Extensions in Firefox 76

A lot of great work was done in the backend to the WebExtensions API in Firefox 76. There is one helpful feature I’d like to surface in this post. The Firefox Profiler, a tool to help analyze and improve Firefox performance, will now show markers when network requests are suspended by extensions’ blocking webRequest handlers. This can be useful especially to developers of content blocker extensions to ensure that Firefox remains at top speed.

Here’s a screenshot of the Firefox profiler in action:

Many thanks to contributors Ajitesh, Myeongjun Go, Jayati Shrivastava, Andrew Swan and the team at Mozilla for not only working on the visible new features but also maintaining the groundwork that keeps extensions running.

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Speed up downloads in Firefox with Multithreaded Download Manager

Multithreaded Download Manager is an extension for the Firefox web browser that may speed up file downloads in the browser thanks to the use of download threads.

Download manager extension require a scary number of permissions and Multithreaded Download Manager is no exception to that.  The developer explains the permissions on the project’s GitHub repository; the extension is open source which means that anyone may check the source code to analyze the functionality.

The main feature that the add-on adds to Firefox is that file downloads may be downloaded in threads to speed things up; this works only if the server supports this and if the Internet connection allows it. The extension uses four download threads by default but you may increase the number in the options. Firefox does not allow more than 6 threads by default but you may increase that limit by changing the values of network.http.max-persistent-connections-per-server and network.http.max-persistent-connections-per-proxy accordingly.

firefox extension multi thread downloading

The extension adds an icon to the main Firefox toolbar during installation that you may interact with. Downloads are listed in the interface when you click on it. Each download is listed with its name, speed, completion percentage and other information. There are also options to pause downloads or to cancel them at any time.

Multithreaded Download Manager picks up downloads in Firefox automatically but you may start manual download processes as well either by pasting a URL or URLs into the download form or by having it already in the Clipboard as the URL is used then automatically by the extension.

download manager firefox

The referring page is always the URL and title of the active tab. You may change that manually as well as the address. A click on link or media displays all links and all media files found on the active page to download these directly.

You may also add checksum information for verification and change network options including the number of threads, minimum chunk size, and maximum retries before the download is canceled.

The extension’s options are quite extensive. You may change network, interface, and other preferences, e.g. to automate the download process further, to automatically removed completed or failed downloads, to change several network preferences, or to modify the interface to better reflect what you need. There is even an option to add custom CSS snippets.

Closing Words

Multithreaded Download Manager may offer a good compromise between using a full download manager such as Internet Download Manager, HTTP Downloader, or uGet, and using a browser’s built-in download capabilities. It lacks some of the advanced options that desktop download managers offer, e.g. better management of downloaded files, but not everyone needs these.

Now You: do you use a download manager?

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Jot down notes quickly in a sidebar with the Nine Notes extension for Firefox

Note taking programs are always useful for saving ideas, thoughts, etc for later use. If you use the browser as a tool for work, you might as well use a notes add-on as it integrates notes taking in the browser. While some browsers support note taking by default, e.g. Vivaldi does, others come without such functionality and rely on extensions instead.

Jot down notes quickly in a sidebar with the Nine Notes extension for Firefox

Nine Notes is an extension for Firefox that can help you jot down notes quickly. When you install the add-on, it places an icon on the toolbar. Clicking it opens a sidebar, this is the extension’s interface. It is quite minimalistic.

Nine Notes interface

You’ll see 5 tabs in the sidebar, one for each note. To close the sidebar hit the X button in the top right corner of the panel. Head to the add-on’s options to enable up to nine note tabs.

Nine Notes interface 2

There is no way to rename or rearrange the tabs. The settings page also houses options to toggle a Dark theme, set the font size and type.

Nine Notes options

The Nine Notes text pane is just a large text field. You can type anything in it to save it. There is no support for formatting text or adding images. The add-on has soft wrap (word wrap) enabled by default; you can toggle it from the settings.

Highlight text on web pages and right-click on the selection to open the browser’s context menu. You will see an option that says “Send to 9 Notes”. This sub-menu has its own child menu, that can be used to select the “note number” that you wish to send the content to. For e.g. Sent to 9 Notes > #5.

