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Jump-Start The Web With Mozilla's New 'Monkey'

The latest Firefox beta release is packing a secret weapon that will light a fire under slow-loading Web pages. The trick is knowing where to find it.
The latest Firefox beta release is packing a secret weapon that will light a fire under slow-loading Web pages. The trick is knowing where to find it.How fast is TraceMonkey, Mozilla's brand new JavaScript runtime engine? According to Brendan Eich, the creator of JavaScript and Mozilla's CTO, TraceMonkey beats the pants off the V8 JavaScript engine built into Google's Chrome browser. That's amazing, given the fact that V8 was already delivering outstanding JavaScript performance numbers.

Eich and his Mozilla colleagues were aiming to get TraceMonkey into Firefox 3.1, which is currently in beta release and should enter production before the end of the year. (How much will TraceMonkey boost JavaScript performance in Firefox 3.0.x? Check out these charts, and prepare to be amazed.)

Sure enough, TraceMonkey is present and accounted for in the Firefox 3.1 beta -- but it's not yet enabled by default.

Temporarily disabling major new features is a common way to break the software QA process into manageable chunks. So is adding the ability to re-enable these features, if you know where to find the "on" switch.

In this case, it's easy. Here's how to schedule your own personal play date with TraceMonkey in Firefox 3.1:

  • First, of course, download and install the Firefox 3.1 beta. (Before you do, however, skip down to my caveats about installing and using a Firefox beta release)
  • Launch the beta and type about:config in the URL bar.
  • Locate the preference named javascript.options.jit.content. (You can scroll down the preference list in alphabetical order, or enter the first few characters in the search bar to call it up automatically.)
  • Double-click the true/false preference value and change it to true.
  • Restart Firefox
Some online guides to enabling TraceMonkey suggest enabling a second preference, entitled javascript.options.jit.chrome. I suggest not changing this preference, at least for now, since it is likely to break extensions that might otherwise work fine with the Firefox 3.1 beta.

Now, the caveat I promised: Installing Firefox 3.1 will overwrite an existing version of Firefox 3.0. The beta is already pretty solid, but it is bound to have some bugs at this point; in addition, many of your favorite Firefox extensions may or may not work with the beta release. (If you know what you're doing, of course, you can override extension compatibility checks, again at your own risk.)

Also, you should either know how to back up your Firefox profile or be prepared to lose it if something goes wrong.

Taken one at a time, Web-page performance issues don't seem very important. Add up the time, however, spent waiting for scores, or hundreds, or even thousands of pages to load, and you're talking about a significant productivity issue. That's why TraceMonkey is great news -- for Firefox users and also for Internet Explorer users who will benefit from Mozilla's efforts to set the browser performance bar higher than ever.

Editor's Choice
Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer