By default, Firefox automatically saves information you enter into online forms, such as search phrases, addresses, and ZIP codes. When you begin typing the same information into another form, Firefox automatically suggests your previous entries in a list below the form, as shown in Figure 8-1. To see the complete list of suggestions without beginning to type, double-click within the empty form field or press the down-arrow key. If no suggestions are available, either you haven't entered the information previously, or Firefox can't understand what the field is asking for (as I describe a little later). To select a suggestion, click it or navigate to it with the down-arrow key and press Enter.
Figure 8-1: Registering for an eBay account takes just a few seconds thanks to automatic form filling.
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Firefox compares apples to apples when it makes form suggestions. For example, if your address starts with 3 and your telephone number starts with 3, Firefox won't suggest your address when you begin typing your telephone number. In general, this feature is convenient because it cuts down on silly suggestions and helps you choose the right one faster. However, it also requires that Firefox understand exactly what a form field is asking for, so it knows which of your previous entries to suggest. This is easier said than done because Web sites refer to the same piece of information (for example, a telephone number) differently (as in "phone number," "phone," "phone #," "home number," and so on). Firefox uses advanced algorithms to understand forms and make appropriate suggestions.
Don't be surprised if Firefox can't make suggestions from time to time even if you've entered the information previously. (Even advanced algorithms can't always be perfect.)
Keep in mind that Firefox offers two distinct form-filling features that function similarly but are controlled by different settings. The first, which I call automatic form filling, helps you fill out general form fields such as address, ZIP code, and birthday. The second, called automatic login filling, helps you log in to sites by remembering usernames and passwords and associating them together. For example, if you have multiple Amazon.com accounts, this feature remembers and suggests your login names and automatically fills in the correct password for the one you choose.
Here's a brief example to illustrate automatic form filling in action: Say you're registering for an eBay account. Like many other Web sites, eBay asks for a physical address, an e-mail address, and other information when you're registering. Ordinarily, filling this out would be a lengthy process. But with automatic form filling, Firefox helps you re-enter information you've entered in the past, as illustrated in Figure 8-1.
An online form doesn't necessarily have to resemble a typical form that asks for name, address, and phone number. Sometimes form fields are used for other purposes, such as search engines (see Figure 8-2). In general, any Web site that offers a text box and some sort of Submit button is using an online form, and Firefox saves the information you enter to make suggestions in the future.
Figure 8-2: Automatic form filling helps you repeat common searches at your favorite search engine.
Real-world experience indicates that convenience often comes at the expense of privacy. Life would be much easier if everyone carried a national ID card that knows the holder's addresses, food preferences, favorite video rentals, and clothing sizes, but it would also mean that some company knows everything about everyone. Chapter 14 addresses online privacy in depth, but here I talk about it in terms of the form-filling feature.
Firefox saves form information directly to your computer, but other people with access to your computer can see it — sometimes inadvertently, if Firefox suggests one of your previous form entries as the person fills out a form. Thus, in Firefox, you draw the line between convenience and privacy by choosing when to clear saved form information and which information to clear. You can also disable the feature entirely, as you discover in the next section.
Firefox also remembers phrases you enter into the Search Box to the right of the Location Bar so it can suggest them when you use the Search Box in the future. The form-filling settings I discuss in the following steps also affect saved Search Box entries. For example, clearing saved form information clears the saved Search Box entries as well.
To clear all saved form information, follow these steps:
Click the Privacy icon at the top of the window that appears.
Click the Saved Forms tab.
Click the Clear Saved Form Data Now button.
The button becomes gray to confirm that Firefox has cleared saved form data, as shown in Figure 8-3. If the button is already gray, Firefox has not yet saved any form information to clear.
Figure 8-3: Clearing saved form data.
If you clear saved form information and other private information (such as browsing history) frequently, you can use Firefox's Clear Private Data feature to do so more quickly. You can also use the feature to have Firefox clear saved form information automatically each time you exit Firefox. See Chapter 14 for more information.
If you don't want to clear all of your saved form information, you can delete individual entries when Firefox suggests them. Follow these steps:
Navigate to the form where Firefox makes a suggestion that you want to delete, and then select the appropriate field.
For example, if you don't want Firefox to suggest a particular search phrase you entered at Google in the past, navigate to Google and click the search field.
Open Firefox's list of form suggestions.
You can do this step either by typing the beginning of the entry you want to delete or by leaving the field empty and double-clicking or pressing the down-arrow key to open the complete suggestions list.
Select the suggestion you want to delete in the list using the down-arrow key.
When the appropriate suggestion is selected, press Shift+Delete to remove it from the list.
The entry is deleted immediately without confirmation.
If you don't need the convenience of automatic form filling and want to keep form information private from others who use your computer, you can simply turn off the feature entirely:
Click the Privacy icon on the top of the window that appears.
Click the Saved Forms tab.
Select the Save Information I Enter in Forms and the Search Bar check box.
Disabling the form-filling feature prevents Firefox from making suggestions when you fill out forms and from remembering any form information you enter after disabling the feature, but it does not clear the form information that's already saved. This means that someone could turn the feature back on and see your previous entries. To prevent this from happening, clear the form information that has already been saved by following the instructions in the earlier section, "Clearing saved form information."