Firefox 71.0 release information; last Firefox release of 2019

Firefox 71.0 is the new stable version of the Firefox web browser as of December 3, 2019; it is the last major stable release of 2019, the next stable Firefox release will be released on January 7, 2019.

New versions are released for all Firefox channels. Firefox Beta and Dev are upgraded to version 72, Firefox Nightly to version 73, and Firefox ESR (Extended Support Release) to version 68.3.

Check out the Firefox 70.0 release overview here in case you missed it.

Executive Summary

  • Firefox 71.0 supports new kiosk mode functionality.
  • Picture-in-Picture mode enabled on Windows.
  • Native Mp3 encoding integrated.

Firefox 71.0 download and update

firefox 71.0

The following pages list direct downloads for supported Firefox channels.

Firefox 70.0 Changes

Picture-in-Picture Mode is available in Firefox for Windows

firefox 71 pip

Windows users who run Firefox 71.0 may use the browser’s picture-in-picture — short PIP — mode in the new version of the browser. PIP mode moves videos to their own window that acts independently (to a degree) from the tab and page they are embedded in.

All that it takes is to move the mouse cursor over the video area to display and activate the picture-in-picture option.

The video starts to play in its own area on the screen. Controls are a bit limited right now and some are only available on the webpage the video is embedded on.

The video remains visible if you switch tabs. It is not possible to close the browser tab however as doing so will close the video.

Mozilla plans to introduce picture-in-picture mode in Firefox for Mac OS X and Linux in the future.

New Certificates Viewer

firefox 71 certificates viewer

Firefox 71.0 features a new certificates viewer. I reviewed the new version in August 2019 already and suggest you check out the article as it covers everything.

The redesigned certificates viewer opens in a tab in the browser and may remind users of the Firefox add-on Certainly Something which offers similar functionality.

Other changes

  • The about:config page has been reimplemented using HTML.
  • New Firefox Kiosk mode is now available.
  • Native MP3 encoding on all desktop systems (Windows, Mac and Linux)
  • Firefox supports Catalan, Tagalog and Triqui interface languages.
  • Firefox Lockwise, the integrated password manager supports subdomains and will auto-fill logins in the new version.
  • Integrated Breach Alerts support screen readers.
  • Tracking Protection may display notifications when cryptominers are blocked.
  • Extension popups display the name of the extension instead of moz-extension://

Firefox for Android

  • Performance and stability updates.

Firefox 70.0 known issues

None according to the release notes.

Developer Changes

  • Web Sockets Inspector is enabled by default.
  • Multi-line mode of the Console is available by default.
  • Full Text search of network requests/response bodies, headers and cookies.
  • Media Session API partially implemented.
  • The Downloads API supports certain HTTP response codes

Security updates / fixes

Security updates are revealed after the official release of the web browser. You find the information published here later today.

Additional information / sources

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Free Firefox and Chrome memory with Auto Tab Discard

Auto Tab Discard is an add-on for the Firefox and Chrome web browsers that frees up memory that the web browsers uses by discarding inactive tabs. Discarding in this context means that the tabs are unloaded but kept open in the browser.

Web browser users who keep multiple tabs open in the browser of choice may notice that memory use increases with each tab that gets opened.

Both Google and Mozilla have developed systems to unload tabs in low memory situations, but these solutions are not as efficient as those provided be extensions.

We reviewed numerous in the past including Sleep Mode for Firefox or Lazy Load Tabs for Chrome. Most Firefox extensions that used to work in the browser were not updated when Firefox 57 was released.

Auto Tab Discard

discarded tabs firefox

Auto Tab Discard runs automatically in the background. The default setting unloads tabs after 600 seconds of inactivity if the number of inactive tabs exceeds six tabs.

Tabs are not discarded when they meet certain criteria, e.g. when media is playing or form changes have not been submitted. Additional discarding conditions are listed in the options. The following conditions need to be enabled manually:

  • When a tab is pinned.
  • When there is no Internet connection and tabs have not been cached.
  • When it is allowed to display desktop notifications.
  • When computer is not in idle state.

One of the strengths of the extension is that it provides lots of customization options. You can change the unloading interval or number of inactive tabs required as well as criteria that prevent or allow tabs and sites to be discarded by the extension.

