Recommended extensions — recent additions

When the Recommended Extensions program debuted last year, it listed about 60 extensions. Today the program has grown to just over a hundred as we continue to evaluate new nominations and carefully grow the list. The curated collection grows slowly because one of the program’s goals is to cultivate a fairly fixed list of content so users can feel confident the Recommended extensions they install will be monitored for safety and security for the foreseeable future.

Here are some of the more exciting recent additions to the program…

DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials provides a slew of great privacy features, like advanced ad tracker and search protection, encryption enforcement, and more.

Read Aloud: Text to Speech converts any web page text (even PDF’s) to audio. This can be a very useful extension for everyone from folks with eyesight or reading issues to someone who just wants their web content narrated to them while their eyes roam elsewhere.

SponsorBlock addresses the nuisance of this newer, more intrusive type of video advertising.

SponsorBlock for YouTube is one of the more original content blockers we’ve seen in a while. Leveraging crowdsourced data, the extension skips those interruptive sponsored content segments of YouTube clips.

Metastream Remote has been extremely valuable to many of us during pandemic related home confinement. It allows you to host streaming video watch parties with friends. Metastream will work with any video streaming platform, so long as the video has a URL (in the case of paid platforms like Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+, they too will work provided all watch party participants have their own accounts).

Cookie AutoDelete summarizes its utility right in the title. This simple but powerful extension will automatically delete your cookies from closed tabs. Customization features include whitelist support and informative visibility into the number of cookies used on any given site.

AdGuard AdBlocker is a popular and highly respected content blocker that works to block all ads—banner, video, pop-ups, text ads—all of it. You may also notice the nice side benefit of faster page loads, since AdGuard prohibits so much content you didn’t want anyway.

If you’re the creator of an extension you feel would make a strong candidate for the Recommended program, or even if you’re just a huge fan of an extension you think merits consideration, please submit nominations to amo-featured [at] mozilla [dot] org. Due to the high volume of submissions we receive, please understand we’re unable to respond to every inquiry.

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Improvements to Statistics Processing on AMO

We’re revamping the statistics we make available to add-on developers on addons.mozilla.org (AMO).

These stats are aggregated from add-on update logs and don’t include any personally identifiable user data. They give developers information about user adoption, general demographics, and other insights that might help them make changes and improvements.

The current system is costly to run, and glitches in the data have been a long-standing recurring issue. We are addressing these issues by changing the data source, which will improve reliability and reduce processing costs.

Usage Statistics

Until now, add-on usage statistics have been based on add-on updates. Firefox checks AMO daily for updates for add-ons that are hosted there (self-distributed add-ons generally check for updates on a server specified by the developer). The server logs for these update requests are aggregated and used to calculate the user counts shown on add-on pages on AMO. They also power a statistics dashboard for developers that breaks down the usage data by language, platform, application, etc.

Stats dashboard example

Stats dashboard showing new version adoption for uBlock Origin

In a few weeks, we will stop using the daily pings as the data source for usage statistics. The new statistics will be based on Firefox telemetry data. As with the current stats, all data is aggregated and no personally identifiable user data is shared with developers.

The data shown on AMO and shared with developers will be essentially the same, but the move to telemetry means that the numbers will change a little. Firefox users can opt out of sending telemetry data, and the way they are counted is different. Our current stats system counts distinct users by IP address, while telemetry uses a per-profile ID. For most add-ons you should expect usage totals to be lower, but usage trends and fluctuations should be nearly identical.

Telemetry data will enable us to show data for add-on versions that are not listed on AMO, so all developers will now be able to analyze their add-on usage stats, regardless of how the add-on is distributed. This also means some add-ons will have higher usage numbers, since the average will be calculated including both AMO-hosted and self-hosted versions.

Other changes that will happen due to this update:

  • The dashboards will only show data for enabled installs. There won’t be a breakdown of usage by add-on status anymore.
  • A breakdown of usage by country will be added.
  • Usage data for our current Firefox for Android browser (also known as Fennec) isn’t included. We’re working on adding data for our next mobile browser (Fenix), currently in development.
  • It won’t be possible to make your statistics dashboard publicly available anymore. Dashboards will only be accessible to add-on developers and admins, starting on June 11. If you are a member of a team that maintains an add-on and you need to access its stats dashboard, please ask your team to add you as an author in the Manage Authors & License page on AMO. The Listed property can be checked off so you don’t show up in the add-on’s public listing page.

We will begin gradually rolling out the new dashboard on June 11. During the rollout, a fraction of add-on dashboards will default to show the new data, but they will also have a link to access the old data. We expect to complete the rollout and discontinue the old dashboards on July 9. If you want to export any of your old stats, make sure you do it before then.

Download Statistics

We plan to make a similar overhaul to download statistics in the coming months. For now they will remain the same. You should expect an announcement around August, when we are closer to switching over to the new download data.

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Extensions in Firefox 77

Firefox

Firefox 77 is loaded with great improvements for the WebExtensions API. These additions to the API will help you provide a great experience for your users.

Optional Permissions

Since Firefox 57, users have been able to see what permissions an extension wants to access during the installation process.  The addition of any new permissions to the extension triggers another notification that users must accept during the extension’s next update.  If they don’t, they won’t receive the updated version.

These notifications were intended to provide transparency about what extensions can do and help users make informed decisions about whether they should complete the installation process. However, we’ve seen that users can feel overwhelmed by repeated prompts. Worse, failure to see and accept new permissions requests for updated versions can leave users stranded on older versions.

We’re addressing this with optional permissions.  First, we have made a number of permissions optional. Optional permissions don’t trigger a permission prompt for users during installation or when the extension updates. It also means that users have less of a chance of becoming stranded.

If you use the following permissions, please feel welcome to move them from the permissions manifest.json key to the optional_permissions key:

  • management
  • devtools
  • browsingData
  • pkcs11
  • proxy
  • session

Second, we’re encouraging developers who use optional permissions to request them at runtime. When you use optional permissions with the permissions.request API, permission requests will be triggered when permissions are needed for a feature. Users can then see which permissions are being requested in context of using the extension. For more information, please see our guide on requesting permissions at runtime.

As an added bonus, we’ve also implemented the permissions.onAdded and permissions.onRemoved events, allowing you to react to permissions being granted or revoked.

Merging CSP headers

Users who have multiple add-ons installed that modify the content security policy headers of requests may have been seeing their add-ons behave erratically and will likely blame the add-on(s) for not working. Luckily, we now properly merge the CSP headers when two add-ons modify them via webRequest. This is especially important for content blockers leveraging the CSP to block resources such as scripts and images.

Handling SameSite cookie restrictions

We’ve seen developers trying to work around SameSite cookie restrictions. If you have been using iframes on your extension pages and expecting them to behave like first party frames, the SameSite cookie attribute will keep your add-on from working properly. In Firefox 77, the cookies for these frames will behave as if it was a first party request. This should ensure that your extension continues to work as expected.

Other updates

Please also see these additional changes:

I’m very excited about the number of patches from the community that are included in this release. Please congratulate Tom Schuster, Ajitesh, Tobias, Mélanie Chauvel, Atique Ahmed Ziad, and a few teams across Mozilla that are bringing these great additions to you. I’m looking forward to finding out what is in store for Firefox 78, please stay tuned!

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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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