||Take Firefox with You
Install a portable version of Firefox so that
you can move from computer to computer
This hack explains how to take Firefox with you wherever you go. You
can install Firefox on a number of mobile devices. Whether it can run
directly on the device, write data there, or merely be stored
conveniently depends on the device. We'll consider
A server-based virtual private network (VPN)
A roaming VPN
A mobile consumer device, such as a digital camera, mobile phone, or
A USB drive
A RAM drive
It's the so-called removable media (USB and RAM
drives) that are the interesting cases. Let's
briefly dispose of the other possibilities first.
If you install Firefox on a
laptop, you can surf the Web using that
laptop from anywhere that TCP/IP connectivity is in place—a
WiFi hotspot, for example. It's up to you to ensure
that the laptop acts as its own firewall, or else that it correctly
establishes a VPN with the organization that you're
using as an Internet gateway. If that's done,
Firefox typically just needs to be set up direct
connect with no proxy.
VPN runs Firefox on your computer after the
install area is loaded from the server disk. All you need is
file-sharing access and perhaps server login [Hack #14].
VPN runs Firefox from a local or remote
installation, but it also replicates your profile area from a central
server to local disk. At the moment, this has to be set up using
special network admin steps . Automatic roaming is not
supported in Firefox 1.0, but at the time of this writing, this
functionality is close to being finished. Perhaps it will be
available in Version 1.1.
Mobile Consumer Devices
Memory-rich consumer devices
such as digital cameras can sometimes be recognized as USB or
Bluetooth drives by a host computer. In this case, they operate just
like a USB key drive and can perform the same way, as discussed in
the following section.
The press has reported that a version of Mozilla is slated to run
directly inside Nokia mobile phones, and possibly in another
vendor's mobile phones as well. Such versions
aren't strictly Firefox but do display pages using
the same Gecko technology as Firefox.
Here's where things start to get interesting. If you
can carry Firefox on a USB drive, you can plug it in and
run it wherever you go.
There are several options for USB-based Firefox installs. The
simplest is to put the standard Firefox installer on the key drive
and install it everywhere you go, like Johnny Appleseed planting
apples. That puts both the install area and the profile area on the
local hard disk, and none of your profile files move with you.
John Haller has repackaged and reconfigured the official Firefox 1.0
PortableFirefox, which can run
entirely from USB. This means the install area and the profile area
are both retained on the USB drive while Firefox runs. See his work
and get his package at
This package is too large to fit on a floppy disk, but it will fit on
a Zip drive. Zip drives, however, are slow to access. PortableFirefox
contains official Firefox software.
Use a USB launcher
If you don't want to be tied to a custom
distribution, you can use the Firefox Launcher tools, available at
The Firefox Launcher is a small Windows
program that starts up Firefox once you've installed
the profile and install areas on the USB key. Install it on the USB
key as well. A trivial launcher can also be made using a simple
.bat file. It need only contain the following
start \install\Firefox\Firefox.exe -profile \profiles\ProfileName
Here, the install and profile areas are preloaded to the equivalent
directories on the USB drive.
Build a USB-aware Firefox
Finally, another alternative is to smarten Firefox up so that it
scans for profiles on any USB drives that are plugged in. This leaves
the install area on the local computer, and the profile data (your
important data) follows you wherever you go. This link describes a
customization that provides this feature, but at the time of writing,
you have to be able to compile Firefox with these changes in place
The Mozilla Thunderbird email product has formally planned support
for USB drives. The benefits of that work will probably also benefit
Firefox, but most likely not until a minor version later than 1.0.
Read the release notes for Firefox 1.1 and later versions to see if
that feature has arrived yet.
If you can make Firefox run from a RAM drive, you're
one step closer to running it from any drive, anywhere. This URL
describes how to put Portable Firefox on a
RAM drive on Windows:
RAM drives are somewhat overkill on Linux/Unix. To put Firefox in RAM
on Unix, simply execute these commands, which load all Firefox files
into the disk buffer cache, where they are subsequently accessed at
! -type d | xargs cat > /dev/nullfind
! -type d | xargs cat > /dev/null
This will not, however, remove the need for a disk drive, and neither
will it keep Firefox in memory if the system has heavy disk access.
At the time of writing, there is not yet a
Knoppix-like CD distribution of
Firefox alone, although Knoppix distributions exist that include
Firefox. For a real, memory-locked Firefox on Linux or Solaris,
create a tmpfs filesystem and install, copy, or
load standard Firefox there each time you need to use it. Knoppix
distributions automate that process but allow bookmarks to be stored
only until the PC is rebooted.
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