TweetFollow Us on Twitter

MacEnterprise: Managing FireFox

Volume Number: 24
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: MacEnterprise

MacEnterprise: Managing FireFox

Configuring FireFox for your organization's environment

By Greg Neagle, MacEnterprise.org

Introduction

Although Safari is an excellent web browser, many organizations need to support Firefox as well for a variety of reasons. One very good reason is that it is a modern browser that runs natively on Windows, Linux, and OS X. If your organization supports multiple platforms, it makes sense to standardize on cross-platform applications like Firefox and Thunderbird when possible.

If you are supporting Firefox as a browser in your organization, you may need to pre-configure it for users in your environment. You may need to set up proxies, define your organization's home page as the default browser home page, and turn off application updates, among other things.

Unfortunately, Firefox does not respond to the Mac OS X administrator's standard bag of tricks for managing it. Workgroup Manager/MCX is of no use here, as the important settings are not stored in the org.mozilla.firefox.plist file in the user's preferences. By default, Firefox pays no attention to the system proxy settings. Even such time-honored tricks as copying in pre-defined preference files can be difficult with Firefox as it stores the user profiles at different paths, generated on the first run of Firefox.

A New Bag of Tricks

To manage Firefox in an enterprise environment, you'll need to learn a new bag of tricks. There are two things to learn:

How Firefox defines its preferences.

Where to define your preferences so Firefox will use them for all users on a given machine.

Firefox Preferences

Firefox is a descendant of the Mozilla browser, which was in turn descended from Netscape. Many of the mechanisms carry over from those browsers, and if you are looking for documentation on the Internet, you might want to broaden your search to those browsers as well.

Firefox uses JavaScript files to define its preferences. There are three JavaScript functions defined by Mozilla/Firefox you might use:

  • pref() - sets the current value of a preference. Useful for preferences you'd like to reset to defaults for each session, but to allow users to change during a session.
  • lockPref() - sets the value of a preference, and locks it so users can't change it. Useful to enforce certain policies.
  • defaultPref() - sets the default value of a preference. If the user has already set a value for this preference, this will have no effect.

What preferences can be set? You can get an idea of the vast array of available preferences by opening a Firefox window, and typing about:config into the URL field. If you are running Firefox 3, you might see a warning:


Ignore the sensationalism and click the "I'll be careful" button. You'll see a long list of available preferences:


Some of these correspond to preferences you can access from the Preferences window in Firefox, and others are hidden preferences. The important thing here is that you can get the preference name, its status, type and value, which you'll need in order to manage the preference.

In theory you can manage any of the preferences you find in about:config, but for this article we'll look at a subset. We'll explore how to manage proxy settings, the default browser check, and application updates. We'll also look at changing the default home page, but that actually uses a different technique, which we'll save for later.

Proxy Settings

To get started with managing the proxy settings, first configure them manually, using the Preferences window in Firefox:


In this example, I'm using an automatic proxy configuration URL, sometimes referred to as a "PAC file". Click OK, and once again, visit about:config. To narrow down what is displayed, type "proxy" in the Filter field:


The values we've set will have a status of "user set", and display in bold:


You can use a similar process to determine the correct names and values for most of the preferences you'd like to manage.

Here are the rest of the preferences we're going to manage for this article:


These control application and extension updates, updating the list of available search providers, and the check to see of Firefox is the default browser at launch. Since we are managing Firefox, we don't want users to be notified of newer versions of the application or extensions, and we don't want the user constantly prompted to set Firefox as the default browser.

Editing the Firebox Bundle

To actually get Firefox to use your desired preferences for all users of a given machine, you'll need to edit some files inside the Firefox.app bundle. You'll need to do the editing as either root (via the command line, perhaps using sudo), or as the owner of the files in the Firefox bundle; typically the admin user that installed Firefox.

Take care when editing. If you use a GUI editor, make sure you save any new or changed files as plain text and that no extra extensions are appended to the end of the filename.

You will start by editing the file /Applications/Firefox.app/Contents/MacOS/greprefs/all.js.

Add the following to the end of this file:

 // MyOrganization additions
pref("general.config.obscure_value", 0);
pref("general.config.filename", "firefox_AA.cfg");

Feel free to change "MyOrganization" to the actual name of your organization. What we're doing here is telling Firefox to read the file named here for additional configuration info. The "general.config.obscure.value" tells Firefox the file will be in plain text; by default it expects the file to be obscured with ROT13 encoding, where 13 is added to the ASCII value of every character. The reasons for this are lost in the mists of antiquity.

