Creating Universal Bookmarks in One Step
Frequently Asked Questions

Stephen P. Morse , San Francisco

Sections:

100 Background
200 Initializing Universal Bookmarks
300 Using Universal Bookmarks
400 Miscellaneous


100 BACKGROUND


101. What are bookmarks?

Bookmarks (Netscape, Mozilla/Firefox, Opera terminology) or favorites (Microsoft terminology) are pointers to web locations that you would like to save in order to return to them later.  Each browser offers you the ability to save your bookmarks/favorites.
 

102. What are Universal Bookmarks and why would I want to use them?

I thought I was coining this term, but a google search reveals that it's already in use and with almost the same meaning that I was giving to it.

Universal Bookmarks are bookmarks that can be used from any browser and from any machine.  By contrast, the bookmarks saved by a particular browser on a particular machine can be later referenced only from that same browser and on that same machine.

For example, suppose you sometimes run the Netscape browser and at other times you run the Microsoft browser.  From each browser you will encounter websites whose locations you might like to save.  If you use the browser's bookmark facility to bookmark the location, those bookmarks that you save when using the Microsoft browser will not be available to you when you later use the Netscape browser and vice versa.

As another example, suppose you always use the Microsoft browser, but sometimes you do so from home and sometimes from work (or from a friends house, or from a library, or even from another computer in your own house).  Any bookmarks that you save when using the bookmark facility from the Microsoft browser on your home computer will not be available to you from the other locations even though you are using the same browser.
 

103. Where is the bookmarks file stored?

The bookmarks file created by the bookmark facilities provided by the various browsers is saved on the computer that you are using at the time.  By contrast, Universal Bookmarks are stored on a server somewhere in cyberspace, and so will be available to you regardless of what computer you are running on, or which browser you are using.

I don't store your Universal Bookmarks on my server.  That would require me to provide diskspace to everybody who wants to use my Universal Bookmark tools, and to maintain accounts for these people.

Instead I ask you to give me the location of a server on which you would like me to store your Universal Bookmarks.  It means that you need to have storage space available on some server, but most people already do.  If you don't have disk space, there are free services that will provide you with such.



200 INITIALIZING UNIVERSAL BOOKMARKS


201. What is the starting point for using your Universal Bookmark facility?

The starting point is my "Creating Universal Bookmarks in One Step" form.  That form is located here.


202. What do the fields on your Creating-Universal-Bookmarks-in-One-Step form mean?

My form asks for the following information:

bookmark file

ftp server
ftp username
ftp password
ftp filename

Where should page appear when a bookmark is clicked?
Should icons be displayed?

The first item allows my tool to read your bookmarks file.  The next four items all allow it to write to your bookmarks file, which provides the ability to add new bookmarks or remove ones that were previously added.  The last two items are options describing how you would like your bookmarks to behave.

bookmark file

This is the only item that is required.  It is that address in cyberspace from which your bookmark file can be downloaded.  For example, if you have a pacbell account, you might have server space available to you at http://home.pacbell.net/jacksmith, and that's where you will like your bookmark file to be placed.  And suppose you want to name your bookmark file "bookmarks.js" (it must end in .js).  In that case you would enter
bookmark file:   http://home.pacbell.net/jacksmith/bookmarks.js
If you are concerned about privacy, you would probably choose some secret name for this file.  See question 401.
ftp items
There are several ways to write to a file on a server.  One is by using ftp (File Transfer Protocol).  If your website provider doesn't offer ftp access, don't worry about it -- there are other ways to update the file as described in question 305.  However these other ways are not as automatic (requires more than one step) so the ftp method is certainly preferred.  You do not need to fill in the ftp items if you are not going to use ftp to update the bookmarks file.

Most website providers do offer ftp access.  The provider should be able to tell you the name of their ftp server.  In the case of pacbell, that server is simply home.pacbell.net.  But for others is might be of the form ftp.something.net, etc.  You need to get this information from your provider.  Also your provider has probably already given you the ability to select a username and a password.  This same username and password are needed when using ftp.

