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Google Chrome – Managing Extensions

 

Personally, I have been using Google Chrome for many years now (for no specific reason it just does what I need) along with various extensions (AdBlock being a personal favourite). For me using extensions has become second nature, they are one of the first things that get installed along with the browser when I get a new machine. I often don’t give a second thought about the impact that they have on my environment. That was until recently…

 

Since leaving university I began to appreciate that managing the user’s profile is a vital part of their user experience within an enterprise environment. A user’s profile contains many personal factors that a user needs to do their daily tasks, whilst allowing them to maintain a pleasant user experience including: desktop icons, desktop wallpaper, taskbar/start menu icons, colour schemes, active setup and importantly web data.

 

One problem often raised whilst managing web data which appears to be an all or nothing approach, you either manage all web data or none of it. Not managing web data causes a poor browsing experience, whilst managing all of the user’s web data causes their logon duration to increase due to profile bloat because of redundant data.

 

When I joined Avanite in spring 2018 I soon began to realize that there is a lot more to managing this web data than simply cookies, history, favourites and DOM data. One of my challenges at Avanite was to try to extend the functionality of their flagship product WebData Control to further improve the savings that can be made within the Google Chrome profile. The first part of my investigation involved viewing the Chrome profile within a disk usage viewer (I used WinDirStat). I looked at the largest directories not currently managed by WebData Control and identified what could be improved. This pointed me towards Chrome extensions.

 

Chrome Extensions

Chrome extensions are small programs that add new features and functionality to your browser, allowing for a more personal browsing experience. Extensions can range from advertising blockers to game enhancements.

 

When a Chrome extension is installed it is placed into the following directory: “%LocalAppData%\Google\Chrome\User Data\Default\Extensions\{EXTENSION_ID}” where Extension ID is the unique identification displayed in the Chrome web store:

 

 

Looking at extensions globally on our Avanite test environment it was taking up roughly 10% (50MB) of my Chrome profile with only having 5 extensions installed. This prompted a discussion at Avanite where we discussed “wouldn’t it be useful to have a blacklist/whitelist option within WebData Control to allow it to manage which extensions are roamed and managed by a profile management solution?”.  Within enterprise environments administrators would want to allow users to install certain extensions whose data can be managed, whilst removing those extensions that are not supported or needed.

 

Chrome Extension Locales

Drilling further into the extensions folder there are further sub directories containing various information that the extension needs to operate properly, including: meta data, icons, html files and locales. Looking into the locales folder it became apparent that this is one of the reasons why extensions take up so much storage. When an extension is installed that supports multiple languages it comes with a _locales sub directory which contains a single messages.json file for each language that the extension supports.  For some extensions this is reasonable as it may support a small number of locales that maybe relevant for a user, however some extensions surprised me. Take “AdBlock” for an example it comes with an additional 82 supported languages taking up over 50% of the extensions disk space.

 

 

This is great news for users that may cross operating system language packs, however it isn’t great for managing profile bloat for enterprise environment that only uses one or two particular languages.

 

The Solution

The good news is that with the recent release of Avanite’s WebData Control Version 4.2 the above issues are now managed, Chrome’s web data just became more manageable. WebData Control’s configuration now contains additional group policies that can be used to managed Chrome’s extensions and locales.

 

The new configuration setting within WebData Control for managing extensions allows the administrator to configure one of three options;

  • Blacklisted Extensions, this allows the administrator to enter a list of extension names which they want removed when WebData Control is executed.
  • Whitelisted Extension, where the administrator enters a list of extension names which their users can use, anything additional will be removed when WebData Control is executed.
  • Delete All Extensions, this is a catch all to remove all extensions installed.

 

 

Both blacklisted and whitelisted extensions support the use of the ‘*’ wildcard. For example, ‘Avanite*’ will match anything that begins with ‘Avanite’.

 

The second configuration setting introduced in version 4.2 of WebData Control allows the administrator to configure a comma separate list of which extension locales to keep.

 

 

Again, the use of the ‘*’ wildcard is supported to allow the administrator to keep all locales that match a given wildcard.

 

Outcome

With the release of version 4.2 of WebData Control administrators can now begin to manage Chrome web data at a granular level, keeping only what is essential. Having installed WebData Control version 4.0 on the Avanite testing lab it original reduced my Chrome profile by approximately 40 to 50%. By implementing version 4.2 and managing extensions and their locales (along with the additional temp data removal introduced in version 4.2) the profile is reduced by 70%. Meaning that managing Chrome’s web data just became a bit more manageable. 

 

 

David Bell (Avanite Developer)

 

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