If the saying "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different
results" is true, then the majority of Web developers should have been committed to the asylum a long time ago. After
all, the approach of repeatedly editing and reloading the page until everything is as desired is as universal as HTML
itself. Part of the problem is perhaps related to the Web environment itself; getting started building Web sites is
so simple that many developers fall into the trap of settling for a developmental approach which is simply
"good enough," rather than exploring more sophisticated, streamlined strategies. If your pointer finger has grown
callused from clicking the
F5 button far too often, I encourage you to check out the Firefox Web
Developer Add-in, which offers an extraordinary array of features which will greatly improve your productivity no
matter the type or size of your next Web-related project. In this article I'll introduce you to Web Developer, providing
and overview of its many features and talking in further detail about a few of my favorites.
Installing Web Developer
Web Developer is actually a Firefox Add-on, although it's commonly referred to as a toolbar because when enabled it is situated in a manner typical of other toolbars such as the Google Toolbar. This approach puts many of the toolbar's features within easy reach. See Figure 1 for a screenshot depicting the standard layout.
To install Web Developer, launch Firefox and head over to the Web Developer Add-on page, located
here. Click the
Add to Firefox button
to install the Add-on. A popup window will open, asking you to confirm the installation request. Click the
Install Now button to continue. Following successful installation, you'll be prompted to restart
Firefox to complete the process.
Exploring the Web Developer Toolbar Options
As you can see in Figure 1, the Web Developer Toolbar offers 12 menu options:
- Cookies: Use this menu to disable, view, clear, and delete session cookies.
- CSS: The CSS menu allows you to dynamically add new CSS rules via a console window, add entirely new CSS stylesheets, view embedded style sheets, and even disable certain style types. This option can be quite useful for quickly testing slight CSS modifications to your site.
- Forms: Using the Forms menu you can overlay any forms embedded into the
page with information about the action, method, and form fields. Enabling the
Form Informationoption will produce a summary of all forms found on the page, including their name, method, post action, and fields (including each field name, default value, and type).
- Images: The extremely useful
Imagesmenu offers options for learning all sorts of important details about embedded images, including file sizes, dimensions,
altattribute values, and image paths. You can also use various menu options to hide all images in the page, hide only background images, and view images as they would appear with only their
altattribute values displayed.
- Information: The
Informationmenu is probably the Web Developer feature I use most regularly, as it provides a bevy of information about the page layout, displaying
- Miscellaneous: The
Miscellaneousmenu offers a random array of features which don't fit squarely into one of the other menu categories, although don't discount what you'll find here; among other options you can enable a dynamic ruler which allows you to quickly and conveniently measure the pixel dimensions of any page element. Figure 2 demonstrates this feature.
- Outline: The
Outlinemenu gives you the ability to outline many page element types, including tables, block-level and deprecated elements, any element you mouseover, and more.
- Resize: The
Resizemenu allows you to resize the browser window to any set of alternative dimensions. For instance, you could use this feature to resize the browser window to 800x600 pixels in order to experience what your Web site might look like on older computers.
- Tools: The perhaps poorly named
Toolsmenu allows you to validate your Web site's CSS, RSS feed, HTML, Section 508 conformability, receive an optimization analysis as determined by WebsiteOptimization.com, in addition to easy access to the DOM Inspector (if installed), Firefox Error Console, and Java Console.
- View Source: Perhaps not surprisingly, the
View Sourcemenu gives you easy access to the page source.
- Options: Last but not least, the
Optionsmenu gives you access to various Web Developer options and preferences.
With the overview completed, let's turn our attention to a few Web Developer features I consider to be particularly valuable.