Firefox add-ons automatically back up whatever you type

Lazarus: Form Recovery restores text and entire Web-form entries after accidental deletion; Clippings and Textarea Cache let you save what you type into text boxes for easy reuse. Plus, add-ons that clear form fields and show a site's nationality.

If you've ever filled in a Web form, chances are you have experienced having the text you just entered get wiped out when the page freezes, unexpectedly reloads, or otherwise causes the form to reset. Here are three Firefox add-ons that let you replace this lost text with just a few clicks.

Of course, some of what you enter on Web sites shouldn't be retrievable. The Clear Form History add-on deletes all entries saved in a search box, sign-in field, or other text field. And to see at a glance the country hosting the current site's server before you provide it with any of your personal information, use the Flagfox add-on to place that country's flag in the address bar, and get easy access to the site's IP address.

While all five of these Firefox add-ons are available for free, several of the developers request a donation if you find the programs useful.

Web form data rises from the dead
Lazarus: Form Recovery from the Interclue Team promises to keep you from having to re-enter Web-form data that gets erased inadvertently. Each time you type text into a field, the program places a copy in its clipboard. Right-click the field to select saved text and entire forms that appear on the context menu.

Lazarus: Form Recovery add-on for Firefox
Restore the entries in a text box or complete Web form by clicking the context-menu options created by the Lazarus: Form Recovery add-on for Firefox. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

There's no denying the convenience of having copies of what you've been typing on Web pages readily available, but a keylogger is a keylogger, so you have to make sure your confidential data doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

To prevent copying credit-card numbers, the program automatically replaces strings of 13 and 16 numbers with zeros. This and other settings and security options are accessible by clicking the program's icon on the right side of the add-on bar and choosing Options. (To see the Firefox add-on bar, click View > Toolbars > Add-on bar.)

Lazarus doesn't save passwords by default; to change this setting, click Options > Security. You can also set the program to delete saved forms after a number of minutes, hours, days, or weeks. The default setting deletes saved forms after four weeks. Other options let you disable search indexing, require a password to restore forms, and enable logging in private browsing mode.

To disable automatic backups of the Lazarus database, click Options > Database and uncheck "Keep a backup of the database." Other options let you search the database, remove all saved forms, clean the database, restore a backup, or delete the database.

The easy way to copy text entries between sites
Lazarus's text and form options are site-specific: the Gmail entries aren't available on Hotmail--or any other site, for that matter. To have ready access to blocks of text between sites, use either Textarea Cache from Hemiola Sun, or Clippings from AE Creations.

The biggest difference between the two Firefox add-ons is Textarea Cache's automatic operation: Clippings requires that you save each entry manually. The primary advantage of Clippings' manual approach is that you're less likely to copy sensitive information inadvertently.

Like Lazarus, Textarea Cache puts an icon in the add-on toolbar at the bottom of the Firefox screen. Unlike Lazarus, clicking the Textarea Cache icon opens the program's only window, which is also accessible from the context menu. In this window you can view the current selection, or choose one of the previously saved entries via the drop-down menu at the top of the window.

Textarea Cache main window
The simple Textarea Cache add-on for Firefox automatically records the text you enter on Web sites and lets you reuse it on other sites. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

The program's only other options are to remove the current item, empty the cache, and reload the entry.

Similarly, the Clippings program doesn't overwhelm you with options. To copy all the current text, right-click and choose Clippings > New. Or select only the text you want to save, right-click, and choose Clippings > New From Selection. Change the description if you wish (the default is the first line of the text), choose or create a folder (optional), and click OK.

Create a Clipping entry
Create a text clip in the Clipping add-on for Firefox by giving the entry a description--or sticking with the default--and clicking OK. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

To reuse a text clip, select it from the Clippings entries on the context menu. Click Organize Clippings on the same menu to open the Clippings Manager, where you can view, move, and delete your entries, as well as assign them keyboard shortcuts. You can also import and export entries.

Clippings add-on for Firefox
The Clippings add-on for Firefox lets you save text entries for reuse, import and export entries, and assign them keyboard shortcuts. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

Remove cached entries in specific form fields
Even if you don't use one of these three Firefox add-ons to make copies of the text you enter on Web sites, some of the information may be cached for you. To make sure Firefox isn't retaining your previous entries, use the Clear Form History add-on to remove all previous entries.

After you download and install the add-on, an option appears on the context (right-click) menu: "Delete all saved entries for this field." If the option is grayed out, there are no entries in the field. Programs don't get much simpler than that.

Have your address bar fly the flag of the host server's country
My favorite add-ons are the ones that communicate useful information without requiring a click--and without taking up too much screen real estate. The Flagfox extension qualifies on both counts. The program adds to the right side of the address bar an icon of the flag of the country in which the host server is located.

Hover the mouse over the icon to view the domain name, IP address, and server location in a small pop-up window. Click the flag to plot the server location on a world map.

Flagfox add-on for Firefox
The Flagfox add-on for Firefox places the flag of the host server's country in the address bar and also lists the site's IP address and domain name. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

Knowing the country of the site's host server is no guarantee of reliability. You may expect to see the Union Jack icon when browsing to The Register's site, for example, rather than the Stars and Stripes. At the same time, it's not surprising to find an Irish fiddler's site hosted in the Netherlands. But if you were expecting one country and wind up elsewhere, it could be a point worth noting before you volunteer your personal information.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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