Mozilla Firefox is a popular, free, open source web browser that is extremely (and i do mean extremely) configurable and easy to use. Somewhat bare out of the box however, its functionality is easily extended with add-ons (or extensions if you prefer), of which there are many thousands.
With so many add-ons, most of which are free, the casual user might be tempted to install a large number of them, however i would highly recommend installing only the add-ons you really like or need since the potential to break things increases exponentially with every add-on that is installed. Not only can add-ons conflict with each other, they can also conflict with a native Firefox behavior. The more that are installed, the more difficult it can be to troubleshoot a problem.
Another issue that should be considered is unethical add-on developers that sometimes package unnecessary components which may include provisions for tracking your web behavior or collecting data that is not relevant to the primary function of the add-on. Although Mozilla limits what a developer is allowed to do, user tracking is permitted and so i would highly recommend that you take the following precautions before installing any add-on:
- Install the Extension Defender add-on (see below) to help protect against malicious extensions
- Be very wary of any add-on which is packaged in the form of a tool-bar! Many of these contain malware and/or spyware which is employed by the developer to monetize their add-on.
- Check the user reviews to see how well an add-on is liked and be wary if it is rated at 3 or less stars, or not rated at all
- Even if the add-on is rated 4 or more stars, check the comments of the people that gave it the lowest rating to see if their gripe may be legitimate
- Visit the developer website and see what kind of content is there. Look for marketing hype and be wary of dot com domains.
MY FAVORITE FIREFOX ADD-ONS
Last updated: 25-Feb-2015
|Adds new functionality||Enhances existing functionality||Fixes a problem or restores removed functionality||Privacy related||Security related|
|Add to Search Bar is an extension that makes it super easy to add almost any search engine to the Firefox Search Bar.|
|Unknown to many, there are several different types of ‘cookies’ and opting to block cookies from the Firefox privacy options will not block them all. Better Privacy can deal with another type of cookie: the ‘Local Shared Objects’, or so-called Flash cookies. Better Privacy is another ‘set it and forget’ extension for most people, though there are options to protect specific LSO’s from being deleted.||I suppose it may be possible to break certain websites if they rely on Flash cookies, however i have not experienced this.|
|BetterStop extends the functionality of the Esc key (or Stop button) with options to stop page loading and network activity. Very simple and transparent with no added toolbar icons or fuss.|
|Not happy with the new Australis interface for Firefox? I don’t blame you, but if you want the latest gizmo’s and security fixes for Firefox, you’re stuck with it. Unfortunately, yet another add-on is necessary to re-add the functionality that a bunch of idiots at Mozilla think you don’t need and that add-on is Classic Theme Restorer.|
|Clean Links is a great add-on that has replaced two of my former favorites — Redirect Cleaner (extinct) and PureURL — as it does the job of both. Clean Links can remove junk from URL’s, such as Google Analytics and other tracking mechanisms, as well as any other content you wish to remove. It also cleans redirect links so you are transported directly to your destination without having to go through a middleman. Lots of options make it nicely customizable without going over the top. If you do not like being tracked across the web, this add-on is a must-have. UPDATE: I actually do not have this add-on installed any longer since i’m using GM scripts instead, but i’m leaving it here since it is a nice option for those that don’t use Greasemonkey.||
|Right click on a hyperlink and you only get the option to copy the link address. What if you want to copy the link text? Selecting hyperlinks can be difficult because Firefox will think you want to drag the link, not select it. Although you can use the Alt key (Windows) in many circumstances to assist you, it doesn’t always work. Copy Link Text simply adds this missing functionality as an easily accessible context menu item that always works without having to fiddle around.|
|Exif Viewer does nothing more than allow you to view the EXIF metadata stored in many JPEG images, including the camera and exposure info and, when available, the GPS location of the image.|
|Extension Defender is an install-it-and-forget-it add-on which simply checks your extensions against a list of those that contain unwanted “features”, such as user tracking or malware.|