This option saves the selected text in a new line at the end of the selected note. Sadly, this  method doesn’t work with links, emails (basically any clickable text). Speaking of, links that you save in the notes (by pasting the URL) are not clickable, but you can highlight them and use Firefox’s open in new tab option.

Nine Notes does not have a search option, so if you jot down something in one of the notes and don’t remember where you saved it, there is no direct way of finding it. You can paste the content in a text editor to find the content you were searching for.

Alternatively, you can use the “Save’ button in the bottom left corner of the sidebar, to save it in a text document which makes it easy to search, and this also lets you backup your notes. Each note tab is saved in its own text file, so remember to save all your note tabs. This is isn’t necessary, since the content that you save in Nine Notes are persistent, i.e., they are retained even after you exit the browser or reboot the computer.

Nine Notes save

The extension seems to have been inspired by an old add-on called QuickNote. Though, unlike it Nine Notes cannot be used from a pop-up window, i.e., it works as a sidebar tool. The extension does not support sticky notes or reminders. One of the comments by the developer on the add-on’s reviews page mentioned that Nine Notes supports a hotkey on Ubuntu: Shift + Alt + N. It works fine on Windows as well.

Nine Notes is not open source. On the bright side, the extension does not require any special permissions to run. The restriction to only have 9 note tabs can be a downside for some. There doesn’t seem to be a word limit per tab, so theoretically you could have endless notes. But this is a note taking program, not a text editor, though you can use it as one.

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Mozilla adds Dynamic First Party Isolation option to Firefox 77

Mozilla’s work on the Firefox browser’s tracking protection feature continues unhindered. The organization has now enabled a new option in Firefox 77, currently on the Nightly channel, that is called Dynamic First Party Isolation.

Firefox users may use tracking protection presets currently or create custom rule sets for blocking certain elements on websites that may be used for tracking.

When it comes to blocking cookies, the four custom options that are available in Firefox Stable are:

  • Cross-site and social media trackers
  • Cookies from unvisited sites.
  • All third-party cookies (may break some sites).
  • All cookies (will cause websites to break).

A fifth option has been added to Firefox 77 Nightly. To access the controls, load about:preferences#privacy in the Firefox address bar and select “custom” under Enhanced Tracking Protection. A click on the menu next to cookies should display the new option.

  • Cross-site and social media trackers, and isolate remaining cookies.

firefox-77-dynamic first party isolation

A warning is displayed when the new cookie behavior is selected:

Blocking trackers and isolating cookies could impact the functionality of some sites. Reload a page with trackers to load all content.

Some sites may not function correctly if certain elements are blocked on them. Mozilla suggests that users disable tracking protection on the site by adding an exception, to allow it to load correctly in the browser.

Firefox users may also use the following preference, network.cookie.cookieBehavior, to change the cookie handling of the browser.

  • Value of 1 — Block all third-party cookies.
  • Value of 2 — Block all cookies.
  • Value of 3 — Block cookies from unvisited sites.
  • Value of 4 — New Cookie Jar policy (prevent storage access to trackers)
  • Value of 5 — Dynamic First-Party Isolation.

Note that tabs need to be reloaded before the new value takes effect.

Mozilla implemented First-Party Isolation in Firefox 55 as a Tor uplift feature. The feature has never been exposed as a preference in Firefox but users could enable it by setting privacy.firstparty.isolate to true in the Firefox web browser.

First party isolation means that all identifier sources and browser state are scoped (isolated) using the URL bar domain.

Cookies, Cache, Dom Storage, and more are affected by the preference if it is enabled in Firefox. One reason why it is not enabled by default by Mozilla is that it may break some websites when enabled.

Firefox users who have set privacy.firstparty.isolate in the browser won’t see any change when they switch the cookie blocking value to include dynamic first-party isolation.

Now You: Do you block (some) cookies in your browser? (via Techdows)

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Mozilla extends add-ons support in new Firefox for Android browser

Mozilla released a new version of Firefox Preview for Android that introduces support for five additional add-ons in the application.

Firefox Preview is the name of the next mobile browser for Android that Mozilla develops currently. The organization started to replace development versions of Firefox for Android, notable Nightly and Beta, with Firefox Preview versions already and plans to migrate Firefox Stable for Android to the new Firefox version.

