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Synchronize your Firefox places to Dropbox and any other cloud storage service

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This is the second part of a series of articles related to Firefox, bookmarks, synchronisation and the cloud. The first part can be found here.

Do you want to know how to synchronize your Firefox places? Firefox Places, this is the annotations, bookmarks, favorite icons, input history, keywords, and browsing history (a record of visited pages). Have you ever thought about synching them to any cloud-based storage service, such as Dropbox, Ubuntu One, or your own servers? To directly get to the recipe, scroll down to “Solution…”.

Background

Some years ago -actually it was in the last millenium-, I used to keep my bookmarks organized. Everything was stored on my Firefox profile, which I synchronized to an external disk over rsync. This way, I could have my bookmarks sort of up to date. Then, about mid 2003, I moved to del.icio.us. I could export my links in Firefox and re-import them into del.icio.us; definitely delicious! I could have them accessible from any browser, I could add bookmarks using the “post to delicious” button and retrieve my bookmarks via “my del.icio.us” button.

Unfortunately in 2005 del.icio.us was acquired by Yahoo! Since then, I really hated it to have moved my precious bookmarks over there. But I had almost no time to move elsewhere (I am kind of workaholic) or investigate other options that came a bit later into the market, e.g. Diigo in 2006. I decided I would wait, although I was never satisfied with my frustrated solution. I tried to evaluate Diigo too, but they keep on telling me that “Your task is being processed. You will receive notification by email when it is done.” and neither the notification arrives nor can I see my former del.icio.us bookmarks. Moreover, the rumors about Yahoo! discontinuing del.icio.us and then deciding to move on with it, made me look for a better solution that deals with my whole places stuff, not only bookmarks.

Solution to backup your places over to a cloud service

Sync is a built-in feature in Firefox 4, designed to securely access your Firefox history, bookmarks, tabs and passwords across your devices. But I prefer to have control of where and how my bookmarks and passwords are backed up. The new Firefox Sync requires you to use Mozilla’s servers, or your own servers running a ton of software. SyncPlaces is a Firefox add-on that lets you use a simple web server to drop and pick up the files, with no special extra software required. You could even use a Flash drive, external disk or Samba share to do it, but I was looking for a cloud-based solution for my bookmarks.

I figured out how to use SyncPlaces securely together with Dropbox, or other cloud synching services like Ubuntu One. If you don’t have a Dropbox account yet, click here to create one for free. The first 2 GB are free and you can grow your account up to 8 GB. Rest assured that with 2 GB you can sync a lot of data without paying one single cent…!

These are the steps under Linux. They are very similar in Windows or MacOS. With Ubuntu One you also get 2 GB for free. The concept here is that you just need one task that periodically copies your places.sqlite file to a monitored / synched directory and voilà.

1. Open Firefox and install SyncPlaces. You can do it directly clicking here. As of this writing, the latest version of SyncPlaces is 4.1.0.

2. After installing the addon, you will be offered to enter the wizard for the config. Just cancel that window.

3. Then go to Firefox > Tools > Addons. Look for SyncPlaces and select it; then click on Preferences. You will see the following dialog:

SyncPlaces Server Connection

4. Now go to the Advanced Tab, and inside of it select the Encryption tab, then select AES and 256-bit.

SyncPlaces Advanced Tab Encryption

5. Next, go to the Options tab, select the Basic tab and click to select the Encrypt JSON option. You should always do this, no matter where you mean to synchronize the data.

SyncPlaces Options Basic

6. Let’s now configure the external storage options. It will work with Dropbox (or even a Flash drive or Samba share). Select the SyncPlaces Server tab and there the Connection tab. Now select the Protocol to be File as show in the pic below.

SyncPlaces Server Connection

7. Now go to the Synchronization tab and change the JSON path. I have different Firefox profiles, for example, one profile for my office Mac and one for my private PCs. Therefore I have created several folders in my Dropbox directory, one for each profile I ever need. For example, open your Dropbox folder and create a folder named Firefox. Inside of it create e.g. 2 folders, one for each profile you want to synchronize. After creating the folders you should have the following paths available (replace /your-username/ with your login name):

/home/your-username/Dropbox/Firefox/Personal/
/home/your-username/Dropbox/Firefox/Work/

8. Now, add the path to this folder in front of the default /syncplaces.json, so it looks like this:

SyncPlaces Server Synchronisation

/home/your-username/Dropbox/Firefox/Personal/syncplaces.json

9. I don’t save any passwords in Firefox, but if you do so, just check the Passwords box on the same page and also add /home/your-username/Dropbox/Firefox/Personal in front of the default /passwords file, so that it reads:

/home/your-username/Dropbox/Firefox/Personal/passwords

10. Under Windows you should replace /home/your-username/Dropbox with c:\Documents and Settings\your-username\My Dropbox. If you changed the default installation path you will have to look for your Dropbox folder.

11. Now we are ready. SyncPlaces will store your bookmarks and passwords in a Dropbox folder, that is automatically synced up over Dropbox to all your computers sharing that Dropbox account. By using 256-bit AES encryption, although a bit slower on some computers, your files will be safe on Dropbox’s cloud servers. In order to make sure the passwords you have stored are safe, you should turn on the Master Password option in Firefox.

Firefox Preferences Activate Master Pssword

12. You can also Enable FIPS. Go to Edit > Preferences > Advanced > Encryption > Security Devices and there click on Enable FIPS. What is FIPS? FIPS (“Federal Information Processing Standard”) documents define rules, regulations, and standards for many aspects of handling of information by computers and by people. They apply to all US government employees and personnel, including soldiers in the armed forces,  Generally speaking, any use of a computer by US government personnel must conform to all the relevant FIPS regulations. If you’re a US government worker, and you want to use a Mozilla software product such as Firefox, or any product that uses NSS, you will want to use it in a way that is fully compliant with all the relevant FIPS regulations. Some other governments have also adopted many of the FIPS regulations, so their applicability is somewhat wider than just the US government’s personnel.

Firefox Preferences Advanced Encryption

13. Now let’s automate the synchronisation. Open the Options tab and there Automation tab:

SyncPlaces Options Automation

Sync automatically – Delay 30 seconds (default)
Check both Receive on Startup and Send on shutdown
Synchronize at regular intervals (30 minutes default)

14. Now each time you start Firefox it will sync. The same goes when you close it, and every 30 minutes as well. This way, when you bookmark on one PC, in 30 minutes it will be on the other PC without doing anything else. If you want it to happen instantly just right-click on the SyncPlaces icon in the lower-right corner of Firefox and “Send Bookmarks/Passwords” in the first computer and “Receive Bookmarks/Passwords” in the second one.

15. If you don’t trust Dropbox, you can use e.g. Ubuntu One. Therefore you need to look for your Ubuntu One folder instead of Dropbox folder. You can usually find it under:

/home/your-username/Ubuntu One

Your step 7. folders would then be:

/home/your-username/Ubuntu One/Firefox/Personal
/home/your-username/Ubuntu One/Firefox/Work

Step 8. would be:

/home/your-username/Dropbox/Firefox/Personal/syncplaces.json

And step 9.:

/home/your-username/Ubuntu One/Firefox/Personal/passwords

16. If you want to sync to an external drive, look for the path under

/media/

NOTE: If you don’t have a Dropbox account yet, I would appreciate it that you signed up using my referral link, it’ll give both of us a free 250MB more space. And you can also start referring people and getting more free space in Dropbox.

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  1. December 19, 2010 at 20:43

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