EmbedLite Initialization

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I guess some people may find useful the couple of words below on how EmbedLite embedding is initialized. I've written them mostly because I'm trying to wrap my head around the topic myself. So please let me know if you see non-sense.

Initialization procedure

First of all a toolkit specific embedding (e.g. qtmozembed) must pre-configure embedlite with the function LoadEmbedLite(). Then we should instantiate EmbedLiteApp class. This is done with the function XRE_GetEmbedLite(). Only one instance of EmbedLiteApp class can be created. Let's call this singleton "embedLiteApp".

Next step is to set up callbacks to the embedding into "embedLiteApp". Currently the callbacks should be implemented as a class inheriting to EmbedLiteAppListener. The callbacks are called by "embedLiteApp" in order either to notify our embedding about application-wide events or to configure native threads. Only one instance of this callback collection makes sense.

Then the embedding (qtmozembed) should register all needed manifests of XPCOM components with EmbedLiteApp::AddComponentManifest().

At this stage a separate thread with embedlite can be started with either EmbedLiteApp::StartWithCustomPump() or EmbedLiteApp::Start() methods. The former method does an asynchronous call and returns immediately, the latter one returns only after embedlite has stopped. After that the web engine starts its initialization procedures.

Internally "embedLiteApp" schedules a call to its EmbedLiteApp::StartChild() which is supposed to create a thread for embedlite either itself or with help of a toolkit specific embedding (through the EmbedLiteAppListener::ExecuteChildThread() callback) and inside the thread it calls EmbedLiteApp::StartChildThread(). This function loads manifests of XPCOM components, loads libxul.so, initializes the gecko webengine, creates a new message loop for the thread and schedules creation of "App Thread" actors or communication end points in other words. One end point (an instance of EmbeLiteAppThreadParent) is a parent actor used to deliver messages from the just created thread to the parent thread where "embedLiteApp" lives. The other end point (an instance of EmbedLiteAppThreadChild) is a child actor used to communicate with objects living in the child thread. At the moment of creation the EmbedLiteAppThreadChild instance opens a communication channel to EmbedLiteAppThreadParent. The communication protocol is defined in the file PEmbedLiteApp.ipdl. Direct method calls from one thread to another must be avoided since the objects can be placed into different processes actually, not threads.

Basically the instance of EmbedLiteApp represents a chrome (or main UI) thread. It communicates with a toolkit specific embedding through installed callbacks (see EmbedLiteAppListner) and with Gecko webengine through the actor EmbedLiteAppThreadParent.

Also the initialization procedures includes creation of EmbedLiteAppService implementing the interface nsIEmbedAppService. This service keeps track of created web views and is used by XPCOM components to communicate with the veiws.

After the implementation of nsIEmbedAppService is up and running the web engine is considered to be fully functional. This event gets propagated to the main UI thread (the parent actor receives the async Initialized() message). Also the "embedliteInitialized" message is broadcasted with nsIObserverService. From now on we can create actual web views.

WebView creation

For every native widget representing a web view there should exist a corresponding instance of EmbedLiteView class. This class exposes public API for web views to the toolkit specific embedding (i.e. qtmozembed). Just like in the case of EmbedLiteApp the embedding is supposed to register its callbacks to the instance of EmbedLiteView. The callbacks are organized as virtual methods of a class inheriting to EmbedLiteViewListener. A native widget is supposed to instantiate the class and to register it with EmbedLiteView::SetListener().

The instance of EmbedLiteView can be created by a native widget with the method EmbedLiteApp::CreateView(). Internally in the method "embedliteApp" generates an unique ID, then instantiates EmbedLiteView identified by the ID and puts it into a local hash of views. After that it sends a message async CreateView(viewId, parentViewId) to the gecko thread/process and returns the just created EmbedLiteView instance to the native widget. The native widget installs its callbacks and that's it. At this moment the EmbedLiteView instance still cannot be used to communicate with the actual web view because it doesn't exist yet.

When the gecko thread receives the message async CreateView() (via EmbedLiteAppThreadChild::RecvCreateView()) it creates a pair of subprotocol actors EmbedLiteViewThreadParent and EmbedLiteViewThreadChild. The former lives in the same thread as EmbedLiteAppThreadParent does (the main UI thread). And the latter lives in the gecko thread together with EmbedLiteAppThreadChild. The parent end point for the view serves as a communication channel to the corresponding web view which gets actually created by the child end point. The act of web view creation happens in the method EmbedLiteViewThreadChild::InitGeckoWindow(). Instances of EmbedLiteViewThreadChild keep handles to the created "browser windows". When a new "browser window" is created and properly initialized the child end point sends a async Initialized() message to the corresponding parent. The parent end point directly calls the callback ViewInitialized() registered by the toolkit specific embedding. Now the native widget is notified that its web view is fully functional.