It was not clear from the very beginning whether the next version of Firefox for Android would support extensions; Mozilla decided that the browser would get extension support and started to integrate the WebExtensions system into the browser.

Mozilla included uBlock Origin support in Firefox Preview 4.0 that it released last month. The very latest Firefox Preview Nightly edition supports five additional extensions that users may install directly from within the browser.

firefox preview addons

All it takes is to open Menu > Settings > Addons to get a list of supported extensions and options to install those.

Extensions are listed with their name, icon, a short description and rating. A tap on the plus icon starts the installation process. Permissions that the extension requests are displayed in a prompt and another tap on “add” installs the extension in the mobile browser.

The following five extensions are now supported:

  • NoScript
  • HTTPS Everywhere
  • Privacy Badger
  • Dark Reader
  • Search by Image

All five of the extensions are in Mozilla’s Recommended Extensions program These extensions are reviewed manually by Mozilla and need to provide excellent functionality and regular updates.

The five extensions fall into two categories: privacy (and security), and usability. Dark Reader allows users to change the design of any website to a dark theme, Search by Image to run reverse image searches using the browser and various search engines that support it.

NoScript gives Firefox users control over JavaScript (and some other technologies) in the browser, HTTPS Everywhere updates HTTP sites to HTTPS if supported, and Privacy Badger blocks tracking elements on sites.

Mozilla plans to integrate full support for browser extensions eventually in the new Firefox for Android.

Extension support is one of the main distinguishing factors of the browser when compared to Google Chrome.

Closing Words

It will take some time before full extensions support lands in Firefox development versions and in Firefox Stable. The inclusion of popular extensions in the meantime is a step in the right direction, especially since Mozilla picked some of the most popular browser extensions for initial inclusion.

Now You: Do you plan to take the new Firefox browser for a test ride once it is ready?

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April Extensions for Firefox Preview

Firefox

Back in February, we announced support for the first extension for Firefox Preview, the new and rebuilt mobile browser for Android that is set to replace Firefox for Android later this year.

We’ve since expanded support for more add-ons from the Recommended Extensions program that we’d like to introduce to you. These add-ons will be available in Firefox Preview within the next 2 weeks.

With Dark Reader, websites on mobile will be easy to read when the lights are dim. The extension automatically inverts bright colors on web pages to offer an eye-pleasing dark mode. There are a number of configuration options allowing you to customize your experience.

When you are on the go, you don’t want people eavesdropping on your browsing behavior. HTTPS Everywhere automatically enables website encryption for pages that default to unencrypted communications. This is especially helpful if you are surfing via a shared wifi connection.

If you are worried about potentially malicious web content, NoScript protects against a number of web security exploits by disabling potentially malicious scripts from running on websites. You can fine-tune the configuration of NoScript and permit scripts to run only on sites you trust.

Concerned about advertisers and other third-party trackers from following you around the web? Privacy Badger nicely complements Firefox’s built-in tracking protection. The extension automatically learns when websites start tracking you and will put an end to the privacy invasion. It also includes additional privacy protections like block link tracking.

If you’ve said “now where did I see that picture before” once too often, then Search by Image is the right extension for you. With the help of this extension you can select images and feed them into reverse image searches from more than 20 search engines.

We’d like to thank the developers of these add-ons for supporting Firefox Preview. The developers have made some great adjustments to optimize their extensions for mobile and have been a pleasure to talk to.

While we’re pleased to offer these six highly recommended add-ons as a starting point, it’s clear that add-on developers have more great ideas for extensions that can enhance the mobile browsing experience. We intend to enable more add-ons from the Recommended Extensions program within the next few months and will be reaching out to developers soon.

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What to expect for the upcoming deprecation of FTP in Firefox

Firefox

The Firefox platform development team recently announced plans to first disable, and then remove the implementation for built-in FTP from the browser.  FTP is a protocol to transfer files from one host to another. It predates the Web and was not designed with security in mind. Now, we have decided to remove it because it is an infrequently used and insecure protocol. After FTP is disabled in Firefox, people can still use it to download resources if they really want to, but the protocol will be handled by whatever external application is supported on their platform.