Sites that match criteria are not discarded but there is also an option to add sites to the whitelist to prevent that they are unloaded by the extension. Discarded tabs are retained even across sessions; they remain discarded until activated by the user.

Information such as the scroll position or text inside text fields is retained by the extension and loaded when a site becomes activate again. JavaScript and other code is not run anymore when tabs are discarded.

auto tab discard

The automatic discarding of tabs is a useful feature but the developer has added options to run the processes manually as well. A left-click on the extension icon displays options to discard the active tab, all other tabs of the browser window, all tabs in other windows, or all other tabs.

The menu has options to whitelist the active site permanently or for the browsing session.

Note: Extensions are not permitted to run on internal pages and some other pages (e.g. https://addons.mozilla.org/). Firefox users may disable the restrictions for non-local-sites on about:config by manipulating the preference extensions.webextensions.restrictedDomains.

Other options provided by the settings include changing the default action of a left-click on the extension icon, or to disable the opening of the FAQ page when the extension has been updated.

Closing Words

Auto Tab Discard is a useful extension for Firefox and Chrome that may be used to free up memory automatically or manually by discarding tabs.  The extension may be useful in situations where the browser starts to feel sluggish, even if enough memory us available

Now You: do you use extensions that help you free memory?

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An early look at Firefox Preview 3.0 for Android

Mozilla released the first beta version of Firefox Preview 3.0 on the project’s GitHub home. The beta, which is only available on GitHub and not on Google Play, upgrades the mobile browser for Android to version 3.0.

Firefox users who want to test the new browser using a version from Google Play may download the Nightly version instead. Note that Nightly versions are development builds that may be unstable.

Mozilla started to work on Firefox Preview, initially known as Fenix, some time ago. We covered the first public release of Firefox Preview in 2019 and the launch on Google Play.

The organization plans to replace the current version of Firefox for Android with Firefox Preview (and rename Firefox Preview to just Firefox once that is done).

firefox preview 3.0

Firefox Preview 2.0 was released some time ago. The version, available on Google Play and GitHub, introduced support for a number of features including send tab to other device, more browsing data clearing controls, or options to add website shortcuts and a search widget to the Home screen of the device.

Firefox Preview 3.0 introduces major new features that extend the functionality significantly. The new version includes options to add search engines manually to the Firefox browser, control autoplay behavior, and adds better enhanced tracking protection and syncing controls.

  • Enhanced Tracking Protection improvements: switch between standard and strict protection settings and better manage the feature.
  • Open links in private tabs: option to open any link in a private tab in Firefox Preview. (tap on the link you want to open, select Firefox Preview, pick always).
  • Clear browsing data on exist: a new Setting to clear browsing data on exit is available in Firefox Preview 3.0. Previously, it was only possible to clear the data manually (only works when you select the quit option from the menu).
  • Choose what to sync: currently, you may select Bookmarks or History only.
  • Option to control media autoplay: was not available in the beta version that I used.
  • List and manage downloads.
  • Ability to add search engines manually.
  • Put the navigation bar at the top or bottom of the browser interface.
  • Enforce zoom on all websites.

The browser lacks add-on support at the time but Mozilla promised that Firefox Preview would support extensions after all. Support for some extensions is expected to become available in the first half of 2020.

Closing Words

Firefox Preview is improving with every release but that is usually the case before the first final release of a product. Mozilla wants to ensure that all major features of the current Firefox version for Android are supported by the upcoming browser before users are switched over to the new browser.

Now You: What is your take on Firefox Preview? Anything you’d like to see supported?

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Mozilla revenue dropped in 2018 but it is still doing well

Mozilla published the organization’s Annual Report for the year 2018 on November 25, 2019. The report, an audited financial statement, provides information on income and expenses in the year 2018.

One of the main questions that Firefox users may have had after 2017 was how well Mozilla was doing after it canceled the search deal with Yahoo (which was acquired by Verizon and the main search provider since 2014 when Mozilla picked Yahoo over Google).

Mozilla switched from a model in which it selected a single search provider to one that would pick providers based on regions in the world. Instead of just dealing with Yahoo, Mozilla picked companies like Google, Baidu or Yandex and made them the default provider in certain regions of the world.

