Firefox browser

Getting Started with Firefox

© Lead Image © Sila Nimkittikul, 123RF.com

© Lead Image © Sila Nimkittikul, 123RF.com

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Master the most important application on your computer.

For most of us, daily computing is unthinkable without a browser. We use it to communicate, share, research, write, watch movies, and stream radio. In short, the browser stays in the foreground most of the time. Although plenty of good browsers are available on Linux, Mozilla Firefox still remains a popular choice on most mainstream distros, including Fedora.

Even the most inexperienced users can learn Firefox's basics in a matter of minutes. After all, browsing mostly means typing URLs into the address bar and using the Back and Forward buttons. However, Firefox offers plenty of useful features that can vastly improve your browsing experience and make your daily computing more efficient.

Modifying Preferences and Interface

Although Firefox comes with sensible default settings, you might want to adjust the browser's options to make it behave exactly the way you want. To do this, press the Menu button and choose Preferences. All options in the Firefox Preferences window are tucked under several tabs. Some of these options don't require any explanation, or they can be left at their defaults. However, a few useful settings deserve a closer look.

The General tab, for example, contains options that let you control the startup and download behavior. If you want Firefox to open tabs from a previous session, select the Show my windows and tabs from last time option from the When Firefox starts drop-down list. By default, Firefox saves downloaded files in the Downloads folder, but you can specify another directory by enabling the Save files to option and selecting the desired destination. Alternatively, enable the Always as me where to save files option if you prefer to choose a different directory every time you download a file.

The Applications section allows you to configure the way Firefox handles specific types of content and files. For example, Firefox is set to preview PDF files using the built-in PDF viewer. If instead you want to automatically open PDF files in an external PDF reader installed on your machine, select the desired application from the Action drop-down list next to the Portable Document Format (PDF) entry (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Selecting actions for supported content and file types.

The Privacy tab gives you access to all privacy-related options. Here, you can configure how the browser handles history as well as remove saved data, such as cookies, cache, active logins, offline website data, etc. To do this, click on the clear your recent history link, choose the desired time range in the Time range to clear drop-down list, specify what type of data you want to clear in the Details list, and press the Clear Now button.

If Firefox's default plain appearance is not your cup of tea, you can dress up the browser using themes (Figure 2). The official theme repository [1] offers a wide selection of themes for every taste, and you can install the theme you like with a few mouse clicks. Find the theme you like and hit the Add to Firefox green button. Press Allow when prompted to install and enable the theme. You can then use the Undo button to return to the previous theme. This feature can come in handy when you want to try several different themes before picking the one you like best.

Figure 2: You can dress up Firefox using themes.

Firefox also lets you customize the interface by adding, removing, and rearranging different elements like buttons, icons, and toolbars. To switch to the customization interface, press the Menu button and click Customize (Figure 3). Then, use the mouse to remove, add, and arrange buttons on the main toolbar and the menu panel. Press Exit Customize to save the changes and close the customization interface. (See the "Quick Firefox Tips" box for more info.)

Figure 3: Customizing Firefox's interface.

Quick Firefox Tips

Selecting text in web pages using the mouse can be rather tricky sometimes. For easier and more precise text selection, you can press F7, which toggles the so-called Caret Browsing mode. With this mode enabled, you can make a text selection by placing the movable cursor anywhere on the page and then using keyboard keys to make a text selection.

To close a browser tab, you normally click the Close button. Alternatively, you can close any tab by middle-clicking anywhere on it, which is slightly easier than trying to hit the tiny Close button. In fact, you can remove the Close button altogether. To do this, open a new browser window or tab, type about:config and press Enter. Type browser.tabs.closeButtons in the Search field and set the value of the browser.tabs.closeButtons option to 2.

Firefox also lets you organize multiple tabs into groups. This functionality can come in handy if you have dozens of tabs opened at the same time. The Ctrl+Shift+E keyboard shortcut switches to the Tab Groups screen with all the currently opened tabs shown as a single group. You can create new groups by dragging tabs from the default group to the working area and then dragging tabs from one group to another. It's also possible to give tab groups descriptive names for easier identification.

