Wandering Thoughts archives

2020-01-08

Why I use both uBlock Origin and uMatrix

In response to my entry on my current Firefox addons, hwj asked a good question in the lobste.rs comments:

Isn’t uMatrix an advanced version of uBlock Origin? What’s the rationale behind using both of them?

While it's true that uMatrix and uBlock Origin have overlapping functionality (and are written by the same person), they have different purposes and focuses. uBlock Origin's focus is blocking ads and other undesired things as an out of the box experience with little configuration needed. uMatrix's focus is on exerting tight and highly specific control over what resources a page is allowed to load and use, including Javascript and cookies (and requires a lot of configuration).

(One significant difference in features is that uBlock Origin can remove HTML elements from HTML pages, while uMatrix has no support for this. Selectively removing HTML elements is extremely important for blocking ads, but it's not relevant if you're blocking entire HTTP requests. I believe that uMatrix's HTML modifications are limited to blocking inline Javascript.)

You can block Javascript with uBlock Origin and it's somewhat easier in simpler cases than using uMatrix, but you don't have the fine control over Javascript that uMatrix gives you (and this improves my experience of the web). Nor do you get the control over cookies and other types of resources, which is a deliberate simplification on uBlock Origin's part. At the same time, uMatrix doesn't give you sophisticated adblocking or things like making unwanted page elements go away, including those annoying permanent headers and footers.

So the reason that I use both of them is that they do different things for me. uBlock Origin removes ads and unwanted page elements, while uMatrix blocks Javascript, cookies, and so on. If I just wanted adblocking, element zapping, and blocking Javascript, I could probably use uBlock Origin alone, but I definitely want cookie blocking as well and I usually like the fine-grained control uMatrix gives me over other things as well.

(Writing this has given me a new appreciation for the difference between the blocklist sources included in uMatrix and the filter lists included in uBlock Origin. The blocklists uMatrix uses just list hosts, because that's what uMatrix deals with. uBlock Origin's filter lists include all sorts of sophisticated matching rules to make HTML elements disappear, as well as some host lists. Having just checked it now, I believe that all of the default uMatrix hosts lists are also in uBlock Origin, although they may not all be enabled by default.)

UBlockOriginAndUMatrix written at 21:32:46; Add Comment

My Firefox addons as of Firefox '74' (the current development version)

As I write this, Firefox 72 is the just released version of Firefox and 73 is in beta, but my primary Firefox is still a custom hacked version that I build from the development tree, so it most closely corresponds to what will be released as Firefox 74 in a certain amount of time (I've lost track of how fast Firefox makes releases). Since it's been about ten versions of Firefox (and more than a year) since the last time I covered my addons, it's time for another revisit of this perennial topic. Many of the words will be familiar from the last time, because my addons seem to have stabilized now.

My core addons, things that I consider more or less essential for my experience of Firefox, are:

  • Foxy Gestures (Github) is probably still the best gestures extension for me for modern versions of Firefox (but I can't say for sure, because I no longer investigate alternatives).

    (I use some custom gestures in my Foxy Gestures configuration that go with some custom hacks to my Firefox to add support for things like 'view page in no style' as part of the WebExtensions API.)

  • uBlock Origin (Github) is my standard 'block ads and other bad stuff' extension, and also what I use for selectively removing annoying elements of pages (like floating headers and footers).

  • uMatrix (Github) is my primary tool for blocking Javascript and cookies. uBlock Origin could handle the Javascript, but not really the cookies as far as I know, and in any case uMatrix gives me finer control over Javascript which I think is a better fit with how the web does Javascript today.

  • Cookie AutoDelete (Github) deals with the small issue that uMatrix doesn't actually block cookies, it just doesn't hand them back to websites. This is probably what you want in uMatrix's model of the world (see my entry on this for more details), but I don't want a clutter of cookies lingering around, so I use Cookie AutoDelete to get rid of them under controlled circumstances.

    (However unaesthetic it is, I think that the combination of uMatrix and Cookie AutoDelete is necessary to deal with cookies on the modern web. You need something to patrol around and delete any cookies that people have somehow managed to sneak in.)

  • Stylus has become necessary for me after Google changed their non-Javascript search results page to basically be their Javascript search results without Javascript, instead of the much nicer and more useful old version. I use Stylus to stop search results escaping off the right side of my browser window.

Additional fairly important addons that would change my experience if they weren't there:

  • Textern (Github) gives me the ability to edit textareas in a real editor. I use it all the time when writing comments here on Wandering Thoughts, but not as much as I expected on other places, partly because increasingly people want you to write things with all of the text of a paragraph run together in one line. Textern only works on Unix (or maybe just Linux) and setting it up takes a bit of work because of how it starts an editor (see this entry), but it works pretty smoothly for me.

    (I've changed its key sequence to Ctrl+Alt+E, because the original Ctrl+Shift+E no longer works great on Linux Firefox; see issue #30. Textern itself shifted to Ctrl+Shift+D in recent versions.)

  • Open in Browser (Github) allows me to (sometimes) override Firefox's decision to save files so that I see them in the browser instead. I mostly use this for some PDFs and some text files. Sadly its UI isn't as good and smooth as it was in pre-Quantum Firefox.

  • Cookie Quick Manager (Github) allows me to inspect, manipulate, save, and reload cookies and sets of cookies. This is kind of handy every so often, especially saving and reloading cookies.

The remaining addons I use I consider useful or nice, but not all that important on the large scale of things. I could lose them without entirely noticing the difference in my Firefox:

  • Certainly Something (Github) is my TLS certificate viewer of choice. I occasionally want to know the information it shows me, especially for our own sites.

  • HTTP/2 Indicator (Github) does what it says; it provides a little indicator as to whether HTTP/2 was active for the top-level page.

  • Link Cleaner cleans the utm_ fragments and so on out of URLs when I follow links. It's okay; I mostly don't notice it and I appreciate the cleaner URLs.

    (It also prevents some degree of information leakage to the target website about where I found their link, but I don't really care about that. I'm still sending Referer headers, after all.)

  • HTTPS Everywhere, basically just because. But in a web world where more and more sites are moving to using things like HSTS, I'm not sure HTTPS Everywhere is all that important any more.

Some of my previous extensions have stopped being useful since last time. They are:

  • My Google Search URL Fixup, because Google changed its search pages (as covered above for Stylus) and it became both unnecessary and non-functional. I should probably update its official description to note this, but Google's actions made me grumpy and lazy.

  • Make Medium Readable Again (also, Github) used to deal with a bunch of annoyances for Medium-hosted stuff, but then Medium changed their CSS and it hasn't been updated for that. I can't blame the extension's author; keeping up with all of the things that sites like Medium do to hassle you is a thankless and never-ending job.

I still have both of these enabled in my Firefox, mostly because it's more work to remove them than to let them be. In the case of MMRA, perhaps its development will come back to life again and a new version will be released.

(There are actually some branches in the MMRA Github repo and a bunch of forks of it, some of which are ahead of the main one. Possibly people are quietly working away on this.)

I have some Firefox profiles that are for when I want to use Javascript (they actually use the official Mozilla Linux Firefox release these days, which I just updated to Firefox 72). In these profiles, I also use Decentraleyes (also), which is a local CDN emulation so that less of my traffic is visible to CDN operators. I don't use it in my main Firefox because I'm not certain how it interacts with me blocking (most) Javascript setup, and also much of what's fetched from CDNs is Javascript, which obviously isn't applicable to me.

(There are somewhat scary directions in the Decentraleyes wiki on making it work with uMatrix. I opted to skip them entirely.)

Firefox74Addons written at 01:56:48; Add Comment


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