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Portable Firefox and the Flash Player

Upgrading a portable version of Firefox to the latest version of the Flash Player is a manual procedure

Michael Horowitz

Michael Horowitz wrote his first computer program in 1973 and has been a computer nerd ever since. He spent more than 20 years working in an IBM mainframe (MVS) environment. He has worked in the research and development group of a large Wall Street financial company, and has been a technical writer for a mainframe software company.

He teaches a large range of self-developed classes, the underlying theme being Defensive Computing. Michael is an independent computer consultant, working with small businesses and the self-employed. He can be heard weekly on The Personal Computer Show on WBAI.


Michael Horowitz
3 min read

I had no intention on focusing so much on the Flash Player and Firefox, but there just seems to be a lot to say. This time the topic is installing the latest version of the Adobe Flash Player in a portable version of Firefox.

I'm a huge fan of portable applications; I all but live in the portable versions of both Firefox and Thunderbird, both downloaded from portableapps.com. This posting was written in an airport and traveling is one reason to like portable applications. I normally work on a Windows XP desktop computer and before leaving on a trip, all I have to do is copy a single folder from the desktop machine to my XP based laptop computer to bring along my copy of Firefox. Copying another folder gives me all my email. When I return from the trip, copying the folders back is all it takes to pick up where I left off.

The Firefox folder includes not only the program, but also my bookmarks, my preferred configuration options, the website passwords that Firefox saves for me and the customization I made to the toolbar (such as adding the New Tab button and removing the Home button). It also includes my extensions, for the most part.

This all works fine, with the slight exception of the Flash Player plugin. Adobe doesn't do portable. Neither the Flash Player installer nor the uninstaller is the least bit aware of, or concerned with, portable versions of Firefox.

A few days ago, when I updated my desktop computer to the latest version of the Flash player, it didn't take. Although the Flash Player installer ran fine, my portable copy of Firefox kept using the old version, according to the Adobe Flash tester page.

Confused, I ran a scan with the free online Secunia Software Inspector (highly recommended) and it reported that the new version of Flash was happily living on the hard disk at C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\Macromed\Flash\NPSWF32.dll.

But, I had run a normal Secunia scan rather than a "thorough" scan. The normal scan looks for applications in their normal location. Anyone using a portable application needs to use the "thorough" option when scanning with Secunia for old software. A thorough scan showed that the portable version of Firefox was indeed still using the older software.

It also, convienently, showed the file name and location of both the new Flash Player on the C disk and the old copy on the X disk where the portable copy of Firefox resided.

What To Do?

There are a couple of ways to deal with this.

If, as in my case, the computer has the latest copy of the Flash Player on the C disk, copying the appropriate DLL from the C disk to the X disk will get the portable Firefox using the latest version of Flash.

Specifically, copy file NPSWF32.dll from C:\WINDOWS\system32\Macromed\Flash to X:\FirefoxPortable\App\firefox\plugins. The full path for your portable copy of Firefox will be different, but wherever it resides, copy the Flash Player DLL into the \App\firefox\plugins folder. Again, a "thorough" Secunia scan will point you to the right place.

If the computer in question doesn't have a normally installed copy of Firefox, then simply delete or rename the file with the old version of the Flash Player (Secunia will find it). The next time you visit a web page that needs Flash, such as the Adobe Flash tester page, Firefox will prompt you to install the missing plugin and you'll get the latest version.

Finally, be aware that a portable copy of Firefox that doesn't have it's own installed version of the Flash Player will pick up a copy from the C disk, if a normally installed copy of Firefox exists. But, if the portable Firefox has an old version of Flash in its plugin folder, it will use that even if a newer version of Flash is on the C disk - which is what prompted this posting in the first place.

It's a pain, but to me, well worth it for the advantages of portable web browsing.

Note: The Secunia Software Inspector requires a recent version of Java. You can see which, if any, version of Java is installed on your computer at my JavaTester.org site.
See a summary of all my Defensive Computing postings.