So an example of the four ftp items might be:

ftp server:        home.pacbell.net
ftp username:   jacksmith
ftp password:  secret
ftp filename:     bookmarks.js
If your username contains an @, see question 405.
bookmark behavior
When a bookmark is clicked, the page it brings up can either appear in the current window overwriting the bookmark list, or it can appear in a new window without destroying the bookmark list.  The latter is a nice way to keep the bookmark list around permanently so you can alway return to it easily.  However, if you are not careful about closing windows, you could wind up with many windows open at the same time.

Many websites have specially-designed icons that make their site easily identifiable.  Some of the newer browser display these icons on the address line along with the website's address and/or they display these icons on the bookmarking facility that is built into the browser.  You have the option of whether or not you want these icons displayed on the universal bookmark display.  The bookmark display looks much prettier with the icons, but it displays much quicker without them.


203. What do I do after I fill in the form in question 202?

You hit continue.  Then you will see three links.  They are:

Use Bookmarks
Add Bookmark
Manage Bookmarks
You will want to place these links somewhere convenient so you will be able to get to them easily whenever you want to use the Universal Bookmarks.  The various browsers give you the ability to place them on a toolbar but each browser calls it something different.  Specifically
Microsoft browser calls it the links toolbar.
Netscape browser calls it the personal toolbar.
Mozilla/Firefox browsers calls it the bookmark toolbar.
Opera browser calls it the personal toolbar.
In any case, the first thing you need to do is make sure that the required toolbar is visible.  Again each browser has its own procedure for doing that.
Microsoft browser:  Go to the view menu, select toolbars, and check off links.
Netscape browser: Go to the view menu, select show/hide, and check off personal toolbar.
Mozilla/Firefox browsers. Go to the view menu, select toolbars, and check off bookmark toolbar.
Opera browser. Go to the view menu, select toolbars, and check of personal toolbar.
There's yet an additional step for the Microsoft browser.  Even though you've made your links toolbar visible, it might be so small that nothing is visible on the screen.  You would normally fix that by dragging the border between the links toolbar and the address bar to make the toolbar wider and the address bar narrower.  However the toolbar width is initially "locked" so you can't do that.  To unlock it, go to the view menu, select "toolbars", and then notice if  "Lock the Toolbars" is checked.  If it is, click on it and it will become unchecked.  Then you can alter the width.  You might also want to delete a lot of the items that are initially on the links toolbar order to make room for useful ones.

Once you've made the toolbar visible, you simply drag the three links from my webpage onto the toolbar.  (The Microsoft browser will give you a warning that you are installing a link that might not be safe.  Just ignore that warning.  Of course if you don't trust me, then don't use my Universal Bookmark tools -- I promise I won't be offended.)

If you are running Windows XP Service Pack 2 or later, you won't be able to drag-and-drop the links on the toolbar.  Instead you must use the following procedure to get them there:

Right click on the link and select "Add to Favorites"
Ignore the warning about installing a favorite that might not be safe
You will see a "Create in:" box with a list of folders.  Click on the "Links" or "Toolbar" folder.
Click OK
That completes the initialization process.

If you want to change any of the information above, you must regenerate the three links and again place them on the toolbar.  But before doing so, you'll need to delete the toolbar items you created previously.  With the newer browsers, you can delete by simply right-clicking on the toolbar item and selecting "delete" ("remove from toolbar" in the case of Opera).  However the older browsers (such as Netscape 4) do nothing when you right-click on a toolbar item.  So an alternate way of deleting is by using the browsers bookmarks/favorites feature as follows:

Microsoft browser:
   Go to "Favorites" menu and select "Organize Favorites".
   Look in the "Links" folder and select the item you want to delete
   Right-click and select "delete".

Netscape browsers:
   Go to "Bookmarks" menu and select "Manage Bookmarks".
   Look in the "Personal Toolbar Folder" and select the item you want to delete.
   Right-click and select "delete".

Mozilla/Firefox browsers:
   Go to "Bookmarks" menu and select "Manage Bookmarks".
   Look in the "Bookmarks Toolbar Folder" and select the item you want to delete.
   Right-click and select "delete".

Opera browser:
   Go to "Bookmarks" menu and select "Manage Bookmarks".
   Look in the "Links Folder" and select the item you want to delete.
   Right-click and select "delete".



