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April 15, 2013

Mozilla TowTruck Hopes to Make Real-Time Web Collaboration a Reality

Mozilla Labs has unveiled a new project designed to enable real-time Web development collaboration. Known as TowTruck, the open-source service allows multiple developers to co-author new and existing Web pages simultaneously. Similar to a shared Google Drive document, changes to a single document can be made by several remote users at the same time. 

Interestingly, TowTruck is neither a Firefox plug-in nor a piece of stand-alone software. Rather, it is implemented entirely by inserting a snippet of JavaScript into the body of your site’s code, integrating TowTruck’s functionality directly into the page itself. Collaborators can then join the editing process simply by following a provided link. This capability is possible through the use of WebRTC, an open-source project supported by Google, Mozilla, and Opera that enables web browsers to make use of Real-Time Communications. 

Collaborators using TowTruck will be able to see changes made by all users instantly. Code can be edited in real-time, and the results will show up both in the editor pane, and in the page preview pane. Co-authors can navigate to other pages of the same site while maintaining their connection.   In addition, TowTruck provides real-time cursor-mirroring (the ability to see friends’ cursors) and a live text/voice chat interface. 

The hope is that TowTruck will make web development an easier, more streamlined process for all parties involved. A real-time collaborative approach can theoretically remove some of the “handing-off” needed at various stages of Web development, and allow for more dynamic feedback between designers and developers. Moreover, as an open source project, TowTruck can likely be tailored to meet individual and community needs. These are all promising signs for TowTruck’s future.   

TowTruck is still in the alpha stages of development, however, and Mozilla does not recommend using it in production just yet. Nevertheless, you can demo the service at the official Mozilla Labs TowTruck website.  Additionally, for those particularly intrigued by TowTruck’s potential, more detailed specifications, as well as contribution opportunities, can be found on the official TowTruck github.   

Edited by Rich Steeves
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