One-click Firefox searching

Why cut and paste text into the Firefox search box when you can add unlimited search URLs to the right-click context menu? Just highlight, click, and search.

Advanced URL Builder

Right-click, then select Find using... to query any URL.

(Credit: CNET)

Like many other Download.com staffers, I use a customized version of Mozilla Firefox. I run the Littlefox theme to maximize real estate, Tab Mix Plus to manage my myriad tabs, and a few other essential add-ons like CustomizeGoogle and Greasemonkey for specific functionality.

The most noticeable tweak in my version of Firefox is the lack of a search-engine box in the upper-right corner of the browser. Back in summer 2007, I explained how and why I killed it. In essence, I replaced the functionality of the Firefox search engines--annoying to manage--with keyword-activated bookmark searches--simple to manage--that I could run from the standard Firefox address bar.

That setup choice gave me a bigger address bar with which I can better view and edit lengthy URLs, and it also allowed me to compile a literal library of hundreds of keyword-based quick search bookmarks. (Helpful hint: The OpenBook extension for Firefox allows you to add a keyword field to the standard "Add Bookmark" dialog window.)

However, address-bar-based searches still require cutting and pasting, which is frustrating when the search term I want to use is right there on a Web page. What I really needed was to highlight a term in the page, right-click, and then search that term in a new tab using whichever Web site or service I choose.

I first tried the Auto Context extension, which is a fantastic add-on that adds a host of new functionality to the Firefox right-click menu. It's also highly configurable, letting you automatically copy any selected text or open new URLs in new windows, new tabs, or background tabs, etc. However, it only allows searching on the Firefox search engines, which as I mentioned above are too much of a pain for me to manage.

Advanced URL Builder

Adding and editing URLs are still basic.

(Credit: CNET)

Enter Advanced URL Builder. Created by James Cook, this tiny 30K add-on lets you create bookmarks nearly identical to the keyword-based quick searches that I use hundreds of times a day. Unfortunately, the process of setting up Advanced URL Builder is not just as simple as importing your Firefox bookmarks (now that would be a great extension). In order to use Advanced URL Builder, you'll need to re-create all of those searches in the options for the add-on. It's one huge cutting and pasting task, but you'll only have to do it once.

The Advanced URL Builder options interface is very basic. You have the ability to add or edit existing URLs or group them into folders. However, I had a very difficult time organizing URLs by folders. Specifically, creating new folders had a tendency to completely delete the contents of other folders, erasing all my hard work. Frustrating!

After a few thwarted tries at grouping my URLs in directories (which would appear as submenus in the right-click menu), I gave up and created one list. It's not the most elegant implementation, but it still lets me highlight any text and quickly search any URL in my list from the right-click menu.

Advanced URL Builder

The miscellaneous options are slim.

(Credit: CBS Interactive)

The miscellaneous preferences in the second options dialog window allow you to specify where the new search page should open--new tab, background tab, new window, or current tab in current window--and which placeholder variable you plan to use for search queries. Firefox uses the variable "%s" in keyword searches, and using the same for Advanced URL Builder will make transferring search URLs from your bookmarks much easier. If you don't select a variable, the add-on will simply append your search term to the end of the URL provided.

The Firefox extension that I really want to find would let me select any text, right-click, and then automatically search that text using any of the existing keyword searches already in my bookmarks. I can imagine the difficulties of connecting a subset of Firefox bookmarks (those with keywords) with the right-click context menu, but surely it must be possible? For now, Advanced URL Builder definitely provides the basic one-click searching functionality that I require.

What are your favorite Firefox add-ons for searching the Web, or what shortcuts do you use to minimize effort and maximize results? Tell me about them in the comments.

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