Web view initialization

So, what actually happens inside EmbedLIteViewThreadChild::InitGeckoWindow()? First of all we create an object representing web browser, that is the object must implemenent the interface nsIWebBrowser. The reference to this object is kept in the private member EmbedLiteViewThreadChild::mWebBrowser.

Then we create an interface instance for the nsIBaseWindow interface out of the web browser object.


Remember that interface instances of different types can refer to the same physical object implementing more than one interfaces.

Also we create a fake browser widget EmbedLitePuppetWidget inheriting to PuppetWidget and implementing the interface nsIWidget. This is how this abstraction is described in Gecko code:

This "puppet widget" isn't really a platform widget.  It's intended
to be used in widgetless rendering contexts, such as sandboxed
content processes.  If any "real" widgetry is needed, the request
is forwarded to and/or data received from elsewhere.

Then we initialize the base window with the widget:

rv = baseWindow->InitWindow(0, mWidget, 0, 0, mViewSize.width, mViewSize.height);
if (NS_FAILED(rv)) {

The important part is that we initialize the window which hasn't been created yet, because as said in the documentation for the property nsIWebBrowser.containerWindow:

The embedder must create one chrome object for each browser object that is
instantiated. The embedder must associate the two by setting this property
to point to the chrome object before creating the browser window via the
browser's nsIBaseWindow interface.

After that we

  1. create and initialize a chrome object (nsIWebBrowserChrome),
  2. associate it with the web browser object,
  3. finally create the base window (nsIBaseWindow),
  4. request an interface object for nsIDOMWindow from the web browser object,
  5. register the view ID in nsIEmbedAppService,
  6. broadcast the event "embedliteviewcreated" on behalf of the nsIDOMWindow instance to interested observers,
  7. instantiate an interface object for nsIWebNavigation out of the base window,
  8. associate the web browser with the chrome object (so now they know each other),
  9. mark the base window visible,
  10. create a TabChildHelper instance,
  11. send async Initialized() message to the main UI thread.

TabChildHelper is a private object handling various tasks for EmbedLiteViewThreadChild such as viewport calculations and handling scroll events originating from content.


The current goal is to make TabChildHelper share functionality with upstream dom/ipc/TabChild class, in order to reduce maintenance burden.

On compositing

The code of EmbedLitePuppetWidget basically is a copy-paste from mozilla's PuppetWidget class. Would be nice to refactor it to avoid code duplication. Mainly the code differs in how compositor objects are created. In fact the base class PuppetWidget doesn't create any compositor objects since it's a responsibility of a native widget, but embedlite does create a compositor inside this fake widget by calling the static method gfxPlatform::GetPlatform() (see EmbedLitePuppetWidget::CreateCompositor). This method

  1. initializes a font rasterizer library,

  2. initializes Qt's graphic platform (looks like there is no much Qt specific stuff left there),

  3. creates a Cairo surface,

  4. creates the compositor thread and the global compositor map if they haven't been created before (see static void CompositorParent::StartUp()).


    Only one compositor thread per gecko proccess is created.

  5. creates the image bridge thread connected to the compositor thread via the pair of actors ImageBridgeParent and ImageBridgeChild.


    The PImageBridge protocol is used to allow isolated threads or processes to push frames directly to the compositor thread/process (from the content thread) without relying on the main thread which might be too busy dealing with content script. Again only one image bridge thread per gecko process can be created.

In addition to that the fake widget creates

  1. an instance of LayerManager class;
  2. an instance of EmbedLiteCompositorParent class which is a subclass of the CompositorParent actor class and a CompositorChild end point. This CompositorChild instance serves as a communication channel to the compositor thread for the LayerManager object;
  3. a shadow manager (a child end point of the LayerTransaction subprotocol);
  4. a shadow forwarder connected to the shadow manager

and registers the shadow manager in the image bridge. Images drawn in the content thread by the layer manager get forwarded through the image bridge to the compositor thread which is supposed to render the images into a GL context. See this page for a better explanation of compositing.


Currently the EmbedLiteCompositorParent class implements methods that are called from the main UI thread. But the object is supposed to live in the compositor thread. This may become a problem if UI and gecko get moved to separate processes.

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