Essential web development tools for Firefox

Firefox eats IEI was chatting with a friend online this evening (hello Steve!) about web coding, and I offered him my three favourite add-ons for Mozilla Firefox which I find absolutely essential for coding and debugging HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Work in Firefox, debug in IE

When developing code I tend to always work with Firefox first. When I’m happy that my code is working properly, I’ll then test it in Opera and Safari and only then will I check it out in Internet Explorer 6 and 7.

And then typically I’ll spend the next fortnight debugging my nice clean code in IE, trying to find workarounds that will make my pages work properly in the world’s favourite (and most terrible) browsers.

It’s only the most popular because people are too lazy to install something better. Or don’t realise that there is something better. “But it looks okay to me…!”

Seriously, if there was a car that killed as many people as IE kills good quality web code, it would be banned in a flash.

1. Web Developer

Web Developer toolbar

Web Developer by Chris Pederick adds a toolbar and a new submenu to Tools to Firefox, which are absolutely packed with web developer tools.

There are 12 main sections on the toolbar, which give you access to all the tools and features:

  1. Disable
    Allows you to disable anything from Java to JavaScript, Cache, Meta redirects to colours.

  2. Cookies
    Disable, delete, clear or view cookie information.

  3. CSS
    Not only can you view CSS, you can also edit live CSS in the cache and see what effect your changes have.

  4. Forms
    Display form details, show passwords, change GETs to POSTs, etc.

  5. Images
    Disable or hide images, display alt attributes, image dimensions, etc.

  6. Information
    View all sorts of details about the page from ID and class information to blocks, anchors, links, tables, document size, headers and lots more.

  7. Miscellaneous
    Show comments, show hidden elements,show a ruler on the page, etc.

  8. Outline
    This is one of my favourites — here you can single out a particular page element and find out the markup, class and ID information. Essential for debugging or writing CSS.

  9. Resize
    Define preset page sizes for testing, eg 800 x 600, 1024 x 768, etc.

  10. Tools
    Validation, DOM inspector, Error and Java consoles.

  11. View Source
    View Source, Framed Source and Generated Source.

  12. Options
    Options, Help and About.

I use this add-on all the time, particularly for debugging code or learning about someone else’s code.

It is designed for Firefox, Flock, Mozilla and Seamonkey, and will run on any platform that these browsers support including Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

2. Firebug

Firebug

Firebug offers a few similar features to Web Developer but it really comes into its own with its own separate window. Here you can explore the HTML, CSS, JavaScript, all viewable by DOM, Styles or Layout.

Two of my favourite features are the ability to point at a line of code in the Firebug source view and the corresponding section of the actual page is highlighted (check out the blue highlight in the screenshot above), showing you exactly what that code relates to on the finished page. It even shows margins and padding in different colours (yellow and purple).

It will also show you the CSS cascade: which CSS rules are being used for that section of the page, and which are being overruled.

Firebug will also allow you to edit HTML, CSS, and run live JavaScript on the cached page, making it one truly remarkable and powerful add-on to your web developing toolkit.

3. HTML Validator

0 errors / 0 warnings

HTML Validator is an add-on that shows HTML validation information within your Firefox browser window, rather than having to go to a separate site, such as http://validator.w3.org.

The number of errors of a HTML page is seen on the form of an icon in the status bar when browsing. The details of the errors are seen when looking the HTML source of the page.

It really is that simple. You can specify the type of validations to check, including accessibility.

Conclusion

Those are my top 3 web developer add-ons. Of course, Microsoft also has its own Internet Explorer Developer Toolbar, but to be honest compared with the polished and precise offerings for Mozilla, the IE version has the elegance of performing open-heart surgery with a wooden spoon and a spanner.

Other developer-related add-ons that I’ve used, include:

  • JavaScript Debugger – This is Mozilla’s official JavaScript debugger, code named Venkman, which aims to provide a powerful JavaScript debugging environment for all Mozilla based browsers.
  • View Source Chart (creates a colourful chart of a web page’s rendered source code, which can be very useful.
  • UrlParams – Shows you the GET and POST parameters of the current website in the sidebar, and allows you to edit and submit your own values. Useful for testing forms.
  • Operator and Tails – two add-ons for showing Microformats information .. but that’s for another blog post

I tend to keep most of these installed (apart from the Microformats add-ons) but disabled, and only enable them when I need them. That way they are close at hand, but don’t take up valuable system resources for the 99% of time that I’m not using them.

O2 Xda Orbit desktop cradle

O2 Xda Orbit phone in cradle

When I first got my O2 Xda Orbit I decided to get a desktop cradle so that my shiny new phone could sit upright, alert and ready for me to answer a call rather than slumped lazily on its back.

However, I struggled to find one that was guaranteed to work with an Xda Orbit, and any that claimed to didn’t back it up with photographic evidence — they only had photos of the HTC P3300 sitting comfortably in its new desktop home.

