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Quite confused about Firefox auto-updating

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BuckDanny
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Quite confused about Firefox auto-updating

Mozilla has released Firefox 3.5.8 on 17/02/2010 (http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/3.5.8/releasenotes/). Usually, PA.c publishes a paf-version within one or two days, but not this time. Which brings me to re-consider the question of whether Firefox can be allowed to auto-update itself (i.e. updating from within Firefox). For a long time, it was made quite clear to users that they shouldn't use auto-update, but download the new .paf from PA.c instead. In fact, all the key support pages still claim that.

From the last news story (https://portableapps.com/news/2010-01-07_firefox_portable_3.5.7):

Auto-Update Issue

If you allow Mozilla Firefox, Portable Edition to auto-update, some non-personal files may remain on the local PC. This will be addressed in a later release.

From the Firefox Portable support page (https://portableapps.com/support/firefox_portable#upgrading):

Upgrading Firefox Portable

To upgrade to a newer version of Firefox Portable, just install a new copy of Firefox Portable right over your old one. All your data will be preserved. At this time, please don't use the auto-updater due to a bug. More information here.

The latter links to a pinned thread in the Firefox Portable forum (https://portableapps.com/node/10338), which states:

Bug: Software update will overwrite local Firefox's registry settings
Submitted by John T. Haller on December 1, 2007 - 1:18pm

[...]

What you should do

Either avoid auto-updating and download a new version of Firefox Portable for each version or allow Firefox Portable to update before allowing your local version to update (the portable version would steal the registry settings and the local one would steal them back in this case). You can also re-install the local version to fix this issue.

On the other hand, I've seen several responses in the forums stating that this is no longer an issue. Most recently here (https://portableapps.com/node/22679). But unless I missed something, this has never been "officially" stated, except in the FAQ (https://portableapps.com/forums/support/firefox_portable/faq), where John states that "This issue has now been fixed." However, it is not clear whether this applies to Firefox 3.6.x only, or to the older 3.5.x branch as well.

Could John or another PA.c "staff member" make some kind of statement on what the current situation is, which Firefox branches can and can't be auto-updated (without side-effects), and what the current recommendations are ? It also might be a good idea if the support pages (listed above) could be streamlined accordingly.

Thanks for taking the time to update us on this issue !
(this post contains the word "update" way too much ;-))

BuckDanny

Bruce Pascoe
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It's fixed.

I've done the auto-update with 3.5 and the 3.6 betas, and it worked just fine. Older versions (3.0 and earlier I believe) used to overwrite the local copy's Add/Remove Programs info on update (such that trying to uninstall the local copy afterward would actually run to the portable copy's uninstaller), but that's been fixed for a while now. You can safely use the built-in auto-update feature.

Don't mind the inconsistent documentation--unfortunately, it's par for the course around here anymore. You'll get used to it after a while.

BuckDanny
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OK it's fixed, but it hasn't been communicated very clearly

Bruce, thank you for your quick reply.

For everybody else reading this thread: earlier today, John T. Haller and I had some discussion on the issue of allowing Firefox to update itself, in the comments section of the news story on the release of Firefox Portable 3.5.8 (https://portableapps.com/news/2010-02-23_-_firefox_portable_3.5.8). It might be a good idea to read the comments there if you want to follow this. At John's request, we are continuing the discussion here.

John, thanks for confirming what I already suspected. For those reading this topic, I'll give a description in a nutshell. For quite some time, it was a bad idea to let a portable Firefox auto-update itself, because the updater would create some registry entries on the local PC, which would give problems especially if there was a locally installed copy of Firefox. That bug (https://portableapps.com/node/10338) has been fixed *somewhere* in the 3.0.x series. From then on, it is safe to let Firefox update itself, this will not create any problems with the registry. However, the auto-update process may leave some non-personal files (or empty folders) behind on the local PC. For most users this should not be a problem; if you don't want this to happen, don't let Firefox update itself and use the latest .paf from PA.c instead.

Now back to my discussion with John. OK, so there is no particular location to look for these non-personal files or folders. Fair enough. Personally, I don't care, I use Firefox Portable as my default browser on my home PCs. In fact, I already did an auto-update, as I didn't feel comfortable waiting any longer.

Although the situation is clear to me now, I still have my doubts about how this is (or has been) communicated. Let's for simplicity's sake say that there are 3 categories of PA.c users:

1. Die-hard users/devs/moderators: probably knew that the registry bug was fixed as soon as it happened, either from reading it *somewhere* in the forum, or maybe even because they followed the original Bugzilla report. However, this is small minority of users. Doing important work, but small in numbers.

