Stop Installing Browser Add-ons – For a Faster, Leaner Browser Use Bookmarklets Instead

bookmarklets8   Stop Installing Browser Add ons   For a Faster, Leaner Browser Use Bookmarklets InsteadBrowsers these days are much more powerful than they used to be. A large part of this power comes thanks to add-ons (as they are called for Firefox) and extensions (in Chrome). Browser extras let us do wonderful things, such as control how tabs behave, make webpages easier to read, and even have a better time shopping online. But add-ons and extensions also have a dark side. They run in the background, sucking precious system resources, even when you’re not using them.

You don’t have to put up with that. There’s an alternative than often offers many of the benefits of add-ons, with virtually none of the downsides. It’s tested technology (JavaScript), it’s been around for years, and it really doesn’t get enough love. Welcome to the wonderful world of bookmarklets.

Why You Haven’t Heard of Bookmarklets

bookmarklets10   Stop Installing Browser Add ons   For a Faster, Leaner Browser Use Bookmarklets Instead

Above is a screenshot of Mozilla’s beautiful add-on website. Do you know why it’s there? Because there is no other screenshot that would fit. There is no large, reputable collection of bookmarklets anywhere I could find. Nobody has a commercial interest in making a “bookmarklet store”, even though many Chrome extensions are nothing but glorified bookmarklets, and many Mozilla bookmarklets perform work that a bookmarklet could do, but with a lot of browser chrome slowing them down.

The only people who have any interest in promoting bookmarklets are the people who create them. So, for example, if you’re a Digg user and you want to find out if Digg has a bookmarklet, you need to search for it on Digg – and yes, it’s right there. So that’s the biggest drawback of using bookmarklets – they are trickier to find.

So What Are These Bookmarklets Anyway?

Bookmarklets are just pieces of JavaScript. Here, check this out:

javascript:q=location.href;if(document.getSelection){d=document.getSelection();}else{d='';};p=document.title;void(open('https://pinboard.in/add?showtags=yes&url='+encodeURIComponent(q)+'&description='+encodeURIComponent(d)+'&title='+encodeURIComponent(p),'Pinboard','toolbar=no,scrollbars=yes,width=750,height=700'));

This short chunk of code is one complete, functioning bookmarklet, in this case, for bookmarking the current page on Pinboard. It may look long, but it’s actually just 317 bytes long. Consider that for a moment. A lean Firefox extension that basically does the same thing is 219KB.

bookmarklet   Stop Installing Browser Add ons   For a Faster, Leaner Browser Use Bookmarklets Instead

So, as Wolfram Alpha so helpfully tells us, the add-on is bigger than the bookmarklet by 690 times. That’s pretty mind-boggling. Just consider the amount of overhead required to do the exact same task.

Not only that, but the add-on is loaded all the time, waiting for you to click it. Do you bookmark each and every page you go to on the Web? Probably not. So, for every page you are not bookmarking, this add-on is effectively dead weight, just taking up memory and slowing things down. A bookmarklet, just like any other bookmark, just sits there statically on your Bookmarks toolbar, waiting to be clicked. It doesn’t inject any code while it waits, and doesn’t do anything to the browser.

Bookmarklets Are Cross-Browser

bookmarklet4   Stop Installing Browser Add ons   For a Faster, Leaner Browser Use Bookmarklets Instead

Oh no! I can’t install Pinboard.in because I’m not using Firefox. Well, guess what? I can definitely install the Pinboard bookmarklet – whether I am using Chrome, Firefox, Opera, or any other modern browser. In fact, Pinboard offers no less than five bookmarklets to help work with the service.

Not only are bookmarklets easy to install on any browser you use, but they are easy to migrate, too. This morning I set up a new instance of Chrome, and wanted to have access to the same tools I use on Firefox. All I had to do was drag and drop a bunch of bookmarklets from the Firefox window to the Chrome one. That was it – everything worked perfectly. I didn’t even have to fiddle with exporting and importing files.

Three Examples

Let me share three popular add-ons you may be able to junk right now, because the bookmarklet alternative works just as well.

bookmarklet6   Stop Installing Browser Add ons   For a Faster, Leaner Browser Use Bookmarklets Instead

First up – Video DownloadHelper, a very good add-on for downloading videos off YouTube, Vimeo, and many other websites. If you routinely use it for non-YouTube websites, then keep using it. But the odds are most of your downloads are done from YouTube, in which case, I hereby present PwnYouTube:

bookmarklet8   Stop Installing Browser Add ons   For a Faster, Leaner Browser Use Bookmarklets Instead

This simple bookmarklet lets you instantly download any YouTube video you’re watching, and offers a nice, efficient interface (it uses an overlay so you’re not taken to a different website).