300 USING UNIVERSAL BOOKMARKS


301. How can I copy all my existing browser bookmarks into my universal bookmarks?

That's a two-step process.  First you must export your existing bookmarks into a file and then you can import that file into your universal bookmarks.

The export step is different depending on the browser you are using.  Here is how you do it for the various browsers:

Netscape 4.x browser:

Press the BOOKMARKS button that is to the left of the location bar and select EDIT BOOKMARKS.
A bookmark screen will appear.
From the bookmark-screen's FILE menu select SAVE-AS.
Specify the file to which you want you existing bookmarks exported..
Netscape 6/7 and Mozilla/Firefox browsers
From the BOOKMARKS menu select MANAGE BOOKMARKS.
A bookmark screen will appear.
From the bookmark-screen's FILE menu (Netscape 6, Mozilla/Firefox) or TOOLS menu (Netscape 7) select EXPORT or EXPORT BOOKMARKS.
Specify the file to which you want your existing bookmarks exported.
IE browser
From the FILE menu select IMPORT AND EXPORT
When the IMPORT/EXPORT wizard asks you to choose an action, select EXPORT FAVORITES
Specify the file to which you want your existing bookmarks exported
Opera browser
From the BOOKMARKS menu select MANAGE BOOKMARKS.
A bookmark screen will appear.
From the bookmark-screen's FILE menu select EXPORT OPERA BOOKMARKS.
Specify the file to which you want your existing bookmarks exported.
The import step is easy -- you click on the manage-bookmarks link that you previously dragged to the toolbar (see question 203) and then press the IMPORT button.  You then supply the name of the file to which you previously exported your browser bookmarks.
 

302. How do I add a bookmark for a page that I am visiting?

While you are on that page, simply click the add-bookmark link that you previously dragged to the toolbar (see question 203).  That brings up a dialog that lets you select where in your bookmark list you would like this new bookmark to be added.  You make your selection.

After making your selection you press the Save button.  This assumes that you have filled in the ftp fields in question 202.  If you have not, then you can not use the Save button.  Instead you must save manually using the Source button as described in question 305.
 

303. How do I go to a page that I have previously bookmarked?

Click on the use-bookmarks link that you previously dragged to the toolbar (see question 203).  That brings up the list of all your bookmarks.  Simply click on the bookmark that you want, and the page corresponding to that bookmark will appear.
 

304. How do I modify my list of bookmarks?

Click on the manage-bookmarks link that you previously dragged to the toolbar (see question 203).  That brings up a dialog that lets you select existing bookmarks in your list and delete them, lets you select positions at which to insert new bookmarks, lets you edit the descriptions of existing bookmarks, etc.

You can also use this dialog to organize your bookmarks into folders and even subdivide the folders into sections.  These are described in question 306.

After you have finished all your modifications you press the Save button.  This assumes that you have filled in the ftp fields in question 202.  If you have not, then you can not use the Save button.  Instead you must save manually using the Source button as described in question 305.
 

305. I don't have ftp access to my server.  How do I manually save my bookmark list each time I modify it?

You do so by creating a bookmark file locally on your computer and then putting that file onto your server using whatever facilities your website provider makes available.  Usually that would be some sort of file manager.  You'll need to check with your website provider for the details on that.  That part is out of my hands.  The part that I have to teach you is how to create the bookmark file on your local disk.

You'll need to use some sort of text editor to create your local bookmark file.  I recommend using notepad which comes with all versions of the windows operating system.  You get to notepad by clicking on the start menu, selecting run, and typing notepad when it asks for the name of the program.  Now you are ready to enter the contents of the modified bookmark file into notepad.  You get these contents by clicking on the Source button in either the add-bookmark or manage-bookmarks dialog, selecting all the source, copying it, and pasting it into notepad.  Convenient shortcuts for selecting all, copying, and pasting are control-A, control-C, and control-V respectively.  Once you are finished copying the source, you save the file (control-S).  That completes the creation of the bookmark file on your local disk, and then its up to you and your website provider to figure out how to upload that file onto your server.

Caution: You cannot use a word processor (e.g., Microsoft Word) or an html editor (e.g., Microsoft's Frontpage or Netscape's Composer) to create your local bookmark file.  Both word processors and html editors will put a lot more in the file than just the text you are copying.  You must use a text editor.  If you don't know which programs are and which are not a text editors, then simply use notepad.
 