The financial report indicates that the decision reduced the organization’s revenue from royalties significantly. Mozilla earned about 539 million US Dollars in royalties in 2017 and only 429 million US Dollars in 2018; a drop of more than 100 million US Dollars.

mozilla 2018 report financials

The organization started to work on improving other revenue streams at about the same time and while these increased when compared to 2017, pale in comparison to the income by royalties. Revenue from subscriptions and advertising rose from 2.6 million US Dollars to 5.3 million US Dollars; it doubled and makes up more than 1% of the total revenue of the organization now. The organization acquired the Internet service Pocket in 2017.

Expenses increased in 2018 to 451 million US Dollars from 421 million US Dollars in 2017.

Mozilla stated that it remains in a strong financial position going forward.

Despite the year-over-year change, Mozilla remains in a strong financial position with cash reserves to support continued innovation, partnerships and diversification of the Firefox product lines to fuel its organizational mission.

Closing Words

Mozilla’s revenue dropped by more than 110 million US Dollars in 2018 but the decision to cancel the deal with Yahoo was deliberate. The focus on other revenue streams doubled the revenue from non-search deals and it seems likely that revenue will go up even further in 2019 and beyond.

Plans to launch Firefox Premium, VPN services and other Firefox-branded products will certainly increase revenue earned from these streams further.

Considering that Mozilla’s situation is not perfect, as it depends for the most part on money from its main competitor Google, diversifying revenue is more important than ever.

Now You: What is your take on Mozilla’s situation?

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Firefox 72 may block fingerprinters by default

Firefox 72, an upcoming version of the web browser, may block so-called fingerprinters by default. Mozilla started to integrate and push Tracking Protection in the Firefox web browser in 2019. Designed to reduce tracking on the Internet, Tracking Protection blocks known trackers (e.g. social media trackers), cross-site tracking cookies, and other tracking related or undesirable content.

Standard tracking protection functionality is enabled in Firefox by default. Users of the web browser may adjust the protective feature by setting it to strict or custom. Strict and custom, the two other available presets, include protection against fingerprinters already.

firefox 72 fingerprint protection default

Starting in Firefox 72, Firefox may block fingerprinters by default as well as part of the standard preset.

Mozilla added the blocking of fingerprinters to Firefox 72 Nightly and plans to test the integration. Based on the outcome of the test, fingerprinting protection may become a standard blocking feature in Firefox 72 Stable or be reverted.

Compatibility issues play a big part in the assessment of the feature. Some, legitimate, sites may break or functionality on legitimate sites may break, if fingerprinting is enabled. If the breakage is too severe, Mozilla may revert the decision.

Fingerprinting refers to methods that use data that is provided by the browser or user activity for tracking. All web browser reveal some information when sites are loaded. Information may include the user’s location in the world, language settings, screen resolution, and other data. Sites may run scripts to gather more data. The main idea behind the data gathering is to generate a fingerprint based on the data to identify the user when the same or other sites are visited.

Mozilla explains the concept on its wiki website:

Fingerprinting is used to identify a user or user agent by the set of properties of the browser, the device, or the network, rather than by setting state on the device. For example, a party which infers the set of fonts a user has installed on their device and collects this information alongside other device information would be considered to participate in browser fingerprinting.

Tip: check out our master list of privacy tests that you may run to find out what your browser reveals about you.

Firefox users may control the browser’s tracking protection feature in the following way:

  1. Load about:preferences#privacy in the browser’s address bar.
  2. Switch between standard, strict and custom enhanced tracking protection levels. Custom allows users to configure protective features individually.

Firefox 72 is scheduled to be released on January 7, 2020.

Closing Words

Fingerprinting protection is a welcome addition to Firefox’s arsenal of tracking protections. Users can enable the protection already in Firefox 70 Stable, e.g. by switching to custom protections and enabling the option.

Now You: What would you like to see next added to Firefox’s Tracking Protection feature? (via Techdows)

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Copy PlainText is a Firefox extension that lets you copy text without the formatting style

Have you ever tried to copy formatted text from a web page and paste it in a different tab? Sometimes it doesn’t work as intended.

Say for example, you wanted to copy a list of ingredients from a recipe page, and send it to your friend via IM or email, and it resulted in some unwanted formatting.

