The [Un]official “How To Make Firefox Fly Like A Bat Out Of Hades When You’re On Dial-Up” Guide… For dummies

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THE [UN]OFFICIAL “HOW TO MAKE FIREFOX FLY LIKE A BAT OUT OF HADES WHEN YOU’RE ON DIAL-UP” GUIDE… FOR DUMMIES

!!! yes, you too can be the envy of all your dial-up buddies !!!

version 1.3 – 22-APR-2009

CONTENTS:

  1. Notes
  2. Software
  3. Browser Tweaks
    1. browser.cache.disk.capacity
    2. browser.cache.check_doc_frequency
  4. Browser Extensions
    1. BetterCache
    2. Flashblock
    3. QuickImage
    4. Adblock Plus
    5. DNS Prefetch
  5. Optional
    1. Hosts File
    2. FastCache
    3. FastNet99
    4. URLGrabber
    5. network.dnsCacheExpiration
    6. network.dnsCacheEntries
    7. Changelog

NOTES:

These tweaks and software were tested with Mozilla Firefox 3.0* and Windows XP.

I wrote this as a result of the horrible fact that i myself am stuck with a dial-up connection during the summer when i’m in a somewhat remote area.

This guide will, at worst, make a noticeable difference in the time it takes Firefox to load pages, especially if you’re stuck with dial-up. It is centered around those using Firefox on Windows (we need all the help we can get), but some info may be of value to other OS’s and browsers.

Nothing here is required – you can pick and choose what tweaks and/or software you want to use.

SOFTWARE:

BROWSER TWEAKS:

For Firefox config tweaks: type “about:config” in the address bar and rap the “Enter” key. In the filter, paste the setting as listed below. To change a value, double click it. To create a value, right click in an empty area, click “New”, then choose the type of value given below. To really screw things up, delete everything! If you’re a bit shaky on making changes create a backup first (TIP: real geeks never create backups!). You are actually editing a file named “prefs.js” which, for Windows XP, is located in your user directory something along the arcane path of: \Documents and Settings\[profile name]\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\[senseless random string].default\prefs.js.

browser.cache.disk.capacity – config tweak – [integer]default = 50000

descrip: disk capacity allocated for Firefox cache (value in kB)

suggested config: 204800 (200 MB), or as you see fit. Also make sure “browser.cache.disk.enable” is “true” while you’re at it.

effects: larger disk cache equals more content loaded from disk instead of the browser having to fetch it from the server. Very large values may impress the ladies, but may not benefit broadband users (depends on cache size, disk speed, etc.), but for dial-up this will offer a huge boost in speed for loading many sites, as long as the content is already cached.

browser.cache.check_doc_frequency – config tweak – [integer]default = 3

descrip: controls how Firefox checks for updated content for a web page.

suggested config: 2 or 3. If 2: Firefox will never check if the page was updated and always load a cached copy if available, meaning if the page was updated, you might not notice. If 3: Firefox will check if the page is out of date automatically.

BROWSER EXTENSIONS:

BetterCache – Firefox extension

descrip: forces caching of web pages regardless of no-cache headers which webmasters sometimes put in place to prevent caching, sometimes for a good reason and sometimes just to annoying the living doo-doo out of you i think.

suggested config: In the “always cache list” delete the wildcard (the *) in the MIME type area and insert the following (the important ones are bolded while the rest are optional):

application/dsssl
application/x-javascript
application/x-perl
application/x-pointplus
audio/

image/
music/
text/css
text/javascript
text/vbscript
video/
x-music/
x-world/

Delete everything in the “never cache list”.

usage: nothing to do other than enable/disable it from its options. Go here for more confusing info on MIME types.

effects: combined with other tweaks, will dramatically lessen page load times when visiting many pages for which content is already cached. Settings above will force the caching of most non-text content (images, flash, JavaScript, style sheets, etc.). Text content will be handled by Firefox as usual (auto).

caveats: if content of a MIME type you specify is cached, but then is changed on the server, the page may not display correctly (think CSS for instance). Could potentially break sites that depend on such content, though i haven’t had any problems… yet. You should be able to just refresh the page if something if something looks fishy, but if that doesn’t work then you’ll have to either flush your cache, temporarily disable BetterCache, or buy a new computer.

