Blaise Alleyne

Is Self-Hosted Firefox Sync no longer an option?

Blaise Alleyne at

Ugh... so, running Debian Jessie on my X60 now. I went to set up "Firefox Sync" with IceWeasel, and fell down this wormhole...

  • First, under Set Up Sync, rather than the familiar "Pair a new device" screen, I'm prompted with something about setting up a Firefox account
  • Then, I find that there's a new version of Firefox Sync in v30, and "the latest version of Firefox doesn't support adding new devices to the old version of Sync" (and I was worried that Debian testing wouldn't have up-to-date packages... sigh)
  • So, I don't want to create a new account. I liked that the old account format meant that Mozilla couldn't access my data even if they wanted to, with the decryption client-side. Plus, I recently noticed thatthere's a Mozilla Sync app for ownCloud. Since FF/IW 30 has locked me out of setting up new devices, well, hey, might as well try to set this up now...
  • Except... I install the app, and go to "Set Up Sync..." and there's nowhere to enter your own server. So, apparently it (a) doesn't let me even set up an old sync account to my own server anymore, and (b) doesn't offer a way to specify my own server wit the new model?
  • So I find this: Run your own Sync-1.5 server, which is apparently different than running your own Sync-1.1 server...
  • And, the new sync service uses Firefox Accounts... and the Sync-1.5 page says you can run your own Firefox Accounts server, but doing so is currently experimental and not well-docmented...

So... frig... I really don't want to set up a Firefox Account with Mozilla. I would really rather use my own Sync service. But it seems like from version 29-30 onwards, at worst they've broken this or dropped support for it, or more likely, it's in same messed up state of limbo where I can't add any new accounts to the old sync but can't set up my own new sync...

(If I'd just set up sync in Debian Jessie before upgrading, I'd be happily living with the old sync!!)

This is really frustrating... I really don't like feeling pressure to sign up for a Firefox Account / Mozilla Sync service... but I'm starting to feel that pressure, because I don't think there's any other easy way to get sync working from this new IceWeasel 30 install... grr...

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WAHOO! Okay, I was pretty reckless and I'm not sure exactly what did it and these instructions come with no warranty express or implied, but...

  • I copied the weave folder from inside my Firefox profile (not sure if that mattered), plus all of the lines in prefs.js to do with "services.sync.*"
  • I tried manually editing the preferences (resetting timestamps to zero, etc.), but what ended up happening is that when I opened IceWeasel with those lines just copy-pasted in from my Firefox profile in my old Ubuntu install that I'm no longer using, it gave me the "Pair a new Device" option the first time I accessed Sync settings!!
  • It disappeared if I cancelled pairing, but I just tried again, and successfully paired IceWeasel 30!!
  • I could see "tabs from my other computers" now, but my bookmarks clearly weren't there, so I shut IceWeasel down, and changed the value of all the services.sync.*.lastSync and services.sync.*.lastSyncLocal and a couple other similar timestamps, setting them to 0 from their prior values. Then, re-opened IceWeasel, ran the sync manually, and my bookmarks started appearing! I can now see my bookmarks and passwords, I'm pretty sure it's all come through! :)

So, it's still totally possible to pair a new device... just... not entirely through the GUI. And I'm sure there's a more efficient way than my hit/miss random edits to prefs.js, but I've at least narrowed it down to (a) something in the services.sync settings that will bring up the "Pair a new device" screen, at least once; (b) something to do with the services.sync.*.lastSync* settings that will trigger the browser to download everything again anew.

Thanks for the tip!

I'll worry about migrating from Mozilla's deprecated sync service to ownCloud another day... though, this method should probably work the same way if you already were using ownCloud, because I think that's just specified in the services.sync.clusterURL setting in prefs.js.

Blaise Alleyne at 2014-07-17T20:44:26Z

Freemor likes this.

You'd think they'd at least have the new sync service fully operational before they broke compatibility with the old one... though, aside from infuriating me today, it worries me in terms of their priorities -- self-hosting users are not a priority for Mozilla like they may have been in the early days of Weave.

But I'm just happy I've got it working through hacking prefs.js!

Blaise Alleyne at 2014-07-17T20:46:42Z

I would NOT sign up to Mozilla's Sync service. They've changed things: while some "lesser" information is encrypted in a way that Mozilla can't retreive, stuff like your passwords is readable from Mozilla's servers. (I think that's unacceptable in a post-lavabit world.)

Christopher Allan Webber at 2014-07-17T20:47:17Z

a(n) person, Blaise Alleyne likes this.

Yikes. Yeah, that's the kind of thing I was worried about...

I think I'm gonna stick with the old Mozilla sync service for now (now that I managed to add a new device), work on moving to ownCloud's Mozilla sync app if/when I can...

Blaise Alleyne at 2014-07-17T20:52:38Z