Copy PlainText is a Firefox extension that lets you copy text without the formatting style

I have noticed this on various websites, e.g when I wanted to quote a line or two from a website on my social network page; the text that I pasted into the editor included code/syntax when I pasted it. In worst case, it could mean that you paste content that references scripts or changes the layout of the site in question.

While some programs support plain text pasting, e.g. Firefox users may use Ctrl-Shift-V to paste in plain text, others don’t. Clipboard managers like CopyQ or resident programs like the Windows app PlainPaste provide options to deal with those.

Copy PlainText is an add-on that help prevent such annoyances, and it’s very user-friendly.

Now, the add-on does not include a button on the toolbar. Initially I found this to be odd, because that’s where most add-ons are accessed from. But there are exceptions to this “rule” and this extension is only useful at certain times so there isn’t really a need for a button.

How to use Copy PlainText?

To access the extension, you need to select some text on any web page. Then, right-click anywhere to see the Copy PlainText option. It doesn’t get easier than this. But, the job’s only half done. The next step is to use the copied content. Go to the page where you want to paste it, say Gmail. Right-click in the page and select the Paste PlainText option. You can use the regular paste too, because the content is in the clipboard.

Paste PlainText

Note: The Copy PlainText context menu item does not appear when no text is selected.

So, how do you configure the extension?

Go to the Firefox Add-ons page and select Copy PlainText > Options. There are just two settings that you can modify. You can enable the “Remove Line Indent” option which will remove the leading spaces of each line (first space of every line).

The other option is to change the shortcut key, which by default is set to use F7. Since F7 enables “Caret browsing”, I recommend changing it to something else. You can even set up a combination Control/Alt + Shift + Any other key. For e.g. Control + Shift + Space.

Tip: Click on the recycle bin icon on the Settings page to restore the original shortcut.

Want to see how it works?

Use the normal copy option first to see the difference. Go to an Amazon page (or any page that has a lot of text formatting) and copy a product listing along with the title and other text elements.

normal copy firefox

Now try pasting it in your email composer or any web page with a text field. It should use the original formatting.

normal paste firefox

Repeat the same process with Copy PlainText. It’s simple, yet efficient and could save you some time.

Copy PlainText is from the same developer who made the excellent FoxyTab add-on.

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HTTPZ is an advanced HTTP connection upgrader for Firefox

Most sites on today’s Internet support HTTPS and are configured to use HTTPS when a user connects to the site without specifying a protocol (e.g. only typing ghacks.net in the address bar and not https://www.ghacks.net/).

Web browsers, with a few notable exceptions such as Tor Browser, don’t try to upgrade connections from HTTP to HTTPS automatically. If you click on a HTTP link in an old article, probably published before the migration to HTTPS began, you may end up loading the resource using HTTP; this won’t happen if the site migrated to HTTPS fully, but will happen if it has not migrated at all or supports both HTTP and HTTPS.

Extensions like HTTPS Everywhere upgrade connection requests automatically if the site is in a database of sites that support HTTPS. Search engine DuckDuckGo launched a new feature called Smarter Encryption in its applications and extensions recently that upgrades connections to HTTPS automatically based on search engine data.

HTTPZ for Firefox

httpz firefox

HTTPZ is a Firefox extension that upgrades HTTP connections as well. It does not rely on a database of sites that support HTTPS though; the extension tries to upgrade the connection to HTTPS automatically and will revert back to HTTP if the HTTPS connection throws an error.

Note that it is designed to do so only for non-manual HTTP sites. When you type an address and use HTTP, it is ignored by the extension to ensure that the connection is established.

One of the great strengths of HTTPZ is the extension’s rich feature set. You may want to check the options that it provides right after installation to adjust them according to your needs.

Here is a quick overview of what is provided:

  • Disable fallback mode to HTTP if the HTTPS upgrade does not work.
  • Show a warning if a site redirects from HTTPS to HTTP.
  • Enable proxy-compatible mode.
  • Set a timeout for HTTPS connection attempts (default: wait for browser to act).
  • Disable a cache that remembers successful HTTPS upgrades to speed up future connections.
  • Configure ignore behavior for sites that don’t support HTTPs (default 7 days).
  • Whitelist hostnames that should be ignored by the extension.

