Old Chrome extensions will stop working from January 2023 • The Register

Google said this month that Chrome browser extensions written under its Manifest V2 specification will stop working in January 2023.

From now on, only Manifest V3 extensions will be supported in Chrome, a change that critics say will hamper add-ons and make them little more than toys.

“For years, Manifest V3 has been more secure, efficient and more privacy-friendly than its predecessor,” David Li, product manager for Chrome Extensions and the Chrome Web Store, said in a blog post. “This is an evolution of the extension platform that takes into account both the changing web landscape and the future of browser extensions.”

Li said that as of January 17, 2022, new Manifest V2 extensions will no longer be accepted in the Chrome Web Store (although existing V2 extensions can be updated). And in January 2023, Chrome will no longer run Manifest V2 Extensions and no V2 Extensions updates will be allowed. Those who use Chrome for business rules have until June 2023 before V2 stops working.

Despite Google’s insistence that this is a good thing, doubts remain about the renovation plan. “Our criticism is still relevant,” said Alexei Miagkov, senior technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The register. “The reasons they have stated publicly [for this transition] doesn’t really make sense. “

Work on a fix

La Chocolaterie began work on Manifest V3, a revised set of APIs available to extension developers, in 2018 to address security and performance concerns. The legacy extension specification, Manifest V2, offered powers that, while useful for legitimate developers, were also easily misused to create malware.

In early 2019, Raymond Hill, developer of the popular uBlock Origin content blocking extension, took note of the planned API change and warned that Manifest V3, as Google described it, would break uBlock Origin. After that, other developers of popular content and privacy blocking extensions realized that they would have to revise their extensions to fit Manifest v3 and perhaps rethink features that would no longer be available under the new regime. .

With Google telling investors that ad blocking was a potential threat to its revenue, many speculated the company had ulterior motives for developing Manifest V3 – eliminating content / ad blocking and privacy extensions under the guise. security is something that Google’s publisher partners would clearly approve of. .

However, the advertising giant, facing a backlash from developers and organizations like EFF, attempted to quell the discontent in June 2019 by insisting that its goal with Manifest V3 is not to kill off people. ad blockers but help developers create better ad blockers.

“In fact, this change is intended to give developers a way to create safer and more efficient ad blockers,” Simeon Vincent, developer advocate for Chrome extensions, wrote in a blog post at the time.

A “blunt instrument”

The message did not get across so well. A month later, in July 2019, Alexei Miagkov, Jeremy Gillula and Bennett Cyphers published an EFF blog post that challenged Google’s claims about the security benefits of Manifest V3, calling it an “instrument bluntness that will do little to improve safety while severely limiting future innovations ”.

The EFF creates an extension to block online tracking called Privacy Badger which relies on powerful APIs Manifest V2 like the blocking version of webRequest, which allows the interception and modification of network data before it is displayed in the browser.

Miagkov, Gillula, and Cyphers argued that if Google is serious about improving the security of its Chrome Web Store, it should “start properly enforcing existing Chrome Web Store policies.”

But that would require Google to invest in staff and technical resources to support the Chrome Web Store, which the developers have described as understaffed and underfunded.

Extension developers are trying to adapt to Google’s V3 rules, but it remains uncertain whether this will be possible for each affected extension. In July, Hill in an article on GitHub Issues for uBlock Origin indicated that declarativeNetRequest, the replacement of V3 for the blocking version of webRequest, was still not adequate. “Summary, latest version of declarativeNetRequest, according to the documentation, still breaks dynamic filtering in uBO, due to the inability to implement the noop concept, ”he wrote.

One of its main concerns is that there is no way yet to update filter lists with new blocking templates without republishing the entire extension. In other words, marketers will be able to change the presentation of their ad to escape extension-based intervention, but extensions will not be able to respond immediately. Hill claims that “having the match algorithm set in stone in the browser will cripple innovations in content blockers.”

In the Chromium Extensions Developer Forum, a concerned developer responded to the V2 extinction schedule by posting a list of what would be unresolved technical issues with V3.

There are also some long standing bugs that have not been fixed. Miagkov reported an issue raised in November 2019 where Service Workers, replacing background pages under V2, go to sleep and cannot be woken up. And there are broader technical arguments that Service Workers are fundamentally unsuitable for many legitimate functions.

“Service Worker-based extensions are event pages (persistent: fake background pages) made mandatory and with further degraded capabilities,” Miagkov wrote in an article on GitHub Issues in late July.

“Some extensions fit the non-persistent / ephemeral model well. Many don’t. Requiring all extensions to become non-persistent appears to be a requirement that is fundamentally hostile to developers and users. Performance and” maintainability “design principles.

Not all bad news

The situation is not entirely grim among those pushing Google to make further revisions to its extension specifications. With Microsoft, Mozilla, and even Apple now supporting Manifest V3, a W3C WebExtensions (WECG) community group was formed in June.

So there is now a more visible forum than the Google Chrome Extensions group, where developers can go to advocate for better web extensions. But there’s no guarantee that the blame will change Google’s V3 plans.

Li in his blog post noted Google’s interest in working with other browser manufacturers through WECG and promised further improvements to V3.

“In the coming months, we will also roll out support for dynamically configurable content scripts and an in-memory storage option, among other new features,” he said.

Miagkov said he wanted Mozilla to advocate more for users instead of politely supporting Google’s proposals, with some minor variations. Brave, Opera and Vivaldi have all said they will try to support the blockade webRequest API that Google replaces.

Highlighting promised but undelivered capabilities and long-standing bugs, Miagkov wanted Google to be more responsive to developer concerns.

“I’m getting really mixed signals,” he said. “Are they serious about this push or are they just serious about activating the toy extensions?” ®

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