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T-Mobile JavaScript comment stripper breaks websites

It's not optimisation, it's pessimisation

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Attempts by T-Mobile to speed up mobile data connections are breaking websites.

The bug intermittently affects mobile device users and PC users using tethered connections. It is caused by "optimisations" to the sites' Javascript code made on the fly, in attempt to optimise the amount of data received. Instead of stripping out comments, the optimisation – or more precisely, "pessimisation" – also strips out strings in the code itself.

MySociety first publicised the issue last week.

A developer told us the bug struck while his team was giving a demo to a potential investor. The team subsequently spent two days tracking down what had caused the issue.

"T-Mobile have managed to strip out bits of JavaScript code as well as comments. The jQuery library suffers, too. Worse than that, the script files are cached and won't get replaced when the user moves off 3G and back on to a decent ISP: in effect, T-Mobile has broken websites permanently," said the dev.

MySociety's Matthew Somerville blamed clumsy coding:

"The T-Mobile JavaScript comment-stripper appears to be searching for '/*' and '*/' and removing everything in between. This might work in most cases; however in the jQuery library, we find a string containing '*/*', and later down the file, another string containing '*/*'. T-Mobile removes everything between the things it thinks are comment markers, even though they're actually contained within strings, causing the jQuery library to be invalid JavaScript and stopping anything using jQuery from running," he wrote.

The apparent indeterministic nature of the bug – which attacks only occasionally – has made it harder to track down. "We are investigating the issue you have raised and are taking it very seriously," T-Mobile told us. ®

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