Mozilla is known for how quickly they update their software. Firefox has become one of Mozilla’s most popular applications and their newest version, Firefox 2.0, is very much anticipated. Everyone loves to see the new features that they implement from build-to-build but many people don’t realize that you don’t have to wait for an official release in order to do some testing.




Testing definitely isn’t for everyone but it does give you that special feeling to know that you are using the latest and greatest software. Testing software, like Firefox, means that there could be some stability issues and you could even lose some important information (like your bookmarks). If you decide that you want to test the software anyways then make sure to backup some of the information that you do not want to lose.

Terminology
First, we need to make sure that you are familiar with the terms that we are going to talk about in this article. These terms are very important and will help you understand some important details.

  • Trunk: A trunk is the name for a build that has the most current developments in it. This is for those people that want the latest and greatest software, but you must understand that a trunk will have the most bugs.
  • Branch: A branch is a split off of the trunk and will eventually make it to a release. This may not be the latest and greatest but it will be more stable than the trunk.
  • Nightly: A nightly is a daily compilation of Firefox that implements all patches and updates that were fixed that day.

The current Firefox example of a branch is Firefox 2.0 (currently in the alpha stage) while the current trunk is Firefox 3.0 (not even in the alpha stage). This means that Firefox 2.0 is not the most current version but it is far more stable than Firefox 3.0. When certain features get removed from the branch, such as Places getting pulled from Firefox 2.0, it will normally remain in the trunk build.

Using The Forums
Where do you get these builds from? You could constantly download the new builds from the Mozilla FTP server but you may not realize what they have fixed in each nightly build. The other way that I find to be the most effective is to watch the Firefox Builds forum. In the forum you will see posts like:

What You Need To Know To Be A Firefox Nightly Tester
What You Need To Know To Be A Firefox Nightly Tester

Those screenshots were taken on May 3, 2006 which means that the May 3 branch has been released but the May 4 branch has not. By viewing the topics you will see a list of fixes (Green), things they are currently working on (Yellow), and things they need to start working on (Red).

The next thing you will want to do is download the branch or trunk build. Enter into the thread for the build you wish to download (it can be a thread for a branch or a trunk). Locate the section that says “IRC channels” on the page which is normally in the first 5-10 lines. Immediately underneath that you will notice a link that says “The Official Win32 20060503 [Branch] build is out”. This is a hyperlink that you can click on to download the nightly build. If the nightly build is not yet available that link will read “The Official Win32 20060503 [Branch] build is not yet out”.

WINDOWS USERS:
If you would like to get the installation version then download the file that says win32.installer.exe in it. However, I test these versions in a different way so that I can keep my normal Firefox installation separate from the Firefox build I am testing. To do this you simply follow these steps:

  1. Download this version of Portable Firefox.
  2. Download the desired Firefox branch/trunk in ZIP format (not the win32.installer.exe version)
  3. Extract both the Portable Firefox download and the Firefox branch/trunk.
  4. Copy the “firefox” folder from the Firefox branch/trunk to the “PortableFirefox/App” directory (your Portable Firefox directory should now look similar to the image below).
  5. Now execute the PortableFirefox.exe located in the PortableFirefox directory.

What You Need To Know To Be A Firefox Nightly Tester

Testing The Build
What You Need To Know To Be A Firefox Nightly TesterThe worst part about testing a new version of Firefox is extension incompatibility. You have the huge list of extensions and you know that it will take forever to change the max-version on each one of them. That is where the Nightly Tester Tools Extension comes into play. The Nightly Tester Tools Extension will allow you to install incompatible extensions or to re-enable your extensions that got disabled. When you go to install an extension you will see a window popup like the one to the right. All you have to do before you click “Install Now” is check the box that says “Install using Nightly Tester Tools to override compatibility”. This will allow you to install extensions that are not normally compatible.

There are a lot of people that use the Google Toolbar, but if you are using an incompatible version of Firefox then Google will not let you download the Toolbar. However, you can use this direct link to the Google Toolbar Firefox Extension which is still coming straight from Google but you are getting around them checking for Firefox incompatibilities. The installation should popup immediately after clicking that link. Now you just need to follow the Nightly Tester Tools instructions listed above to override the compatibility.

The last thing I will talk about is your bookmarks. Some Firefox builds have been known to cause your bookmarks to disappear for one reason or another. The best thing that you can do to prevent losing your bookmarks is make sure you use a service like Google Bookmarks or Del.icio.us! If you don’t want to use Del.icio.us then you can get a recently released extension for Firefox that will allow you to have a button for your Google Bookmarks right on the Firefox toolbar. This is very similar to the button that Google has already implemented in the Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer.

Okay, I think that is everything that I have come across since I started being a nightly tester for Firefox about two months ago. It is very exciting to see new features and to see the browser development process. If anyone knows any tips that I have not placed here please feel free to let me know.