How I use firefox

In my series of browser reviews, I indicated that I would later post about how I use firefox.  So it’s time for that report.  While I’m not doing anything especially unusual, this might indicate why I continue to prefer firefox.

Extensions

I like to keep the number of extensions small.  But some extensions are important, and are a major reason for preferring firefox.  The main extensions that I use are “NoScript”, “Secure Login”, “Saved Password Editor” and “FlashBlock”.

NoScript is probably the most important of extension that I use.  I allow javascript at sites that I frequent and trust, and disallow them elsewhere.  Some sites won’t work without scripting, so I temporarily allow those when at the site.  The temporary permission goes when I restart the browser or when I clear temporary approvals.  It turns out that this greatly reduces the number of advertisements that I see.  Many advertisements depend on running scripting from a site other than the one that I am visiting, so NoScript blocks that.  It also avoids some of the attempts to install malware, though that is not a big issue with linux.  I am reminded of this effect on advertising, whenever I try a different browser.  For then, I see far more ads than usual.

Flashblock, as its name suggests, blocks the playing of flash videos.  Instead, it provides a button that I can click to play a particular video.  I started using this because of the annoyance of sites with a large number of flash-based advertisements that can be very distracting and can use a lot of CPU time.  That was before I started using NoScript.  I could probably manage without Flashblock today, because NoScript will already block the flash applets that are on sites where javascripting is disallowed.

The “Secure Login” and “Saved Password Editor” extensions are for use with sites that require passwords.  Secure Login gives me better control.  It only fills in the password information when I click the button.  Some forums offer multi-purpose forms, where some profile parameters can be changed.  The password entry can be left blank unless changing the password.  Secure Login gives me better control over that.  It also allows me to use saved passwords at sites that tell the browser not to auto-fill in passwords.  And the “Saved Password Editor” extension allows me to save the passwords for most of those sites.

Password manager

As suggested by the extensions mentioned above, I do allow firefox to save passwords.  I set a master password, so that what firefox saves is kept encrypted.  I may need to provide the password once each time that I start the browser.

I also keep a separate copy of passwords in an encrypted file.  The browser password manager is for convenience, and the encrypted file is for long term safe keeping, and is periodically backed up.

Profiles

I use several profiles with firefox.  This is a bit like using several different browsers, all of which are firefox.

I started using different profiles to handle email.  My ISP provides a master email account, and allows me to setup several additional accounts.  So I use the master account for dealing with the ISP and for some other issues.  And I use another account for personal mail.

With only one browser, I would be repeatedly logging out of one account and logging into the other.  By using an additional profile, I can stay logged into both email accounts.  I use the “no-remote” option of firefox, so that I can have a browser with an alternative profile running at the same time as my main browser.

The basic idea is that the cookies kept by each profile, and which are used to keep me logged in, can be different for the different profiles.  The bookmarks can be different.  The  sites that I whitelist for NoScript can be different.

I now do banking online activity, and other sensitive activity, using an alternative firefox profile.  That reduces the risk of cross-site scripting attacks.  It also means that if the bank suggest that I shutdown the browser after leaving their site, I am only shutting down the alternate profile.  My main browser stays open.

Scripting

I start firefox using a command line script, rather than using the desktop icon.  That’s because there are some things that I want the script to do:

  • delete unwanted cookies;
  • make a copy of a few files.

I make it a practice to shutdown and restart firefox once per day (sometimes more often).  My script deletes unwanted cookies by dumping the sqlite file to a text file, running a “sed” script to delete, then reconstituting the sqlite file from what remains.  The sed script keeps the cookies from a few domains that I want to keep, and deletes the rest.  This is intended to reduce the impact of the use of tracking cookies.

The files that I copy are the cookies file, the bookmarks file, the “user.js” (user created file), the files related to saved passwords.  I copy these to a different directory, so that I can have a snapshot of them taken at a time when firefox is not running.  I then use these saved files to periodically synchronize on other computers that I use.  By taking a snapshot when firefox is not running, I ensure that I have a complete file rather than one that is in the midst of being changed.

Summary

It is mainly the combination of extensions and multiple profiles that keeps me coming back to firefox.  Additionally, firefox has been pretty robust.

 

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About Neil Rickert

Retired mathematician and computer scientist who dabbles in cognitive science.

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