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A quick and dirty way to update old Firefox extensions

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What do you do when your favorite Firefox add-on hasn't been updated for the latest version of Firefox? Par example: one of my favorite add-ons is Statusbar Clock. Unfortunately, the folks over at Cosmic Cat Creations haven't updated their widget in well over a year.

The clicks, they do nothing!

Clearly, this little kitty has been put to sleep.

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Weighing Your Options

So what are we to do? Complain to the authors? You could do that, but it wouldn't be very gracious of you. Whatever this add-on is that you can't bear to live without, you've gotten it for free; somebody has taken the time and effort to create it for you and they're not even asking for a penny. Whatever you do, don't complain.

In fact, I wouldn't even inquire as to when the extension might be updated. Do you really think that an add-on developer doesn't know what's going on with Firefox? The most likely reason they haven't updated their add-on is that they don't have the time. If you're willing to help them out, or even take over maintenance of the extension, then I'd say yeah, go for it. But if you're not, I suggest that you not bother reminding them that their extension is broken. They probably already know.

A second option (which I just alluded to) is to just update the add-on yourself! Everything is free; all you need to do is learn how to write Firefox extensions. ... What, you were expecting a link? OK. Here's one that looks pretty good, but which I haven't actually read.

But if (like me) you haven't had the time to get into writing FF extensions yet, or you just don't have the inclination / are lazy, there is a much, much easier way that I find works 90% of the time: fool Firefox.

Tweak the RDF File

Most of the time, all you need to do to get a Firefox extension working for the current release is to tell Firefox that it does. And like a fool, Firefox believes you. Like a fool!!!

  1. Install 7-zip, even if you have WinZip. XPI files are just compressed archives, but for whatever reason, WinZip can't handle them.
  2. Download the XPI file for the add-on.

    The problem here is that Firefox won't let you download or install add-ons that it deems incompatible with the version of the browser that you're using. Argh. However, you can usually find archived versions of your add-on in one of two places:

    • The main page for the add-on (just scroll down until you find the See All Versions link)
    • The author or maintainer's home page (again, should be on the add-on's page on addons.mozilla.org)
  3. Once you find the XPI, make sure you do a right-click -> Save Target As on the download link. If you just click the link, Firefox will try to install it, and the install will fail, for obvious reasons.
  4. Once you have the XPI file on your desktop, open it with 7-zip (on Windows, right-click, 7-Zip, Open archive).
  5. You'll see a few files in the XPI and a few folders, but the only one we care about is install.rdf. Extract it somewhere handy and open it with TextPad, TextWrangler, vim, or whatever. It's just an XML file.

  6. Look for this line:
  7. <em:maxVersion>2.0.0.*</em:maxVersion>

    ... and change it to the following:

    <em:maxVersion>3.0.*.*</em:maxVersion>
  8. Next, look for this line:
  9. <em:updateURL>http://some/internet/address/yourAddOn.rdf</em:updateURL>

    Most add-ons don't have this line, but if they do, it has to point to a secure website. So just add on your "s" to your "http" and leave the rest unchanged.

    Doing this will, of course, break the update process, so you'll want to check the add-on's home page every couple of weeks to see if the author or maintainer has updated the add-on. But until they do, there ain't nothin' to update (which is why you are doing this to begin with), so you may as well just satisfy Firefox with a bogus URL (no, Firefox doesn't try to verify that it exists).

  10. Save the file and update the XPI.
  11. Drag the XPI into Firefox (or just do a File -> Open).
  12. Install the add-on.

I've done this for about 10 add-ons, and it's only failed for one of them (Paste and Go 2, which isn't surprising, given all the changes Mozilla made to the address bar for FF 3.0). Of course, doing this might lead to system instability, it's not a guarantee, blah blah blah. But it's so damn easy that it's probably worth a shot.