How to run Firefox in Ubuntu’s Wayland mode (and why you should)

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Ubuntu 23.10 will soon be released and it’s already shaping up to be an impressive release. One thing the upcoming release does is ship with the Snap version of Firefox running in Wayland mode.

I already know what you’re thinking. You’re using a Linux distribution which already defaults to Wayland and Firefox runs just fine. That doesn’t, however, mean your version is taking full advantage of the Wayland graphics stack. In fact, your version of Firefox could be running via XWayland, which doesn’t benefit from full Wayland support.

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But why do you need full Wayland support? If you’re using a computer that benefits from HiDPI (High Dots Per Inch), the XWayland Firefox won’t honor that, which means you might find certain websites or web fonts are blurrier than they should be. It also means you won’t be able to interact with Firefox via multi-gesture support.

I don’t know about you, but those are features I’d rather not miss out on.

Fortunately, this is Linux, so there’s always a way to solve the problem.

With that in mind, let me show you how to run the Snap version of Firefox in Wayland mode.

How to switch Firefox to Wayland Mode

What you’ll need: To make this work, you’ll need a running Linux distribution that defaults to the Wayland communication protocol (such as Ubuntu 23.04 and Fedora 38). You’ll also need a user with sudo privileges. I’ll demonstrate this on Ubuntu Linux, so if your distribution isn’t based on Debian or Ubuntu, you’ll need to alter the installation commands. 

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Do note: The first method does not work in Ubuntu with the upcoming 23.10 release, as the Snap version of Firefox for that release already defaults to full Wayland support.

The first thing to do is log into your desktop and open a terminal window (as the only way to handle this is from the command line).

You might think this won’t work, but it will. In fact, I often keep multiple instances of Firefox on the same machine. So, if you want to keep the Snap version of firefox (and add Wayland support), you can issue the following command:

snap refresh firefox --channel=latest/stable/ubuntu-23.10

We can now add the official Mozilla repository with the command:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:mozillateam/ppa

We can now update apt and install Firefox with the following commands:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install firefox -y

Once the installation is complete, you can verify Firefox includes Wayland support by opening the web browser and typing about:support in the address bar. Scroll down until you see Window Protocol, where you should see wayland listed.

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Wayland support as shown in Firefox.

If you see X11 here, your system probably doesn’t use the Wayland protocol.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

An alternate method

If you find the repository route doesn’t work for you, you might need to take an alternative path to make this work. Fortunately, there’s another method. What you can do is download the latest version of Firefox from the Mozilla download site. Once you’ve done that, follow these steps.

Open your default file manager and navigate to the Downloads directory (or wherever you saved the Firefox file). 

Right-click the downloaded file and select Extract Here. This will create a new folder named firefox.

The Nautilus right-click menu.

Extracting the Firefox file to the current directory.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

To run Firefox with this method, just double-click the Firefox executable and the browser will open. You can then pin the browser to your dock or menu.

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And that’s all there is to it. 

If your distribution defaults to the Wayland graphics protocol, but your version of Firefox runs in XWayland compatibility mode, you’ll find taking care of this will improve your overall experience with the web browser.

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