306. How do I organize my bookmarks into folders and even subdivide the folders into sections

The manage-bookmarks dialog (question 304) provides the ability to add folders and separators into your bookmark list.  You can create a folder or a separator just like you create a bookmark.

You select the location at which you would like to add a bookmark, folder, or separator.  Then you click the Bookmark, Folder, or Separator button.

Once a folder is created, it can be opened or closed by clicking on the folder icon.  If you then create a new bookmark or separator immediately following an open folder, the new item will be placed in that folder.  If you create a new bookmark or separator immediately following a closed folder, the new item will be placed at the same level as the folder.
 

307. How can I use my Universal Bookmarks when I'm on someone else's computer and don't have my toolbar?

There are two ways to do this.  One involves using an html bookmark file on your server.  The other involves reusing my "Creating Universal Bookmarks in One Step" form.

Using an HTML bookmark file:

When you originally described your environment using my "Creating Universal Bookmarks in One Step" form (see questions 201 to 203), I created an html file for you and placed it on your server.  That file has the same website address (URL) as the bookmark file that you specified (see question 202) except that it ends in ".html" instead of ".js".  If you enter this location into your browser's address field, you will see your bookmarks.  You can do this from any browser on anyone's computer.

This method requires that files can be created on your server using a protocol called ftp.  If your server doesn't allow ftp access, you can still use an HTML bookmark file, but you have to create it manually.  My form showed you that code that has to go in such a file and you have to create the file yourself and upload it to your server using whatever means your server provides (such as a file manager).  See question 305 for details of how to create a file on your server manually.

Reusing my "Creating Universal Bookmarks in One Step" form:
In this case you would need to start from the (beginning) again and enter the location of your bookmark file.  You don't need to enter your ftp information because you probably won't be modifying your bookmark file from this other compter.  But if you do plan on modifying your bookmark file, enter the ftp information too.

You then hit the continue button, just as you did in question 203.  The three links will appear -- namely Use Bookmarks, Add Bookmark, and Manage Bookmark.  Simply click on the Use-Bookmark link, and you will be presented with your bookmark list.  You now use the bookmark list as normal.

Note that, unlike question 203, you did not drag any links to the toolbar.  That's because this is not your computer and you don't want to be making modifications to someone else's browser.



400 MISCELLANEOUS


401. If my Universal Bookmarks are stored on my server, how do I prevent unauthorized people from accessing them?

That's a valid concern since, for privacy reasons, you probably don't want the world to know what sites you've found interesting enough to bookmark.

One thing I could have done is incorporate some form of password protection.  But that would have made it awkward for you to use your own bookmarks.  However, a password is simply a secret word that only you know.  So the same effect can be obtained by making the name of the bookmark file secret.  Instead of naming it something obvious like "bookmarks.js" (see question 202 where you supply the name of your bookmark file), use some secret name instead.  Now the only people who will be able to access your bookmarks file are the ones who know your secret file name.

However, there's a caveat.  You don't want people to obtain a listing of all files on your server and thereby see the name of your bookmarks file.  But that's easy to prevent by simply putting a file called index.html into the directory that your bookmarks file is stored in.  For simplicity the file can be completely empty, or it can contain any page that you would like to display when a user attempts to view the contents of your directory -- for example:

<html><body>KEEP OUT</body></html>


402. Can I have more than one set of bookmarks?

Absolutely.  In that case you would use different names for the two files.  For example, you might call the first one bookmarks1.js and the second bookmarks2.js.  Also, after you drag each set of three links to your toolbar (see question 203), rename the links so you can recognize which set of three links apply to which bookmark file.  So you might rename the first set of three links to

Use Bookmarks1
Add Bookmark1
Manage Bookmarks1
and the second set to
Use Bookmarks2
Add Bookmark2
Manage Bookmarks2


403. How can I have my browser start up with my bookmarks page?

Set your browser to startup with the the html filed that I created for you when you described your environment using my "Creating Universal Bookmarks in One Step" form (see questions 201 to 203).  That file has the same website address (URL) as the bookmark file that you specified (see question 202) except that it ends in ".html" instead of ".js".

