January 28, 2008

Bookmark Sync and Sort: Bookmarks synchronisation with privacy

Author: Luigi Paiella

If you have more than one computer or run more than one operating system (for example, Linux and Windows on a dual-boot machine), you probably need to keep the bookmarks in your browsers on the different platforms in sync. Firefox has several add-ons that can help you.

For instance, Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer, Box.net Bookmarks Synchronizer, and Chipmark all provide good synchronisation features, and they allow cross-browser import and export and bookmark visualisation. However, all of them store data on a third-party server (sometime subject to a fee), at which you need to register.

Bookmark Sync and Sort, by contrast, lets you store your bookmarks on your own FTP or WebDAV server, which ensures you the maximum privacy.

Once the add-on is installed, you can set it up by going to the Firefox Bookmarks menu and selecting Synchronize Bookmarks. You'll be shown a configuration window in which you can put the address of your FTP server, your login name, and your password. You must also insert the path and name of the file which will contain your bookmarks, which will be an XML file in the XBEL (XML Bookmark Exchange Language) standard open format.

You can send your bookmarks file to the FTP server by clicking Upload. You can then use an FTP client if you want to verify that the XBEL file has been created.

Repeat the setup procedure with every instance of Firefox you use on different computers or different OSes. At the beginning, if you need to merge bookmarks stored in different locations, enable the option "Merge new data into current bookmarks". Once you've collected the entire set of your bookmarks on the FTP site, I recommend disabling this feature to ensure deletion of the bookmarks you no longer need on all Firefox instances; otherwise, the bookmarks deleted on one instance, being still present on another, will be merged again and will keep reappearing.

You can set up more options in the Advanced tab. In particular, I disable Synchronize Favicon (the icon displayed for a Web site in a browser's address bar) as saving them increases the size of the XML file (and therefore the upload and download times), and because favicons make, sometime, the XBEL file not valid and, as a consequence, not usable. Enable Synchronise Livemark if you want to keep alive your Live Bookmarks.

In addition to synchronizing, Bookmark Sync and Sort can sort your bookmarks. The last tab of the configuration dialog lets you choose related options such as automatic sorting before uploading and case sensitive or recursive sorting. The most interesting option is Exclude Toolbar; enable it if you don't want your Bookmarks toolbar to be rearranged.

The bookmarks file created by this add-on is not human-readable, but you can see what's in it by creating a style sheet on your FTP site (for example, xbel2html.xsl) and adding the following line in Bookmark Sync and Sort configuration window (which you can get to from the Advanced tab's XBEL -> Style tags field: <?xml-stylesheet type="text/xsl"
. You can then open your XML bookmarks file through a browser.

Once everything is working the way you want it to, enable the features "Auto download on startup" and "Auto upload on exit." A small window will pop up at browser startup to alert you about the bookmarks it retrieves, and at browser exit to upload the most recent bookmarks version. To avoid losing some bookmarks, you're better off running just one instance of your browsers at any one time, because the last uploaded bookmarks file will override all the ones uploaded by the previously closed instances. Unfortunately, the add-on lacks a button to enable syncing on demand from the navigation bar.

Sometimes the automatic upload and download features don't work. If that happens, you can enable them again by closing Firefox, restarting it, selecting Synchronise Bookmarks, and pressing the Reset Browser Count button, being sure that only one Firefox navigation window is open.

Even considering the problems with favicons handling and the automatic upload/download feature, and the lack of on-demand syncing, Bookmark Sync and Sort has some useful syncing and sorting options, and protects your privacy.

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