Working One-on-One with your Data


The Clear Private Data feature is great for people who always find themselves clearing the same set of information — say, download history and browsing history, but not saved passwords or form information. But the feature just doesn't do the trick if your habits are irregular or if you need more specific control over each type of stored information (such as choosing how many days' worth of browsing history to maintain). In either case, the Options window provides more powerful tools for working closely with each kind of information that Firefox remembers:

  1. Click the Privacy icon at the top of the window.

  2. Click the tab that corresponds to the type of information you want to configure.

    Figure 14-4 shows the six tabs that are available.

    image from book
    Figure 14-4: The Privacy screen of the Options window allows you to configure or clear the types of information that Firefox stores.

When you reach the tab pertaining to the kind of information you want to configure, refer to the appropriate section that follows for further help.

Erasing your browsing history

As I discuss in Chapter 6, Firefox keeps a record of the Web sites you visit so you can find them later if you forget their addresses. This is called browsing history, and by default, Firefox stores records of all the Web sites you visited in the past nine days. To configure or clear browsing history, follow the directions in the preceding section, "Working One-on-One with Your Data," to get to the History tab of the Options window. From there, you can do any of the following:

  • Shorten or expand how many days' worth of Web sites Firefox remembers in browsing history by replacing 9 with a new number.

  • Instruct Firefox not to remember browsing history anymore by replacing 9 with 0. Firefox won't track any Web sites you visit in the future, but your current browsing history remains until you clear it.

  • Clear your current browsing history by clicking the Clear Browsing History Now button. Firefox clears the history as soon as you click the button and the action is irreversible. Note that this doesn't turn off browsing history; it only clears your current history. New history accumulates when you resume surfing. If the Clear Browsing History button is unavailable, your browsing history is already empty.

More information about browsing history is available in Chapter 6.

Getting rid of old saved forms

As I discuss in Chapter 8, Firefox remembers information you enter into Web sites so you don't need to keep reentering it. For example, it can remember your username at a site you log in to frequently, or your ZIP code at a weather site. Firefox also remembers phrases you enter into the Firefox Search Box so you can use them again more quickly. Collectively, this is called saved form information, and by default, Firefox remembers it indefinitely. To configure or clear saved form information, follow the directions in the section "Working One-on-One with Your Data," earlier in this chapter, to get to the Saved Forms tab of the Options window. From there, you can do any of the following:

  • Instruct Firefox not to remember form information anymore by deselecting the Save Information I Enter in Forms and the Search Bar check box. As the wording implies, if you choose this option, Firefox also stops remembering phrases you search for in the Search Box in the upper-right corner of the main Firefox window.

  • Clear your current Saved Form Information by clicking the Clear Saved Form Data Now button. This takes place as soon as you click the button and is irreversible. Note that this doesn't turn off saved form information; it only clears the currently stored information. New form information accrues the next time you submit an online form or use the Search Box. If the Clear Saved Form Data Now button is unavailable, no form information is currently saved.

Tip 

Saved form information doesn't include passwords you enter into online forms; those are stored separately, as I discuss in the next section.

More information about the automatic form-filling feature is available in Chapter 8.

Keeping your saved passwords safe

Firefox remembers passwords you use to log in to secure sites on the Internet (after asking you) so you don't need to enter them every time you log in. These are known as saved passwords, and by default, Firefox remembers them indefinitely. To configure or clear saved passwords, follow the directions in the section "Working One-on-One with Your Data," earlier in this chapter, to get to the Passwords tab of the Options window. From there, you can do any of the following:

  • Instruct Firefox not to remember passwords anymore, by deselecting the Remember Passwords check box.

  • Set, change, or remove a Master Password. If family members or co-workers share your computer, you might find it disconcerting that Firefox automatically prefills your passwords for them. On the other hand, the feature is convenient when you are at your computer. Firefox offers a feature called Master Password that lets you enjoy both security and convenience. See the section on using a Master Password in Chapter 8 for more information about this feature.

  • View the passwords Firefox has collected thus far, by choosing the View Saved Passwords button. If Firefox has prefilled your password for so long you've actually forgotten it, this is a good way to retrieve it! The window that opens contains a table of Web sites and the usernames you use at each site, as shown in Figure 14-5. To see your passwords at all sites, click the Show Passwords button to add a new Password column. If you have a Master Password, you need to enter it before you can access the stored passwords even if you've entered it previously. Otherwise, Firefox asks you to confirm the decision. Make sure nobody is looking over your shoulder before you proceed. To hide your passwords again, click the Hide Passwords button. See the section on viewing and clearing saved login information in Chapter 8 for more in-depth help with this feature.

    image from book
    Figure 14-5: Firefox allows you to view the passwords it stores, which comes in handy if you forget one of them.