You find import and export options in the settings as well; useful to export settings and import then into other Firefox profiles.

HTTPZ has two limitations currently. The main one limits upgrades to the site that is accessed by the user, e.g. through links. The extension does not attempt to upgrade sub-resources, e.g. elements loaded by a HTTPS site.

The second issue is purely cosmetic; If an upgrade to HTTPS fails, Firefox wants to display an error message that describes what happened. HTTPZ does not wait for the error message to load but will retry the request using HTTP (which you can disable in the settings).

Closing Words

HTTPZ is a powerful extension for Firefox that upgrades HTTP site requests to HTTPS automatically. It features a whitelist and ignore list, and options to make rules more or less tight.

One downside is that it ignores sub-resources which may lead to mixed content warnings in Firefox.

Now You: how do you handle sites that still use HTTP?

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10 Useful Firefox Developer Tools You Should Know

Firefox being “developer’s browser” has many great tools to help make our work easier. You can find more on its tool collection on the Firefox Developer Tools webpage and can also try their Developer Edition Browser which has more features and tools that are being tested.

For this post, I’ve listed 10 handy tools you might like from its developer tools collection. I’ve also demonstrated what these tools can do with GIFs plus how to access them for quick reference.

1. View horizontal and vertical rulers

Firefox tool - ruler

Firefox has a ruler tool that displays both horizontal and vertical rulers with pixel units on the page. The tool is useful for arranging your elements across the page.

To access rulers through the menu:

  1. Go to: ☰ > Developer > Developer Toolbar (shortcut: Shift + F2).
  2. Once the toolbar appears at the bottom of the page, type rulers.
  3. Pess Enter.

To make this appear on the developer tools window:

  1. Go to “Toolbox Options”.
  2. Under the “Available Toolbox Buttons” section, check the “Toggle rulers for the page” checkbox.

2. Take screenshots using CSS selectors

Firefox tool - screenshot

Although the Firefox toolbar lets you take screenshots of the full page or visible portions, in my opinion the CSS selector method is more useful for capturing screenshots of individual elements as well as for elements that are visible on mouse-hover only (like menus).

To take screenshots through the menu:

  1. Go to ☰ > Developer > Developer Toolbar (shortcutShift + F2).
  2. Once the toolbar appears at the bottom of the page, type screenshot --selector any_unique_css_selector.
  3. Press enter.

To make this appear on the developer tools window:

  1. Click “Toolbox Options” and under “Available Toolbox Buttons” section.
  2. Check “Take a fullpage screenshot” checkbox.

3. Pick colors from web pages

Firefox tool - colorpicker

Firefox has a built-in color picker tool by the name of “Eyedropper”.

To access the “Eyedropper” tool through menu go to ☰ > Developer > Eyedropper.

To make this appear on the developer tools window: click “Toolbox Options” and under “Available Toolbox Buttons” section check “Grab a color from the page” checkbox.

4. View page layout in 3D

Firefox tool - 3d view

Viewing webpages in 3D helps with layout problems. You’ll be able to see the different layered elements much more clearly in 3D view. To view the webpage in 3D, click the “3D View” tool button.

To make this appear on the developer tools window, click “Toolbox Options” and under “Available Toolbox Buttons” section check the”3D View” checkbox.

5. View browser style

Firefox tool - browser style

Browser Styles consist of two types: the default style a browser assigns for every element, and the browser-specific styles (the ones with the browser prefix). By taking a look at the browser styles you’ll be able to diagnose any override issues in your stylesheet and also come to know of any existing browser specific styles .

To access “Browser styles” through menu:

  1. Go to ☰ > Developer > Inspector.
  2. Click the “Computed” tab in the right section.
  3. Check the “Browser styles” checkbox.

You can also open the “Inspector” tab through the shortcut Ctrl +Shift + C and then accessing “Browser styles”.

6. Disable JavaScript for current session

Firefox tool - disable JS

For best practice and screen reader compatibility it is always advised to code any website in such a way that its functionality is not hindered in a javascript-disabled environment. To test for such environments, you can disable the JavaScript for the session you’re working in.

To disable JavaScript for current session click “Toolbox Options” and under “Advanced settings” section check the “Disable JavaScript*” checkbox.

