Browser extensions and add-ons are an interesting concept, because they’re basically application programs that treat the browser as an operating system. We can have programs that run on top of programs running on top of other programs, all the way down to the hardware. I’ve tried out a number of browser add-ons over the years, some of them boring but useful utilities, while others are esoteric and interesting but have less practical value. Here are the top five that I’ve used in the last year or so…
With ISPs and campus admins spying on Internet users at unprecedented levels, shielding your web communications from prying eyes is more important than ever. Since a lot of websites still don’t use HTTPS by default, and adding “https : / /” to the beginning of URLs is something we easily forget to do, it’s useful to have a browser extension that automatically does that for us. HTTPSEverywhere is such an extension.
HTTPSEverywhere has a couple options that increase its usefulness. For added security you can tell it to refuse connections from any site that doesn’t let you use HTTPS. I sometimes enable this feature if I’m feeling extra paranoid about companies spying on me.
This is essentially an ad blocker on steroids. It stops intrusive ads that slip through the browser’s default ad blocker dead in their tracks.
uBlock Origin also lets you enter dynamic filtering rules as well as whitelist certain sites. It’s a good privacy feature as it allows you to get rid of Google Adsense ads that Google uses to track you across the web. And in the rare case that uBlock ends up blocking something that you actually need, you can always disable it for that particular domain.
Do you want to look and feel like a 1337 h4xx0r when surfing the web? Do you want to add a flare of mystery to your Internet activities and invoke awe and wonder in people who are looking over your shoulder? Look no further than the Dark Reader extension, available on the Chrome Store.
As you can see, Dark Reader provides a highly customizable dark theme for all websites, and it can be selectively enabled or disabled for individual domains. Usually I like to turn the contrast all the way up. That way the background color is pitch-black. Perfect for going into Night Mode!
User Agent Switcher
This extension allows you to spoof the User Agent string that identifies your specific browser to the server. It’s usually used by web developers for backwards-compatibility purposes, but it can also be a good privacy practice that can help prevent companies like Google from profiling and identifying you based on what browser you’re using.
User Agent Switcher allows you to select from a range of different commonly used browsers, though it seems to be limited mostly to old versions of those browsers. I don’t use it much these days because I found that certain websites like DeviantArt tend to complain if they think I’m using an out-of-date browser. I really think the developers should change this add-on to allow you to select current versions of browsers as well.
Live HTTP Headers
This is a nifty tool for examining and learning about the inner workings of the HTTP protocol. You turn it on before you issue a request to a server, and it literally catches all HTTP headers that were sent between the client and server and dumps them all in a separate window for you to look at. It shows you everything up to the beginning of the message body, including the request line or status line and all of the headers, and it pairs each response to the request that issued that response.
I discovered Live HTTP Headers over 10 years ago when I was first playing around with networking stuff. I thought it was really cool then, and I still think it’s really cool to this day. I love getting into the nitty-gritty details of computing, and this is an opportunity to do that. Most of what goes on in an HTTP transmission is controlled by the headers, so this basically lets you see everything that’s happening under the hood when your browser fetches a web page from the server.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my list of favorite browser extensions. Feel free to share in the comments what some of your favorite browser extensions and add-ons are. Also, feel free to check out and install the add-ons I’ve talked about, as they can easily be found with a simple web search.