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

Rodeo Stampede guide to running a better...
In Rodeo Stampede, honing your skills so you can jump from animal to animal and outrun the herd as long as possible is only half the fun. Once you've tamed a few animals, you can bring them home with you. [Read more] | Read more »
VoxSyn (Music)
VoxSyn 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $6.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: VoxSyn turns your voice into the most flexible vocal sound generator ever. Instantly following even subtle modulations of pitch and... | Read more »
Catch Battleplans on Google Play from Ju...
Real-time strategy title Battleplans is due for release on Google Play on June 30th, following its release for iOS systems last month. With its simple interface and pretty graphics, the crowd-pleaser brings a formerly overlooked genre out for the... | Read more »
iDoyle: The interactive Adventures of Sh...
iDoyle: The interactive Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - A Scandal in Bohemia 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Books Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Special Release Price $1.99 (Normally $3.99) | Read more »
Five popular free apps to help you slim...
Thanks to retail and advertising, we're used to thinking one season ahead. Here we are just a week into the summer and we're conditioned to start thinking about the fall. [Read more] | Read more »
How to ride longer and tame more animals...
It's hard to accurately describe Rodeo Stampede to people who haven't seen it yet. It's like if someone took Crossy Roadand Disco Zoo and put them in a blender, yet with a unique game mechanic that's still simple and fun for anyone. [Read more] | Read more »
Teeny Titans - A Teen Titans Go! Figure...
Teeny Titans - A Teen Titans Go! Figure Battling Game 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Teeny Titans, GO! Join Robin for a figure battling RPG of epic proportions! TEENY... | Read more »
NinjAwesome: Tips and tricks to be a mor...
Sorry about that headline, but I'm going to go ahead and assume that GameResort would not have named its game NinjAwesome without expecting some of that. It is, in fact, pretty awesome the way it combines an endless runner and old school arcade... | Read more »
Into Mirror (Games)
Into Mirror 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: "Is all that we see or seem, but a dream within a dream?"- Edgar Allan Poe New game by Lemon Jam Studio, the team behind Pursuit... | Read more »
Perchang (Games)
Perchang 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Welcome to Perchang! A test of skill and puzzle solving across 60 stunning levels. | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

15-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for $200-...
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: $1799.99 $200 off MSRP - 15″ 2.5GHz... Read more
Mac minis on sale for up to $100 off MSRP
B&H Photo has Mac minis on sale for up to $100 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $449 $50 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac mini: $649 $50 off MSRP - 2.8GHz Mac mini... Read more
Clearance 2015 13-inch MacBook Airs available...
B&H Photo has clearance 2015 13″ MacBook Airs available for $300 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 Mac minis available for up...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac minis available starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $419 $80 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac... Read more
ABBYY TextGrabber: 1,000,000 Installs in 5 Da...
ABBYY, an international OCR technologies provider, has announced that their image-to-text application TextGrabber, got installed 1,000,000 times in just five days while being featured by the App... Read more
New SkinIt Waterproof Case For iPhone 6
With its impact and waterproof design, the Skinit Waterproof case provides security and protection to guarantee your phone will get you through even the most demanding outdoor conditions. The impact-... Read more
iMacs on sale for up to $150 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $150 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 27″ 3.3GHz iMac 5K: $2181.11 $118 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB Fusion iMac 5K: $1949... Read more
12-inch 1.1GHz Retina MacBooks on sale for $5...
B&H Photo has 2016 12″ 1.1GHz/256GB Retina MacBooks on sale for up to $50 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 12″ 1.1GHz Space Gray Retina MacBook: $1249 $50 off MSRP... Read more
WWDC Announcements Revisited Still Underwhelm...
I was disappointed that no new MacBook hardware was announced at this year’s all-software World Wide Developer’s Conference. Not even a hint about what’s in the development pipeline. Of course, we... Read more
Twelve South Compass 2 iPad Stand Now Availab...
Twelve South has updated its most popular iPad stand, Compass 2, with the introduction of two new colors — Gold and Rose Gold. These new color options n perfectly complement the new Rose Gold iPad... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* New Products Testers Needed - Apple...
…we therefore look forward to put out products to quality test for durability. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store, Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - APPLE (United...
Job Summary As an Apple Solutions Consultant, you'll be the link between our future customers and our products. You'll showcase your entrepreneurial spirit as you Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions, Towson...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Professional Learning Specialist - A...
Job Summary The Apple Professional Learning Specialist is a full-time position for one year with Apple in the Phoenix, AZ area. This position requires a high Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.