|FindBar Tweak replaces Find All as my favorite add-on for enhancing the default functionality of the Find bar. FindBar Tweak adds some welcome changes to the Find bar (Ctrl+F) by making it much smaller and it does a great job of highlighting your search terms. There are also lots of options to make it look and work the way you want. UPDATE: Currently i don’t have this add-on installed since i use SearchWP, though FindBar Tweak is much more powerful for those that need it.||Unlike the Find All add-on, FindBar Tweak does not display the context of your search term unless the option to find in all tabs is enabled (this feature is apparently planed for a future release).|
|FireFTP ia a popular and reasonably well-rounded FTP client for Firefox. The developer also offers an SSH client as well.||It has its quirks and i particularly don’t like the way you navigate local directories as it doesn’t display all the drives as Windows Explorer does, but rather only the last selected drive.|
|Flagfox is a very cool, mufti-purpose extension. At its root it simply displays the flag of the country for the website you’re visiting in the Firefox address bar (now called the “Awesome Bar”), but left and right clicking on the icon reveals many more options. For instance, right clicking the icon opens a customizable context menu from which you can select things like doing a “WhoIs” look-up for the current domain, ping, trace route, geo-locate, W3C validation, translations and even shorten the URI in the address bar using services like bit.ly or Tiny. Many more options are available if you want and you can even add your own.||
|The new Greasemonkey has replaced Scriptish (which replaced an earlier version of Greasemonkey) as my favorite user script extension. Greasemonkey is for running user created scripts which are typically used to change how a website functions and/or looks. Some of the most popular scripts allow you to download videos from sites like YouTube, or enhance the functionality of sites like Facebook and Google. You can even find some proof of concept scripts for defeating CAPTCHA’s, though they don’t appear to be fully baked just yet. For a selection of scripts that i personally find useful, see the bottom of this page.||
|Replacing HeaderControlRevived is the new HTTP UserAgent cleaner. This fairly powerful extension enhances privacy by making browser fingerprinting more difficult, as well as beefs up Firefox security. Features include the ability to manipulate a large number of settings both globally and per domain, including toggling cookies, DOM cookies, storage, the referrer, images, plugins, the user-agent and many more.Â HTTP UserAgent cleaner can also allow, deny or sanitize downloadable fonts and set many configuration options for SSL connections, such as which ciphers may be used. While the initial configuration may take some time and research, there should not be a lot to do afterwards.||
|So you’re working on your website and you need an image. You find one you really like, but maybe the quality is crappy or it’s too small. What to do? Right click and use a reverse image search provider to find a better version of the same image (my personal favorite is TinEye). With Image Search Options, you can do a reverse image search using any or all of a large number of service providers and even add your own.|
|Replacing the limited Menu Filter and outdated Menu Editor add-ons is Menu Wizard, a fantastic new add-on for removing, adding and rearranging the menu items for various Firefox context menus, which can become quite unruly after installing a bunch of extensions. It also handles the browser’s hot-keys.|
|If you read a lot of syndicated feeds (RSS/ATOM) NewsFox is, in my opinion, the very best extension for reading and managing your feeds within Firefox, even given the caveats i have listed. It offers a lot of configuration options for reading, organizing and marking the status of feeds, and it has a clean, intuitive, customizable, 3 pane interface.||
|Although i have used the more popular All-in-One Sidebar (AiOS) for quite a long time, i now prefer OmniSidebar. Although it is somewhat less polished in some areas and lacks a few small features of AiOS, it is feels lighter and works very well. You can also display two sidebars with it; one on the left of your display and another on the right. I especially like the sidebar switch that is used to toggle the opening and closing of the sidebar since it does not eat any screen real-estate.|
|Page not found? Want to see what a web page looked like 10 years ago? Resurrect Pages can look up the current web page or hyperlink in one of several places that archive web content including the Internet Archive and Google Cache.|
|ScrapBook is a very handy extension used to store scraps of text, web pages or images that you want to save. I use it often when i research subject matter, such as when i wrote the NPR article. You can import, combine and export your Scrap Book, including export as HTML. If you need more power, try Zotero.|
