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

Skype 7.5.0.738 - Voice-over-internet ph...
Skype allows you to talk to friends, family and co-workers across the Internet without the inconvenience of long distance telephone charges. Using peer-to-peer data transmission technology, Skype... Read more
PushPal 3.0 - Mirror Android notificatio...
PushPal is a client for Pushbullet, which automatically shows you all of your phone's notifications right on your computer. This means you can see who's calling or read text messages even if your... Read more
Logic Pro X 10.1.1 - Music creation and...
Apple Logic Pro X is the most advanced version of Logic ever. Sophisticated new tools for professional songwriting, editing, and mixing are built around a modern interface that's designed to get... Read more
VLC Media Player 2.2.0 - Popular multime...
VLC Media Player is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, MP3, OGG, ...) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. It... Read more
Sound Studio 4.7.8 - Robust audio record...
Sound Studio lets you easily record and professionally edit audio on your Mac. Easily rip vinyls and digitize cassette tapes, or record lectures and voice memos. Prepare for live shows with live... Read more
LibreOffice 4.4.1.2 - Free, open-source...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
VueScan 9.5.03 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more
Freeway Pro 7.0.3 - Drag-and-drop Web de...
Freeway Pro lets you build websites with speed and precision... without writing a line of code! With its user-oriented drag-and-drop interface, Freeway Pro helps you piece together the website of... Read more
Cloud 3.3.0 - File sharing from your men...
Cloud is simple file sharing for the Mac. Drag a file from your Mac to the CloudApp icon in the menubar and we take care of the rest. A link to the file will automatically be copied to your clipboard... Read more
Cyberduck 4.6.5 - FTP and SFTP browser....
Cyberduck is a robust FTP/FTP-TLS/SFTP browser for the Mac whose lack of visual clutter and cleverly intuitive features make it easy to use. Support for external editors and system technologies such... Read more

Get The Whole Story – Lone Wolf Complete...
Get The Whole Story – Lone Wolf Complete is Now Available and On Sale Posted by Jessica Fisher on February 27th, 2015 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Who Wore it Best? The Counting Dead vs....
Like it or not, the “clicker” genre, popularized by cute distractions like Candy Box and Cookie Clicker, seems like it’s here to stay. So Who Wore it Best? takes a look at two recent examples: The Counting Dead and AdVenture Capitalist. | Read more »
Card Crawl, the Mini Deck Building Game,...
Card Crawl, the Mini Deck Building Game, is Coming Soon Posted by Jessica Fisher on February 27th, 2015 [ permalink ] Tinytouchtales and Mexer have announced their new game, | Read more »
Witness an all new puzzle mechanic in Bl...
Well, BlastBall MAX is not one of those games and is bucking trends such as timers, elements of randomness, and tacked-on mechanics in favor of pure puzzle gameplay. When you first boot up the game you’ll see a grid made up of squares that are each... | Read more »
This Princess Has a Dragon and She isn’t...
This Princess Has a Dragon and She isn’t Afraid to Useit. | Read more »
Mecha Showdown Review
Mecha Showdown Review By Lee Hamlet on February 27th, 2015 Our Rating: :: IN A SPINUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Mecha Showdown replaces traditional buttons with a slot machine mechanic in this robot fighting game,... | Read more »
Reliance Games and Dreamworks Unveil Rea...
Reliance Games and Dreamworks Unveil Real Steel Champions Posted by Ellis Spice on February 27th, 2015 [ permalink ] Reliance Games and Dreamworks have announced that a third game in | Read more »
Sum Idea Review
Sum Idea Review By Jennifer Allen on February 27th, 2015 Our Rating: :: TAXING NUMBERSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Sum Idea is a fairly charming but taxing puzzle game.   | Read more »
A New Badland Update Brings Daydream Lev...
A New Badland Update Brings Daydream Levels to Co-Op Posted by Ellis Spice on February 27th, 2015 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Slashing Demons Review
Slashing Demons Review By Lee Hamlet on February 27th, 2015 Our Rating: :: IT'S A LONG WAY TO THE TOPUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Slashing Demons lacks the depth or scope to take it beyond the point of being just... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple Launches Free Web-Based Pages and Other...
Apple’s new Web-only access to iWork productivity apps is a free level of iCloud service available to anyone, including people who don’t own or use Apple devices. The service includes access to Apple... Read more
Survey Reveals Solid State Disk (SSD) Technol...
In a recent SSD technology use survey, Kroll Ontrack, a firm specializing in data recovery, found that while nearly 90 percent of respondents leverage the performance and reliability benefits of SSD... Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
The Apple Store is offering Apple Certified Refurbished Mac Pros for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The... Read more
Updated Mac Price Trackers
We’ve updated our Mac Price Trackers with the latest information on prices, bundles, and availability on systems from Apple’s authorized internet/catalog resellers: - 15″ MacBook Pros - 13″ MacBook... Read more
Apple CEO Tim Cook to Deliver 2015 George Was...
Apple CEO Tim Cook will deliver the George Washington University’s Commencement address to GWU grads on May 17, at which time he will also be awarded an honorary doctorate of public service from the... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished Mac minis for up t...
The Apple Store has restocked Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 Mac minis, with models available starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 1.4GHz... Read more
Save up to $50 on iPad Air 2s, NY tax only, f...
 B&H Photo has iPad Air 2s on sale for $50 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $469.99 $30 off - 64GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $549 $50 off - 128GB iPad Air 2... Read more
16GB iPad Air 2 on sale for $447, save $52
Walmart has the 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi on sale for $446.99 on their online store for a limited time. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale price for online orders only,... Read more
iMacs on sale for up to $205 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $205 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 21″ 1.4GHz iMac: $1029 $70 off - 21″ 2.7GHz iMac: $1199 $100 off - 21″ 2.9GHz... Read more
Apple Takes 89 Percent Share of Global Smartp...
According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, global smartphone operating profit reached US$21 billion in Q4 2014. The Android operating system captured a record-low 11 percent global... Read more

Jobs Board

Sr. Technical Services Consultant, *Apple*...
**Job Summary** Apple Professional Services (APS) has an opening for a senior technical position that contributes to Apple 's efforts for strategic and transactional Read more
Event Director, *Apple* Retail Marketing -...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global engagement strategy and team. Delivering an overarching brand Read more
*Apple* Pay - Site Reliability Engineer - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** As an Apple Solutions Consultant (ASC) you are the link between our customers and our products. Your role is to drive the Apple business in a retail Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.