Here's how you set your startup page for the various browsers:

Microsoft, Mozilla/Firefox, Opera:

From the tool menu select "Internet Options" (Microsoft), "Options" (Mozilla/Firefox) or "Preferences" (Opera)..
Go to the General panel if you are not already there.
In the homepage section fill in the URL of the .html file mentioned above.
Netscape:
From the edit menu select "Preferences".
Go to the Navigator panel if you are not already there.
In the homepage section of the Navigator panel, fill in the URL of the .html file mentioned above.
In the Display-On section set "Navigator Startup" to "Home Page". You might want to do the same for "New Window" and "New Tab".


404. Can I bookmark webpages that are local to my computer?

Yes and no.  Let me explain.

First of all, any such local webpages will not be accessible when you are using your bookmarks on someone else's computer.  But you probably realized that, and just want to be able to use the bookmarks to these local pages when you are on your own computer.

Now the answer is different depending on the browser you are using.

If you are running the old Netscape browser (N4.x or earlier), you will have no problem clicking on bookmarks that take you to local webpages.  Those early browser did not consider this to be a security risk.

If you are running the Microsoft browser, you must tell the browser that you want to permit your bookmark file to access pages on your local computer.  You do so by going to the tools menu and selecting Internet Options.  Then you click on the tab that says security, then click on the icon that says trusted sites, and finally click on the button that says Sites.  That will bring up a dialog that allows you to add trusted websites.  You want to add the server on which your bookmark file resides to this list.  If, for example, your bookmark file is on http://home.pacbell.net, you would add that to the list.  Then you click on OK twice to close this dialog.

If you are running on the newer Netscape browsers (versions 6.x or 7.x), on the Mozilla/Firefox browser, or on the Opera browser, you appear to be out of luck.  I have not been able to figure out a way to tell the browser to allow specific sites to link to local webpages.  If anyone knows how to do it, please let me know and I'll modify the answer to this question.

[Second Thoughts]

As of XP Service Pack 2, the Microsoft browser no longer lets you have bookmarks that take you to local webpages.  This means that you can't have bookmarks to local pages when using any of the modern browsers..

To get around the problem I added a "Local" button to the manage-bookmarks display.   That button will present you with html code that behaves like a bookmark file.  Copy and paste that code into a file using a text editor such as notepad (do not use a word processor or an html editor) and store the file somewhere on your local disk.  Then point your browser at the file.  Your bookmarks will be displayed.  Since the display is coming from a file on your local disk, you will be able to click on links that take you to other pages on your local disk.

As an added convenience you can place this file on your toolbar, just as you did for the other universal bookmark links (see question 203).  To do so, point your browser at the file, then drag the icon that is at the left of the filename and drop it on the toolbar.   On the Netscape 4.x browser the icon precedes the address bar, whereas on the newer browsers it is in the address bar itself.

Keep in mind that even though the file that generates the display is sitting on your local disk, the file is fetching the description of your bookmarks from your server.  So your bookmarks are still universal and can be modified from any computer -- such modifications will be seen when you next display your bookmarks using this local file.
 

405. Do I need to do anything special if my ftp username contains an @ symbol?

You cannot have an @ symbol in a username so you'll have to get rid of it somehow.

Usually the @ symbol comes about because your internet provider wants to combine the local usernames from several different domains that it owns.  So it distinguishes the users by appending the @ after the local user name and adding the domain name.

For example, sbc might have given you a username of joesmith@sbc.com and their ftp address is ftp.sbc.com.  In this case the domain name of the ftp site (sbc.com) is the same as the domain name that they tacked onto your local user name.  So you can leave it off and simply enter the username of joesmith on my form.

Another example is that sbc gave you a username of janedoe@pacbell.net and their ftp address is ftp.sbc.com.  In this case the domain name that they tacked onto your local username is important and can't be left off.  However there is usually an alternate that you can do so that it still works without the @.  For example, some providers let you enter janedoe%pacbell.net.  If that doesn't work,  you'll probably be able to get away with substituting %40 for the @, such as in janedoe%40pacbell.net.  You'll need to experiment to find a way that works that doesn't use the @ symbol.