Save the /Applications/Firefox.app/Contents/MacOS/greprefs/all.js file. Now create a new file at /Applications/Firefox.app/Contents/MacOS/firefox_AA.cfg with the following contents:

// This file sets some prefs for use at MyOrganization
// and locks down some other prefs.
// set proxy config
pref("network.proxy.autoconfig_url", "http://www.myorg.org/auto.proxy");
pref("network.proxy.type", 2);
// disable application updates
lockPref("app.update.enabled", false);
lockPref("app.update.autoUpdateEnabled", false);
lockPref("extensions.update.enabled", false);
lockPref("extensions.update.autoUpdate", false);
lockPref("browser.search.update", false);
// disable default browser check
pref("browser.shell.checkDefaultBrowser", false);

Again, make sure you save it as a plain text file with the name "firefox_AA.cfg" in the directory "/Applications/Firefox.app/Contents/MacOS/". Double-check your work via the command line:

> cd /Applications/Firefox.app/Contents/MacOS/
> ls -al firefox_AA.cfg 
-rw-rw-r—  1 admin  admin  636 Jul 23 13:22 firefox_AA.cfg
> cat firefox_AA.cfg

That last command (cat firefox_AA.cfg) should return the exact contents you entered when you created the file.

In this example, we used two different commands: pref(), and lockPref(). For the proxy, I wanted the user to be able to modify the proxy if needed, but have it return to our recommended settings on the next launch. For the application updates, I wanted to prevent the user from turning these back on. Your requirements may differ.

With everything saved and double-checked, try launching Firefox. You should find these settings exactly as you specified, and in the case of the update prefs, locked:


Note how the corresponding controls are grayed-out and unavailable.

Default Home Page

One important preference is a little harder to manage: the default home page. You might get a clue of why this is so by looking at the preferences in about:config:


You'll see that the browser.startup.homepage points to another file, instead of just being a normal URL. You can set it to a normal URL, and it usually works, but I've found it unreliable. So instead of setting a preference, we'll edit the contents of browserconfig.properties:

Open /Applications/Firefox.app/Contents/MacOS/browserconfig.properties, delete its entire contents, and replace them with:

browser.startup.homepage=http://homepage.myorg.org
browser.startup.homepage_reset=http://homepage.myorg.org

Of course you want to substitute your own URL for the home page.

Now quit and relaunch Firefox. Unless you've set a custom home page, you'll be taken to the home page you defined. Users have the ability to override this if they want. If you truly wanted to enforce a home page, adding

pref("browser.startup.homepage", "http://homepage.myorg.org");
pref("browser.startup.homepage_reset", "http://homepage.myorg.org");

to /Applications/Firefox.app/Contents/MacOS/firefox_AA.cfg should get the behavior you want, but your users may dislike you.

Now that you've modified the Firefox.app bundle, you'll need to push out these changes to all your machines. I hope you have a software distribution mechanism in your organization!

More Info

Congratulations! You've added a few new tricks to your toolbox. For more information on Mozilla/Firefox preferences and configuration, check out these URLs:

http://kb.mozillazine.org/Firefox_:_FAQs_:_About:config_Entries

http://preferential.mozdev.org/preferences.html

http://developer.mozilla.org/en/Automatic_Mozilla_Configurator/Locked_config_settings


