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Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface (NPAPI) is an application programming interface (API) that allow plug-ins (more specifically, browser extensions) to be developed for web browsers. It was first developed for Netscape browsers, starting in 1995 with Netscape Navigator 2.0, but was subsequently adopted by other browsers.

In NPAPI architecture, a plugin declares content types (e.g. "audio/mp3") it can handle. When the browser encounters a content type it cannot handle natively, it loads the appropriate plugin, sets aside space within the browser context for the plugin to render and then streams data to it. The plugin is responsible for rendering the data. The plugin runs in-place within the page, as opposed to older browsers that had to launch an external application to handle unknown content types.

NPAPI requires each plugin to implement and expose approximately 15 functions for initializing, creating, deleting and positioning plugin content. NPAPI also supports scripting, printing, full-screen plugins, windowless plugins and content streaming.

Scripting support[edit]

Scripting is a feature allowing JavaScript code in a web page to interact with the plugin. Various versions of Netscape and then Mozilla supported this feature using different technologies, including LiveConnect, XPConnect, and NPRuntime.


LiveConnect is a feature of Web browsers that allows Java and JavaScript software to intercommunicate within a Web page. From the Java side it allows an applet to invoke the embedded scripts of a page or to access the built-in JavaScript environment, much as scripts can. Conversely, from the JavaScript side, it allows a script to invoke applet methods, or to access the Java runtime libraries, much as applets can.[1][2]

LiveConnect was used in Netscape 4 to implement scriptability of NPAPI plugins.

It is currently used in Rhinohide to implement a DOM interface for applets, that allows each applet to manipulate its containing Web page, using a standard Java binding of the DOM.[3]

The Open Java Interface-dependent implementation of LiveConnect was removed from the Mozilla source code tree in late June 2009 as part of the Mozilla 2 cleanup effort.[4] It is no longer needed with the release of a redesigned Java Runtime Environment from Sun Microsystems. However the old implementation was restored for Gecko 1.9.2, as Apple had yet to port the newer JRE over to Mac OS X.[5]

The Java–JavaScript functionality supported by the redesigned Java Runtime Environment is still called "LiveConnect", despite the Open Java Interface-specific approach having been abandoned.[6] With Netscape 4, NPAPI was extended to allow plugins to be scripted. This extension is called LiveConnect. A plugin could implement a Java class and expose an instance of it. The class could be called from JavaScript and from Java applets running within the page.

The disadvantage of LiveConnect is that it is heavily tied to the version of Java embedded within the Netscape browser. This prevented the browser from using other Java runtimes, and added bloat to the browser download size since it required Java to script plugins. Additionally, LiveConnect is tricky to program: The developer has to define a Java class for the plugin, run it through a specialized Java header compiler and implement the native methods. Handling strings, exceptions and other Java objects from C++ is non-obvious. In addition, LiveConnect uses an earlier and now obsolete application programming interface (API) for invoking native C++ calls from Java, called JRI. The JRI technology has long since been supplanted by JNI.


XPConnect (Cross Platform Connect) is a technology which enables simple interoperation between XPCOM and JavaScript.

Object connection[edit]

XPConnect allows JavaScript objects to transparently access and manipulate XPCOM objects. It also enables JavaScript objects to present XPCOM compliant interfaces to be called by XPCOM objects. A main goal is that objects communicating from either side of an XPCOM style interface should not generally need to know or care about the implementation language of the object on the other side of the interface.

XPConnect's primary reason for existence is to replace handwritten code used in places where native code needs to interact with JavaScript code. An example is the DOM module.


Full privileges are only granted by default to chrome scripts, i.e. scripts that are part of the application or of an extension. For remote HTML/XHTML/XUL documents, most XPCOM objects are not accessible by the scripts as they have limited privileges due to security reasons. Even if they are accessible (e.g. the XMLHttpRequest object), the usual security restrictions can also be found (e.g. cannot open URLs of other domains).

Mozilla was already using XPCOM to define the interfaces to many objects implemented in C++. Each interface was defined by an IDL file, and run through an IDL compiler that produced header files and a language-neutral type library that was a binary representation of the interface. This binary described the interface, the methods, the parameters, the data structures and enumerations.

XPConnect uses the type library information to marshal calls between different thread contexts and between JavaScript and natively compiled C++. XPConnect is used extensively throughout Mozilla. Starting with Netscape 6.1 and Mozilla 0.9.2, NPAPI was extended, so that a plugin could return a scriptable interface to itself and XPConnect would marshal calls to it from JavaScript and the C++ implementation.

XPConnect has no Java dependency. However, the technology is based on XPCOM. Thus the plugin developer must be familiar with reference counting, interfaces and IDL to implement scripting. The dependency on XPCOM led to certain dynamic linking issues (e.g. the fragile base class problem) which had to be solved before the plugin would work correctly with different browsers. XPCOM has since been changed to supply a statically linked version to address such issues. This approach also requires an .xpt file to be installed next to the dynamic-link library (DLL); otherwise the plugin appears to work, but the scripting does not, causing confusion.


At the end of 2004, all major browser companies using NPAPI agreed on NPRuntime[7] as an extension to the original NPAPI to supply scripting, via an API that is similar in style to the old C-style NPAPI and is independent of other browser technologies like Java or XPCOM. It is supported by Mozilla (1.7.5+), Firefox, Safari, Opera and Chrome.

