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0015 - Short Lived Browser Services


Context and Problem Statement

ADR-003 introduced the usage of Observables into our TypeScript codebase. That same ADR describes using ngDestroy to trigger unsubscribing from all subscribed Observables. However, ngDestroy is only called when the Angular router is used to navigate away from the page. In SPAs, this isn't a problem. If the router isn't used, it means you closed the page and the SPA is dead. In Browser Extensions, we have a persistent background that survives such closing events. This means that subscriptions exist in the Observers queue which no longer exist.

In Firefox, in particular, this is a catastrophic failure. Firefox will swap out all object belonging to a DOM object that no longer exists with a DeadObject. When next() is called on the Subject, the DeadObject is treated like and Observer and throws an error, preventing any further notification to subsequent Observers and causes catastrophic breaks in the extension.

Considered Options

  • Revert ADR 003 and remove Observables - We remove Observables from the codebase and revert to the previous state.
  • Browser events - We use the beforeunload, unload, visibilityChange, and/or pageHide events to trigger the destruction of Angular services.
    • These triggers are not guaranteed to be called, and may not be called in all browsers.
  • Short Lived Subjects - We ensure that subscriptions created in components do not reference long-lives subscriptions.

Decision Outcome

Chosen option: Short Lived Subjects.

This option is the most flexible and allows us to keep the benefits of Observables while avoiding the flakiness associated with the page visibility events.

These short lived subject will be accomplished by creating visualization-level services with the same lifetime as the components they serve. Data will be synced between these short-lived services and the long-lived extensions living in the background.

Positive Consequences

  • No impact to writing component-level code
  • Takes us in a direction needed for Manifest V3 anyway
  • Bypasses potential memory leaks due to dangling subscriptions

Negative Consequences

  • Increases memory footprint of the browser extension since service's observables need to be created per visualization and background context.
  • Requires synchronization of the service's observables between the foreground and background contexts.
  • Requires a more complex implementation of the service's observables.

Synching a Subject Between Contexts

Synchronization of a subject between contexts has been developed using a combination of Observable subscriptions, the browser messaging API, and browser storage API.

Storage or direct object sharing is used as a communal data store. Subscriptions are used to write to the communal store and fire off a message, which triggers a read from subsequent read on the other end.

Implementing a Browser Service

In this section, we walk through an example of how to implement a browser service. We will use the FolderService as an example.

FolderService provides two Observables, backed by BehaviorSubjects, _folders and _folderViews.

export class FolderService {
private _folders = new BehaviorSubject<Folder[]>([]);
private _folderViews = new BehaviorSubject<FolderView[]>([]);

readonly folders = this._folders.asObservable();
readonly folderViews = this._folderViews.asObservable();

The following sections discuss changes needed to separate the service's observables into foreground and background contexts.

The libs Service

The libs service needs to make the Subjects backing the Observables available to the Browser Service extending it.

export class FolderService {
- private _folders = new BehaviorSubject<Folder[]>([]);
- private _folderViews = new BehaviorSubject<FolderView[]>([]);
+ protected _folders = new BehaviorSubject<Folder[]>([]);
+ protected _folderViews = new BehaviorSubject<FolderView[]>([]);

readonly folders = this._folders.asObservable();
readonly folderViews = this._folderViews.asObservable();

The Browser Service

The Browser Service must simple extend the libs service and wrap itself and the Subjects in a few decorators.

export class BrowserFolderService extends FolderService {
@sessionSync({ initializer: Folder.fromJSON, initializeAs: "array" })
protected _folders: BehaviorSubject<Folder[]>;
@sessionSync({ initializer: FolderView.fromJSON, initializeAs: "array" })
protected _folderViews: BehaviorSubject<FolderView[]>;

The @sessionSync decorator is responsible for registering properties to be synced and providing information about how to initialize the data should it need to be serialized. The @browserSession decorator reads registered properties and sets up synchronization between all instances of the given class.

Dependency Injection

Once the service is implemented, it can be registered with Angular's dependency injection system. Be sure to update or add any necessary providers.


@browserSession only syncs between identical classes, so background services need to use the same class as the foreground service. Currently, the background services are initialized in main.background.ts.

-import { FolderSerivce } from '@bitwarden/common/src/services/folder.service';
+import { BrowserFolderService } from '../services/browser-folder.service';

-this.folderService = new FolderService(
+this.folderService = new BrowserFolderService(