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Tiny browser features: JSBrowser crash resistance

2018 May 13, 4:59

JSBrowser is a basic browser built as a Win10 JavaScript UWP app around the WebView HTML element. Its fun and relatively simple to implement tiny browser features in JavaScript and in this post I'm implementing crash resistance.

The normal DOM mechanisms for creating an HTML WebView create an in-process WebView, in which the WebView runs on a unique UI thread. But we can use the MSWebView constructor instead to create an out-of-process WebView in which the WebView runs in its own distinct WebView process. Unlike an in-process WebView, Web content running in an out-of-process WebView can only crash the WebView process and not the app process.

        this.replaceWebView = () => {
let webview = document.querySelector("#WebView");
// Cannot access webview.src - anything that would need to communicate with the webview process may fail
let oldSrc = browser.currentUrl;
const webviewParent = webview.parentElement;
webview = new MSWebView();
Object.assign(this, {
"webview": webview
webview.setAttribute("id", "WebView");

// During startup our currentUrl field is blank. If the WebView has crashed
// and we were on a URI then we may obtain it from this property.
if (browser.currentUrl && browser.currentUrl != "") {

I run replaceWebView during startup to replace the in-process WebView created via HTML markup with an out-of-process WebView. I could be doing more to dynamically copy styles, attributes, etc but I know what I need to set on the WebView and just do that.

When a WebView process crashes the corresponding WebView object is no longer useful and a new WebView element must be created. In fact if the old WebView object is used it may throw and will no longer have valid state. Accordingly when the WebView crashes I run replaceWebView again. Additionally, I need to store the last URI we've navigated to (browser.currentUrl in the above) since the crashed WebView object won't know what URI it is on after it crashes.

            webview.addEventListener("MSWebViewProcessExited", () => { 
if (browser.currentUrl === browser.lastCrashUrl) { ++browser.lastCrashUrlCrashCount;
else {
browser.lastCrashUrl = browser.currentUrl;
browser.lastCrashUrlCrashCount = 1;
// If we crash again and again on the same URI, maybe stop trying to load that URI.
if (browser.lastCrashUrlCrashCount >= 3) {
browser.lastCrashUrl = "";
browser.lastCrashUrlCrashCount = 0;
browser.currentUrl = browser.startPage;

I also keep track of the last URI that we recovered and how many times we've recovered that same URI. If the same URI crashes more than 3 times in a row then I assume that it will keep happening and I navigate to the start URI instead.

PermalinkCommentsbrowser javascript jsbrowser uwp webview win10

Tweet from David Risney

2016 Aug 31, 6:09
CSP about:blank frame inherits CSP from parent. about:blank child window doesn't despite having same origin 

Tweet from David Risney

2016 Aug 31, 6:06
Would be nice if CSP could help. CSP can block frame navigating parent but not window navigating opener 

WinRT Toast from PowerShell

2016 Jun 15, 3:54

I've made a PowerShell script to show system toast notifications with WinRT and PowerShell. Along the way I learned several interesting things.

First off calling WinRT from PowerShell involves a strange syntax. If you want to use a class you write [-Class-,-Namespace-,ContentType=WindowsRuntime] first to tell PowerShell about the type. For example here I create a ToastNotification object:

$toast = New-Object Windows.UI.Notifications.ToastNotification -ArgumentList $xml;
And here I call the static method CreateToastNotifier on the ToastNotificationManager class:
$notifier = [Windows.UI.Notifications.ToastNotificationManager]::CreateToastNotifier($AppUserModelId);
With this I can call WinRT methods and this is enough to show a toast but to handle the click requires a little more work.

To handle the user clicking on the toast I need to listen to the Activated event on the Toast object. However Register-ObjectEvent doesn't handle WinRT events. To work around this I created a .NET event wrapper class to turn the WinRT event into a .NET event that Register-ObjectEvent can handle. This is based on Keith Hill's blog post on calling WinRT async methods in PowerShell. With the event wrapper class I can run the following to subscribe to the event:

function WrapToastEvent {
param($target, $eventName);

Add-Type -Path (Join-Path $myPath "PoshWinRT.dll")
$wrapper = new-object "PoshWinRT.EventWrapper[Windows.UI.Notifications.ToastNotification,System.Object]";
$wrapper.Register($target, $eventName);

[void](Register-ObjectEvent -InputObject (WrapToastEvent $toast "Activated") -EventName FireEvent -Action {

To handle the Activated event I want to put focus back on the PowerShell window that created the toast. To do this I need to call the Win32 function SetForegroundWindow. Doing so from PowerShell is surprisingly easy. First you must tell PowerShell about the function:

Add-Type @"
using System;
using System.Runtime.InteropServices;
public class PInvoke {
[DllImport("user32.dll")] [return: MarshalAs(UnmanagedType.Bool)]
public static extern bool SetForegroundWindow(IntPtr hwnd);
Then to call:
[PInvoke]::SetForegroundWindow((Get-Process -id $myWindowPid).MainWindowHandle);

But figuring out the HWND to give to SetForegroundWindow isn't totally straight forward. Get-Process exposes a MainWindowHandle property but if you start a cmd.exe prompt and then run PowerShell inside of that, the PowerShell process has 0 for its MainWindowHandle property. We must follow up process parents until we find one with a MainWindowHandle:

$myWindowPid = $pid;
while ($myWindowPid -gt 0 -and (Get-Process -id $myWindowPid).MainWindowHandle -eq 0) {
$myWindowPid = (gwmi Win32_Process -filter "processid = $($myWindowPid)" | select ParentProcessId).ParentProcessId;
} c# powershell toast winrt

Retweet of Real_CSS_Tricks

2016 Jan 30, 8:30
display: contents;It's new. …parent (disp flex) child (disp contents) grandchildgrandchild now flex item

Retweet of edwardsanchez

2016 Jan 26, 4:51
First time I see transparent LED being used. Feels science fictiony.

Retweet of AlecMuffett

2016 Jan 1, 10:04
Why do I want to move my blog to HTTPS + optional Onion? Because my Mobile ISP transparently MITMs all HTTP:

Retweet of ericlaw

2015 Jul 7, 7:41
Love it: "Never give your parents a hard time about having to teach them computer stuff. They had to teach you to use a spoon."

Debugging anecdote - the color transparent black breaks accessibility

2014 May 22, 10:36

Some time back while I was working on getting the Javascript Windows Store app platform running on Windows Phone (now available on the last Windows Phone release!) I had an interesting bug that in retrospect is amusing.

I had just finished a work item to get accessibility working for JS WinPhone apps when I got a new bug: With some set of JS apps, accessibility appeared to be totally broken. At that time in development the only mechanism we had to test accessibility was a test tool that runs on the PC, connects to the phone, and dumps out the accessibility tree of whatever app is running on the phone. In this bug, the tool would spin for a while and then timeout with an error and no accessibility information.

My first thought was this was an issue in my new accessibility code. However, debugging with breakpoints on my code I could see none of my code was run nor the code that should call it. The code that called that code was a more generic messaging system that hit my breakpoints constantly.

Rather than trying to work backward from the failure point, I decided to try and narrow down the repro and work forwards from there. One thing all the apps with the bug had in common was their usage of WinJS, but not all WinJS apps demonstrated the issue. Using a binary search approach on one such app I removed unrelated app code until all that was left was the app's usage of the WinJS AppBar and the bug still occurred. I replaced the WinJS AppBar usage with direct usage of the underlying AppBar WinRT APIs and continued.

Only some calls to the AppBar WinRT object produced the issue:

        var appBar = Windows.UI.WebUI.Core.WebUICommandBar.getForCurrentView(); 
// appBar.opacity = 1;
// appBar.closeDisplayMode = Windows.UI.WebUI.Core.WebUICommandBarClosedDisplayMode.default;
appBar.backgroundColor = Windows.UI.Colors.white; // Bug!
Just setting the background color appeared to cause the issue and I didn't even have to display the AppBar. Through additional trial and error I was blown away to discover that some colors I would set caused the issue and other colors did not. Black wouldn't cause the issue but transparent black would. So would aqua but not white.

I eventually realized that predefined WinRT color values like Windows.UI.Colors.aqua would cause the issue while JS literal based colors didn't cause the issue (Windows.UI.Color is a WinRT struct which projects in JS as a JS literal object with the struct members as JS object properties so its easy to write something like {r: 0, g: 0, b: 0, a: 0} to make a color) and I had been mixing both in my tests without realizing there would be a difference. I debugged into the backgroundColor property setter that consumed the WinRT color struct to see what was different between and {a: 1, r: 0, g: 0, b: 0} and found the two structs to be byte wise exactly the same.

On a hunch I tried my test app with only a reference to the color and otherwise no interaction with the AppBar and not doing anything with the actual reference to the color:;. This too caused the issue. I knew that the implementation for these WinRT const values live in a DLL and guessed that something in the code to create these predefined colors was causing the issue. I debugged in and no luck. Now I also have experienced crusty code that would do exciting things in its DllMain, the function that's called when a DLL is loaded into the process so I tried modifying my C++ code to simply LoadLibrary the DLL containing the WinRT color definition, windows.ui.xaml.dll and found the bug still occurred! A short lived moment of relief as the world seemed to make sense again.

Debugging into DllMain nothing interesting happened. There were interesting calls in there to be sure, but all of them behind conditions that were false. I was again stumped. On another hunch I tried renaming the DLL and only LoadLibrary'ing it and the bug went away. I took a different DLL renamed it windows.ui.xaml.dll and tried LoadLibrary'ing that and the bug came back. Just the name of the DLL was causing the issue.

I searched for the DLL name in our source code index and found hits in the accessibility tool. Grinning I opened the source to find that the accessibility tool's phone side service was trying to determine if a process belonged to a XAML app or not because XAML apps had a different accessibility contract. It did this by checking to see if windows.ui.xaml.dll was loaded in the target process.

At this point I got to fix my main issue and open several new bugs for the variety of problems I had just run into. This is a how to on writing software that is difficult to debug.

PermalinkCommentsbug debug javascript JS technical windows winrt

@youtube - How DNA Changed the World of Forensics | Retro Report...

2014 May 20, 2:14

@youtube - How DNA Changed the World of Forensics | Retro Report | The New York Times


YouTube - Dead Man’s Bones (Dance) Nathan Barnatt has...

2014 May 19, 3:21

YouTube - Dead Man’s Bones (Dance)

Nathan Barnatt has some great videos

PermalinkCommentsNathan-barnatt video dance


2014 Apr 15, 1:30


PermalinkCommentsfilm movie trailer

CM Punk’s Grammar Slam - Literally vs. Figuratively (by...

2013 Aug 30, 8:00

CM Punk’s Grammar Slam - Literally vs. Figuratively (by Nerdist). This is literally very funny.

PermalinkCommentsliterally grammar humor video

Phone Buttons - Numberphile (by numberphile)

2013 Aug 30, 5:47

Phone Buttons - Numberphile (by numberphile)

PermalinkCommentsHistory numbers phone

Kartlytics (by Deirdré Straughan)

2013 Aug 9, 7:53

Kartlytics (by Deirdré Straughan)

PermalinkCommentshumor technical Mario-kart video-game manta map-reduce cloud-computing

LED Tetris Tie V2 (by Bill P)

2013 Jul 23, 1:47

LED Tetris Tie V2 (by Bill P)

PermalinkCommentsHumor tie tetris

How I Met Your Mother - Ted’s Kids Like You’ve Never...

2013 Jul 23, 7:45

How I Met Your Mother - Ted’s Kids Like You’ve Never Seen Them (by howimetyourmother)

PermalinkCommentshumor tv himym

laughingsquid: Testing People’s Reaction Times With a Ruler in...

2013 Jul 5, 3:05


Testing People’s Reaction Times With a Ruler in Super Slow Motion

PermalinkCommentsbrain science video speed time humor

Number 1 and Benford’s Law - Numberphile (by...

2013 Jun 25, 4:40

Number 1 and Benford’s Law - Numberphile (by numberphile)

I’d heard of Benford’s Law before but it sounded totally counter intuitive to me. This video does a good job explaining why one shows up as the leading digit in sets of random numbers that span large ranges.

PermalinkCommentsmath video benfords-law

Audi Piloted Driving at CES 2013 (by AudiofAmerica)

2013 Jun 21, 9:30

Audi Piloted Driving at CES 2013 (by AudiofAmerica)

PermalinkCommentscar video self-driving
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