|Replacing Smart Text / Smart Location is Scroll Up Folder, a fairly nice little extension which makes it super simple to navigate within a domain, going up or down levels. For example, you can go from
|Search Site is a great little extension that adds another icon in the right side of the Search Bar that, when clicked, will search only the current website for your search terms. Though there are others like it, i particularly like the way it’s integrated. If another icon is too much for you, you can hide it and just Ctrl+Enter instead.|
|One of those brilliant little extensions whose functionality should be built-in in my opinion, SearchWP simply transforms the words in the Search Bar to clickable buttons. Clicking on a word button will take you to the point in the page where the word is located. It was particularly useful when installed along with the Conform SearchBox extension, however the latter is pretty broken and unmaintained. If you want to use it, see my article, Firefox Search Bar Synchronization and Intro to Regular Expressions for more.|
|Self-Destructing Cookies replaces Cookie Monster with a much simpler approach to cookie handling whereby the default policy is to accept all cookies and then delete them after you leave the domain which set them. In other words, you simply install it and forget it, unless you want to add a domain to the white-list so it’s cookies are never deleted. Self-Destructing Cookies also handles DOM storage, however this does not alleviate the need for the BetterPrivacy extension.||Though the possibility of breaking website functionality exists, it is only very slight and, personally, i’ve never had a single problem|
|Mozilla’s continuing trend of dumbing down the browser to an infants level has, once again, pissed off a lot of people, this time when they removed the status bar. Status-4-Evar restores the absent functionality and adds some cool new toys as well. Even if you don’t use the status bar, Status-4-Evar is still very useful if you want to move browser elements, such as the pop-up of the hovered link address or network status, to another location.|
|Tab Utilities adds plenty of tab related options, such as customizing the color of new, focused and read tabs, options for opening and closing tabs, options for what happens when you click on a tab and much more. I like this extension a lot, but if you want something a little thinner, try Tab Utilities Lite by the same developer. Optionally, much of the functionality provided by Tab Utilities can be accomplished through user.js and userchrome.css tweaks, as well as with Classic Theme Restorer. UPDATE: I no longer use Tab Utilities since i can do most of what i want with configuration hacks, however i’ll keep it listed here since it is a great alternative to for those that want to customize tabs easily.||This extension could potentially break some websites depending on how it is configured.|
|uBlock replaces all other advertisement blockers for me including Adblock Plus and Adblock Edge and it offers much more functionality. Although uBlock is still in its infancy and has some shortcomings as of this writing, it is far superior to all other ad blocking extensions i have used in every meaningful way. uBlock is capable of using the same filtering lists that the Adblock Plus/Edge extensions use and the interface for choosing the filters is a better and more intuitive design. Two of the most welcome differences with uBlock is that it does not slow the loading time for Firefox to any noticeable degree and it uses far less memory. Another major advantage over the other Adblock extensions is that uBlock can block both 1st and 3rd party requests for images, scripts and frames as well as all requests to other domains from the current domain. Although it is similar to NoScript in this regard, i would not consider uBlock to be a replacement for NoScript for most users. One shortcoming is its element picking tool for assisting you in selecting elements you want to hide which is not as well done as the Element Hiding Helper extension for the other Adblock extensions.||
Here are some Greasemonkey scripts which i find useful:
Linx Amender – From the official description, “Linx Amender is a powerful script that allows you to alter the page content using regular expression and rules.” There is a lot you can do with this script, though i am currently using it only to make a few changes to a few websites, including http to https redirects, manipulating YouTube, removing Google link redirections and link tracking parameters and a couple other things. Among its other capabilities, Linx Amender allows you to write JS scripts, so you can use it to write your own extensions essentially, as well as replace other user scripts.
Google Hit Hider by Domain – This is a fairly complex and well done script that simply allows you to remove unwanted results from a Google search.