2. Your "average" PA.c user (like me, say). Personally, I meticously follow all the announcements on the front page, and always look at the "New in this release" section before I download anything. As I said before, it can't be expected from a PA.c user (who isn't in category 1) to deduce from the change in wording in the announcement (from 3.0.6 to 3.0.7) that the main problem (the registry bug) has been fixed. I've looked everywhere, but as far I can see, this hasn't explicitly been mentioned in any news story. For that reason, I'm willing to bet that a lot of users aren't familiar with the current situation, and still think that auto-updating may cause major issues. I don't know how that can best be solved, except for those who happen to read the comments on the 3.5.8 news story or this forum thread.

3. Users who are new to PA.c never knew the original problem, so they won't worry about it in the first place. HOWEVER, if they go and have a look at the official support page (https://portableapps.com/support/firefox_portable#upgrading), they will read the following warning:

Upgrading Firefox Portable

To upgrade to a newer version of Firefox Portable, just install a new copy of Firefox Portable right over your old one. All your data will be preserved. At this time, please don't use the auto-updater due to a bug. More information here.

With the latter linking to a forum thread that has been marked as [Outdated] as of today, although chances are new users won't even notice this if they are coming from the support page (as opposed to from within the forum). At a very minimum, the support page should be updated, and a reference removed that is almost two years no longer valid.

In software use, mileage may vary greatly, but this is why I couldn't agree with your statement "There is nothing new to discuss or clear up.", and why I wasn't too happy with your original reply. Finally, a different thought.

The 3.5.x line is now considered "Legacy" and will occasionally not be updated in the 24hr window we update Firefox release in if other things take precedence. All users are recommended to switch to 3.6 as soon as possible as there is not much reason to stay on 3.5.x (and any nearly any extensions compatible with 3.5 are compatible with 3.6 without changes).

I understand 3.6 is the current standard and everybody should consider upgrading shortly. But let's not exaggerate: 3.6 was released just over a month ago, and hasn't even reached the 3.6.1 mark yet. I understand old branches can't be supported forever, but please don't assume everybody can make the switch to 3.6 in a month's time, for a variety of reasons.

John T. Haller
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3.0 Broken, Fixed 8 Months Ago, No Normal Users Affected Now

3.0 is still broken and will never be fixed now, which is why I changed the announcement back. 3.0 is really only for devs. No normal users should still be on 3.0.

This issue was fixed back in June of 2008 with the release of 3.5. All announcements of 3.0 had the old notice. The last 3.0.x notice accidentally included the new one and when you pointed it out, it was switched to the old one.

The bottom line is that this issue should be affecting no normal users now as it was fixed way back in 3.5.x. And this issue has been mentioned in every single release announcement since then.

On the upgrades, we've debated dumping the old versions when new ones come along, previously, because it stretches our development effort for very little reward (as most users upgrade). In this particular case, there's no reason not to upgrade as 3.6 is a pretty minor update from 3.5. Either way, it's entirely moot now as Mozilla will be introducing new features with most releases going forward, so everyone will have to upgrade to get the security fixes anyway. I can't blame them and hope they dump the 6mo cycle for supporting old releases which lead to them (and us) having to support 3.0.x, 3.5.x and 3.6.x at the same time, which is lunacy. That's a ton of wasted development time that could be better served moving the browser forward.

But this is a side note, as I have stated our policy regarding this. Legacy versions are a lower priority and, while we do absolutely everything to get the standard Firefox releases out within about 12hrs after release, we don't do the same for legacy versions. We will get them out as soon as possible, though, which is why it was done ahead of a couple other apps that are more out of date.

As a side note, the upcoming platform updater will not support legacy versions.

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BuckDanny
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Users not affected, but they (are led to) think they still are !

Thanks for the info about the update cycles. Probably my bad for bringing it up, but it is indeed a side note on what we are discussing here. And there I'm afraid there seems to be some persistent miscommunication between us.

This issue was fixed back in June of 2008 with the release of 3.5. All announcements of 3.0 had the old notice. The last 3.0.x notice accidentally included the new one and when you pointed it out, it was switched to the old one.