FTP was disabled on the Firefox Nightly pre-release channel on April 9. To mitigate the risk of potentially causing breakages during the COVID-19 pandemic, FTP will not be disabled from the Firefox release channel until at least July 2020. If the pandemic situation has not improved by July 28 (the expected release date for Firefox 79), there may be further delays.

Add-ons that use FTP may experience breakage on Nightly but will continue to work as usual on the Beta and release channels. We want to help developers address these breakages as best as we can while this change is on Nightly. If you maintain an extension that uses FTP, please test it on Nightly (or on any current version of Firefox by flipping the preference network.ftp.enabled to false) and file a bug if you notice any issues. We will also evaluate whether new features should be added to help you maintain file transfer functionality.

In the long-term, we encourage developers to move away from using FTP in their extensions. However, if you would like to continue using FTP for as long as it is enabled, we encourage you to wrap any features that require FTP and use the browserSettings API to check whether FTP is enabled before exposing that functionality.

Please let us know if there are any questions on our developer community forum.

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Speed up the loading of webpages in Firefox with Faster Pageload

Faster Pageload is a browser add-on for the Firefox web browser that may speed up the loading of webpages in the browser.

The extension uses preloading and lazy loading to speed up the loading of pages in Firefox.

Installation should not pose any difficulties; it requires access to all websites since it speeds up the loading of all sites encountered in the browser.

Users need to modify two Firefox preferences before they may use the extension to its fullest extent. The process is explained on a help page that is loaded automatically after the installation of the extension completes.

The two preferences in question need to be modified on Firefox’s about:config page:

  1. Search for network.dns.disablePrefetchFromHTTPS and set the preference to FALSE (this enables prefetching of DNS on HTTPS sites)
  2. Search for network.predictor.enable-prefetch and set the preference to TRUE (lets Firefox predict which links users will click on next to preload them).

The extension adds an icon to Firefox’s address bar that acts as a toggle for the extension’s functionality. The colorful icon indicates that the extension’s functionality is turned on, the gray icon that it has been disabled.

faster pageload

Faster Pageload works automatically from that moment on. It will preload resources when you hover over a link to speed up the loading if you actually click on that link. According to the developer, it takes an average of 400ms from hovering over a link to clicking it. The time is used to load the resource to speed up the loading.

The lazy loading works as expected; it loads images only when they are in view and will pause the loading of images that are not in view. Once images are about to come into view, e.g. by scrolling, they will be loaded as well so that they display normally. Note that it needs to be enabled in the options (see below)

The extension comes with two options that you may control on about:addons. The first enables the preloading of every visible link, the second enables the lazy loading of images in Firefox.

Closing Words

The extension may speed up the loading of webpages if these are loaded via clicks on links. It does not help if the webpages are loaded automatically, e.g. on browser start or through external applications.

Mileage may vary as the effectiveness of the preloading depends on a number of factors including the speed and latency of the Internet connection, the time it takes to click on links, and the linked resource itself.

If link loading is particularly slow on your end, you may want to give this a try to see if the extension speeds things up noticeably.

Now You: What is your take on preloading and lazy loading?

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Tabs Aside is a Firefox extension that lets you save and restore browser sessions

Microsoft Edge (not the Chromium one) has a cool feature that lets you set tabs aside. Basically, it saves your session and lets you restore it at a later time.

Tabs Aside is a Firefox extension that lets you save and restore browser sessions

Tabs Aside is a web extension that can do the same for Firefox. The add-on needs to be setup before it can be used for the purpose.

Tabs Aside get started

Click on the toolbar icon to get started. A side-panel opens and the setup wizard explains how the add-on works. Tabs Aside saves tabs as bookmarks in its folder. Every session is saved in its own sub-folder. You may choose to create a new folder called ‘Tabs Aside’ or create a custom folder.

Tabs Aside setup

The next step in the wizard lets you choose the session saving behavior. You can pick from three options. The default setting is “Active Sessions” that updates bookmarks as you open or close tabs, and each session is saved it is own window.

The “Tabs Aside 2” method disables Windowed mode. Or you can choose the “Like Microsoft Edge” option, that disables both Windowed mode and Active Sessions.

Note: The current iteration of the extension is called Tabs Aside 3 on GitHub.