  • Clear some or all of the stored passwords. Click the View Saved Passwords button, select the sites whose saved passwords you want to clear, and click Remove. Otherwise, to remove all saved passwords, click Remove All. These actions take effect immediately and are irreversible. Note that this doesn't turn off the password-saving feature; it only clears the current list of passwords.

  • Instruct Firefox that it's okay to prefill passwords at a particular site where you previously indicated otherwise. When you enter a password at a Web site Firefox hasn't seen before, you can decide whether Firefox should remember the password and prefill it later. If you choose No, Firefox will continue to ask you each time you log in to the site. To minimize distractions, a third option, Never for This Site, allows you to tell Firefox that you never want it to remember passwords you enter on that particular Web site (which is useful if, for example, it's a banking site), and to stop asking you.

    To reverse this decision later on, click the View Saved Passwords button on the Privacy tab, and then click the Passwords Never Saved tab. Firefox displays a list of Web sites for which you have told it never to ask you about saving. To remove a particular site, select it and click Remove. To clear the entire list, click Remove All. After you remove a site from this list, Firefox will ask you again whether to save the password the next time you try to log in to the site.

More information about Saved Passwords is available in Chapter 8.

Tidying up your download history

As I discuss in Chapter 11, Firefox keeps a record of the files you download so you can access them easily. This is known as download history, and by default, Firefox keeps records of all your downloads until you clear them manually. Note that these are simply records of the download itself; clearing a download record doesn't affect the downloaded file that exists on your computer. To configure or clear download history, follow the directions in the earlier section, "Working One-on-One with Your Data," to get to the Download History tab of the Privacy category of the Options window. From there, you can do any of the following:

  • Specify when the download history is cleared by using the Remove Files from the Download Manager drop-down list. By default, download records remain until you clear them manually, with the Download Manager, the Clear Private Data feature, or the Clear Download History Now button in the Options window. However, you can also instruct Firefox to clear a download record as soon as the corresponding download completes (by selecting Upon Successful Download), or each time you exit Firefox (by selecting When Firefox Exits). Note that if you choose the latter, the new policy begins immediately; in other words, your existing download history will be cleared as soon as you exit Firefox.

  • View your download history in the Download Manager by clicking the View Download History button. The Download Manager is also accessible from the Tools menu in the main Firefox window.

  • Clear the entire download history by clicking the Clear Download History Now button. This takes place as soon as you click the button and is irreversible. Note that this doesn't turn off download history; it only clears the currently stored records. New download records accrue as you start new downloads. If the Clear Download History Now button is unavailable, your download history is already empty.

You can clear individual download records from the Download Manager window. For more on the Download Manager as well as anything else related to how Firefox downloads anything off the Internet, turn to Chapter 11.

Sweeping up your cookie crumbs

Billions of different Web sites exist, each serving a different purpose. Although Firefox can help you remember aspects that are common to many of them — such as the concept of a username and password — it is impossible for Firefox to remember the information necessary for each Web site genre. For example, what about a shopping site that needs to remember what's in your shopping cart as you navigate the digital aisles? What about an online newspaper that wants to remember that you like the sports page? If the other Firefox developers and I spent our time designing a custom "memory" for anything a Web site might need to store, we wouldn't have time for anything else.

Clearly, then, Web sites need their own (generic) way to remember information about you, and the mechanism for doing this is called a cookie. A Web site can leave a cookie — a brief bit of information — on your computer, and your browser sends it back to the site when you return to that site. It's as if the Web site is temporarily storing a tiny memory on your computer.

To prevent your computer from getting cluttered up with these memories, most Web sites owners give their cookies expiration dates. By default, Firefox — like virtually all other browsers — allows all Web sites to set cookies and keeps them until they expire. But Firefox gives you extensive control over which cookies are set and for how long they are kept.

Warning 

You can impose more restrictions on which sites are allowed to set cookies, with the understanding that certain Web sites might not function properly without them.

