Browser plugins

Cross-browser information about plugins. Information specific to particular browsers can be found in the references.

I mainly use Opera 12 and Firefox, so the information that follows may or may not apply to other browsers. It certainly does not apply to Internet Explorer, which uses a different type of plugin.

FINDING PLUGINS
Linux
First check your distribution’s package manager for plugins. If the plugin is proprietary, you may have to first enable a non-free repository. Otherwise, read on:

Other operating systems
Check Mozilla’s plugin page, even if you are seeking a plugin for another browser. As a last resort, use your favorite search engine.

INSTALLING PLUGINS
How plugins are installed is platform dependent. For Linux, installation packages are the norm, and for Windows, self-extracting executables are common.

Once you have installed all needed plugins, view your installed plugins. Review your installed plugins and disable or uninstall any you do not know you need. Some vendors, thinking themselves helpful, will ship browsers pre-bloated with plugins you might not need or want. Best practice is to disable or uninstall any plugin (or any software, for that matter) you do not need.

PARTICULAR PLUGINS
Adobe Reader
One plugin I always remove is Adobe Reader. Bloated, buggy, and a popular attack vector, it isn’t even needed. All you need is any well-written PDF reader and configure your browser to open PDFs using it. In Linux, you may find the Adobe Reader plugin in your package manager as “Acroread”.

Flash
Proprietary; widely considered buggy and insecure. The makers of Flash have at times used ambiguous language to refer to it, so you may see Flash labeled as “Shockwave Flash”. Do not confuse it with Shockwave, a different product and plugin from the same company. If you don’t know why you would need Shockwave in addition to or instead of Flash, then you don’t need it.

For Linux, some distributions carry Flash in their repositories; look for names such as flash-player-plugin. Otherwise, or for other operating systems, download the installer directly from Adobe. Take care to first deselect any bloatware being offered before running the installer.

I frequently observe that the download request connection times out. I know of no solution to this and simply keep retrying. You can automate this with wget, e.g. wget –tries=inf –server-response –timeout=120 http://fpdownload.macromedia.com/PATH/TO/FILE.rpm.

However you installed it, restart your browser and test your installation. Once tested, use the Settings Manager to lock down your privacy settings as appropriate. I set:

  • Global Privacy Settings – Camera and Microphone: Always ask.
  • Global Storage Settings – Allow third-party Flash content to store data on your computer: Disable.
  • Global Security Settings: Always ask.
  • Website Privacy Settings: Delete all sites, unless there are particular sites you wish to save non-default settings for.
  • Website Storage Settings: Delete all sites, unless there are particular sites you wish to save non-default settings for.
  • Peer-Assisted Networking: Delete all sites, and disable P2P uplink for all.

Update for Linux users: As of June 2012, the download page states “Adobe Flash Player 11.2 will be the last version to target Linux as a supported platform. Adobe will continue to provide security backports to Flash Player 11.2 for Linux.”

Java
I always disable or (better) remove the Java plugin. I need Java locally on my computer, but neither need nor want the security risk of a Java plugin in my browser. More information for Linux and Windows.

UNINSTALLING PLUGINS
Most plugins can be uninstalled using your operating system’s package manager (in Windows, that’s the Add and Remove Programs applet in the Control Panel). If you package manager can’t remove it, have your browser display the details of enabled plugins and use that information to remove the plugin’s executable file manually.

For example, on one computer Adobe Reader had not been installed using the package manager, so I had to uninstall it manually. Firefox’s about:plugins told me the executable was named nppdf.so, and the Linux command locate nppdf.so told me its full path was ~/.mozilla/plugins/nppdf.so, so I simply deleted that file.

REFERENCES
Plugin handling in Firefox and Opera

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About Warren Post

So far: Customer support guy, jungle guide, IT consultant, beach bum, entrepreneur, teacher, diplomat, over-enthusiastic cyclist. Tomorrow: who knows?
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2 Responses to Browser plugins

  1. Pingback: Setting up the Opera browser, version 12 | A maze of twisty little passages

  2. Pingback: Software I commonly install and remove | A maze of twisty little passages

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