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Hack 2. Ten Ways to Navigate to a Web Page

There are a million ways to move from the current web page to the next one. This hack describes 10 such ways.

Here's how to surf, Firefox style. Chapter 4 covers many ways to use extensions to increase the pleasure and convenience of surfing the Web. This hack explains what Firefox can do without modification.

1.4.1. Click on a Link

It's not rocket science: left-click on a link, and the current page is replaced with the link's page. If you right-click (Command-click on the Mac), you can open that new page in a new window or a new tab, or you can put the link itself into a bookmark or into the copy-and-paste buffer.

1.4.2. Click on a Bookmark Icon

Click any bookmark or bookmark menu item on the Bookmarks toolbar, and you're off to the link that bookmark represents. Bookmarks are complex little beasties, though. See [Hack #3] for a way to get through your many bookmarks. See [Hack #33] if you want to become a bookmark power user.

1.4.3. Put Something in the Location Bar

You can type all kinds of things into the Location bar where the URL of the current page is displayed. If you start typing a URL, Firefox will auto-complete it, providing you with a drop-down list of candidates. Firefox can even complete an unknown URL for you if you press the right combination of Control, Shift, and Enter keys. Press Enter or click the Location bar icon to start the page fetch.

1.4.4. Pick Something from Your History

There are many history mechanisms beyond the big Forward and Back buttons. See [Hack #3] for an introduction to Firefox's history features.

1.4.5. Copy and Paste

The standard Xerox PARC/Apple Macintosh cut, copy, and paste keyboard combinations are available in Firefox. They are Ctrl-X, Ctrl-C, and Ctrl-V, respectively. You can copy a URL from a non-Firefox application and paste it into the Location bar. (You can give that bar's input field the focus by clicking on it.) You can also copy a link's URL by calling up the context menu with the mouse. You can copy and paste that URL within Firefox or into another application.

Under Linux, if you use a multislot copy-and-paste buffer tool, you can stick as many URLs into that set of clipboards as you want. To copy URLs from a terminal emulator window under Linux, such as xterm or gnome-terminal, just highlight the text. There's no need to explicitly choose Copy in this case. Paste into Firefox as you normally would.

1.4.6. Caret Browsing

For people with poor sight and for those that prefer a word-processing interface, a normal Firefox window can be made caret-enabled. The caret symbol is the blinking vertical bar that suggests an insertion point: |. Press F7 to turn it on or off. While it's on, you can navigate around the document using the arrow keys or with the assistance of a screen reader that relies on the caret. Just press Enter when the caret is over a link. You can't edit anything at the caret unless it moves into a text field.

1.4.7. Drag and Drop

Firefox allows you to drag URLs around the main window. You can drag bookmarks from the Bookmarks toolbar to the location bar for opening or drag links in a displayed HTML page to the Bookmark or Location toolbars.

You can also drag plain text to the Location bar. To do so, first display a web page that has a URL stated in plain text, not just embedded in a link. The text might literally say Highlight the text by left-clicking and dragging across it until it's all selected. Release the mouse button, and then drag the highlighted text onto the input field in the Location toolbar. The highlighted text appears in that text field when you release the mouse, ready to be retrieved from the Web. You can do this trick with non-URL text as well, but that makes sense only if you have keyword bookmarks set up [Hack #33] .

1.4.8. Use the Menu Bar

Lots of web pages and web sites are hidden behind Firefox's menu system. The Go and Bookmarks menus provide immediate access to recent pages. The various FileOpen options let you type in something useful. The Help menu options all provide locally stored web pages. The Tools menu leads to a set of dialog boxes and windows that let you interact with Mozilla's support sites for themes, extensions, and plug-ins. Finally, there are a few hidden Easter eggs to discover. Technically, they're not Easter eggs, because they're well documented diagnostics that are important for web developers and other technical people. Try typing these URLs, just for starters:


1.4.9. Switch Between Windows and Tabs

When you already have many pages displayed, it's easy to toggle between them. You can cycle between whole windows with standard operating system features, such as Alt-Tab on Windows or panels under X11 on Unix. If you have activated tabbed browsing and several tabs appear in the current window, then just press Ctrl-Tab to cycle between them.

1.4.10. Use Accessibility Devices

Firefox's accessibility to disabled people is improving all the time. Part of accessibility depends on web pages being correctly designed. If the correct design is in place, then accessibility depends on the features of the browser. Firefox provides basic accessibility options via the Alt and Tab keys (on Microsoft Windows). Once Alt is pressed, it's possible to navigate the menu system using a simple and limited range of keystrokes (the arrow keys). Once Tab is pressed, it's possible to navigate all the input widgets on the browser and in the currently displayed page. Both provide such simple access to the menu system and web forms that the disabled surfer doesn't need to use a complex device like a mouse or even a keyboard.

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