the_simple_computer

Search Engines for (almost) Everyone

Updated December 13, 2015

This site is no longer being maintained so anything below could still be accurate, or very outdated.


It's hard to top the convenience of web searches through a browser's address bar. Modern browsers can store multiple websites to be summoned and searched by keyword or letter of your choosing. For example, you grab the address bar (Control+L), press the Y key and type whatever you want to search Youtube for.

You can do this for online retailers, forums, news sites, weather—any site with a search ability. There's no need anymore to first visit a website's homepage, nor for extra extensions, toolbars and such things.


youtubesearch

Chromium-based browsers and Midori store search engines as OpenSearch URLs. Those that aren't preloaded in the browsers are accumulated from your browsing history (see chrome://settings/searchEngines). That makes adding search sites nearly automatic but with Midori and Opera, these URLs must be added manually.

On the other hand, Firefox & variants and Internet Explorer use OpenSearch description documents, though some Firefox search plugins are still the old MozSearch format. Usually you download additional search plugins, add-ons or whatever you want to call them through Firefox's Add-ons page, the Internet Explorer Gallery or maybe the Mycroft Project.

But these search add-ons are just a short XML file and making your own isn't hard. This gives you ultra customizability and it may be your only option if the site you have in mind doesn't already have something available. In addition to the OpenSearch links above, here are guides from Microsoft and Mozilla for your further reading pleasure.

Alas, I have disappointment for some of you. Though Internet Explorer uses an easy and standardized format for search engine plugins, you can't actually add any since IE8. You can submit your own to the IE gallery but then you need a Microsoft Account to do this. Amusing. Apple's Safari also doesn't let you make such convenient changes. Expected.

One issue though, if you make or modify any search add-on XML files, you should either name the files something different than what's available in the addon stores or disable search engine updates so yours aren't overwritten by any from the official add-on site.


Ok..but why?

Now comes the inevitable question of, why bother? Why customize these add-ons or URLs? Why not just be satisfied with what's given by the add-on sites or the browser? I offer several reasons.

  1. DuckDuckGo, Ixquick and Startpage are some search engines which let you create custom search URLs on their websites. Those custom parameters can be plugged into the OpenSearch URL and file formats so no cookies, bookmarks or homepage changes are needed and in DuckDuckGo's case, no need to use their Cloud Save. See the bottom of the page for more on this.
  2. When you customize or start from scratch, you can omit the (sometimes shady) additional parameters for things like personalization, your language (so results are based on your IP address), your browser & operating system names, search suggestions, affiliate tracking, etc. On the other hand, you can add search parameters too, like forcing HTTPS, search suggestions or preferred localizations (amazon.uk, google.com.au, etc.).
  3. The search add-on pages for Firefox and IE are filled with duplicates and this is annoying. The providers of Firefox's search add-ons usually lets you view the source code so you can see what's different among the 5 Startpage search plugins, but the IE Gallery does not. Firefox's search add-on page also consistently shows me wildly irrelevant results when looking for specific sites I know exist. Rather than wasting time searching for the search, I find it more productive to make my own once and forget about it from there. Maybe you're the same way.

Firefox

To exemplify how easy it is to customize or even make your own OpenSearch files, here are a few working examples. These go into your Firefox/Iceweasesel/whatever profile; do a quick search to find it's location for your operation system and browser version.

Paste the contents into a text editor, save it as vimeo.xml



<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<OpenSearchDescription xmlns:os="http://a9.com/-/spec/opensearch/1.1/">
  <ShortName>Vimeo</ShortName>
  <Description>Search for videos on Vimeo</Description>
  <Image width="16" height="16" type="image/x-icon">https://vimeo.com/favicon.ico</Image>
  <Url type="text/html" template="https://vimeo.com/search?q={searchTerms}"/>
</OpenSearchDescription>
	

weather-channel.xml



<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<OpenSearchDescription xmlns="http://a9.com/-/spec/opensearch/1.1/">
  <ShortName>Weather Channel</ShortName>
  <Description>Search Weather Channel by Zip Code</Description>
  <Image height="16" width="16" type="image/x-icon">http://www.weather.com/favicon.ico</Image>
  <Url type="text/html" template="http://www.weather.com/search/search?where={searchTerms}"/>
</OpenSearchDescription>
	

youtube.xml



<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<OpenSearchDescription xmlns="http://a9.com/-/spec/opensearch/1.1/">
  <ShortName>Youtube</ShortName>
  <Description>Search Youtube</Description>
  <Image height="16" width="16" type="image/x-icon">https://youtube.com/favicon.ico</Image>
  <Url type="text/html" template="https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query={searchTerms}"/>
</OpenSearchDescription>
	


Chrome/Chromium, Midori & Opera

Since the Chromium browsers do most of the work for you by automatically collecting searchable website URLs (Midori & Opera do not), you only need to remove or add the unwanted/wanted search parameters. All of the search addresses stored by these browsers can be stripped down to the bare essentials. Some examples:

Amazon

United States, no https available.
http://www.amazon.com/s/search?field-keywords=%s

Ebay

No https available.
http://www.ebay.com/sch/?_nkw=%s

Google

If you want a totally vanilla TLS encrypted Google Search URL, here it is.
https://encrypted.google.com/search?q=%s


Custom Search Params

Some search engines let you customize search parameters on their website and once you have those parameters, they can be plugged into the URL. No need to visit the search provider's website directly, nor to store their cookies or use any bookmarks, cloud features or anything else.

DuckDuckGo

Base URL: https://duckduckgo.com/?&q=%s
DuckDuckGo settings (click "Bookmarklet and settings data" to see the URL parameters).
Example: https://duckduckgo.com/?ka=e&kh=1&kw=s&q=%s

Ixquick

Base URL: https://ixquick.com/do/search?q=%s
Ixquick settings
Example: https://ixquick.com/do/search.pl?prf=asfd87fdsealfifseoaidsfa7e8a&q=%s

Startpage

Base URL: https://startpage.com/do/search?q=%s
Startpage settings Example: https://startpage.com/do/search.pl?prf=asfd87fdsealfifseoaidsfa7e8a&q=%s

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