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Firefox Focus, a Private Web Browser for iOS

| by David Iffland Follow 3 Followers on Nov 18, 2016. Estimated reading time: 1 minute |

Mozilla has released a new web browser for iOS that promises to speed up the web browsing experience while keeping your secrets safe.

Firefox Focus is a slimmed down web browser whose main feature is to block by default ad trackers, analytics trackers, and social trackers. In a post announcing the browser, Nick Nguyen says that these trackers are a big part of the problem:

Firefox Focus is set by default to block many of the trackers that follow you around the Web. You don’t need to change privacy or cookie settings. Much of what makes mobile web pages slow is the technology used to track users on the web. Because Firefox Focus blocks these trackers, it is likely you’ll notice a performance boost on the many sites that track your behavior.

screenshot of Firefox Focus 2.0 on iOS showing the main page with its sole search bar.

Unlike full-featured browsers, Focus has only a single tab. When you're done with that page, tap the prominent "Erase" button to start again. It's possible that blocking some content will cause a page to render incorrectly or not at all. For those cases, there is a button at the bottom of the screen to open the same page in Safari.

While the flagship Firefox browser on iOS is based on WKWebView, Focus depends on UIWebView. Apple does not allow vendors to build completely independent web browsers, instead requiring the use of these web views. Stefan Arentz, Engineering Manager for iOS at Mozilla, says UIWebView is the only way to do content blocking as it has more network options and that he is "more than happy to use Apple's web components." That being said, they would prefer to use the newer WKWebView:

They just need to open the APIs more. Like WebKit on macOS. Then we can actually build competing browsers and do more innovative things. Open it up. We need more than just loadURL().

At the same time, he agrees that "the ban on alternative engines should be lifted." The ban is essentially a ban on executing downloaded code. Both HTML and JavaScript downloaded over the web are code that has to be executed.

The code for Focus is on GitHub and pull requests are encouraged.

Focus can also integrate into Safari as a content blocker.

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