Flashblock – Firefox extension

descrip: blocks Adobe Flash content

suggested config: enable… done.

usage: r-click your toolbar, click “Customize”, and you find a new icon you can drag to your toolbar to easily enable/disable Flashblock. You can unblock (white list) via the new context menu item when your mouse is over Flash content, or quickly allow the content by simply clicking place holder.

effects: faster page loading because browser is not fetching Flash content.

cavates:fluoride is bad for you

QuickImage – Firefox extension

descrip: adds options to block the loading of all images, block only 3rd party images, or all allow all images.

suggested config: nothing to configure

usage: simply toggle image loading behavior from the icon it slaps in your overcrowded status bar.

effects: faster page loading if blocking all images, somewhat faster loading if blocking only 3rd party images.

cavates: may annoy pr0n surfers

similar extensions: ImgLikeOpera, ImgLikeOpera Reloaded

Adblock Plus – Firefox extension

descrip: blocks annoying, in-your-face BUYME!BUYME!BUYME! advertising. This is an excellent extension to have installed regardless of your bandwidth and is one of the most popular Firefox extensions on the planet.

suggested config: after installing, open its options and go to: filters > add filter subscription. Pick any you want, but i’d suggest picking only one (more does not equal better). EasyList is probably the most popular and it does a good job. Once you subscribe to a filter list you never have to worry about Adblock Plus again and it will auto-update the list. You can change the auto-update interval if you want from about:config: extensions.adblockplus.synchronizationinterval. The default is 24 (hours) which may be a bit aggressive.

To compliment Adblock Plus, take a peek at Element Hiding Helper. This makes it easier for beginners to block stuff you don’t want to see by using the mouse.

usage: it sticks an icon in the Firefox status bar from where you can easily enable/disable ad-blocking, white list sites you don’t want to filter and open a new window with elements that are blockable.

effects: since Firefox doesn’t have to fetch ads, pages will load faster.

caveats: it is possible that some content you want to see could be blocked, but i would submit that this is rare. Then again, how would i know that if i never saw it? Hmmm… quite the conundrum.

DNS Prefetch – Firefox extension – only for Firefox version less than 3.1 (3.1 has DNS prefetch).

descrip: caches DNS (Domain Names, Silly) lookups before you visit domains that may be linked to in the current document, but only does this after the page is fully loaded (shouldn’t slow page load) and it isn’t supposed to present a privacy threat.

suggested config: nothing to configure. I like that in a women.

effects: faster browsing because domain name was/may already be cached before visiting.

OPTIONAL:

Hosts File – Windows file: \system32\drivers\etc\Hosts (no file extension)

descrip: stores domain names and their IP addresses. If you’ve never edited it before it may only contain one entry (don’t delete it):

localhost 127.0.0.1

usage: edit with a text editor, adding one domain and associated IP address per line, seperating the two with a space:

slashdot.org 216.34.181.45

benifits: any addresses you place in the hosts file will be immediately available to your browser (or any other application that does DNS lookups) rather than having to go to your ISP (or wherever) to figure out that pr0n.com is really 209.216.206.174. This shaves off some time when you re-visit a domain. “pr0n.com” is easy for us humans to associate with a particular website but is useless to your browser which needs the IP address. IP addresses are gotten by doing domain name lookups using DNS servers. If you type “ipconfig /all” at a command prompt you’ll see what DNS server(s) your connection is using. Typically there are 2, a primary and secondary.

cavaets: If you add domains and their associated IP addresses to the hosts file, you may sometimes find that a website is continually not available. If this happens you can delete that entry from your hosts file, restart your browser and try again. This will happen if an IP address for a domain changes. You can also use the hosts file to block sites or redirect them somewhere else. Two examples:

pr0n.com 127.0.0.1
foxnews.com 74.63.192.50

The first example will redirect pr0n.com to your own machine which, unless you’re running your own web server, will lead to a dead end. The second example will redirect foxnews.com to 74.63.192.50. If you decide you feel like punishing yourself by editing your hosts file allot, you may want to create a shortcut to it on your desktop, but for god’s sake man, DON’T put it anywhere near your My Computer icon!

