Friday, July 12, 2024

Stupid Firefox Tricks, Part I

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Firefox … we use it all day, for everything from managing
finances to socializing to playing games. But it’s a
large and complicated programs. Are you getting the most out of
your browser? In this series, I’ll offer some tricks you can
use to spend less time getting more out of the web.

I’ll concentrate mostly on Firefox since that’s the most popular
Linux browser. But most Firefox tricks will work in other
Mozilla-based browsers, and some will even work in
non-Mozilla browsers like Konqueror and Opera.

I’ll start the series with my favorite trick that not
many people seem to know about: Bookmarklets.
If you’re a regular user of Firefox, I’m sure you’re
familiar with bookmarks, and you probably have a long list of them.
But you might not have seen their most useful form.

What are bookmarklets? Think of them as active bookmarks: bookmarks
that can do something more than just take you to a single static URL.
Sometimes bookmarklets are bits of Javascript code. But the simplest
ones are just regular bookmarks with the addition of a parameter.

For instance, the default search in Firefox uses Google. That means
anything you type in the regular URLbar that isn’t a URL will result
in a Google search — no need to waste space on a separate Google bar.

Google’s great, but what if you want to search with Yahoo and see how
it compares? Of course, you can go to and type some search
terms; but what if you do that all the time? A Yahoo search
bookmarklet is just the ticket.

First you need a URL for your bookmarklet.
Go to Yahoo, type in a search term like banana and see where it
goes. Yahoo will take you to a URL like this:

Go ahead and save that as a bookmark, using
Firefox’ regular Bookmarks->Bookmark this page menu item.
Trim it down if you want to — works just as
well as the longer version.

The next step is to give it a keyword — a unique name
for that bookmark. Firefox unfortunately
doesn’t let you set keywords in the Bookmark this page dialog,
though extensions like
can give you a smarter bookmarking dialog.
Save the bookmark then call up Bookmarks->Organize Bookmarks.
Find the bookmark you just set, and click on the More button.
Pick a nice short keyword that’s easy to type, like “yahoo”.

Setting a keyword gives the bookmark a useful property: if you
type that keyword in the URLbar and hit return, Firefox will go
straight to that bookmark.
If you’re a commandline user, that’s already a win — it’s
easier for some of us to remember a word like “yahoo” than to navigate
a bunch of hierarchical bookmarks menus.

Now comes the important part. Replace the term you searched for,
banana, with %s in the Location field
(figure 1).
Go ahead and dismiss the dialog — you’re done with it.

The magic “%s” tells Firefox, “Replace me with a string
supplied by the user.” You’ll supply it by typing it in the URLbar.
Try it now. Go to the URLbar — Control-L is a handy shortcut that
takes you there and highlights whatever’s there so you can replace it,
but doesn’t overwrite your X selection in case you want to paste.
Type yahoo bookmarklets and hit return.
Firefox should take you straight to the Yahoo’s search results page
for “bookmarklets”:
Neat! It even works for multiple search terms and quoted strings.

You can use the Keywords trick to set up bookmarklets for
all sorts of different searches, like Google Images at, Google Maps at, and
Wikipedia at
Getting the Wikipedia search URL is a little tricky, since their search
redirects you to a wiki page, not a search results page. Sometimes you
have to poke through View->Page Source, or ask around to see
if anyone else has already figured out a query.

Simple bookmarklets are also great for developers and QA people
who need to access online bug systems.
I have bookmarklets for several different Bugzillas:
if someone references a Mozilla bug by number, all I have to do is
type in mozbug 233853 and it goes straight to,
while gimpbug 120829 will do a comparable search in
GIMP/Gnome’s Bugzilla.

These examples all have simple URLs, but they don’t have to.
I once built up a complex Google query to find XKCD cartoons by keyword:
xkcd %s
Of course, I saved it as a bookmarklet.
Now any time I want to search for a cartoon, all I have to do is
type xkcd keywords.

Simple bookmarklets are a great timesaver and a lot of fun —
give them a try!
In the next installment, I’ll describe more complex bookmarklets,
the sort that use Javascript. They’re even more powerful!

Akkana Peck is a freelance
programmer whose credits include a tour as a Mozilla developer.
She’s also the author of Beginning
GIMP: From Novice to Professional

This article was first published on

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