Web protocol handlers are a new Firefox 3 feature that gives more power to
RIA web applications. Basically, when a user clicks on a link with specific protocol, Firefox can send an HTTP(S) request with the link data to a web application. An easy example is a
<a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">Web Master</a>
Normally, if a user clicks this link, Firefox (or other browser) will open the default mail application on the user’s machine and start composing an email message. With so many web-based email applications in use today, it only seems natural that some people would want to use a web-based email application to compose the message.
With web protocol handlers, the web application can register the specific protocol it wants to handle. Firefox will then prompt the user to choose which of the registered applications (web or desktop) it should use to handle the action. Any protocol, real or imaginary, can be used –
mailto: is only one example,
fax: are others. In the case of the
mailto: example, the web-based email application could parse the data passed to it from Firefox to get the parameters of the protocol, perform a sign-on (if needed) and display its “compose” UI.
Firefox 3 will ship with some packaged web protocol handlers. For those developers interested in adding protocol support to their web applications, we have an MDC article explaining the details of setting up and using web protocol handlers. Also checkout the compliance test page we use to test the feature. During the process of getting the packaged handlers into Firefox 3, we ran into some common implementation misconceptions:
- Web protocol handlers are not just for
mailto:! The system is designed for any protocol.
- Web protocol handlers have no idea about the protocol details. For example, the system does not know that
mailto:support to or subject parameters. The system just sends the entire HREF of the link to the registered handler. Be prepared to do the parsing yourself.
Go forth and make web applications rock!