WebRTC Is Shaping Up in Firefox, Though There’s Still Plenty to Do

Standard, real-time audio and voice communications over the web are almost here

New features, especially ones that add support for emerging web technologies, are constantly added by modern browsers. But one particular technology has been getting a lot of focus lately and for good reason – it's one of the biggest to be implemented recently.

WebRTC aims to provide a standard for voice and video communications on the web. It's supposed to make it possible for browsers, but also any app or device that implements it, to talk to one another and exchange voice and video data.

Most major browsers are actively working on implementing support, but it's a complex technology so it can't be done in one single step.

Firefox, Chrome and Opera support getUserMedia API, the part of what will become the WebRTC standard which handles access to the webcam and the mic.

It's one of the most technically complex things browsers have done to date, apart from hardware accelerated 3D graphics, but it was probably the easy part.

Now, all the browsers are working on implementing the next big step, PeerConnection, the peer-2-peer technology that will allow browsers to send and receive the data.

Mozilla aims to have full support for WebRTC, at least in its current draft spec form, by early next year, when Firefox 18 enters the stable channel. Firefox 18 is currently in the Aurora channel.

At this point, Firefox supports getUserMedia, the mozGetUserMedia version, PeerConnection as mozRTCPeerConnection and DataChannels.

DataChannels is similar to PeerConnection, but is designed for sending and receiving genetic data, PeerConnection is for audio and video only.

This is the least developed part of the specifications and is subject to change, even more so than the other components.

Support for all these features is preliminary and not enabled by default, you have to dig into about:config to enable them.

There's also little or no UI for any of them; that is landing in the coming weeks. There are a few demos that make use of what's already there though.

Depending on how fast Mozilla moves, the features could take shape in the weeks Firefox 19 has left in the Nightly channel or while it's in Aurora, but chances are, at least some of them could be pushed back.

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