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

Mellel 3.5.5 - The word processor for sc...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical writing and multilingual... Read more
Bookends 12.8.3 - Reference management a...
Bookends is a full-featured bibliography/reference and information-management system for students and professionals. Bookends uses the cloud to sync reference libraries on all the Macs you use.... Read more
Carbon Copy Cloner 4.1.18 - Easy-to-use...
Carbon Copy Cloner backups are better than ordinary backups. Suppose the unthinkable happens while you're under deadline to finish a project: your Mac is unresponsive and all you hear is an ominous,... Read more
Hopper Disassembler 4.2.14- - Binary dis...
Hopper Disassembler is a binary disassembler, decompiler, and debugger for 32- and 64-bit executables. It will let you disassemble any binary you want, and provide you all the information about its... Read more
BetterTouchTool 2.291 - Customize Multi-...
BetterTouchTool adds many new, fully customizable gestures to the Magic Mouse, Multi-Touch MacBook trackpad, and Magic Trackpad. These gestures are customizable: Magic Mouse: Pinch in / out (zoom... Read more
Sound Studio 4.8.11 - Robust audio recor...
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
Sound Studio 4.8.11 - Robust audio recor...
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
BetterTouchTool 2.291 - Customize Multi-...
BetterTouchTool adds many new, fully customizable gestures to the Magic Mouse, Multi-Touch MacBook trackpad, and Magic Trackpad. These gestures are customizable: Magic Mouse: Pinch in / out (zoom... Read more
Carbon Copy Cloner 4.1.18 - Easy-to-use...
Carbon Copy Cloner backups are better than ordinary backups. Suppose the unthinkable happens while you're under deadline to finish a project: your Mac is unresponsive and all you hear is an ominous,... Read more
Hopper Disassembler 4.2.14- - Binary dis...
Hopper Disassembler is a binary disassembler, decompiler, and debugger for 32- and 64-bit executables. It will let you disassemble any binary you want, and provide you all the information about its... Read more

The best 2v2 card combos in Clash Royale
2v2 is making it's grand return toClash Royalequite soon. 2v2 has quickly become one of the game's most popular gameplay modes, though they still have yet to make it a permanent fixture in the game. 2v2 is exciting and adds some new flavor to... | Read more »
The best games we played this week - Aug...
Another busy week has come to a close. We played a lot of excellent games this week and now it's time to look back and reflect on some our favorites. Here are our picks for the week of August 18. [Read more] | Read more »
War Wings beginner's guide - how to...
War Wings is the newest project from well-established game maker Miniclip. It's a World War II aerial dogfighting game with loads of different airplane models to unlock and battle. The game offers plenty of single player and multiplayer action. We... | Read more »
How to win every 2v2 battle in Clash Roy...
2v2 is coming back to Clash Royale in a big way. Although it's only been available for temporary periods of time, 2v2 has seen a hugely positive fan response, with players clamoring for more team-based gameplay. Soon we'll get yet another taste of... | Read more »
Roll to Win with Game of Dice’s new upda...
Joycity’s hit Game of Dice gets a big new update this week, introducing new maps, mechanics, and even costumes. The update sets players loose on an exciting new map, The Cursed Tower, that allows folks to use special Runes mid-match. If you feel... | Read more »
Bottom of the 9th (Games)
Bottom of the 9th 1.0.1 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: Play the most exciting moment of baseball in this fast-paced dice and card game! | Read more »
The best apps for viewing the solar ecli...
If you somehow missed the news, many parts of the United States will be witness to a total solar eclipse on August 21 for the first time in over 90 years. It'll be possible to see the eclipse in at least some capacity throughout the continental U... | Read more »
The 5 best mobile survival games
Games like ARK: Survival Evolved and Conan Exiles have taken the world of gaming by storm. The market is now flooded with hardcore survival games that send players off into the game's world with nothing but maybe the clothes on their back. Never... | Read more »
Portal Walk (Games)
Portal Walk 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Portal Walk is adventure and relaxing platform game about Eugene. Eugene stuck between worlds and trying to find way back home.... | Read more »
Technobabylon (Games)
Technobabylon 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: City of Newton, 2087. Genetic engineering is the norm, the addictive Trance has replaced almost any need for human interaction,... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

15-inch 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro, Apple refu...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pros available for $1699. That’s $300 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for a 15″ MacBook Pro. An Apple one-year warranty is... Read more
Apple refurbished Mac minis available startin...
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
Apple refurbished iPad Pros available startin...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2016 12″ WiFi iPad Pros available starting at $589. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: – 32GB 12″ iPad Pro WiFi: $589... Read more
Weekend sale: 13-inch MacBook Pros for up to...
Amazon has new 2017 13″ MacBook Pros on sale today for up to $200 off MSRP, each including free shipping: – 13″ 3.1GHz/256GB Space Gray MacBook Pro (MPXV2LL/A): $1599.99 $200 off MSRP – 13″ 3.1GHz/... Read more
Back To School With The Edge Desk All-in-one...
Back to school is just around the corner, and the ergonomically correct Edge Desk all-in-one portable kneeling desk is ideal for students living in dorms and small apartments, Edge Desk features:... Read more
Norton Core Secure Wi-Fi Router Now Available...
First introduced at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Norton Core, a secure, high-performance Wi-Fi router, fundamentally changed the concept of Wi-Fi routers by making security the primary... Read more
ViewSonic Adds New 27-inch 4K UHD Monitor to...
ViewSonic Corp. has introduced the VP2785-4K, a 27-inch 4K UHD (3840×2160) monitor that delivers precise and consistent color representation and performance to ensure incredible image quality. Built... Read more
Apple now offering Certified Refurbished 2017...
Apple is now offering Certified Refurbished 2017 27″ iMacs for up to $350 off original MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. The following models are available: – 27″ 3.... Read more
13-inch 2.3GHz MacBook Pros on sale for $100...
Amazon has the new 2017 13″ 2.3GHz MacBook Pros on sale today for $100 off MSRP, each including free shipping: – 13″ 2.3GHz/128GB Space Gray MacBook Pro (MPXQ2LL/A): $1199.99 $100 off MSRP – 13″ 2.... Read more
Clearance 2016 13-inch MacBook Airs available...
B&H Photo has clearance 2016 13″ MacBook Airs available for up to $200 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY & NJ sales tax only: – 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air (MMGF2LL... Read more

Jobs Board

Development Operations and Site Reliability E...
Development Operations and Site Reliability Engineer, Apple Payment Gateway Job Number: 57572631 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: Jul. 27, 2017 Read more
Frameworks Engineering Manager, *Apple* Wat...
Frameworks Engineering Manager, Apple Watch Job Number: 41632321 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: Jun. 15, 2017 Weekly Hours: 40.00 Job Summary Read more
Map Quality Analyst Lead, *Apple* Maps Eval...
…a team of subject matter experts measuring the quality of a range of Apple Maps algorithms, such as Map search, recommendations, and routing. Our group works with Read more
Business Development Manager, *Apple* Pay -...
Job Summary Apple Pay is seeking an experienced Business Development professional to join the Apple Pay team to develop partnerships and strategic alliances with Read more
Information Systems Engineer, *Apple* Retai...
Job Summary Do you have a passion for the technology and systems that make Apple amazing? Are you interested in joining IS&T Retail on what they do best? This is an Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.