Upcoming WebPush Shield Study

WebPush does more than let you know you’ve got an upcoming calendar appointment or bug you about subscribing to a site’s newsletter (particularly one you just visited and have zero interest in doing). Turns out that WebPush is a pretty good way for us to do a number of things as well. Things like let you send tabs from one install of Firefox to another, or push out important certificate updates. We’ll talk about those more when we get ready to roll them out, but for now, we need to know if some of the key bits work.

One of the things we need to test is if our WebPush servers are up to the job of handling traffic, or if there might be any weird issue we might not have thought of. We’ve run tests, we’ve simulated loads, but honestly, nothing compares to real life for this sort of thing.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to be running an experiment. We’ll be using the Shield service to have your browser set up a web push connection. No data will go over that connection aside from the minimal communication that we need. It shouldn’t impact how you use Firefox, or annoy you with pop-ups. Chances are, you won’t even notice we’re doing this.

Why are we telling you if it something you wouldn’t notice? We like to be open and clear about things. You might see a reference to “dom.push.alwaysConnect” in about:config and wonder what it might mean. Shield lets us flip that switch and gives us control over how many folks at any given time hit our servers. That’s important when you want to test your server and things don’t go as planned.

In this case “dom.push.alwaysConnect” will ask your browser to open a connection to our servers. This is so we can test if our servers can handle the load. Why do it this way instead of a load test? Turns out that trying to effectively load test this is problematic. It’s hard to duplicate “real world” load and all the issues that come with it. This test will help us make sure that things don’t fall over when we make this a full feature. When that configuration flag is set to “true” your browser will try to connect to our push servers.

You can always opt out of the study, if you want, but we hope that you don’t mind being part of this. The more folks we have, and the more diverse the group, the more certain we can be that our servers are up for the challenge of keeping you safer and more in control.

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