How to Sync Your Firefox Bookmarks to Your iPad

Yes, you read that right.

I use Firefox. I think it’s the best browser around — mostly because of its wide support for plugins and its frequent updates.

But I also have an iPad. And iPad includes and supports the Apple Safari Web browser.

One of my first challenges was to get my Firefox bookmarks into my iPad’s Safari browser — and to keep them synced. Here’s what I did.

Step 1: Set Up Firefox Bookmark Synchronization

I use two computers regularly (an iMac on my desktop and a 13″ MacBook Pro) and occasionally use two others (a 15″ MacBook Pro and a Dell Laptop). It was natural to want my bookmarks synchronized between these computers. So years ago, I began using a Firefox plugin that handled synchronization for me. That plugin has evolved over time and is currently called Xmarks Bookmark and Password Sync.

Xmarks StatusXmarks works with a free account on the Web site. (If you are a more experienced user and have your own server, you can sync to your own server instead.) You set up an account on, install the plugin in Firefox on all your computers, and configure the plugin to point to your account. You then synchronize. The first synchronization gives you options to overwrite or merge booksmarks; do whatever you think is right for your situation. From that point forward, Xmarks will automatically synchronize bookmarks when you open and quit Firefox.

Although I’ve been doing this for years now, this became my first step to syncing my bookmarks with Safari on my iPad. If you don’t already use Xmarks, set it up as your first step.

One note here: Xmarks has other synchronization features. For example, as the name implies, it also synchronizes passwords. You can use this feature, too, if you like. And it displays search results with ratings and other features. Explore this on your own.

Step 2: Set Up Safari Bookmark Synchronization

The next step is to get your Firefox bookmarks on Safari. You can do this with Xmarks for Mac OS X 10.6.

Xmarks For SafariDownload the installer, run it, and follow the instructions in the Installation Wizard to set it up on your computer. Be sure to point it to the same Xmarks account you use for Firefox. When you perform that first sync, tell it whether you want to merge or overwrite bookmarks. When the sync is complete, your Safari bookmarks should match your Firefox bookmarks.

MobileMe SyncOne thing to keep in mind here: if you have multiple Macs and use a MobileMe account to synchronize various Mac OS items — including Safari Bookmarks — you don’t need to install Xmarks for Mac OS X 10.6 on all of your computers. Just install on one and let MobileMe do the rest of the synchronization for you.

Step 3: Set Up iPad Bookmark Synchronization

At this point, it should be pretty easy to figure out how to synchronize your Mac’s Safari bookmarks with your iPad’s Safari bookmarks. There are actually two ways to do this:

If you have a MobileMe account:

  1. Make sure Bookmarks synchronization is turned on on your Mac in the MobileMe preferences pane (see previous screenshot) and sync.
  2. Make sure your MobileMe account has been set up on your iPad.
  3. On your iPad, tap Settings and then tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars. This should take you to the Mail, Contacts, Calendars screen.
  4. E-Mail OptionsTap the e-mail address for your MobileMe account. This will display its options, shown here.
  5. Tap to turn on the Bookmarks option.
  6. Tap Done.

Bookmarks will now be synced through MobileMe.

If you don’t have a MobileMe account:

  1. Use your USB cable to connect your iPad to the computer you use to synchronize data and install music and apps. Ideally, this computer should have Foxmarks for Mac OS X 10.6 installed on it.
  2. On your Mac, open iTunes (if it has not opened automatically) and select your iPad in the Source list under Devices.
  3. Click the Info tab near the top of the iTunes window.
  4. Scroll down to the Other section.
    Other Options
  5. Turn on the check box labeled Sync Safari Bookmarks. (This check box only appears if you are not using MobileMe to sync bookmarks.)
  6. Click Sync. If prompted to merge or overwrite bookmarks, choose the appropriate option for your situation.

Bookmarks will now be synced through iTunes.

Works for Me

This is my solution. Is it the only one? Probably not. If you have a different (or even better!) solution, don’t hesitate to share it with us in Comments on this post.

Changing Mac OS X’s Default Web Browser

It doesn’t have to be Safari.

By default, Mac OS X is pre-configured with Safari, Apple’s Web browser, set as the default Web browser. That means clicking a link to a Web URL in an e-mail message or other document will automatically open that link in Safari.

But you can easily change it to a browser you prefer. Here’s how:

  1. Open the Safari Web browser.
  2. Choose Safari > Preferences to open the preferences window.
  3. General Prefs in SafariIf necessary, click the General button in the preferences window’s toolbar to display General options.
  4. Choose the Browser you prefer from the Default Web Browser pop-up menu. If the browser is not listed by name, you can choose Select from the menu and use the dialog that appears to locate and select the browser you want. (Obviously, the browser must be installed on your computer to select it.)
  5. Click the window’s close button to dismiss it.
  6. Choose Safari > Quit Safari to quit Safari.

Changes take affect as soon as you quit Safari.

Note that the preferences window shown here is for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. These steps also work in Tiger, although the preferences window may look different.