7. Hide CSS style from the page

Firefox tool - disable style

Just like JavaScript, due to accessibility concerns it is best to design websites in such a way that the pages should still be readable even without any styles. To see how the page looks without any style, you can disable them in the developer tools.

To remove any CSS style (inline, internal or external) applied on a webpage, just click on the eye symbol of the listed stylesheets in the “Style Editor” tab. Click it again to revert to the original view.

To access “Style Editor” through menu go to ☰ > Developer > Style Editor (shortcut: Shift + F7.

8. Preview the HTML content response to a request

Firefox tool - preview response

Firefox developer tools has an option to preview the HTML content type responses. This helps the developer to preview any 302 redirects and check whether any sensitive information has been rendered or not in the response.

To access “Preview” through menu:

  1. Go to ☰ > Developer > Network (shortcut: Ctrl +Shift + Q.
  2. Open the webpage of your choice or reload the current page, click on the desired request (with HTML response) from the list of requests.
  3. Click the “Preview” tab in the right section.

9. Preview webpage in different screen sizes

Firefox tool - responsive

To test a webpage for its responsiveness use the “Responsive Design View”, which can be accessed by ☰ > Developer > Responsive Design View or with the shortcut: Ctrl +Shift + M.

To make the “Responsive Design Mode” tool button appear, click “Toolbox Options” and under the “Available Toolbox Buttons” section, check “Responsive Design Mode” checkbox.

10. Run JavaScript on pages

Firefox tool - responsive

For quick JavaScript executions on any webpage simply use the “Scratchpad” tool of Firefox. To access “Scratchpad” through the menu go to; ☰ > Developer > Scratchpad or use the keyboard shortcut Shift + F4.

To make the “Scratchpad” tool button appear on the developer tools window for quick use: click “Toolbox Options” and under the “Available Toolbox Buttons” section check the “Scratchpad” checkbox.

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uBlock Origin for Firefox addresses new first-party tracking method

The latest version of the content blocker uBlock Origin for the Mozilla Firefox web browser includes a new feature to detect a new first-party tracking method that some sites have started to use recently.

The issue was first reported ten days ago by user Aeris on the project’s official GitHub page. Some sites started to use canonical name records (CNAMEs) to bypass filters used in content blockers. First-party resources, e.g. a subdomain, are not blocked usuall unless they are known to only serve advertisement.

The main issue from a content blocking perspective is that identification and detection is difficult. The extensions would have to uncloak alias hostnames in order to provide the user with information and the ability to do something about it.

Raymond Hill, the developer of uBlock Origin, found a way to address the new first-party tracking method in Mozilla Firefox.

Side-note: Why only Firefox?  Because Mozilla has created DNS APIs that may be used to expose the CNAME while Google has not. For now, it is not possible to protect against this form of tracking in Google Chrome. Hill writes “Best to assume it can’t be fixed on Chromium if it does not support the proper API”.

ublock origin first party tracking

Firefox users who upgrade to the latest version of uBlock Origin, may notice a new permission request (Access IP address and hostname information). This is required to unlock access to the DNS API in the browser extension.

Note: The version is currently available as a beta version. It may take some time before it becomes available to stable users (version 1.24 required)

Firefox users who run the extension need to do the following to set things up properly on their end:

  1. Open the Settings of the extension, e.g. from about:addons or by clicking on the dashboard icon in the uBlock Origin interface.
  2. Check the “I am an advanced user” box on the first page that opens.
  3. Activate the settings icon next to the option to open the advanced settings.
  4. Change the value of the parameter cnameAliasList to *.

The change runs the actual hostnames through the filtering that uBlock Origin applies again. The log highlights these in blue.

Network requests for which the actual hostname differs from the original hostname will be replayed through uBO’s filtering engine using the actual hostname. [..] Regardless, uBO is now equipped to deal with 3rd-party disguised as 1st-party as far as Firefox’s browser.dns allows it.

The setting of the wildcard means that the process is done for any hostname that differs; this works but it means that a certain number of network requests are processed twice by uBlock Origin.

