Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why Iceweasel versions before 2.0 are not Debian-based

One nice day I found a screenshot of Iceweasel that looked like a version prior to Iceweasel 2.0 and added in its description that it was Debian Iceweasel, as browsers named Iceweasel with a lower-case w are usually Debian-based. (As opposed to GNU IceWeasel, which in 2007 was renamed to IceCat to avoid confusion.)

It then turned out for me, this particular screenshot, and other screenshots in the database that it was not so for the reasons that follow.

The uploader of the screenshot had the unintentionally good sense of including the taskbar of the operating environment, which happened to feature a program window with the title of package iceweasel- While this got me to get the version number right, the package name was just enough information to start looking further, results of which only pointed to Gnuzilla servers and mirrors. This put me into some doubt as to whether the browser in the screenshot was Debian Iceweasel, and looking even further, my doubts were confirmed.

Locations for iceweasel- available here:

From a selective search of most GNU mirrors, I found only one mirror still actually hosting some original files:

The relevant binary files there were last modified on 06.09.2006 00:00.

From the Internet Archive I found another mirror which has hosted iceweasel-
(also features a later capture)

The binaries were last modified on 05.09.2006 23:59, so a minute earlier than those at

Note that researching this kind of history through the Internet Archive has three or so limits:
* I tested to see if only an HTTP mirror had an archive page. Although I did not try to see if the WayBack Machine archives FTP pages, too, I didn't find any necessity for it either; Assuming also that the WayBack Machine does not archive FTP folder listings in the first place;
* The Archive has its own exclusion list of servers that it won't crawl (limited in relation to the GNU mirror list);
* Many mirrors had blocked crawling through robots.txt, as mirrors anyway host large files, which can be taxing to the Internet Archive. It's still useful for the WayBack Machine to archive programs — especially device drivers and obscure program packages, because the Internet Archive can sometimes be the only place where these can be found.

Through my searching whether an HTTP mirror has an archive page, then in the process a substantial number of those ftp-as-http mirrors that allowed crawling had their /gnuzilla folders captured by the Internet Archive. This should serve useful at tracing browser history with a similar method in any possible future research.

No other mirror services in the list of GNU mirrors that I searched at contained the original packages of iceweasel-

Left out from the search:
- South America: Brazil /only country in the list;
- Africa: South Africa;
- Asia: Bangladesh, China, Japan, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan;
- Europe: Greece, Portugal, Spain.

(Funny, Israel was in Asia, too :-)

There were two reasons for leaving these countries out of my search: Either a non-sensical URL (which I couldn't recognize as something resembling legitimacy), or the country is not trustworthy enough to visit its websites, no matter how harmless on appearance. The amount of servers not checked was approximately 10-15%, based on guesswork.

A user-published package of available at

Now, Debian started including Iceweasel as a rebranded replacement of Mozilla Firefox only since version 2.0, after which GNU slightly renamed their package to IceWeasel (note capitalisation of W), then a year later renamed their package to IceCat to finally avoid confusion with Debian's own package.

In conclusion, all Iceweasel versions prior to 2.0 are Gnuzilla-based.

I had to add to that screenshot file's notes that this was a screenshot of a Gnuzilla-based Iceweasel and not one of a Debian-based Iceweasel. The GNU IceCat Wikipedia page was also of great help in determining the right source.

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