Chapter and Page References

Product ImageMac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide includes more information about related topics:

  • Connecting to the Internet, Chapter 18
  • Mac OS X’s Internet Applications, page 419
  • Using Safari, pages 445-447

Browser Rendering Engines

Or why different browsers show the same thing differently.

Miraz Jordan has written an informative article in her Browsers series. From “Browser notes 04: rendering engines — – Technology, Macs, the Internet and other matters.” on Tikouka:

Each web browser uses its own rendering engine. Some browsers share engines and differentiate themselves from other browsers that use the same engine by offering other features. This is like a washing machine: the Fisher and Paykel models (presumably) all use the same motor, but some models are front-loading, others top-loading, some take bigger loads than others, and so on.

Miraz then goes on to list the engines and which browsers use them.

Why is this important? Miraz explains that, too.

On a related note, I recently reformatted the post footer for each article on this site to prevent word wrap when the footer appeared in different browsers. I’m a Firefox user and the footer appeared in a single line in Firefox on Mac OS and Windows. But when I viewed the same pages in Safari, the text was a bit bigger, thus forcing the line to wrap in an undesirable place. The best way to fix an undesirable line break is to insert a desirable line break before it, and that’s what I did. But Miraz’s article reminds me why I should be testing my pages in multiple browsers on multiple platforms — as I always recommend to readers. I need to start practicing what I preach.

Opening Web Pages in the Background While You Browse

A Firefox (and perhaps other tabbed browser?) quick tip.

I’m pretty sold on Firefox and absolutely dependent on its tabbed browsing feature. For those of you who don’t know what tabbed browsing is, it’s a feature that enables you to open multiple Web pages in the same Web browser window. Each window is opened in its own “tab” which is accessible with a simple click.

Tabbed Browsing

Firefox has supported tabbed browsing for some time now. Safari on the Mac does, too. And Microsoft Internet Explorer for Windows has finally caught up, adding this feature in version 7.

Today, while trying desperately to catch up with the few RSS feeds that I follow, I ran across an article on LifeHacker by Adam Pash titled “Firefox Quick Tip: Drag and Drop URL Text.” In it Adam explains how to open a URL displayed on a Web page by dragging it to the address bar. Pretty simple stuff, but probably a revelation for someone who didn’t know they could do this.

With tabbed browsing, you can do something similar — but better. Say you’re reading a blog article that includes a lot of links. You want to follow the links, but you want to finish reading the article first. If you’re like me, you know you’ll forget to go back and click the links.

If you already know this trick, you’re probably saying, “Pretty simple stuff.” If so, stop reading and get on with your life. But if this is all new to you, read on.

Drag link to tab area.Here’s what you do: drag the link you want to read to a blank part of the tab bar (the close button at the end of the tab bar works, too) — or to a tab you don’t mind overwriting with other content. Firefox will load that page in the background while you continue to read the page that link was on.

Use the contextual menu.Another way to do this is to Control-click (Mac OS) or right-click on a link and choose the Open Link in New Tab command on the contextual menu that appears.

This is especially useful if you have a really slow Internet connection (like I do at home) and don’t like to wait for pages to load. It enables you to keep busy doing something else while your computer gets the page you want to see. Then, when you’re ready to read the page, it’s ready and waiting for you.

Tabs preferencesOf course, to take advantage of tabbed browsing, it must be enabled and the tab bar must be displayed. In Mac OS, choose Firefox > Preferences, click the Tabs button, and turn off the option labeled “Hide the tab bar when only one web site is open.” Click the close button to close the preferences window and save your settings.

Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer

I find the right bookmark synchronizer for FireFox.

One of the features I immediately missed when I switched from Safari to Firefox was bookmark synchronization. I use two different Macintoshes on a daily basis — my desktop Mac at the office and my little PowerBook — and it really bugged me that they didn’t have the same bookmarks.

But I quickly learned that Firefox supports extensions and add-ons. And I tracked down a plugin called Bookmark Synchronizer SE. I installed it on both Macs and soon had synchronization working on Firefox.

But BMSync SE had upload and download progress boxes that appeared each time it uploaded bookmarks to my server or downloaded bookmarks from my server. If I set it on Automatic upload/download, this dumb box appeared every time I closed all Firefox windows, quit Firefox, or opened a Firefox window. It was annoying. When I put it in manual mode, I had to remember to upload and download the bookmarks. This is more effort than I wanted to make.

Yesterday, after making some extensive changes to my bookmarks, I went looking for another solution. And I found it: Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer. This works like BMSync in that you must install it on each computer you want to synchronize. When you restart Firefox, a Foxmarks installation wizard appears. It guides you through the steps to set up an account on the Web site where your bookmarks will be stored. Turn on automatic synchronization and you’re done.

What I like about Foxmarks is how effort-free it is. And although I’ve set up a account, I could also set up Foxmarks to work with my own server to help enhance privacy. (Not that doesn’t have security; I’m sure it does.)

I uninstalled BMSync this morning. And I’m really glad I don’t have to look at those silly download windows anymore.