FastCache – Windows application

descrip: caches domain name lookups for a user configurable amount of time using up to 2 DNS servers simultaneously. This is yet another fine chunk of code from AnalogX.

suggested config: Enter a primary and, optionally, a secondary DNS server. To find your current DNS server(s), from a command prompt (Start > Run > cmd) type “ipconfig /all” (no quotes). You could also use other open DNS servers for both primary and/or secondary. For better redundancy you might want to use a secondary DNS server that is not related to your primary one, such as OpenDNS or 4.2.2.1 through 4.2.2.6 which all use anycast. For Windows XP you’ll need to manually point Windows to the location of the FastCache server you just installed: In the TCP/IP properties for your connection, specify 127.0.0.1 as your primary DNS server and leave the secondary empty. May also want to specify a maximum timeout so the cache gets refreshed now and again.

effects: instead of using your ISP (or whoever) for resolving host names, applications that use DNS will use FastCache. This speeds browsing by about 100-250ms for every site you visit for which a DNS lookup has to be done since it now doesn’t have to be done because it already was done ’cause FastCache done it.

caveats: by forcefully caching domain lookups you could get “page not found” errors if an IP address for a domain changes after it was cached. One way to deal with this would be to just delete the entry from FastCache. You can also edit entries individually, so you can assign a timeout per entry for those that you find expire quickly.

FastNet99 – Windows application (old, un-maintained – download here. May want to use FastCache instead of this (probably do not want to use both).

descrip: FastNet99 contains a bunch of toys, but we’re only interested in its ability to parse a bookmarks file, extract the URL’s, do DNS lookups and write everything to the Windows hosts file.

suggested config: start FastNet99 and go to: options > preferences > general > common settings and check “auto save hosts file on exit”.

effects: similar to “FastCache” above.

caveats: see “FastCache” above.

usage: export Firefox bookmarks to an html file. From the FastNet99 bookmarks tab under “Netscape”, point it to the bookmarks file you exported and scan it. Save the results and exit FastNet99, then restart Firefox if you had it running. The process is similar for IE. See the included help file as well.

URLGrabber – Windows application

descrip: i wrote this simple utility to manually grab URL’s from Firefox, or any other browser, and write them to an html file for later parsing by FastNet99. This is useful if many of the websites you regularly visit are not in your bookmarks, but you want to store the domain information in your hosts file to speed up browsing.

suggested config: extract the archive, open config.ini and set the hotkey used to focus the address bar in for your browser ({F6} in the case of Firefox, IE and Opera i believe). Also set the case sensitive browser name as it appears in the title bar of your browser (Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, etc.). If you need to use a different hotkey, go here for the syntax.

usage: start your browser and URLGrabber. For every page you visit that you want to add to the hosts file, click the “Grab URL” button. When done with your browsing session, start FastNet99 and from the “bookmarks” tab in the “Netscape” section, point it to the “UrlDump.html” file that URLGrabber created in its program directory and scan it. Save the results to your hosts file and exit FastNet99.

effects: see “FastNet99” and “Hosts file”

network.dnsCacheExpiration – Firefox config tweak – [integer](create if not exist) default = 60

descrip: value in seconds that DNS lookups remain cached.

suggested config: if you do allot of forward/back maneuvering between domains you may want to set this somewhere over the number of seconds that it typically takes you to toggle between domains, but not more than 900 (15 min.) or so.

effects: higher value can mean faster page loads because domain doesn’t have to be resolved again, however this also means it may take longer for Firefox to be aware that a site which was temporarily unavailable is available again (should be fairly unusual).

network.dnsCacheEntries – Firefox config tweak – [integer]create if not exist. default = 20

descrip: number of DNS entries Firefox caches.

suggested config: can set this much larger, but suggest around 100 – see: effects.

effects: can speed up browsing because domain name is already cached. If we assume a value of 60 seconds for “network.dnsCacheExpiration”, and you typically toggle between more than 20 domains in that time, then increasing this will speed things up. So the optimal value really depends not only on how large the value for “network.dnsCacheExpiration” is, but also whether you re-visit any of those 20 domains in that time.

CHANGELOG:

v1.0

  • first release

v1.1

  • added ImgLikeOpera and Flashblock extensions
  • added a bit more detail and corrected some errors
  • changed the cache settings for the BetterCache extension

v1.2

  • added new image handler extensions for Firefox in addition to ImgLikeOpera
  • added Adblock Plus
  • description updates, various edits, fixed crappy spelling and grammer

v1.3

  • added FastCache for storing DNS lookups
  • updated some information, added a TOC
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