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Google's Chrome Extensions tutorial leaves me disappointed


Some material is very old and may be incorrect today

© February 2011 Anthony Lawrence

A while back, I started looking into Firefox extensions. I quickly gave up in disgust - Firefox developers seem to go out of their way to make everything much more difficult than it needs to be. I've become disenchanted with Firefox for other reasons: it has become slower and buggier (at least on my Mac) with every new "improvement". The last straw for me was when they started using a database for bookmarks and history. That caused me to switch to Chrome, which has (so far, at least) remained fast and almost completely crash-free.

Of course I took a look at how Chrome handles extensions, and was happy to find that they are much more rational and direct. It is actually a trivial task to create a basic but still useful Chrome extension. It's so easy that anybody who can type can do it: see my A simple but useful first Chrome extension for an example.

Of course I immediately wanted to do more and that's where Google's Chrome Extension Tutorial let me down. I wanted to learn how to swim, so Google showed me how to turn on the water at the sink and let me splash it around a bit. They then dragged me into a helicopter, flew way out into the ocean and dumped me out.

I don't recommend the experience.

How tutorials should be

Here's my take on how a tutorial on extensions should be structured. The first sample should be exactly like what I did. No javascript, no external websites.Keep it simple, but still potentially useful (I actually use that "boilerplate" extension frequently).

Obviously the next step has to involve Javascript, but I think that sample number 2 should be something generic that the would-be extension developer can build on. I suggest it be opening another web page in a new tab or window and passing the current URL as an argument to that. So, if you were looking at this page and invoked the extension, you'd open a new window with (for example) "http://google.com/ #q=%2Fhttp%3A%2F%2Faplawrence.com%2FWeb%2F chrome_extensions.html" as its target.

Or you could pass the current URL's title. The point is that the tutorial would show a generic task that could be used as a skeleton for many other projects.

The next tutorial sample would expand on that to show the various ways that the new window could be triggered. Again, that introduces useful concepts that can be applied later.

Next, we'd move to modifying the current page, I'd keep it very simple: perhaps changing all H2's to H1's. The purpose is only to show how to interact with the DOM. With that learned, the next lesson shows how to trigger that for specific pages or sites rather than manually invoking the change.

I think if you did these things first, the newbie might then be better prepared to drop from that helicopter! Google's tutorials actually are very good; they just progess too quickly.

I'm going to attempt to provide the missing tutorials. I'll do that here, not at HubPages. because this is a more technical audience. As I don't even have a clue myself how to do step two at this point, it will be interesting to see how difficult that is to carve out of Google and any other sources I can find on the web.

If anyone has seen good tutorials, please do add them to the comments!


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