What Was Mist Browser?

The Mist browser was intended to be an integral part of the Ethereum network's dApps (decentralized applications) ecosystem. Its developers wanted to offer a one-stop shop for running and executing various Ethereum applications and projects.

Unfortunately, the technical requirements of a fully decentralized dApp browser system were too far beyond what current technology allows, and the Mist Browser project was abandoned and the software was taken out of circulation in March of 2019.

Key Takeaways

  • The Mist Browser was a decentralized app on the Ethereum network from 2015 to 2019.
  • Mist was the first dApp browser that allowed users to browse dApps, and it had an Ethereum wallet built in. It was also the first desktop crypto wallet with a graphical user interface (GUI).
  • Mist was deprecated in March 2019 after developers decided other browser developers and wallet makers were better able to create products for this quickly evolving space.

Understanding the Mist Browser

The Mist browser was an Ethereum interface intended to allow users to access the various dApps available on the Ethereum network. It was also known as the Ethereum dApp Browser. Ethereum is a popular blockchain platform optimized for smart contracts and other decentralized applications.

As a DApp browser, Mist was a standalone application with a graphical user interface (GUI) that allowed users to sync to the blockchain. It also provided an easy way for users to create their own DApps and deploy tokens and other smart contracts in a non-technical way. The Mist Etherium wallet itself would run on a user’s computer, which meant it had to be downloaded, installed, and run locally.

A standard web browser like Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer allows users to access websites such as Yahoo, Facebook, and Google. Similarly, the Mist browser was intended to allow users access to decentralized apps available on the Ethereum network.

The browser was built on Alphabet's open-source Chromium platform, and some tasks users could perform with it included:

  • Generate user-selected smart contracts
  • Enable users to pool tokens, replicating a trustless, decentralized crowdfunding solution
  • Share information with a select group of participants

The idea was to allow people to “do” things right from the browser by offering them readymade templates, build configurations and customizations, and to perform necessary actions, rather than just act as an app or a website. Unfortunately, the Mist browser ran into several issues that ultimately led to its undoing.

Reasons the Mist Browser Failed

Security

The Mist browser was based on Electron, which is a project led by GitHub that aims to ease the creation of cross-platform applications using JavaScript. Electron, in turn, is based on the Chromium open-source browser developed by Google in 2009.

Because Mist was effectively two layers away from updates pushed to Chromium browsers, it was also farther way from fixes to Chromium vulnerabilities that needed security patches. The layer between Mist and Chromium, i.e. Electron, was not updated frequently enough to keep up to date with Chromium, leading to an increased potential for attacks or data leakage over time.

Alex Van de Sande, the lead developer on Mist browser, wrote in a blog post announcing the deactivation and deprecation of the browser, "we received notice of a few very serious bugs: ones that would allow an attacker to take control of your computer (and your crypto keys) by simply visiting an untrusted website…. We released a fixed version immediately, but then other similar attacks were revealed and at some point, our own internal security team recommended that we not allow the user to navigate to untrusted websites — which is the whole point of a browser."

Synching Node

Another problem with the browser was due to the inherent problem of the fully decentralized DApp approach, which required users to run a full blockchain node to interact with the Ethereum network.

In its pure form, Mist needed to be constantly synced to the Ethereum blockchain. That operation required massive amounts of hard-disk space, a lot of processing power, and a high-speed connection to the internet. Simply syncing a new installation to the current state of the network may could days, and keeping the node up-to-date required 24-hour internet access and produced significant strain on users' hardware.