One way to experiment with variations on your username is to set your browser on the following address and see if it displays your directory

ftp://<username>:<password>@<ftp-address>
As an example, if your ftp information is
ftp server:        home.pacbell.net
ftp username:   jacksmith
ftp password:  secret
then you would set your browser at
ftp://jacksmith:secret@home.pacbell.net


406. How can I use the universal bookmarks if I don't have access to a server?

Without having your bookmarks file out on the web, you won't be able to access your universal bookmarks from other computers.  But you will be able to access them from all the browsers on your own computer.  Here's how.

Go through all the steps in questions 201, 202, and 203.  Leave the ftp fields blank.  For the bookmarks file address you will specify an address local to your machine. So rather than entering something like

http://home.pacbell.net/jacksmith/bookmarks.js
you would enter something like the following instead
file:///c|/myfolder/boomarks.js


407. I know I have entered the correct ftp address, ftp username and ftp password, so whyl can't I get the ftp features to work?

I know you probably know what you are doing, but let's just make sure.  To verify that what you think you know is correct, enter the following into the address bar in your browser

ftp ://username:password@server
where
username is what you believe to be your ftp username
passord is what you believe to be your ftp password
server is what you believe to be your ftp server address
If you do not get a listing of your directory contents, then at least one of the above items are not what you believed them to be.  If you do get your directory listing, then you indeed have the correct values for the above three items.  But when you entered them onto my universal bookmark form you got a message saying that it could not connect to your ftp server.

The most common explanation is that your server is blocking ftp access that are not coming from within its domain.  For example, suppose your server is sbc.com.  And you are connected to the Internet through your SBC dsl line.  So when you did the ftp through your browser, that access came from the sbc.com domain and the sbc ftp server was happy to allow that access.  However my universal bookmark tool will attempt to do the ftp through my server which is not in the sbc domain, and it will be blocked.

Your next step is to contact your server and find out if they are indeed doing such blocking.  If so, ask them if there is some back door that they will let you use so that you can do an ftp when not within their domain.  If there isn't any, then you won't be able to use the ftp features of my universal bookmarks.  In that case see question 305 for instructions on how to use universal bookmarks without having ftp access.
 

408. I'm running Netscape 4.x (or  IE 5.1) on a mac.  Why can't I get the add and manage bookmarks button to work?

Although I haven't verified this, one of my users did an analysis on this problem and discovered that these old browsers are truncating long URLs that are associated with the buttons on the tookbar.  The URL for the use-bookmarks button was often short enough so it didn't get truncated, but the URLs for the other two buttons weren't that fortunate.

This problem does not occur on these older browsers when run in a pc environment.  I've used universal bookmarks in Netscape 4.8 on a pc with no problems.  So far the problem has been reported only on the mac.

Here's a work-around but it's not clean.  In place of the long URLs that were associated with the use, add, and manage buttons, insert a very short URL such as the following:

http://yourserver.com/use.html
http://yourserver.com/add.html
http://yourserver.com/manage.html
Then upload use.html, add.html, and manage.html files to your server.  Each of these files are of the form

  <html>
    <head>
      <script> document.location.replace("<long url>");</script>
    </head>
  </html>

where <long url> is a portion of the of the address that the universal bookmark utility would have associated with the use/add/manage bookmarks buttons.  For example, if the address that would have been associated  with the manage bookmarks button is

javascript:document.location="https://stevemorse.org/bookmarks/edit.php?js=http://"+escape("stevemorse.org/bookmarks") + ".js&icon=yes&window=same" + "&ftpsrvr="+escape("yourserver.com") + "&ftpuser="+escape("yourname") + "&ftppass="+escape("yourpassword") + "&ftpfile="+escape("/www/www/bookmarks.js") + ""
then the code for manage.html needs to be

  <html>
    <head>
      <script>
        document.location.replace(
"https://stevemorse.org/bookmarks/edit.php?js=http://"+escape("stevemorse.org/bookmarks") + ".js&icon=yes&window=same" + "&ftpsrvr="+escape("yourserver.com") + "&ftpuser="+escape("yourname") + "&ftppass="+escape("yourpassword") + "&ftpfile="+escape("/www/www/bookmarks.js") + ""
        );
      </script>
    </head>
  </html>
 

-- Steve Morse