Zen and the Art of Mozilla Hacking

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been playing around with an add-on to Mozilla which annotates web pages against an RDF knowledge base.

To cut a long story short, the software sends a request to a server for an RDF fragment, then uses Mozilla’s XUL templates to query the RDF fragment and transform it into a user interface. In theory, anyway. While I’ve been quite happy with Mozilla as a development platform in general terms (the combination of the javascript debugger and the DOM inspector being a formidable pair of tools), the RDF/XUL template jiggery-pokery has to be one of the least explicable pieces of code I’ve had to work with. It fails without giving any indication of its reason for failure (good for debugging) and frequently crashes the browser when presented with a template that it really doesn’t like. The documentation, while covering the obvious cases, isn’t really complete enough to guide anything but the ordinary.

I’ve been working on this software for almost a week now (and have made considerable progress), but this arbitrary behaviour is starting to wear thin. After I’m done, and if I have an instant of perfect clarity and enlightenment concerning XUL templates and RDF, I’m going to write some damn documentation…

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