Keep it in the family

It would appear that the Xda Orbit is a variant of the HTC Artemis; other models in this family are:

  • Dopod P800
  • Dopod P800W
  • HTC P3300
  • MDA compact III
  • Orange SPV M650
  • Xda Orbit

but some users claimed that the location of the USB port on the base of these machines was slightly different from model to model and so while the cradle might work for one machine it wouldn’t work for another. I don’t know whether this is true or not.

What I bought

In the end, having read quite a few reviews, I took someone’s advice (and a gamble) and ordered what claimed to be a “O2 Xda Orbit desktop cradle” from Discount Sat Nav on eBay for about £4.99 + P&P. Bargain!

And to my delight it worked! … as demonstrated by the photograph above. In fact, I now have two: one for home, the other for work.

It would appear that there are two models available: one with a spare battery charger or one without. Mine also came with a USB cable and an A/C adapter cable for quicker charging.

Where to buy

Here are the locations that I’ve found that sell this kind of cradle:

I hope that’s helpful to someone.

USB Twin Tape Deck

Double tape deck with USB cable

Long-time readers will remember my post about the PlusDeck 2, a 5.25″ cassette deck that you can install in a free CD/DVD slot on your PC. With it you could convert your cassette collection to CD or MP3* format (*other audio formats are available).

Well, someone has gone one better and created a USB Twin Tape Deck!

One of the weaknesses of the PlusDeck2 — other than the fact that it connects a cassette deck to your home computer, something that should have died along with the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 — was that you needed to plug it into free audio-out and mic-in sockets.

The USB Twin Tape Deck has got around this by being 100% USB. It is also 100% Twin Tape Deck. You could go as far as saying that it is 100% USB Twin Tape Deck. Now do you see how they came up with the name?

Features

  • It is very silver, and very shiny
  • Plug ‘n’ Play USB – no drivers needed!
  • Dual cassette deck with full auto stop
  • Normal and high-speed dubbing
  • Dynamic noise reduction system
  • Metal and CrO2 tape selector
  • LED level and function indication
  • PC and Mac compatible

However, it won’t automatically recognise song breaks: you’ll still have to manually divide the tracks up from one giant audio track. And it doesn’t have auto-reverse.

Still, for £99.99 who could resist it?!

Lonely train

Subway tunnel

I was listening in the car on my journey home from work today to a cover-mounted CD that I got last month in Metal Hammer magazine.

The CD was called The Great Southern Trendkill. Pantera fans will already have recognised the reference; the CD contains 15 southern metal tracks from the likes of Black Label Society, Clutch, Alabama Thunderpussy, and the fabulously named Artimus Pyledriver.

It was a track called Lonely Train by Black Stone Cherry, however, that grabbed my attention. Not only is it a kick-ass southern metal song, but the lyrics have something of the gospel message in them.

Jesus said:

This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you.
(John 15: 12, The Message)

Black Stone Cherry said:

I have seen my brothers
In ashes on the ground
And maybe in a new life
We can turn this thing around

But you can’t judge a book
Looking at the cover
You can’t love someone
While messing with another
No, you can’t win a war
Fighting with your brother
You wanna have peace
Gotta love one another

Here endeth the lesson. Now let’s ROCK!

Battlefields of hay

Field of hay bales against a blue sky

For some reason (ask a psychologist) each time I drive past fields of hay bales, or whatever the rolled-up variety are called, I’m reminded of the German war graves I saw in Belgium, near Ypres and Poperinge on a trip with Toc-H. Or scenes from films of Scottish battles; the bales are memorials, marking the locations where soldiers fell.

Contrast

The Commonwealth cemeteries that I visited in Belgium in 1998 were neat and ordered, pristine, spotless and white. Everything that war is not. There was an odd feeling of triumph about them. This is a photo I took of Tyne Cot cemetery

Tyne Cott cemetery in Belgium

The German military cemeteries that I visited had a very different feeling about them. This is a photograph from one that we visited:

German military cemetery in Belgium, shaded beneath trees

Four stone figuresThere was much less a feeling of imperial triumph, more a sense of mournful reflection.

There was a beautiful ‘humanness’ about it. The cemetery was shaded beneath trees, which gave it an organic feel that broke up any sense of order that the rows of gravestones — these were set into the ground — tried to dictate.

At the edge of the graveyard respectfully stood four stone figures, a reminder perhaps that these stones and the hundreds of names inscribed on wooden plaques mark the final resting places of fellow human beings. Not enemies, but brothers.

I remember reading the name of one soldier who was killed on 11 November 1915 — my birthday. That made it more real for me, somehow. And on the Menin Gate in Ypres reading the name “E Saunders” — that could have been my brother.

Battlefields?

And for some reason, I’m reminded of that visit to the Ypres Salient in the spring of 1998 each field I pass at this time of year, whose hay bales are marking nothing more than where they were left.

But then maybe it’s appropriate given the number of dead mice that the cats have brought in these last two nights: it was five last night!

Maybe these are battlefields after all.