Andrew’s Searchfox Vision 2022

Searchfox (source, config source) is Mozilla’s primary code searching tool for Firefox introduced by Bill McCloskey in 2016 which built upon prior work on DXR. This product vision post describes my personal vision for searchfox and the rationale that underpins it. I’m also writing an accompanying road map that describes specific potential enhancements in support of this vision which I will publish soon and goes into the concrete potential features that would be implemented in the spirit of this vision.

Note that the process of developing searchfox is iterative and done in consultation with its users and other contributors, primarily in the searchfox channel on and in its bugzilla component. Accordingly, these documents should be viewed as a basis for discussion rather than a strict project plan.

The Whys Of Searchfox

Searchfox is a Tool For System Understanding

Searchfox enables exploration and understanding of the Firefox codebase as it exists now, as it existed in the past, and to support understanding of the ramifications of potential changes.

Searchfox Is A Tool For Shared System Understanding

Firefox is a complex piece of software which has more going on than any one person can understand at a time. Searchfox enables Firefox’s contributors to leverage the documentation artifacts of other teams and contributors when exploring in isolation, and to communicate more effectively when interacting.

Searchfox Is Not The Only Tool

Searchfox integrates relevant data from automation and other tools in the Firefox development ecosystem where they make sense and provides deep links into those tools or first steps to help you get started without having to start from nothing.

The Hows Of Searchfox

Searchfox is Immediate: Low Latency and Complete

Searchfox’s results should be available in their entirety when the page load completes, ideally in much less than a second. There should be no asynchronous lazy loading or spinners. Practically speaking, if you could potentially see something on a page, you should be able to ctrl-f for it.

In situations where results are too voluminous to be practically useful, Searchfox should offer targeted follow-on searches that can relax limits and optionally provide for additional constraints so that iterative progress is made.

Searchfox is Accessible

Searchfox should always present a usable accessibility tree. This includes ensuring that any dynamically generated graphical representations such as graphviz-style diagrams have a directly usable accessibility tree or an alternate representation that maximally captures any hierarchy or clustering present in the visual presentation.

Searchfox Favors Iterative Exploration and Low Activation Energy

Searchfox seeks to avoid UX patterns where you have to metaphorically start from a blank sheet of paper or face decision paralysis choosing among a long list of options. Instead, start from whatever needle you have (an identifier name, a source file location, a string you saw in the UI) and searchfox will help you iterate and refine from there.

Searchfox Provides Stable, Useful URLs When Possible and Markdown For More Complex Situations

If you’re looking at something in searchfox, you should be able to share it as a URL, although there may be a few URLs to choose from such as whether to use a permalink which includes a specific revision identifier. More complicated situations may merit searchfox providing you with markdown that you can paste in tools that understand markdown.