- 1 MY FAVORITE FIREFOX ADD-ONS
- 2 TROUBLESHOOTING ADD-ON RELATED ISSUES
- 3 DOING IT WITHOUT AN ADD-ON
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 with every add-on that is installed. Not only can an add-on conflict with a native Firefox behavior, but it can also conflict with other add-ons, creating a potential mess when it comes time to troubleshoot an add-on related 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 other 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 still allowed 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/most of these contain adware and/or spyware which is employed by the developer who uses a 3rd party company 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: 9-OCT-2014
|Adds new functionality||Enhances existing functionality||Fixes a problem or restores removed functionality||Privacy related||Security related|
|Adblock Edge||Adblock Edge is a must-have extension for getting rid of annoying advertisements. I recommend the ‘Edge’ variant over the more well known Adblock Plus because the latter allows certain ads by default (yes, an ad blocker that allows ads, all in the name of the money god). There are alternative extensions which claim to duplicate the basic functionality of Adblock Edge, but at this point i do not believe that any are as complete, effective, and as easy to manage. Adblock Edge comes as close to a ‘set it and forget it’ extension as i think one can get. Most people will simply install it, pick an block list to subscribe to and be done with it.||In certain instances, it is possible for Adblock Plus to break a website. Disabling it, or whitelisting the site, is quick and easy however.|
|Add to Search Bar||This extension makes it easy to add almost any search engine to the Firefox Search Bar.|
|All-in-One Sidebar||AiOS is a very handy and well done extension that organizes your sidebar content and allows you to access it quickly. In addition to your bookmarks, you can also view all your add-ons in the sidebar, as well as the error console, a web page, themes, downloads and more. I highly recommend this extension!|
|Better Privacy||Unknown to many, there are 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: ‘Local Shared Objects’, or so-called Flash cookies. This is another ‘set it and forget’ extension for most people, though there are options to protect specific LSO’s from being deleted. Personally i have never found it necessary to whitelist any LSO’s, but this capability may come in handy for folks using web cams, among other things.||I suppose it may be possible to break certain websites if they rely on Flash cookies, however i have not experienced this.|
|BetterStop||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.|
|Classic Theme Restorer||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 the mainstream branch of 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.|
|Conform SearchBox||Conform SearchBox will remember what was entered into the search box for each tab and update it as you switch tabs. I am not so sure how useful it is by itself, but when combined with SearchWP (below), which converts the search terms to clickable buttons, i think it is incredibly useful.||
|Copy Link Text||Right click on a hyperlink and what do you get? The option to copy the link address. Well what if you want to copy the link text? This simply adds the functionality that should be built-in, but isn’t.|
|Element Hiding Helper for Adblock Plus/Edge||Element Hiding Helper extends Adblock Plus/Edge by making it really easy to hide offending content with a point and click interface instead of regular expressions. The Adblock Plus/Edge extensions are excellent at getting rid of advertisements, but sometimes an ad will slip through, or perhaps another object which you simply don’t want to see. There are many ways to style particular websites and Element Hiding Helper is probably one of the easiest if all you need to do is remove an offending piece of content.||Must have Adblock Plus/Edge installed|
|Element Properties||I have to wonder why in the world the geniuses at Mozilla decided to remove the “Properties” item from the context menu for certain objects. What were they thinking? Element Properties reinstates what never should have been scrapped in the first place.|
|Extension Defender||Extension Defender is an install-it-and-forget-it add-on which simply checks your extensions against a list of extensions that contain unwanted “features”, such as user tracking.|
|FindBar Tweak||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.||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||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 drives as Windows Explorer does, but rather only the last selected drive.|
|Flagfox||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.||
|Greasemonkey||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.||
|HTTP UserAgent cleaner||Replacing HeaderControlRevived is the new HTTP UserAgent cleaner. This is a great extension that enhances privacy by making browser fingerprinting more difficult, as well as beefing up Firefox security. While the initial configuration may take some time and reading, there should not be a lot to do afterwards.||
|FxIF||FxIF allows you to view the EXIF metadata contained in digital images, such as the camera type, exposure settings, date and, in some cases, even the GPS location of the image.|
|Menu Wizard||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.|
|NewsFox||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 with the caveats i 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.||
|Organize Search Engines||Allows you to easily organize your search engines exactly how you want, including grouping them in folders and sub-folders. Geeks will appreciate the ability to easily edit the search parameters for each engine as well as changing the icons.||Particularly useful for geeks and those that have a lot of search engines.|
|Pure URL||Pure URL simply removes junk from URL’s, such as Google Analytics tracking links. This allows you to visit or copy the URL without the extra junk.||Could break some web functionality, though i have yet to have a problem.|
|Redirect Cleaner||This is another small extension that can enhance privacy and speed up the loading of web pages by bypassing the middleman in redirect links, where one link is used to redirect you to another link, the latter being your chosen destination. Often this is done to track you or for monetary gain.||
|Resurrect Pages||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||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.|
|Scroll Up Folder||Replacing Smart Text/Smart Location is Scroll Up Folder, a fairly nice little extension which makes it super simple to navigate within a domain, stepping up or down levels as shown:
subdomain.example.com/dir/?=param1 subdomain.example.com/dir/ subdomain.example.com example.com
While there are several other add-ons that offer similar functionality, this is the only one i have found that a) does not require a toolbar/address bar button or context menu, b) segments URL parameters and c) handles sub-domains properly.
|Search Site||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.|
|SearchWP||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 is particularly useful when installed along with the Conform SearchBox extension. See may article, Firefox Search Bar Synchronization and Intro to Regular Expressions for more on this.|
|Self-Destructing Cookies||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 sent them. In other words, you simply install it and forget it, unless you want to add a domain to the whitelist so it’s cookies are never deleted. In the newest version, SDC also handles Local Shared Objects, or DOM storage, also known as “flash cookies” or “super cookies”. I mailed the developer about this and he stated that the BetterPrivacy extension is still needed.|
|Status-4-Evar||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 problem and adds some new functionality as well.|
|Tab Utilities||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.||This extension could potentially break some websites, depending on how it is configured.|
TROUBLESHOOTING ADD-ON RELATED ISSUES
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, i suggest starting with the following steps:
- 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 in 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 the two conflicting add-ons.
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 and start Firefox to see if the issue is still present. If it is not, then you know the problem is related to something in your old profile. If, on the other hand, the problem does still exist, then it is likely to be the fault of the 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, then restarting Firefox to test for the problem. Once the problem reappears, we now know that 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.