November 12, 2007

Preserving browser tab collections with Session Manager

Author: Bruce Byfield

Firefox includes an option for bookmarking all open tabs, but heavy users of tabs will find that this option is hardly enough. When you are researching a subject, the particular combination of tabs matters as much as the individual ones -- and, besides, selecting the tabs to open individually can be tedious if you are dealing with several dozen. And what happens if your session crashes before you have a chance to bookmark? You can address such concerns by installing Session Manager, a highly customizable add-on for preserving the state of the window after you close the browser.

Session Manager installs as an icon on Firefox's Navigation toolbar, so you won't see it after installation. To make it visible you need to right-click on the toolbar and click Customize, then drag Session Manager to the toolbar.

The extension's basic operation is straightforward. To save the current session, click the icon and name the session. Similarly, to restore a previous session, click the arrow key on the right of the icon and select it from the list. Sessions saved at a browser crash are named with the date, while the default for your own saved sessions is the title of the currently active tab followed by the date, but you can rename sessions to suit yourself. You can also delete sessions that you no longer need, and keep a running history of closed tabs and windows, in case you want to restore one. If Firefox closes unexpectedly, or is still open when you log on, the next time you start Firefox, Session Manager presents a list of sessions that you can choose to restore.

To get the most out of Session Manager, spend some time exploring its options. For instance, if you are constantly using the same Web pages, you can create a session that contains all of them, and set Session Manager to always open them when Firefox opens. Similarly, you can set Session Manager to save each session automatically when you close Firefox, or to prompt you to save it. In addition, you can select whether a restored session closes any tabs you have open, or whether restored pages are automatically reloaded -- something you may not always want, if your concern is with a page as it is at a particular date and time.

If memory is a concern for you, you can limit the number of crashed sessions to save, as well as the maximum number of closed windows and tabs remembered per session. You can also save the closed tabs and windows between sessions, although that can quickly become cumbersome if you do it regularly. More likely, you'll want to do that only occasionally, and only for very large projects, after which you'll want to select Clear List from the Undo Close tab of the Options window. Otherwise, if a tab or window is important enough to keep available, you will probably want to save a session in which important closed items are already restored.

More advanced users may want to change the default format for session names or where they are stored on the Advanced tab. On the same tab, you can choose to encrypt saved sessions for the sake or privacy. However, as the tab warns, encrypted sessions can only be opened in Firefox user profiles that share the same key3.db and cert8.db files, and require use of the master password as well.

You can think of Session Manager as a kind of meta-bookmarking tool, preserving and restoring groups of related bookmarks much more quickly than you could manually. And, should Firefox crash, it can save you from having to retrace your steps via the browser history step by painful step. If you are a heavy user of tabs, you may find it as indispensable as I have.

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