If you notice a problem after installing an add-on, there are some fairly simple steps you can take to troubleshoot the issue before contacting the developer. In my experience, problems with add-ons are usually a result of a conflict with 1) a setting in prefs.js, 2) a setting in user.js, 3) another add-on, or 4) a setting in userchrome.css or usercontent.css. Whatever the case, here is how i usually go about finding the problem. It is rather convoluted, i admit, but it works and it’s easy:
- Exit Firefox
- Backup your current Firefox profile!
- Create a new profile and copy the contents of your backup into it. You can create the new profile from your file manager (you don’t have to run the Firefox profile manager).
If you suspect an add-on is conflicting with another add-on
- Start Firefox and disable the other add-ons
- Restart Firefox and verify whether the problem still exists and, if so, then it’s probably not due to another add-on, so you can skip the next step and move on to the next section.
- One at a time, enable the other add-ons, restarting Firefox each time until the problem reoccurs, at which point you have likely isolated the problem and can contact the respective developers of the conflicting add-ons.
If the problem is not related to another add-on
This is where it can get tricky and i can only tell you how i go about troubleshooting such an issue, which is not necessarily the best method.
The first thing you need to do is create a brand new, clean profile. Start Firefox and install only the add-on giving you trouble to verify that the problem still exists. If it does not, then you know the problem is related to something in your old profile. If it does still exist, then it is likely to be the fault of the add-on developer and you can skip the rest of this guide and file a bug report with them. Assuming the former scenario however, i begin a process of elimination by copying the folders and files one at a time, beginning with prefs.js, user.js and chrome files, from my backup profile into the new profile. After i copy a file, i restart Firefox to test for the problem. Once the problem reappears we know it lies within the last object we copied into the new profile.
If the problem is with one of the configuration files (prefs.js, user.js, userchrome.css, usercontent.css), then we need to continue the process of elimination. To do this, cut out half of the contents of the prefs.js file and paste this to a new instance of a text editor. Keep repeating this process of removing half of what is left in the file, then restarting Firefox and testing until the problem no longer exists. When the issue is eliminated, then we know the problem lies in the last block of preferences that i removed, after which you can continue the process of elimination to find the culprit by pasting back the block that was last removed and commenting out the lines of the pasted block one at a time until the issue is resolved. Once the offending setting is discovered, we can determine if we want to change the setting or file a bug report with the developer. If the prefs.js file is not the problem, then repeat this process with the other configuration files. If the problem still exists after the configuration files have been eliminated, then i start adding back the remaining files and folders from the backup profile until i can isolate it.
How to submit a support request to an add-on developer
You need to be able feed the developer clues so they can find the problem; comments like “it doesn’t work” are utterly useless to a developer. They will need to know what version of Firefox you are running, your operating system flavor and, most importantly, a) a detailed description of the problem and b), the steps necessary to reproduce it.
With that information in hand, you need to find where the developer wants you to submit bug reports. Go to the add-on page at Mozilla and see if the developer links to a support page. If not, see if they offer a support email address. Leave your report in the comments only when no other method is offered to submit a bug (and don’t expect the developer to see it).
DOING IT WITHOUT AN ADD-ON
In addition to the extensions which affect user privacy listed in the table above, there are many more configuration settings which have an impact on the ability of websites to track you. One “feature” of Firefox allows websites to track your browsing history using “hyperlink auditing”. Disabling this behavior in Firefox is trivial and you can read how to do so in this forum post about hyperlink auditing.
See my tutorial on how to customize the Firefox document scrolling behavior without an extension. This is a great tip which enables silk-smooth scrolling of web pages!
Copying text without formatting
Sometimes you may want to copy text without the added HTML markup. While i am not aware of way to do this without an extension, you can do the next best thing, which is paste the text without the formatting. To do this, simply paste using Ctrl+Shift+V instead of Ctrl+V.
If you like an add-on, or any other free software, please donate to the developer. Trust me when i tell you that most developers receive nothing, or next to nothing for all the work and support they provide. Developers are usually very appreciative of a donation regardless of how small it may be.