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How to convince more websites to work with the RISC OS Firefox port

By Paul Stewart. Published: 3rd Jan 2009, 21:56:28 | Permalink | Printable

Although the Firefox port for RISC OS can access far more websites than any other web browser on the platform, it's still locked out of some sites because it doesn't declare itself as Firefox to web servers. Here Paul Stewart explains how to make the port tango with more picky websites.

Ever wondered why you cannot access that banking or ecommerce website even though you are running the RISC OS port of Firefox 2? Did you think that running Firefox 2 would solve all your browsing issues? This article looks at one method of getting around blocks stopping the browser from accessing certain sites.

For what it's worth, this isn't a Flash or Java issue - it's a user agent issue. Browsers declare their names and version numbers to websites. Sites can use this information to turn away incompatible browsers or alter their content to match the functionality of the browser. Of course, as we will see, users can edit the user agent text sent to web servers.

When I first started to use the RISC OS port of Firefox, I thought finally I could do my internet banking on my main system - my RISC OS computer. What a disappointment I got when the NatWest site indicated my browser was not supported. I was running Firefox, so what was the problem? Some time ago, I came across a website called What'sMyUserAgent.com, which displayed the user agent of the web browser. Below are the results from Netsurf and Firefox, respectively:

I thought it looked pretty clear what my problem was and why I could not access sites that were meant to support Firefox 2: the software was declaring itself as Bon Echo, the codename given to Firefox 2 while it was in development. As you can see from the image below, I was not welcome by NatWest, which turned away the browser because it did not recognise the user agent:

The fix was to change the user agent variable within the Firefox port. This is also really very easy to do, as I will show you.

1. Run Firefox
2. Browse to About:Config by typing About:Config into the address bar.
3. In the Filter box, type general.useragent to filter the results down to four entries.
4. Double click on general.useragent.extra.firefox

5. Change this entry from BonEcho/ to Firefox/
6. Press OK.

The change is now saved. If you now go back to What'sMyUserAgent.com, you can see the user agent string that Firefox gives out now reads as Firefox and not Bon Echo. Returning to the Natwest Online Banking site, I now have access and can perform all the activities available from the site.

So as you can see, with a minor modification to your Firefox installation, you can open up a few more sites to use on your RISC OS system. Happy browsing.


RISC OS Firefox port webpage

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Tried this though it still announces its self as Bon Echo in the top window bar. Its not happy logging into shopping Tesco account (? when will my chosen tumble dryer be in stock)

 is a RISC OS Userjlavallin on 4/1/09 6:35AM
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The text in the title bar window is not altered by changing the User Agent.

 is a RISC OS Usersa110 on 4/1/09 10:48AM
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Ohh thats good it now works with Natwest. Before the only way I could get in was with O2 and changing its user agent there to IE 5. I also contacted Natwest as IE8 won't get in (when trying my flatmates pc ) In fact the newer Firefox port seems to cope better with facebook and flickr

 is a RISC OS UserHairy on 4/1/09 10:33AM
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Excellent tip, thanks Paul. Sometimes I run into the same problem with Safari 3, even though I can change its user agent. It's ridiculous and the real problem lies with the site designer, or should I say, the person instructing the site designer to impose this limitation.

Even more annoying are websites that fully depend upon Flash to be able to use them, but thankfully I don't come across them as often as I used to.

Next time: How to convince more site designers to work with proper webstandards, not just IE6. Or even: How to convince more websites to work with ArcWeb. ;)

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 4/1/09 5:33PM
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Alternatively if any RISC OS port of Firefox was ever finished, rather than being left in a semi implemented state which precludes it from being called FireFox under Mozilla rules, then we wouldn't have this sort of problem.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 4/1/09 8:45PM
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Mr. Positive strikes again :-)

 is a RISC OS UserStoppers on 4/1/09 11:07PM
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He does have a point tho.

 is a RISC OS Usersa110 on 5/1/09 9:15AM
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Does he? Maybe in an ideal world, but the world is at it is. I have used (I think) every version yet produced of RISC OS Firefox including; each one has been an improvement on its predecessor, to the point where I am seriously considering removing NetSurf* from my app. loading sequence on bootup and replacing it with Firefox. Sure, printing doesn't work properly (nor does NetSurf for that matter), there's no Flash support, the dropdown menus aren't fully implemented, but this latest version is by far the most capable RISC OS browser yet offered, and runs at acceptable speed on this Iyonix. For all of which I am sincerely grateful to its developer. (*I don't mean to knock NetSurf, which is excellent as far as it goes, but that isn't as far as Firefox).

 is a RISC OS Userbucksboy on 5/1/09 3:19PM
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Netsurf is playing catchup with most browsers, as it's only been in the public domain for what, 1-2 years? Firefox came out of the open sourcing of the Netscape engine in 1998, only 5-6 years later did we see the first version of Firefox come out, so give the Netsurf guys a chance. I'm pleased with what they've done so far.

Note to hEgelia - Arcweb? Well, the usual goal is to degrade gracefully towards Netscape 4.7 (screen out CSS, produce semantic HTML). Even if it looks basic in Netscape, there's a good chance it will play nicely in Arcweb, Lynx etc.

But I agree, it's a real minefield, hence the number of sites and books on the subject. Great little cottage industry!

 is a RISC OS Usersascott on 5/1/09 4:12PM
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According to [link]

Netsurf development began in April 2002, so its clearly been around for a lot longer than 1-2 years.

 is a RISC OS UserIvanDobski on 6/1/09 2:13PM
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In reply to IvanDobski:

I stand corrected, actually Netsurf had slightly smaller gestation period than that of Firefox, although the development of the latter had a less clear cut history.

 is a RISC OS Usersascott on 6/1/09 2:52PM
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I've used 'Bon Echo' builds to access NatWest on other platforms before. I suspect Mozilla might allow the UserAgent to contain 'Firefox' for this reason. Perhaps this could be fixed for future RISC OS Firefox builds?

On another note: secure sites (banks in particular) use this method as they see it as a least-worst approach to protecting their customers from fraud. It shouldn't really be used at all though.

Banks claim to test each major browser version for immediate security holes (mainly phishing/malware I suspect) before allowing access to their site. I wouldn't be surprised if some banks exclude IE6. Certainly IE5 and NS4 wouldn't be permitted now, as they no longer receive security updates.

Provided the bank can test a given browser, they have no excuse not to add it to their white list.

 is a RISC OS UserSmiler on 8/1/09 3:00PM
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Read my comment above.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 9/1/09 8:55AM
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In reply to Smiler Well Natwest contacted me when I complained about trying to access their site with FireFox on RISC OS and then IE8 on a PC. The guy explained kinda what you are saying about security and testing, I said its stupid if I have to get another browser ( O2 on RISC OS ) to ' pretend ' to be IE5 ! He went on and on about security and that they do more testing compared to other banks. This was after I explained I can use various browser O2,FireFox and Netsurf on different banks.

 is a RISC OS UserHairy on 8/1/09 5:46PM
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Thanks to this very informative article I was able to 'tune' Firefox on my Asus EEE 701, so that I can now access the Post Office (Bank of Ireland) savings site, without getting a very unhelpful 'this site works better with IE 5.3' message.

 is a RISC OS UserYorkey on 19/2/09 7:21PM
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Glad to have been of assistance.

 is a RISC OS Usersa110 on 20/2/09 5:45PM
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