Are you absolutely certain about those statements ? If so, could you point out to me exactly what you mean with the "new notice" and the "old notice"? Because the "new notice" as I understand it to be:

Auto-Update Issue

If you allow Mozilla Firefox, Portable Edition to auto-update, some non-personal files may remain on the local PC. This will be addressed in a later release.

was introduced not with the announcement of 3.5, but earlier with 3.0.7. If you don't believe me, please have a look and compare https://portableapps.com/news/2009-02-04_-_firefox_portable_3.0.6 with https://portableapps.com/news/2009-03-05_-_firefox_portable_3.0.7 (and all subsequent announcements).

And for the life of me, from what I can see (and believe me, I've hit "Reload" a dozen times) there is no difference in the "Auto-Update Issue" section between
https://portableapps.com/news/2010-02-23_-_firefox_portable_3.0.18 and
https://portableapps.com/news/2010-02-23_-_firefox_portable_3.5.8

More importantly, though, is how the situation is currently being communicated.

The bottom line is that this issue should be affecting no normal users now as it was fixed way back in 3.5.x.

I agree fully. Which is why I don't understand why you are still mentioning it to new users in the Firefox support page (see point 3. above), and appear to have no intention to correct that.

And this issue has been mentioned in every single release announcement since then.

Yes, every single announcement has included either a "Reminder: Don't Auto-Update" or "Auto-Update Issue" section. But it has never been made clear that as of 3.5 (or 3.0.7, that's still confusing - although agreed, now no longer relevant), it is again OK to auto-update, except if you don't want some non-personal files to remain on the local PC. As far as I can see, the fixing of the registry bug has never been mentioned in any news story. Again, I refer to point 2. above. Important issues (from critical bugs to a fire alarm) not only have to be announced, they also have to be "de-announced" when they're over (from mentioning a bug fix to sounding the "all clear" signal). I don't know how much clearer I can put that.

John T. Haller
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Alright

The 3.0.6 and 3.0.7 announcements you link to state:

Reminder: Don't Auto-Update

We also wanted to remind everyone not to use the built in auto-updater with Mozilla Firefox, Portable Edition due to an unfixed bug in the updater itself. As with all software in PortableApps.com Format, you can do an in-place upgrade (install the new version right over the old one) and all your data will be preserved.

... so I don't know what you're going on about with those. The 3.0.18 release notes didn't properly mention it, I have updated those.

The 3.5.8 and 3.6 release notes are accurate. There is an issue with leaving non-personal files behind. The recommended way of updating is to install over as stated in support, same as always.

The support page just hasn't been updated. I fixed it.

If you need to reply again, please be assured that this isn't a conspiracy, it isn't ignoring your issues. It's just a couple outdated things. We don't need another huge post arguing multiple points. If there are any things out of order, please just post them.

Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

BuckDanny
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Re: Alright

Threads like these are useful to remind myself how difficult a discussion can be even between well-intended people, especially if they are strangers and are limited to written text. It is in that spirit I'll take no offence to your last paragraph. I do have a tendency to write complete posts that contain all the necessary information upfront. You seem to have more of a preference for bite-sized arguments to and fro. That's just a matter of personal taste. I'll try to remember that if I ever raise an issue here at PA.c again.

The 3.5.8 and 3.6 release notes are accurate. There is an issue with leaving non-personal files behind. The recommended way of updating is to install over as stated in support, same as always.

That's 100% correct, but it is still an "inside the bubble" argument. For a lot of ordinary users, the fixing of the registry bug is a big item. That's why there have been, and likely will continue to be "dozens of threads" about this. You seem immune to this argument, so I won't comment on it any further.

The 3.0.6 and 3.0.7 announcements you link to state:

... so I don't know what you're going on about with those.

To my surprise, they do. But not 3 hours ago (and I have taken screenshots to back that up). The only logical explanation I can give, is that you compile your news stories using certain scripts or macro variables, and that whatever you did to update the 3.0.18 story, also updated the 3.0.7 story. If you want to see what I saw a few hours ago, use a browser that isn't somehow connected to your script database, enter these links in Google or Bing, and look at the cached versions:

https://portableapps.com/news/2009-03-05_-_firefox_portable_3.0.7
https://portableapps.com/news/2009-03-28_-_firefox_portable_3.0.8
https://portableapps.com/news/2009-05-11_-_firefox_portable_3.0.11

In fact, for the latter two, the cache may not even be necessary. In the version directly from the PA.c server, my browsers render them still having the "Auto-Update Issue" section instead of the "Reminder: Don't Auto-Update 3.0.x" section. If you can't reproduce any of this, either there *is* a conspiracy somewhere, or I have a very bizarre virus on my system.