How to set aside tabs in Tabs Aside

Click on the toolbar icon, it has three options. Select the Tabs Aside option, it opens a new window and begins saving each tab to the session. When it’s done, a side-panel opens on the left edge of the screen. This is the “Tabs you’ve set aside panel”, technically it’s the bookmark folder’s title.

Note: If you have a lot of tabs, you may notice a slight delay in the process.

Tabs Aside sidepanel

Let’s call this sidebar the sessions panel, because this is where you can view, restore or search sessions. Select the restore option next to a session, and Tabs Aside opens a new window and restores your tabs. It uses lazy loading (only loads the first tab), so don’t worry about the browser or the add-on using up too much memory or slowing down the browser while tabs are loading.

Tabs Aside rename or remove

Sessions that you’ve saved remain even after you have restored them (since they are saved as bookmarks). Clicking the three dot menu next to a session lets you rename or remove the session. Click on the arrow icon in the left edge of the screen. This makes the add-on list all tabs that were set aside during the selected session. The list displays the title of each tab.  You may click on a title to switch to the corresponding tab. Right-click on a listing to copy it’s URL to the clipboard.

Tabs Aside copy url

Once you’ve named a session, it’s title will also be displayed in the toolbar icon’s menu.

Tabs Aside toolbar

Options Page

The Tabs Aside settings allows you set the session’s root folder, enable or disable Active Sessions, open sessions in a new window, lazy loading. You can change the way tab closing behavior is handled: remove from session or set aside. The add-on does not set aside pinned tabs by default, but there is an option that lets it save pinned tabs.Tabs Aside Firefox extension options

I was looking for a OneTab replacement (hasn’t been updated in months, and I wanted an alternative just in case) and stumbled across Better OneTab which sadly doesn’t have a Firefox version. So, I continued my search and eventually found Tabs Aside. The extension is open source.

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Mozilla installs Scheduled Telemetry Task on Windows with Firefox 75

Observant Firefox users on Windows who have updated the web browser to Firefox 75 may have noticed that the upgrade brought along with it a new scheduled tasks. The scheduled task is also added if Firefox 75 is installed on a Windows device.

The task’s name is Firefox Default Browser Agent and it is set to run once per day. Mozilla published a blog post on the official blog of the organization that provides information on the task and why it has been created.

firefox default browser agent

According to Mozilla, the task has been created to help the organization “understand changes in default browser settings”. At its core, it is a Telemetry task that collects information and sends the data to Mozilla.

Here are the details:

  • The Task is only created if Telemetry is enabled. If Telemetry is set to off (in the most recently used Firefox profile), it is not created and thus no data is sent. The same is true for Enterprise telemetry policies if they are configured.
  • Mozilla collects information “related to the system’s current and previous default browser setting, as w2ell as the operating system locale and version”.
  • Mozilla notes that the data cannot be “associated with regular profile based telemetry data”.
  • The data is sent to Mozilla every 24 hours using the scheduled task.

Mozilla added the file default-browser-agent.exe to the Firefox installation folder on Windows which defaults to C:Program FilesMozilla Firefox.

Firefox users have the following options if they don’t want the data sent to Mozilla:

  • Firefox users who opted-out of Telemetry are good, they don’t need to make any change as the new Telemetry data is not sent to Mozilla; this applies to users who opted-out of Telemetry in Firefox or used Enterprise policies to do so.
  • Firefox users who have Telemetry enabled can either opt-out of Telemetry or deal with the task/executable that is responsible.

Disable the Firefox Default Browser Agent task

firefox-browser agent task disabled

Here is how you disable the task:

  1. Open Start on the Windows machine and type Task Scheduler.
  2. Open the Task Scheduler and go to Task Scheduler Library > Mozilla.
  3. There you should find listed the Firefox Default Browser Agent task.
  4. Right-click on the task and select Disable.
  5. Note: Nightly users may see the Firefox Nightly Default Browser Agent task there as well and may disable it.

The task won’t be executed anymore once it is disabled.

Closing Words

The new Telemetry task is only introduced on Windows and runs only if Telemetry is enabled (which it is by default). Mozilla is transparent about the introduction and while that is good, I’d preferred if the company would have informed users about it in the browser after the upgrade to Firefox 75 or installation of the browser and before the task is executed the first time.

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