Next – Buffer. This is a wonderful way to schedule tweets so you don’t flood your timeline, and it’s available as an add-on both for Chrome and Firefox. What’s funny is that the Buffer bookmarklet looks just like the add-on:

bookmarklet10   Stop Installing Browser Add ons   For a Faster, Leaner Browser Use Bookmarklets Instead

This bookmarklet was a bit trickier to obtain: You have to follow their tutorial for iOS users, but it only takes a few moments, and you will feel like an awesome hacker once you’re done. Really, I promise. Your browser will thank you, too.

Last but not least, Readability. Sure, Readability has its own bookmarklet, but let me show you something better: Readable.

bookmarklet12   Stop Installing Browser Add ons   For a Faster, Leaner Browser Use Bookmarklets Instead

The creator of this sophisticated bookmarklet was recently hired by Evernote to create Evernote Clearly, Evernote’s Readability competitor. But the page for the bookmarklet is still alive, and it is beautiful. It lets you tweak settings until you get the text style just so, and then save it as a bookmarklet. Next time you have to read a long article, just click the bookmarklet and get a beautifully rendered version for easy reading – no add-on required.

Bookmarklets Are Not For Everything

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There are many things bookmarklets can’t do; Boomerang is one good example. Another excellent example is Pentadactyl, a Firefox add-on that transforms Firefox completely into something similar to Vim. In general, if you are looking to dramatically change your browser’s behavior, you may have to resort to an add-on. But before you do that, I urge you to ask yourself two important questions – is it really worth it? And is there really no way to do this with a static JavaScript bookmarklet?

Let us know in the comments how you feel about this issue. Are you a pro-addon fan or a pro-bookmarklet advocate?  What are some of your favourite bookmarklets?

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

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13 Comments -

0 votes

Kaggy

add-ons advantage is being active while bookmarklets are passive
so you usually need additional clicks to get it to do the same thing
i believe stylish and/or greasemonkey are better alternatives to some add-ons/extension.

0 votes

Erez Zukerman

Stylish and Greasemonkey are nice because they pack a ton of functionality and are customizable. And yes, like you say: Sometimes you need something that’s just constantly running in the background.

But more often than not, I prefer to click one extra time and have more free computer resources when I don’t need that function. At least until I have a mega-workstation, that is. :)

0 votes

Anomaly

I agree with you, bookmarklets are great and I use them in place of extensions when ever I can.

You said you didn’t know of a site for bookmarklets similar to the Firefox addon site. Well there is and it has hundreds of bookmarklets for you to get in one place.

http://marklets.com/

0 votes

Erez Zukerman

Ooh, nice! Thank you for that! I see we’ve written about Marklets before but I didn’t know about the site.

0 votes

pokemon

I think it is better to use Greasemonkey, it can manage your script/bookmarklet. also, your bookmarklets are always ready, no need to be clicked.

0 votes

Erez Zukerman

Greasemonkey definitely has its uses — but again, it constantly takes up memory and resources while it’s running in the background, so I would only use it if I -really- need it.

0 votes

Ivan K.

Yes, just use JavaScripts. Because Java is sooo cool and is definitely “very secure” as well.

0 votes

Deekshith Allamaneni

*javascript* is not the same as JAVA. Yes, JAVASCRIPT is cool.

0 votes

Jon Marathon

JavaScript and Java are very different. JavaScript is not as secure as Java, and clearly there are many malicious JavaScripts. Always get your scripts or bookmarklets from a reputable source and keep your anti-malware protection up to date.

0 votes

Bob

I think that maybe MakeUseOf should start a best of page for bookmarklets to compliment it’s best of chrome extensions and firefox addons

1 votes

Madis

+1, also it should be for userscripts as I have heard they only take memory when they’re used on the site (in Chrome)

0 votes

Vicent

I don’t use much add-ons, just use the basic features of a browser. It’s enough for me.There is one add-on I really like is adblock plus, an really useful tool. I installed in all the browsers I currently have.:chrome, firefox, Avant browser and IE9.
Bookmarks I still love using the online storage of avant, have been using it for many years.

0 votes

Erez Zukerman

The only problem with adblock is that it hurts the sites you love. We need those ads to survive, basically.