To configure or clear cookies, follow the directions in the section "Working One-on-One with Your Data," earlier in this chapter, to get to the Cookies tab of the Options window. From there, you can do any of the following:

  • To prevent all Web sites from setting a cookie, deselect the Allow Sites to Set Cookies check box. You can specify an exception to this rule by clicking the Exceptions button, entering a Web address, and clicking Allow. To undo this decision later, return to the Exceptions window, select the Web site in the list, and click Remove. I cover the Exceptions window in more detail in Chapter 16.

  • To prevent certain Web sites from setting a cookie, leave the Allow Sites to Set Cookies check box selected, but click the Exceptions button, enter the address of a Web site, and then click the Block button. To undo this decision later, return to the Exceptions window, select the Web site in the list, and click Remove.

  • To prevent so-called affiliates from setting cookies, select the For the Originating Site Only check box. An affiliate is a Web site that lives within another Web site but is not actually part of it. Though you don't realize it, most of the Web sites you visit every day contain affiliates in the form of advertising. Most of the banner ads you see, for example, are not actually part of the Web site that contains them, but are generated by a third-party advertising firm. Because these are another form of Web sites, they can also set their own cookies, and most of these cookies are used for undesirable purposes such as tracking your viewing habits as you move among other Web sites in the ad's network.

    Tip 

    Allowing only the originating site — and not affiliates — to set cookies is a good way to ensure that Web sites continue to work while preventing affiliate advertisers from storing cookies.

  • To prevent Web sites you've dealt with previously from setting more cookies, select the Unless I Have Removed Cookies Set by the Site check box. In this context, dealt with means you've taken the trouble in the past to manually delete cookies set by the Web site by using the Cookie Manager. Such drastic and specific action probably means the Web site did something untrustworthy in your eyes. This option allows you to automatically block cookies from all such Web sites in the future so you don't need to waste time doing so manually.

From the Cookies tab, you can also view, search, and remove stored cookies by clicking the View Cookies button. The Cookie Manager opens to offer information about the cookies on your computer, organized into groups by the Web site who stored them, as shown in Figure 14-6. To find a cookie more quickly, you can enter part of its name or originating site address into the Search text box. To view information about a particular cookie, select it and look at the bottom of the screen. Most of the supplied information is of a highly technical and irrelevant nature, but you can also take a look at when the cookie is set to expire. If you aren't happy with what you see, you can manually remove the cookie by clicking Remove Cookie. You can also remove all stored cookies by clicking Remove All Cookies. Note that both actions take place as soon as you click their respective buttons, and you can't undo a removal.

image from book
Figure 14-6: The Cookie Manager displays info about every cookie stored on your computer and allows you to remove any that you find suspect.

Clearing your cache

You want to go to a new restaurant in town, so you call for directions. It's so good that you decide to go there every night. Are you going to call for the directions every night? Probably not. At some point, the head waiter is going to recognize your voice and ask why on earth you keep calling — the restaurant isn't moving!

You would, of course, write the directions down or commit them to memory. In the digital world, the idea that you can make copies of information instead of constantly returning to the source is known as caching. Technical details aside, caching allows Firefox to make copies of Web sites you visit frequently and store them on your computer so they load more quickly. When you instruct Firefox to visit a Web site, it simply compares the version stored on your computer with the current version. If they're the same, it saves time by loading the Web site directly off your computer.

By default, Firefox caches the last 50MB worth of Web sites that you visit onto your computer.

To configure or clear the cache, follow the directions in the section "Working One-on-One with Your Data," earlier in this chapter, to get to the Cache tab of the Options window. From there, you can do any of the following:

  • Increase or reduce the amount of hard drive space Firefox uses to store cached Web sites on your computer by entering a new number in place of 50. Most computers these days have so much hard drive space that 50MB is but a tiny fraction, so you probably shouldn't worry about reducing this number. If you have available hard drive space, enlarging the number improves page-load performance because Firefox can cache more sites.

    TECHNICAL STUFF 

    A megabyte (MB) is a technical unit of measurement used to describe how much space something uses on a computer. Many computers these days have at least 20 gigabytes (GB) of space, which — because a gigabyte roughly equals 1,000MB — is equivalent to about 20,000MB.

  • Clear the current cache by clicking the Clear Cache Now button. This action takes place as soon as you click the button and is irreversible. Note that this doesn't turn off the cache; it clears only the currently cached sites. New cached Web sites accrue as soon as you begin surfing. If the Clear Cache Now button is unavailable, your cache is already empty.




Firefox For Dummies
Firefox For Dummies
ISBN: 0471748994
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 157
Authors: Blake Ross

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