Put Firefox DE and Chromium in blender. Devs... Is it pure Blisk?

Depends who you're asking

woman uses blender. Photo by shutterstock

Open Source Insider Firefox Developer Edition offers a fantastic array of tools for web developers. From profiling memory use to debugging WebSocket and other HTML5 APIs, Firefox DE is a very useful tool.

Developer Edition is, of course based on Firefox, which isn't to every developer's liking.

To say Firefox is slower than Chromium is, in my experience, sometimes true and sometimes not. The two tend to be a bit like racehorses that are neck and neck, one occasionally inching ahead of the other only to be overtaken again a month later.

The problem is for those releases where Firefox is noticeably slower, it can be painful to move back to Chromium, which lacks tools I use every day, like Responsive Design Mode or the pixel-based measurement tools.

Enter Blisk. Blisk is a customized build of Chromium that bolts on nearly everything you'll find in Firefox Developer Edition and half a dozen very useful tools you won't. In fact once you try Blisk there's a good chance you'll never use anything else for web development.

Blisk started life as a Windows-only application. This seems an odd choice for a browser aimed at the stereotypically Mac-obsessed web development crowd, though, if Stack Overflow's audience is representative, Blisk made the right choice. It has since come around with a Mac OS X version and claims that a Linux version is in the works.

In addition to a suite of developer tools that's on par with Firefox DE - which means all the standard Chromium Dev tools, plus niceties like one-click full screen screen caps - Blisk has two things that will change your web developing life: auto-refresh on code changes and an analytics tool that will lint your code and check for cross-browser problems in the browser.

Once your project is set up in Blisk, you can work in the text editor or IDE of your choice and every time you save your work any open Blisk tabs or device emulator windows will automatically refresh. You can specify which files and folders Blisk will watch if for some reason you don't want it to refresh on every change. This alone puts Blisk ahead of every other developer browser I've tested.

Then there's the device emulation. Blisk ships with a variety of device emulators (like Chromium), but allows you to view them alongside your standard desktop browsing window rather than taking over the screen as Chromium does. Even better, Blisk synchronizes scrolling between the two views, so you can scroll one pane and the other follows suit. And any changes you make to your code automatically refresh in both views.

The downside to emulation of course is that you're not going to get, for example, the JavaScript behavior of an iPad, rather the behavior of desktop Chrome that sometimes means you will miss some possible bugs. Which is to say that while Chromium's emulators are a good start they're not a substitute for actual device testing.

Another fantastically useful tool in Blisk is the built-in code "analytics" view, which runs your code through various syntax checkers and looks at performance and cross-browser compatibility. It means you find bugs sooner than if you have to remember to run those tools on your own. It also makes it easier to diagnose the problem

Blisk has a few features I haven't used extensively that might be handy in some workflows, including integration with a cloud-based back end that allows you to, among other things, quickly screenshot problem views and save the images to your Blisk account for sharing with team members. There's also a video recording tool if you need to demonstrate a bug in animation.

Blisk has plans to integrate with outside services that would make it possible, for instance, to screenshot a bug and file it to your team's Bugzilla tracker. The integration isn't baked in yet, but it makes Blisk worth keeping an eye on even if you don't jump on it right now.

While Blisk has some very useful stuff, it's not yet available for my main development platform - Linux. Thankfully, while Blisk does add some extras like the synced scrolling and code checking, I've found that most of its features can be replicated in Chrome proper with a few add-ons.

If you're a fellow Linux user or you just don't want a dedicated development browser, there are Chromium add-ons that can do some of these things without needing to install Blisk. For instance Emmet Re:view offers a similar take on the built-in Chrome device emulator.

The auto-refresh feature is harder to get. It will require a tool like Browsersync, which in turn requires that you first install Node.js. On the plus side Browsersync will work in any browser.

Still, while you can get close to Blisk, it's unquestionably easier to just download Blisk and get to work. ®

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