Recommended browser extensions

Published: ; Updated:
Tags: browser extension, chromium, firefox

Web browsers are an important part of everyday computing. If you spend a lot of time using a program, it may be worth the effort to customize how it serves you. One way to customize web browsers is with browser extensions. Here a list of extensions that I find useful and that are free software. In each section they’re sorted by how strongly I recommend using them, with the most important ones at the top.

Essential

These extensions provide functionality that I deem indispensable. They improve security and the browsing experience with virtually no drawbacks. The features of these extensions are included by default in the Brave browser. Use my referral link to download Brave and to help me with some cash.

uBlock Origin

uBlock Origin

The present-day Internet is infested with ads and trackers. Advertising companies (like Google and Facebook) want to know as much as possible about you so they can show you ads that are specifically tailored to your interests. To achieve this they use trackers to spy on which websites you visit. Advertising networks are now also used to spread malware, this practice is called malvertising.

To protect you and your computer from ads, trackers and malware, install a blocker like uBlock Origin. This extension blocks these undesired resources, so your browser will never attempt to load them. Websites then load faster because your browser has less resources to load.

Make sure you only use one blocker in your browser, using more could unnecessarily slow down your browser. So you don’t need Adblock Plus, Ghostery, Disconnect or other similar extensions if you already have uBlock Origin. Instead you can look at the “3rd-party filters” at the settings and block whatever you want. I recommend uBlock Origin over these other extensions because it is fast and has a good philosophy.

Links: Firefox, Chromium, Homepage

HTTPS Everywhere

HTTPS Everywhere

Websites are generally loaded over HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) or HTTPS, where the S stands for Secure. When you’re connected to a website over HTTPS, the communication between your browser and the website is authenticated and encrypted. Authentication means that you have some guarantee that the content received by your browser is indeed from the website you requested. With HTTP you don’t have this insurance: the content could be tampered with by a (malicious) third-party. Encryption provides privacy: the communication between you and the website is encrypted so when your connection is eavesdropped the spies can’t see what the website is sending you, or what you’re sending to the website (for example usernames/passwords). Note that HTTPS is not perfect: its security is not proven and mistakes in its implementation can lead to breaches of its authentication and encryption.

The benefits of HTTPS are clear, but not all websites support it. For this reason the default is often to load a website over HTTP. The HTTPS Everywhere extension has a list of websites that support HTTPS. When your browser requests a website on this list over HTTP, the extension upgrades the connection to HTTPS.

Links: Firefox, Chromium, Homepage

Privacy

These extensions improve your browsing privacy but may require user interaction to use without problems.

Decentraleyes

Decentraleyes

It is a common practice of web developers to load resources from a CDN (content delivery network). Developers use CDNs because they’re fast, reliable and easy to use. An example CDN is Google Hosted Libraries. For each website that loads a resource from a CDN, the CDN receives metadata on the website’s visitors like their IP address, which website they’re on, what browser they’re using and the time at which they requested the website. The CDN could use this information to track people’s Internet usage or sell this data to companies that can better exploit this data. See these CDN stats for an estimate of CDN usage on the Internet.

To avoid being tracked by CDNs, you could configure uBlock Origin to block them, but that would break websites that use them. The Decentraleyes extension takes a more intelligent approach: it comes bundled with resources usually loaded from CDNs. When your browser attempts to load such a resource from a CDN, then Decentraleyes intercepts this request and serves the resource locally to the browser, emulating the CDN. This way the CDN is never contacted and the resource is loaded even faster.

Decentraleyes is the first candidate to move up to the Essential section, but only after this issue is fixed. In its current state the extension could break some websites. The current workaround is to disable the extension on these websites. Vote on bug 1419459 if you’d like to see this issue fixed on Firefox.

Links: Firefox, Chromium, Homepage

Cookie AutoDelete

A tool used by tracking companies are cookies and other data they can leave on web browsers of visitors. Cookies are small pieces of data that a website can give to a user’s web browser to personalize their experience on the website. For example, if you login on a website your username is stored in a cookie. Each time you navigate on that website, your browser sends this cookie to the website, so the website knows your username and that you’re logged in. Another example is on online shops, where the items in your shopping cart are saved in cookies.

Cookies can also be abused to track users. The Cookie AutoDelete extension deletes the cookies (and other local data if possible) from a website when you close its tab. So you can normally browse a website, keep the cookies while you’re interacting with the website so its functionality stays intact, and then have them deleted when you’re done.

This would mean that whenever you login to a website, you’d be logged out when you close its tab. That’s why the extension has a whitelist feature. You can whitelist websites (by clicking on the extension’s icon) to never delete their cookies. In this manner you can stay logged in on the websites you trust. You’re in control over which cookies you want.

Links: Firefox, Chromium, Homepage

Privacy Badger

Privacy Badger

Most blockers like uBlock Origin ship filter lists of rules that specify ads, trackers and other unwelcome content to remove. These rules require maintenance, someone has to add a rule to the list if a new tracker pops up somewhere, only then can the tracker be blocked. Privacy Badger takes a different approach. It actively analyses the third-party content of the websites you visit to see which are tracking you. When a website requests a third-party resource or domain, this third-party can leave cookies or other data in your browser that it can use to identify you when you request the same third-party content on other websites, effectively tracking your web behavior. When Privacy Badger detects that a third-party is tracking you, it blocks that resource. The extension learns and will detect and block more privacy invaders as you surf the web.

You can install Privacy Badger alongside uBlock Origin, but there will be an overlap in utility. Alternatively you can enable more “3rd-party filters” in uBlock Origin.

Links: Firefox, Chromium, Homepage

Extra

The above extensions fix what is wrong with the Internet: web browsing should have been secure and privacy respecting from the start. The following extensions improve upon the web browsing experience.

Tree Style Tab

Tree Style Tab

It can become difficult to manage your tabs if you have many of them. One solution is to list your tabs vertically instead of the standard horizontal arrangement. This makes your list of tabs clearer and more manageable. Having them vertically also makes more sense for the nowadays common widescreen displays.

Tree Style Tab lists tabs vertically in a tree structure. When you open new tabs from a page, they will be placed as children of the current tab. By opening new tabs you’ll grow a tree with many branches and leaves. The tree shows the structure of how tabs relate to each other. Another feature is the folding or collapsing of branches. You can hide all the descendants of a tab branch, with the result that your tab list won’t become cluttered. I’m using this feature as an alternative to the tab groups that were removed from Firefox 45. The tree structure is reminiscent of how file explorers show folders in a tree.

This extension is only available for Firefox. I consider this functionality a big argument to prefer Firefox over other browsers.

Currently after installing this extension, you’ll see your tabs shown in the usual horizontal tab strip and in the sidebar. The extension links you to instructions on how to hide the top tab bar. This is required due to a shortcoming in the WebExtensions API, vote for bug 1332447 to see this fixed.

Links: Firefox, Homepage

Archiveror

Archiveror

Sometimes websites disappear from the Internet. The web is volatile. Archiveror is a browser extension that archives webpages on public archive sites like archive.is, archive.org and more. It automatically archives your bookmarks and you can manually archive all webpages. On Chromium based browsers it can also make local copies of webpages in MHTML format. This allows you to keep a local browsable copy of all your bookmarks.

Note that I am biased in this recommendation: I made this extension.

Links: Firefox, Chromium, Homepage


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