Software Update:Nightly update infrastructure

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This document is out of date. Tinderbox is no longer in use, partials are generated during nightly builds instead of on a dedicated box, and there's a var=value format for snippets.


Updates are available for nightly builds of Firefox, Thunderbird and Sunbird. Keeping this system running requires the coordination of tinderbox configuration, partial update generation, and the AUS server that provides update information to the client applications. This document describes how that all works, to the extent that publicly available information allows. Hopefully the build crew and Mike Morgan can fill out the details to make this page more complete.

Supported app versions:

  • Firefox & Thunderbird on the branches for 1.5.0.x and 2.0.0.y, and on the trunk
  • Sunbird on the Mozilla1.8 branch and trunk

Supported platforms:

  • the three Tier-1 platforms of Windows, Linux, and Macintosh Universal (PPC+Intel)

Supported locales:

  • en-US only
  • en-US with a language pack (ab-CD.xpi) will update the app, but not the language pack (bugs 334136, 313453). Mozilla1.8 branch and trunk only


The tinderbox produces the nightly build & mar file for a complete update, and publishes them to the FTP. It also creates a complete-update snippet, which describes the update, and copies that to AUS.


The update channel is set to "default" (no updates) unless this line is in the mozconfig:

ac_add_options --enable-update-channel=nightly

For Firefox 1.5, the beta releases shipped with a "beta" channel, while the release candidates and final shipped with "release".

To pull the code for complete update generation you need:

mk_add_options MOZ_CO_MODULE="mozilla/tools/update-packaging"

This line is also used:

ac_add_options --enable-update-packaging

This option ensures that the update-packaging and (m)bsdiff Makefile's are created.

The mar executable (mozilla/modules/libmar/tool) is built by default and copied into $objdir/dist/host/bin.

The (m)bsdiff executable creates binary diffs and is needed for partial updates only. It, too, is copied to $objdir/dist/host/bin.

Snippet configuration

A handful of variables in control the update and snippet generation on the tinderbox. The code is mozilla/tools/ and runs after the successful completion of the build and any tests.

Variable Example value Use
$update_package 1 Whether to create a complete update (other conditions apply too)
$update_pushinfo 1 Whether to push the update snippet to AUS
$update_product "Firefox" Product identifier for AUS
$update_version "2.0" "Branch" identifier for AUS
$update_platform "WINNT_x86-msvc" Platform ABI for AUS
$update_hash "SHA1" Hash function for download verfication
$update_filehost "" The server that provides the mar files to the client
$update_appv "2.0a2" Version that appears in the update notification dialog
$update_extv "2.0a2" Version used to check extension compatibility (this seems to not work properly all the time)
$update_ver_file "browser/config/version.txt" Optional - A file (relative to $topsrcdir) to look up the version from if $update_appv and/or $update_extv are not defined (Bug 334011)

The examples reflect current real world values rather than those in

The snippet is scp'ed to$update_product/...

A complete-snippet for a Firefox build from the Mozilla1.8 branch looks like:


And here is the relevant part of the tinderbox log (from almost the very end):

Gathering complete update info...
Got build ID 2006051002.

Pushing third-gen update info...
ssh -i /home/cltbld/.ssh/aus mkdir -p /opt/aus2/build/0/Firefox/2.0/WINNT_x86-msvc/2006051002/en-US
scp -i /home/cltbld/.ssh/aus /cygdrive/c/builds/tinderbox/Fx-Mozilla1.8/WINNT_5.2_Depend/mozilla/dist/update/update.snippet.1

Completed pushing update info...

Update build completed.

First and second generation update info is deprecated and no longer in the tinderbox code (bug 341752). Third generation update info is only sent to AUS if the $update_pushinfo variable is set.

Partial Update Generation

The code for patcher2 lives here. This is used for releases, and generates the update files and info for AUS.

The nightly system is a more ad-hoc solution:

  • the work is done on the tinderbox prometheus, using cron to start it every 5 minutes
  • the script is used to unpack two complete MAR files. Then is run against the two resulting directories, and that calls (m)bsdiff to create binary diff's for files that have changed in the later build. The resulting patches are combined with a manifest to create the partial MAR file.
  • it pushes partial update to the FTP server (into the from directory of any from-->to update), and a partial snippet to AUS
  • Chase Phillips wrote the code; Paul Reed (preed) is the current build engineer who knows how to drive it


This server returns update information to the client, based on the snippets it has from the build systems. It was written in PHP by Mike Morgan (morgamic). The source is now available from the Mozilla CVS server.

Application update request

The application makes a request to the url specified by the global preference app.update.url (unless app.update.url.override is defined, and see below for recent changes), which is:

This is preprocessed to make the required substitutions. Continuing the example above of a Firefox Mozilla1.8 branch nightly, this would be:

which returns

  <update type="minor" version="2.0a2" extensionVersion="2.0a2" buildID="2006051002">
  <patch type="complete"
  hashFunction="SHA1" hashValue="202f8c4a5c6af9bd00569ed087e245dec87d67fb" size="6925417"/>
  <patch type="partial" 
  hashFunction="SHA1" hashValue="6e277c58c232f021b034d595ce72fc240f011dab" size="525151"/>

The full list of %BUILD_TARGET%/$update_platform combinations is

  • Windows: WINNT_x86-msvc
  • Linux: Linux_x86-gcc3
  • Mac Universal: Darwin_Universal-gcc3
  • Mac PPC: Darwin_ppc-gcc3

From version 2.0a1 of Thunderbird, and 2.0b1 of Firefox, the preference app.update.url was changed to

ie, there is a new %OS_VERSION% (bug 343689 and dependents) which will allow the next generation of toolkit apps (Firefox/Thunderbird 3) to be offered only to supported operating systems (eg: Windows 2000 or later and not Windows 9x).

From version 3.0a9 of Firefox, the preference app.update.url was changed to:

The schema version was bumped to 3, and distribution and distribution version fields were added. These additional fields are optional, and will be used by AUS to be able to deliver updates to customized distributions of Firefox. See bug 392496 for details.

AUS itself

To provide this content, AUS maps the client version (%VERSION%) from the request to $update_version of snippet store. This was the mapping on Oct 02 2007, which uses wildcard matches since bug 364628:

   'Firefox'     =>  array(
       '1.5.0.*' =>  '1.5.0.x',
       '2.0*'    =>  '2.0',
       '3.0a*'   =>  'trunk'
   'Thunderbird' =>  array(
       '1.5.0.*' =>  '1.5.0.x',
       '2.0*'    =>  '2.0',
       '3.0a*'   =>  'trunk'
   'Sunbird'     =>  array(
       '0.7*'    =>  'branch',
       '0.6a1'   =>  'trunk'

This is an abbreviated version with only the versions still in use (except Firefox 1.5.0.x, which is beyond end-of-life), the current config is here.

There is a many-to-one relationship between application versions from a code branch to an AUS disk location. Eg: The Mozilla1.8 branch is being used for development of v2.0 and will have versions 2.0a1, a2, a3, b1,b2, RC1, 2.0 final and all the 2.0.0.x security releases.