The next step is for me to pick a cogent way for filter list maintainers to be able to tell uBO to uncloak specific hostnames, as doing this by default for all hostnames is not a good idea — as this could cause a huge amount of network requests to be evaluated twice with no benefit for basic users (default settings/lists) while having to incur a pointless overhead — for example when it concerned CDNs which are often aliased to the site using them.

Hill wants to switch to using a maintained list of known offenders that uBlock Origin (UMatrix will support this as well) will process while leaving any other hostname untouched.

Closing Words

Firefox users may change the configuration to make sure that they are protected against this new form of tracking. Chromium users cannot because the browser’s APIs for extensions does not have the capabilities at the time of writing.

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Use the LeechBlock NG extension for Firefox, Chrome to block distracting websites while you work

Have you ever found yourself browsing social networks or video streaming sites when you were supposed to do something else?

It happens to the best of us. I always find such websites distracting and avoid them for a good part of my day. If you have a hard time ignoring videos of cute cats or discussions on Twitter / Facebook, you may need a bit of help to get things done and avoid wasting time.

Use LeechBlock NG for Firefox, Chrome to block distracting websites while you work

There are some measures that people take to become more productive. I’ve seen a couple of my friends going offline for days at a time from social platforms to concentrate on their projects. While I think it is a bit drastic, I can understand that they want to devote their efforts in something that’s actually worth it. But just like when you’re on a diet and are tempted to snack, the temptation to chat with your mates, or binge watch some shows is quite difficult to overcome. You need to have a bit of control.

Recently, I came across an add-on for Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, which might help in such situations. It’s called LeechBlock NG. Now don’t mistake it for some internet filtering software that blocks inappropriate content. It’s a productivity tool and works quite well.

Tip: take a look at Undistracted for Chrome as well as it offers similar functionality.

Its primary purpose is to block websites of your choice. Click on the shield icon of the extension, to open its menu. There are 4 buttons here: Options, Lockdown, Override and Statistics. What do these do?

Options

There are six block sets here, each of which act as individual rule sets. So, you can block some websites in Block Set 1 with custom settings and use Block Set 2 with different websites and settings and so on.

You can optionally give each block set a name, like Social or Multimedia, or Gaming. The large text box is used for entering the domain names of the websites that you wish to block. I recommend blocking the top level domain of the website, e.g. Facebook.com or Twitter.com.

LeechBlock NG for Firefox

The timer boxes allow you to set the time when the sites should be blocked, for example 0900-1700 (9AM to 5PM). Optionally, you can set a time limit to block the sites, like once every few minutes for every hour/day.

LeechBlock NG also lets you customize the days when it should block the websites. The default setting is set to weekdays but you can modify these. If you need to get homework or a project done on the weekend, you may want to include the days in the blocking of sites.

The How to Block section basically lets you configure what should happen when a blocked website is accessed. The options are fairly simple:

So, what happens when you try to access a blocked URL? That depends on what you chose in the “How to Block” section. The default page shows you a warning that “The page you’re trying to access has been blocked by LeechBlock.” It also mentions the URL you tried to access, and displays the time when the page will be unblocked.

LeechBlock NG in effect

There are three optional color filters that you can use instead of the blocking page: grayscale, invert and sepia. There are a lot of other options that you can configure in the General Tab (including an override option).

Lockdown

This is similar to the regular blocking, but instead of waiting for the schedule to begin, it locks down the block set immediately. You can set how long to block the sites by specifying hours and minutes, e.g. you could input 2 hours if you want to block the sites for 120 minutes while you buckle down and work.

The extension lets you lockdown all block sets or just the ones you wish to. Hit activate Lockdown and you are good to go.

Override

To use this, you have to first define the Temporary Override settings from the General tab under the Options screen.

Statistics

This is just for your reference, and you can use it to view the start date and time, time spent since start, time spent per week/day, time left in limit period, and the lockdown end time. You can reset one or all block set statistics by hitting the restart button.

Closing Words

Sometimes I get carried away when I come across interesting devices, games, deals, etc, and end up spending more time than I should reading about those. Maybe this add-on will help me to become more efficient. I think it could be useful for students who’re preparing for exams or office workers working on projects/meetings.

Remember this, don’t blame the add-on if you end up bypassing the blocks that you set. It’s more of a reminder for you to concentrate on the task that you wanted to focus on as you can easily bypass its protections, e.g. by using a different browser.

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