Mozilla inserts ‘Scheduled Task’ in Windows 10 to perform automatic and unobtrusive updates for Firefox in the background

Mozilla Firefox Update
Auto-update the Firefox browser in the background on Windows 10. Pic credit: Mozilla

Mozilla Firefox could receive a new feature that allows automatic and uninterrupted updates to install in the background. The latest stable version of Firefox is v89 and the feature could arrive with the update on June 1, 2021.

Mozilla enabled a new feature in the Nightly version of the Firefox web browser aimed at improving the updating functionality of the browser on Windows 10. The new feature enables smooth, background updates for the web browser even if it is not running.

New updating functionality in Beta and Stable versions of Firefox v89:

Mozilla plans to introduce a new updating functionality in Beta and Stable versions of the web browser. The Firefox v89 will reportedly release on June 1, 2021, and include a new feature that attempts to update the browser in the background on Windows 10 PCs.

The new feature doesn’t alter the standard update process which involves clicking the Help > About option which triggers a check for update. If an update exists, Firefox auto-initiates download and installs the same.

Needless to mention, during the current process, Firefox asks users to relaunch the browser for the update to install completely. The new feature could essentially eliminate the need to restart the browser after installing the update.

Mozilla engineer Nick Alexander has explained the new updating mechanism on the Firefox Dev Google Groups forum:

“The default Firefox profile (for each OS-level user) will schedule OS-level tasks that run periodically. These tasks invoke Firefox in a stripped-down headless “background task mode” that pumps the update cycle before exiting.”

“These tasks have been designed to not process updates when other Firefox instances are running, so they should not force restarts of running instances, and they access (lock) the default profile for only a very short period of time so they should not prevent starting Firefox for regular browsing. If you need to disable this functionality, about:preferences should show a checkbox in the “Updates” section for you to disable, or you can set the BackgroundAppUpdate Firefox policy to forum.”

Mozilla relying on standard ‘Task Scheduler’ functionality in Windows 10 to run Firefox updates:

Mozilla is clearly relying on the ‘Task Scheduler” feature available in Windows 10 OS to trigger and execute updates. The organization has set the ‘Update’ scheduled task to run every 7 hours. However, if Firefox is running, the task will terminate.

The task is called ‘Firefox Nightly Background Update’. The feature is auto-installed by the Nightly version, and interestingly, reinstalls itself if users delete the scheduled task. It is quite likely that the name will undergo a revision for Beta and Stable versions of the web browser.

Mozilla has allowed Firefox users to disable the ‘Background Update’ scheduled task. Users will need to use the Enterprise policy BackgroundAppUpdate to do so. Setting the policy to ‘Fasle’ prevents the scheduled tasks from running.

The Enterprise policy affects the Firefox preference app.update.background.enabled. However, the feature is experimental and currently does not have any effect. The only way to prevent the scheduled task from running is to disable, not delete, the task in Windows 10 Task Scheduler.

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