Browser support[edit]

The following web browsers support NPAPI plugins:

The following web browsers support NPAPI but are discontinued:

The following browsers once supported NPAPI plugins, but have dropped support since:

  • Google Chrome and Chromium: In September 2013, Google announced that it would phase out NPAPI support in Chrome during 2014 because "NPAPI's 90s-era architecture has become a leading cause of hangs, crashes, security incidents, and code complexity".[9][10] NPAPI support was removed from the Linux version of Chrome 35 and later, in May 2014.[11] In April 2015, Chrome for Windows and OS X (versions 42 and later) disabled NPAPI support by default, however, NPAPI support could be enabled in the settings. Google completely dropped NPAPI support from all platforms in Chrome 45, released in September 2015.[12]
  • Internet Explorer: NPAPI was supported in Internet Explorer versions 3 through 5.5 SP2, allowing plugins that functioned in Netscape Navigator to function in Internet Explorer. Support came via a small ActiveX control (named "plugin.ocx") that acted as a shim between ActiveX and the NPAPI plugin. However, Microsoft dropped support in version 5.5 SP2 and later for security reasons.[13][14][15][16]
  • Opera for Linux: NPAPI support for Linux was removed with Opera 24.

Similar technologies[edit]


Main article: ActiveX

Internet Explorer and browsers based on Internet Explorer use ActiveX controls, ActiveX documents and ActiveX scripting to offer in-page extensibility on par with NPAPI. Although notoriously associated with Internet Explorer, ActiveX is integration technology that allows any computer program to integrate parts of other computer programs that support such integration.[17] Internet Explorer, however, is discontinued and its replacement, Microsoft Edge, does not support ActiveX.


On 12 August 2009, a page on Google Code[18] introduced a new project, Pepper, with the associated Pepper Plugin API (PPAPI);[19] PPAPI is a derivatization of NPAPI aimed to make plugins more portable and more secure.[20] This extension is designed specifically to ease the implementation of out-of-process plugin execution. The goals of the project are to provide a framework for making plugins fully cross-platform. Topics considered include:

  • Uniform semantics for NPAPI across browsers.
  • Execution in a separate process from the renderer/browser.
  • Standardize rendering using the browser's compositing process.
  • Defining standardized events and 2D rasterization functions.
  • Initial attempt at providing 3D graphics access.
  • Plugin registry.

Google Chrome, Chromium[21] and Opera (since version 24[22]) support PPAPI.

On 26 May 2011, Mozilla announced that it was "not interested in or working on Pepper at this time."[23]

In February 2012, Adobe Systems announced that future Linux versions of Adobe Flash Player would be provided only via PPAPI, although the previous release, Flash Player 11.2, with NPAPI support, would receive security updates for five years.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Flanagan, David. (2006). JavaScript: the Definitive Guide. O'Reilly, Sebastopol, California.
  2. ^ For technical details, see the Mozilla Developer Documentation on LiveConnect.
  3. ^ Rhinohide home page.
  4. ^ "442399 – remove LiveConnect from the tree". 
  5. ^ "517355 – Restore OJI, Liveconnect and the JEP on the 1.9.2 branch on OS X". 
  6. ^ "Release Notes for the Next-Generation Java™ Plug-In Technology (introduced in Java SE 6 update 10)". 
  7. ^ "Scripting plugins". Mozilla Developer Network. 
  8. ^ "NPAPI Plugins in Firefox". Mozilla. Retrieved 2015-10-08. 
  9. ^ Google will start blocking most Netscape Plug-In API plug-ins in January 2014, will whitelist Silverlight, Unity & others". TechCrunch. 23 September 2013.
  10. ^ "Google looks to drop Netscape Plugin API support in Chrome, starting with blocking most plugins in January 2014". The Next Web. 23 September 2013.
  11. ^ "Update on NPAPI deprecation". Chromium Blog. 27 May 2014.
  12. ^ "The final countdown for NPAPI". Chromium Blog. 24 November 2014.
  13. ^ "Netscape-Style Plug-ins Do Not Work After Upgrading Internet Explorer". Support (3.3 ed.). Microsoft. 27 July 2007. 
  14. ^ Giannandrea, J. (4 September 2001). "Microsoft breaks Web Plugins in Windows XP". Archived from the original on 16 October 2007. 
  15. ^ "Description of Internet Explorer Support for Netscape-Style Plug-ins". Support (3.4 ed.). Microsoft. 31 January 2007. 
  16. ^ "Microsoft Security Bulletin MS03-015 – Critical". Security TechCenter. Microsoft. 23 April 2003. 
  17. ^ "Description of ActiveX Technologies". Support. Microsoft. 19 January 2007. 
  18. ^ "ppapi". Google Code. Google. 
  19. ^ "Getting Started: Background and Basics – The Chromium Projects". 
  20. ^ "Concepts - ppapi - Important concepts for working with PPAPI. - Pepper Plugin API – Google Project Hosting". 
  21. ^ "Google heats up native code for Chrome OS". 
  22. ^ "Opera Developer 24: Pepper Flash is coming to Opera". Opera Desktop. 
  23. ^ "NPAPI:Pepper". 
  24. ^ "Adobe and Google Partnering for Flash Player on Linux". 

External links[edit]