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Insights and updates on Java SE and OpenJDK from the Java Platform Group Product Management Team

  • October 8, 2015

NPAPI Plugin Perspectives and the Oracle JRE

Donald Smith
Sr. Director of Product Management

Java’s rapid rise to
fame 20 years ago began with a tumbling duke applet running in the HotJava browser. Applets allowed richer development
functionality at a time when browser capabilities were very limited, and
provided centralized distribution of applications without requiring users to install
or update applications locally.

HotJava’s support for
applets was picked up by Netscape. In 1995 Netscape Navigator 2.0 and plugins became more popular to expand the
kind of content that could be displayed. Navigator’s plugin interface (NPAPI)
was adopted by other browsers and supported since 2004. Support for Java
applets across several different browsers was implemented relying on the common
NPAPI plugin interface to provide cross-browser compatibility of Java
applications running on the web.

As Java evolved to
become one of the leading mainstream development platforms, so did the applet’s
hosts – the web browsers.  The rise of web usage on mobile device
browsers, typically without support for plugins, increasingly led browser makers to
want to restrict and remove plugin support from their products, as they tried
to unify the set of features available across desktop and mobile versions.
Coincidental with the rise of mobile was the emergence of the “app store” model
rather than “plugin based” models for application delivery. The “app
store” model grew for reasons related to simplicity, security, and centralized
availability. Given these evolutions in mobile, delivery, and capabilities, the
set of browsers that continue to support standards based plugins has shrunk
over time.

The announcement from Mozilla
provides a timeline for developers and users who rely on Mozilla Firefox for
applets to evaluate and migrate to alternatives. You should consider using
plugin-free technologies, like Java Web Start, or move to other supported
browsers, before NPAPI functionality is removed from Firefox in their regular
and/or Firefox Extended Support Releases.

As with other browsers,
the Oracle JRE can only support applets on Firefox for as long as Mozilla
provides the requisite NPAPI support. Having been in regular contact with the
Mozilla engineering team over the past years, we have worked together to ensure
that our common users benefit from improvements made in Firefox and the Oracle
JRE.  We'll continue to collaborate on enabling a smooth transition to
plugin-free technologies like Java Web Start.

Meanwhile, we don’t plan
to provide additional browser-specific plugins, as such plugins would require
application developers to write browser-specific applets for each browser they wish
to support. Moreover, we would only be able to offer a subset of the required
functionality, different from one browser to the next, impacting both
application developers and users.

As with previous transitions, any additional information specific to Oracle
products will be provided by the corresponding product teams. Internet Explorer
and Safari browsers are not impacted by this change.

System administrators
who want to prepare for the transition and learn more about applets (and other
kinds of Java applications) running inside their organization should evaluate
the Java Advanced Management Console

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