Working with Bookmarks

Firefox makes it supremely easy to not only bookmark pages but also organize and manage them. In fact, the browser offers two ways to access and manage bookmarks. The Ctrl+B keyboard shortcut evokes the Bookmark sidebar, which displays all the bookmarks and folders. Using the Search field, you can quickly find the bookmarks matching the specified search parameters, whereas the right-click context menu gives you access to key commands for working with bookmarks. The browser also features the dedicated Library interface to manage bookmarks, which can be evoked using the Ctrl+Shift+O keyboard shortcut.

The Library window lets you edit and organize bookmarks, perform restore and backup operations, and import bookmarks (Figure 4). In addition to the list bookmarks and folders, the hierarchical tree in the left pane of the Library interface also features the Tags node containing all tags assigned to the bookmarks. Select a tag to see all related bookmarks. The Views menu in the main toolbar has two items: Show Columns and Sort. The former lets you show and hide specific columns (Tags, Visit Count, Description, etc.), whereas the latter can be used to sort bookmarks by different criteria (by tags, by name, by keyword, by date added, etc.).

Figure 4: Managing bookmarks using the Library interface.

Firefox allows you to assign keywords to saved bookmarks for faster access. For example, you can assign the lxm keyword to the http://www.linux-magazine.com/ bookmark. Next time you need to open the bookmark in the browser, simply type lxm in the address bar and hit Enter.

The keyword feature can be put to some clever uses, too. As you may know, you can use the define: prefix followed by the search word (e.g., define:monkey) to get the word's definition in Google. If you use this feature often, you can create a special bookmark with a keyword assigned to it (Figure 5). The bookmark's URL looks like this:

https://www.google.dk/search?q=define:%s
Figure 5: Creating a bookmark with a placeholder and a keyword.

The %s part at the end of the URL acts as a placeholder – that is, it's replaced by the string you type (here, it's the word you want to look up). Using this bookmark, you can get definitions by simply typing the keyword assigned to the bookmark followed by the word you want to look up, for example: d monkey.

This trick should work with any URL where a search term can be replaced with the %s placeholder. For example, the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%s URL can be used to look up words in Wikipedia, whereas the http://www.linux-magazine.com/content/search?SearchText=%s URL can be used to search Linux Magazine's online archive.

Using Firefox Sync

If you use Firefox on multiple machines and devices, you'll appreciate the browser's syncing functionality. Once enabled, this feature keeps bookmarks, history, passwords, and tabs in sync across all Firefox installations (see "Pushing Tabs and Links with Firefox Sync" box for more information). Enabling Sync is a matter of choosing the Sign in to Sync item in the Menu panel. Then, you can create a new account (or sign up if you already have an account), and Firefox will sync data in the background.

Pushing Tabs and Links with Firefox Sync

Firefox for Android has lots of nifty features, but you may find one tool particularly useful. Similar to its desktop sibling, Firefox for Android supports syncing. The clever part is that this feature integrates with Android's sharing functionality, which lets you push the currently opened website to another linked machine or device. You can put this feature to many practical uses.

For example, you can use it as a "read-it-when-you're-back-home" tool. When you're on the move, you can push interesting links to your production machine at home. But, what about sending tabs from your desktop version of Firefox to Android devices and other machines? Surprisingly, the desktop version of Firefox lacks this handy feature; however, the Send Tab to Device [2] add-on fills the void. Once installed, this extension adds the Send this link to device command to the right-click context menu, which you can use to send any link in the currently opened page as a tab to any device linked to your Firefox Sync account.

By default, Firefox syncs everything, but you can change that in the Sync section of the Preferences window. Here, you can also change the default device name and disconnect Firefox from Sync. Although Firefox also syncs tabs, it's not immediately obvious how to view and open tabs from another device. To do this, type about:sync-tabs in the address bar and hit Enter. This shows a list of tabs opened on the devices connected to the sync account. Instead of scrolling through the list, you can use the Search field to quickly find a specific tab (Figure 6).

Figure 6: The Sync feature lets you open tabs from other devices.

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