John T. Haller
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No Registry, Simple Mistakes

Once, again, if any of the 3.0.x include the auto-update note incorrectly, it's a mistake, not a conspiracy, can we please drop that? I'm tired of the circular argument. If one of the files was one thing and is now another, I may have accidentally updated that instead of the current release notes, which would explain why earlier I thought I had updated it but it appeared I had not. At this point, it really doesn't matter. If there is a mistake in a current release announcement or support page, please just point it out and I will correct it.

Thinking back, the updater bug may have been partially fixed mid-3.0 release (old message vs new message), but I honestly don't remember and it's an entirely moot point now anyway as 3.0 is dead and no normal users should be using it.

There is no registry issue in 3.5.x or 3.6. It is a simple matter of one and occasionally two empty directories left behind on the local PC within the logged in user's APPDATA section. No files. No personal information. No registry entries. This does not occur if Firefox is installed locally, incidentally, because those directories already exist.

There is a chance additional non-personal files could be left behind if some less-used extensions or plugins are active... but that is only a theory and has not been observed. That's why the message is written as it is, to say simply that some non-personal files/directories are left behind. And that's why we recommend people not use the built-in updater.

The majority of regular users will soon be using the PA.c Updater and we will hopefully get Mozilla's permission to disable the Firefox update for users using the PA.c Platform (as our updater will handle it better).

There is no current fix or workaround for the current auto-update issue due to the interaction between the launcher, Firefox and the update process. It is very easy to get stuck with the launcher not knowing if the update process worked, is done or failed. So, we make a note of the issue for each release and encourage users to update it themselves. We have the built-in updater set to notify but not auto-update as a result. We can't disable it under our license agreement with Mozilla.

Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

BuckDanny
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Fair enough

OK, that explains it then. Everybody makes mistakes, just don't be surprised if users then get confused by them. And if you write "I don't know what you're going on about", I *will* explain on what basis I formulated certain observations or questions.

You hit the nail on the head, there are several circular arguments going on here. Which is why I think there is no merit in continuing this discussion. I apologize for my part in the misunderstandings - when I started this topic, I really thought the communication would have gone a whole lot smoother.

I'd like to end with a sincere thank you for releasing all those updates yesterday and today, and for making the adjustments in the support pages.

John T. Haller
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No Worries

No worries, BuckDanny. Sorry if I was being a bit obtuse for some of it, but these issues are old hat to me and are decently documented... you're right, it could be better, though.

Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

Simeon
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Thanks

BuckDanny for bringing this up.
Although I always updated my version from here, I still wasn't sure if I could let it auto-update in a clean way.

Now I (and all others) know how things are and that's a good thing.

And thank you John for updating the support pages!

"What about Love?" - "Overrated. Biochemically no different than eating large quantities of chocolate." - Al Pacino in The Devils Advocate

Darkbee
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To Conclude...

Perhaps we should just leave a closing footnote that if a user is ever in doubt then the absolute best course of action (and this would apply to any app, not just FirefoxPortable), would be to wait for the updated version to appear on this site, and install from that, rather than using any kind of built-in update feature.

That is a general rule of thumb I personally follow, as it's extremely rare that I'm desperately in need of the latest and greatest. This has only happened once that I recall, whereby a version of Firefox was causing excessive CPU usage, and so I was eager to update as soon as possible, but even then I waited it out and a new version was available on PA.c within a couple of days.

If in doubt stick with PA.c, end of story.

BuckDanny
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Firefox is a special case

Simeon, thank you for letting me know I wasn't the only one who wasn't sure about this, even among regular visitors.

Darkbee, you are of course right that the ideal course of action for any app is to get the updated version from PA.c ; but Firefox is in a small group of apps were it isn't about being "in desperate need of the latest and greatest". After patching your OS and having current anti-malware, working with an up-to-date browser is probably the 3rd most important security measure to take (at least at a technological level, your behaviour on-line is also important of course). That is why Mozilla has a fairly aggressive auto-updating mechanism built into Firefox, and why John aimes to release updates (of the latest branch) within 24h of Mozilla doing so. It is also why users like myself find it so important to know about the status of issues concerning auto-updating a Firefox Portable. For any other app, I couldn't care less, and I'll happily wait for an updated version to appear here.

But to re-iterate your point: if there is genuine doubt, stick with an update from PA.c

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