holding back what could otherwise be a nice technique.

Interest in Java in Firefox extensions appears to exist according to these posts in the MozillaZine Extension Development forum:

First Problem: The error I get appears to happen when reflectively instantiating a Java array and looks like this:

Error calling method on NPObject!
[plugin exception: java.lang.IllegalArgumentException: No method
found matching name newInstance and arguments

Instantiating the array through reflection was, itself, a work-around for another LiveConnect issue with type conversion between Javascript arrays and Java arrays. It's barfing on line 03 below:

// from http://simile.mit.edu/repository/java-firefox-extension/firefox/chrome/content/scripts/browser-overlay.js
_toJavaUrlArray: function(a) {
 var urlArray = java.lang.reflect.Array.newInstance(java.net.URL, a.length);
 for (var i = 0; i < a.length; i++) {
  var url = a[i];
   (typeof url == "string") ? new java.net.URL(url) : url
 return urlArray;

Update 1: First problem solved easily enough.

var dummyUrl = new java.net.URL("http://gaggle.systemsbiology.org");
var urlArray = java.lang.reflect.Array.newInstance(dummyUrl.getClass(), a.length);

Now, on to more hideousness:

Error calling method on NPObject!
[plugin exception: java.security.AccessControlException: access denied
(java.lang.RuntimePermission createClassLoader)].

...caused by trying to instantiate a URLClassLoader. The next-generation Java Plug-in, including in update 10, makes changes to the security policy such that calls from Javascript to Java are uniformly treated as untrusted.

Update 2: A Work-around!

A post on the java.net forum has a work-around. You can disable the "next-generation plug-in" through the Java control panel. Under the Advanced tab, open Java Plug-in, deselect Enable the next-generation Java Plug-in, then, restart Firefox. There is a bug filed whose comments seem to suggest that it will be addressed in a future release of the Java Plug-in.

Update 3: According to this thread on java.net, a fix is on the way in Java SE 6 update 12. Thanks, Sun!

More references: