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The NAPI Plugin Guide

Copyright © 2004 Travis Snoozy

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License."


In the summer of 2005, I was lending my time to the Open-Source community. The project I wound up devoting the majority of my time to was GPLFlash, and a big goal for that project was to provide a browser plugin front-end for their Shockwave Flash (SWF) renderer. Unfortunately, the plugin at the time was highly unstable, and prone to crashing the browser whenever any SWF content came up. As part of my work for the project, I was doing a proper design from the ground up -- which meant that I would have to be well-acquainted with the plugin interface that we needed to integrate with. As part of that process, I decided to write this guide, in the hopes that it would be useful for many other developers.

Thanks goes out to the folks who made this document possible:

I would also like to point out that I use male forms of pronouns to refer to people of unknown gender; it's not sexist, it's proper English. I assume that my audience is both mature and knowledgable enough to know that when I make references like "the Netscape guys," women can be (and undoubtedly are) a part of that.

1. Introduction

This chapter will cover the general basics of what plugins are, and how they work; it is intended as a primer to the architectural concepts behind the plugin paradigm. Information specific to the Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface (NPAPI) will be discussed throughout the rest of this manual. Reading this chapter is not strictly necessary in order to use the other chapters, but it may help you to understand and integrate the information at a higher level.

What is a Plugin?

(To be written)

2. Plugin Bootstrapping

When the browser scans its plugin directories and finds a new library, the browser will attempt to see if the library is a plugin. The following things must be able to happen in order for the library to be considered a plugin:

Caution: The directory where plugins should be installed is both browser and platform specific. It will be up to you (and later, your installer) to determine where the plugin should be installed for your target browsers and platforms.

Once these tasks are completed, the plugin should be registered with the browser. In the case of Firefox or Mozilla, this means that the plugin should appear in the "about:plugins" page. The purpose of this chapter is to show how each of the major platforms tries to accomplish these tasks, so that you can create a plugin with the appropriate entry points for your target platform(s). The next chapter, Registration, will cover registration from a platform-independant point of view.

Caution: The entry points in this chapter are expected to exported as non-mangled names (i.e., C-exported symbols, not C++). Thus, if you are using C++, you will need to wrap these function declarations (and corresponding definitions) in an extern "C" {} block.


Required entry points

NPError WINAPI NP_GetEntryPoints(NPPluginFuncs*)
NPError WINAPI NP_Initialize(NPNetscapeFuncs*)
NPError OSCALL NP_Shutdown()

Note: The OSCALL in the NP_Shutdown signature is not a typo. The OSCALL macro is used because the NP_Shutdown function can be compiled for and used by more than one platform.

Browser behavior

Browser-Side Addresses

Browser calls NP_Initialize

Plugin-Side Addresses

Browser calls NP_GetEntryPoints

MIME Types & Metadata

Browser uses file metadata


Browser calls NP_Shutdown

MIME Types & Metadata

The MIME types and other plugin meta-data are all stored in a resource file that gets compiled into the final DLL. Specifically, the information is stored as strings in the DLL's version information; the browser looks for the following sets of string/value pairs:


The name of the plugin


the description of the plugin


A "|" separated list of mime-types, e.g. "text/html|application/x-texinfo|text/xml"


A "|" separated list of filetypes, e.g. "htm,html|tex,texi,texinfo|xml"


A "|" separated list of human-readable filetypes, e.g. "HTML Document|TexInfo Document|XML File"

Note that in order for the browser to detect them, all of the above strings must be in the "US English" language and use the "Windows Multilingual" encoding.


Required entry points

char*          NP_GetMIMEDescription()
NPError        NP_GetValue(void*, NPPVariable, void* out)
NPError        NP_Initialize(NPNetscapeFuncs*, NPPluginFuncs*)
NPError OSCALL NP_Shutdown()

Browser behavior

Browser-Side Addresses
Plugin-Side Addresses

Browser calls NP_Initialize

MIME Types & Metadata

Browser calls NP_GetMIMEDescription for MIME types, and calls NP_GetValue to get the plugin name and description.


Browser calls NP_Shutdown

MIME Types & Metadata

The MIME types are returned by the NP_GetMimeDescription as a string of the format `"mime/type:ext,ex2,ex3:Human-Readable Description;mime/type2:ext3:Another description"'. Thus, the MIME types from the Windows example would be represented as follows:

"text/html:htm,html:HTML Document;"
"application/x-texinfo:tex,texi,texinfo:TexInfo Document;"
"text/xml:xml:XML File"

The plugin name and description are extracted through the NP_GetValue interfce, which is very similar to the NPP_GetValue interface (FIXME: add cross-reference to the section discussing NPP_GetValue). NP_GetValue is concerned with only two values of NPPVariable: NPPVpluginNameString and NPPVpluginDescriptionString. A typical implementation of NP_GetValue could look like this:

NPError NP_GetValue(void* reserved, NPPVariable var, void* out)
    NPError ret = NPERR_NO_ERROR;
    char**  val;

    if(out == NULL)
        { return NPERR_INVALID_PARAM; }
    val = (char**)(out);
        case NPPVpluginNameString:
            *val = "Example Plug-In";
        case NPPVpluginDescriptionString:
            *val = "A plug-in that demonstrates how NP_GetVal is implemented";
            ret = NPERR_INVALID_PARAM;

    return ret;


Required entry points

DEFINE_API_C(NPError) main(NPNetscapeFuncs* nsTable, 
                           NPPluginFuncs* pluginFuncs,
                           NPP_ShutdownUPP* unloadUpp)

Browser behavior

Browser-Side Addresses
Plugin-Side Addresses

Browser calls main

MIME Types & Metadata

Browser uses file metadata


Browser calls the NPP_ShutdownUPP function pointer that main returns

Caution: I don't have access to a Mac, nor do I know how to program on one. If someone with more Mac development experience could write this section, I'd be much obliged.

MIME Types & Metadata

The MIME types and metadata for the plugin are stored in the resource fork of the final plugin library file. On OSX, the information from NP_GetMIMEDescription will override any information coming from the resource fork. Anyone who wants to flesh this out can start working from the NPAPI documentation.

3. Registration

After the platform-specific parts from Plugin Bootstrapping are taken care of, registration becomes fairly straightforward. There are two major structures involved in registration: NPPluginFuncs and NPNetscapeFuncs. The former is passed from the plugin to the browser, and declares what functions the plugin has implemented. The latter is passed from the browser to the plugin, and declares what functions the browser makes available.


typedef struct _NPNetscapeFuncs {
    uint16 size;
    uint16 version;
    NPN_GetURLUPP geturl;
    NPN_PostURLUPP posturl;
    NPN_RequestReadUPP requestread;
    NPN_NewStreamUPP newstream;
    NPN_WriteUPP write;
    NPN_DestroyStreamUPP destroystream;
    NPN_StatusUPP status;
    NPN_UserAgentUPP uagent;
    NPN_MemAllocUPP memalloc;
    NPN_MemFreeUPP memfree;
    NPN_MemFlushUPP memflush;
    NPN_ReloadPluginsUPP reloadplugins;
    NPN_GetJavaEnvUPP getJavaEnv;
    NPN_GetJavaPeerUPP getJavaPeer;
    NPN_GetURLNotifyUPP geturlnotify;
    NPN_PostURLNotifyUPP posturlnotify;
    NPN_GetValueUPP getvalue;
    NPN_SetValueUPP setvalue;
    NPN_InvalidateRectUPP invalidaterect;
    NPN_InvalidateRegionUPP invalidateregion;
    NPN_ForceRedrawUPP forceredraw;
    NPN_GetStringIdentifierUPP getstringidentifier;
    NPN_GetStringIdentifiersUPP getstringidentifiers;
    NPN_GetIntIdentifierUPP getintidentifier;
    NPN_IdentifierIsStringUPP identifierisstring;
    NPN_UTF8FromIdentifierUPP utf8fromidentifier;
    NPN_IntFromIdentifierUPP intfromidentifier;
    NPN_CreateObjectUPP createobject;
    NPN_RetainObjectUPP retainobject;
    NPN_ReleaseObjectUPP releaseobject;
    NPN_InvokeUPP invoke;
    NPN_InvokeDefaultUPP invokeDefault;
    NPN_EvaluateUPP evaluate;
    NPN_GetPropertyUPP getproperty;
    NPN_SetPropertyUPP setproperty;
    NPN_RemovePropertyUPP removeproperty;
    NPN_HasPropertyUPP hasproperty;
    NPN_HasMethodUPP hasmethod;
    NPN_ReleaseVariantValueUPP releasevariantvalue;
    NPN_SetExceptionUPP setexception;
} NPNetscapeFuncs;

The NPNetscapeFuncs provides the plugin with the browser's NPAPI version, as well as pointers to the NPAPI functions that the browser has implemented. When the plugin recieves this structure from the browser, the plugin will need to do two things: verify that the browser is compatible with the plugin, and if so, make the browser's NPAPI functions available to the rest of the plugin.

Checking binary compatability

When an NPNetscapeFuncs structure is passed to the plugin, the plugin must first check the version field to ensure that the structure the browser is using is binary-compatible with the structure that the plugin was compiled with. The code to do this check is as follows (assuming browser_data is the NPNetscapeFuncs* that is passed to the plugin):

    // NULL pointers are invalid
    if ( browser_data == NULL )
        { return NPERR_INVALID_PARAM; }
    // Ensure that the browser's major NPAPI version is not greater than the
    // plugin's major NPAPI version
    if( (browser_data->version >> 8) > NP_VERSION_MAJOR )

The version field is a 16-bit number that represents the union of two unsigned 8-bit numbers. The most significant byte is the major version of the NPAPI that the browser or plugin was compiled against, while the least significant byte is the minor version. The plugin can access the version of the NPAPI it is compiled with through the NP_VERSION_MAJOR and NP_VERSION_MINOR macros.

Copying the data

Because the data structures must be monotonic (i.e., they may only have new things added to the end) to ensure backwards-compatability, two NPNetscapeFuncs that aren't the same size can still be used with one another -- which is why there was no size check in the previous section. The code for copying the browser's NPNetscapeFuncs data to the plugin's local data is as follows (assuming g_browser_data is a globally-scoped NPNetscapeFuncs in the plugin):

    size_t copyCount = sizeof(g_browser_data);
    // Initialize the plugin's NPNetscapeFuncs structure
    memset(&g_browser_data, 0, copyCount);
    // Determine the amount of data that needs to be copied
    copyCount = (browser_data->size < copyCount)?browser_data->size:copyCount;

    // Do the copy
    memcpy(&g_browser_data, browser_data, copyCount);
    g_browser_data.size = sizeof(g_browser_data);

This code results in the plugin recieving as much data from the browser as possible. In the case where the browser's structure is greater than or equal to the size of the plugin's structure, the plugin's structure is completely filled. In the case where the browser's structure is smaller, the plugin's structure is filled with the contents of the browser's structure, and the left-over fields are filled with NULL values.

Logical Compatibility Check

Once the browser's data has been copied over, the plugin should verify that the browser provides all of the functionality that the plugin requires. For example, if your plugin uses the NPN_ForceRedraw function, you would want to check that the forceredraw variable of the NPNetscapeFuncs structure is non-NULL:

    if(g_browser_funcs.forceredraw == NULL)
    else if(g_browser_funcs.invoke == NULL)
    // ...
        { error = NPERR_NO_ERROR; }

Since browsers could provide pointers to stubbed functions, this is not a foolproof method for ensuring compatibility. However, it is a good first line of defense.


To be written

4. Instantiation

To be written

5. Managing the Screen

To be written

6. Receiving Streams

To be written

A. Copying This Manual

A.1 GNU Free Documentation License

Version 1.2, November 2002

Copyright © 2000,2001,2002 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
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Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies
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A.1.1 ADDENDUM: How to use this License for your documents

To use this License in a document you have written, include a copy of the License in the document and put the following copyright and license notices just after the title page:

  Copyright (C)  year  your name.
  Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document
  under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
  or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation;
  with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover
  Texts.  A copy of the license is included in the section entitled ``GNU
  Free Documentation License''.

If you have Invariant Sections, Front-Cover Texts and Back-Cover Texts, replace the "with...Texts." line with this:

    with the Invariant Sections being list their titles, with
    the Front-Cover Texts being list, and with the Back-Cover Texts
    being list.

If you have Invariant Sections without Cover Texts, or some other combination of the three, merge those two alternatives to suit the situation.

If your document contains nontrivial examples of program code, we recommend releasing these examples in parallel under your choice of free software license, such as the GNU General Public License, to permit their use in free software.


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