Greg Neagle is a member of the steering committee of the Mac OS X Enterprise Project (macenterprise.org) and is a senior systems engineer at a large animation studio. Greg has been working with the Mac since 1984, and with OS X since its release. He can be reached at gregneagle@mac.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Tips and tricks to get a higher score in...
Tank.iois - you guessed it! - another multiplayer arena battler likeAgar.io and Slither.io. It does differentiate itself by putting you in a tiny tank though, so it's not exactly the same. To help you get that all-important high score, we've got a... | Read more »
How to unlock characters in One Tap Tenn...
As the title suggests, One Tap Tennis requires only a single tap to play its particular brand of tennis, and rewards you with a ton of unlockable characters if you perform well. Fortunately for you, we at 148Apps have got a few tips and tricks to... | Read more »
Grab it now: Game Craft’s Legend of War...
The real time strategy game is now available for you to sink your teeth into, through the App Store and Google Play. Combining elements of skill, strategy and empire building, Legend of War is a real gamers’ game. [Read more] | Read more »
Skateboard Party 3 ft. Greg Lutzka (Gam...
Skateboard Party 3 ft. Greg Lutzka 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Skateboard Party is back! This third edition of the popular sports franchise features professional skater... | Read more »
Cubious (Games)
Cubious 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Cubious – How smart are you? How high is your IQube? Solve the impossible puzzles to find out, and help a lost little cube find his... | Read more »
Goat Simulator Waste of Space (Games)
Goat Simulator Waste of Space 1.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.1 (iTunes) Description: ** IMPORTANT - SUPPORTED DEVICESiPhone 4S, iPad 2, iPod Touch 5 or better.** | Read more »
Wildfulness - Unwind in nature and calm...
Wildfulness - Unwind in nature and calm your mind with nature sounds and illustrations 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Healthcare & Fitness Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Spending time in nature helps you to... | Read more »
Dr. Panda Racers (Education)
Dr. Panda Racers 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Education Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: STEP ON THE GAS, RACE AND WIN!Fasten your seat belts and get ready to race! Speed your way to the finish line while doing... | Read more »
ROMANCING SAGA 2 (Games)
ROMANCING SAGA 2 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $17.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Romancing SaGa 2, originally released only in Japan in 1993, has been completely remastered and now receives its first... | Read more »
WRIO Keyboard (Utilities)
WRIO Keyboard 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Utilities Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: 40% OFF DURING LIMITED INTRODUCTORY OFFER | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Enterprise Workers Pick Technology Over Perks...
New Adobe study shows surprising attitudes about office jobs and where the future of work is heading. Adobe has released survey findings revealing that a surprising 70 percent of U.S. office workers... Read more
Goal Zero and OtterBox Partner to Expand iPh...
Goal Zero, specialists in portable power, have announced a partnership with OtterBox, brand smartphone case protection, to offer the Slide and Slide Plus Batteries as modules compatible with the new... Read more
15-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to...
B&H Photo has 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $210 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1799 $200 off MSRP - 15″ 2.5GHz Retina... Read more
Clearance 2015 13-inch MacBook Airs available...
B&H Photo has clearance 2015 13″ MacBook Airs available for $250 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 1.6GHz/4GB/128GB MacBook Air (MJVE2LL/A): $799... Read more
Apple refurbished Apple TVs available for up...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 32GB and 64GB Apple TVs available for up to $30 off the cost of new models. Apple’s standard one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: -... Read more
21-inch iMacs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 21″ iMacs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 21″ 3.1GHz iMac 4K: $1379.99 $120 off MSRP - 21″ 2.8GHz iMac: $1189 $110 off MSRP - 21″ 1... Read more
Kanex Introduces GoPower USB-C Rechargeable B...
Kanex has announced its GoPower USB-C portable battery for the USB-C MacBook, featuring the new industry standard connector and cable used for connectivity and power. Providing users with a new... Read more
Convertible and Detachable Devices Winning Ov...
According to the latest figures published by International Data Corporation (IDC), Western European shipments of ultraslim convertibles and detachables posted positive growth (44.7%) to account for... Read more
New MacBook Pros And Will MacBook Air Be Upgr...
With my mid-2013 13-inch MacBook Air closing on its third anniversary come November, I’m in system upgrade mode. Actually the Haswell CPU equipped Air is still doing a fine job, but my good wife is... Read more
Apple’s Education discount saves up to $300 o...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad using Apple’s Education Store and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free, and... Read more

Jobs Board

Automotive Sales Consultant - Apple Ford Linc...
…you. The best candidates are smart, technologically savvy and are customer focused. Apple Ford Lincoln Apple Valley is different, because: $30,000 annual salary Read more
Service Assistant - *Apple* Chevrolet *App...
Apple Automotive is one of the fastest growing dealer...and it shows. Consider making the switch to the Apple Automotive Group today! At Apple Automotive, we Read more
Editor, *Apple* News - APPLE (United States...
Job Summary The Apple News team is looking for a passionate and knowledgeable editor with experience covering entertainment/pop culture and experience running social Read more
*Apple* Nissan Service Technicians - Apple A...
Apple Automotive is one of the fastest growing dealer...and it shows. Consider making the switch to the Apple Automotive Group today! At Apple Automotive , Read more
ISCS *Apple* ID Site Support Engineer - APP...
…position, we are looking for an individual who has experience supporting customers with Apple ID issues and enjoys this area of support. This person should be Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.