URLs are boring, and they’re usually quite long, too. And yet, every modern browser reserves a prime spot of screen real-estate for showing this long, uninteresting string of text – namely, the address bar. Of course, that’s not the address bar’s reason for existing: The address bar is there so you can type into it, not stare at it. But when you stop and think about it for a moment, what the address bar does most of the time is… nothing. I mean, it just sits there, displaying the current tab’s URL in the plainest, most utilitarian way possible.
Is there some way to make the address bar useful even when you’re not typing stuff into it? Location Bar Enhancer for Firefox is an addon that tries to do just that.
Before and After
The easiest way to understand what Location Bar Enhancer does is with a couple of screenshots. Here’s Firefox’s unadorned address bar in its natural state:
It’s a bit difficult to make out the text at this size, but that’s actually useful for making the point: It’s a really a plain bit of interface element. Now, here’s what the same URL looks like with Location Bar Enhancer installed:
Much more human readable. This becomes even more pronounced when there are URL arguments:
Suddenly, the arguments mean something. You can understand what your browser is sending to the server, at a glance: The browser is letting the site know you got to this page as a result of a campaign (the excellent MakeUseOf Newsletter, in this case), and includes the date for the particular newsletter that included this link. This isn’t just for looks, either: Some websites use URL arguments to change the interface, and clearly seeing the arguments makes it easier for you to change them. YouTube is a good example: There are ways to change your YouTube URLs for all sorts of interesting results.
That’s the gist of what Location Bar Enhancer does, but in the fine tradition of Firefox addons, it’s very configurable.
Tweaks And Options
I won’t run through all four tabs in Location Bar Enhancer’s Options dialog, but let me give you an idea of what you can configure. First, the General Settings tab:
The option for removing “Gibberish” from the URL and replacing it with meaningful data is a bit unclear, and I haven’t seen it to work. Accessing a site like Amazon makes this very clear: The URL remains as obfuscated as ever, just made prettier.
Other options are more straightforward: Capitalizing every first letter (i.e, converting the URL to title case) makes a big difference for a URL’s readability. The “identity box” refers to the left-most part of the address bar, shown here:
You may have noticed that the breadcrumb style (the arrows) looks different in this screenshot. That’s thanks to the Breadcrumb Styles tab, that offers a selection of four different styles:
You can also plug in your own custom style, but unfortunately, Location Bar Enhancer doesn’t let you edit the existing styles as starting points. Fret not: The way to solve this is to delve into the addon’s source code repository on Github, where you can find the CSS files used for the styles. The files are quite complex, even if you speak fluent CSS: This one, for the DevTools Light theme, is over 150 lines long. The good news is that most of these lines are CSS selectors, which you won’t have to change to tweak the addon. You can easily find the lines denoting background images, font sizes, and other parts you might want to change. Digging into the styles like this is not for the faint of heart, but it’s certainly possible. If you end up with a nice theme, you can always submit it to the developer as a suggestion for including in future versions of Address Bar Enhancer – that’s a nice way to give back.
Clicking, Scrolling, Dragging, Dropping
Neatly segmenting the URL isn’t just for show: Once it’s separated, each of its parts becomes independently useful.
Click a URL segment, and Location Bar Enhancer will take you there directly. Hover over a segment and scroll the mouse wheel, and the address bar will change to display “sibling” addresses you’ve previously visited. This is easier to explain with another screenshot:
This is what I get when I hover over UIEnhancer and scroll the mouse wheel: The breadcrumbs, which previously showed “Tree > Master > Content”, change color and display “Issues” instead. That’s a “sibling” address to Tree – it’s right next to it on the website.
You can also drag-and-drop individual parts of the URL to bookmark them. Let’s say I’m deep into this Git repository, all the way at https://github.com/scrapmac/UIEnhancer/tree/master/content, and I decide I want to bookmark the author’s Github page (https://github.com/scrapmac/ in this case). Not a problem: I only need to hover over the part that says Scrapmac and drag it onto my bookmarks bar.
It’s Niche, But It’s Good
Not everyone is going to love Location Bar Enhancer, but if you’re a power-user and you feel the URL bar is just a bit of wasted space on your screen, it can certainly add value. It’s more than good enough to make it into our list of Best Firefox Addons. Will you be using it yourself, or is it too technical for your needs? Let me know in the comments!