Linux Text-Based Web Browsers
Why would you ever prefer a text-based web browser over Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Windows Edge, and other GUI browsers? There are several reasons why Systems Administrators use text-based web browsers such as lynx, links, elinks, and w3m. The CompTIA Linux+ course briefly addresses these text browsers in the class.
But you don’t need to go to a class to learn about these text browsers. Even though you probably won’t switch to lynx, links, elinks or w3m, you might as well try them out.
5 Reasons to Use Text-Based Web Browsers
1. Graphical Browsers are Slow
Graphical browsers move slowly compared to text browsers.
2. Essential in Server (GUI-less) Environments
Text browsers are essential for text-based only systems without an X-Windows system present or active. This situation occurs when systems administrators work on a server without a GUI.
3. They Consume Less Memory
Text browsers eat up less memory (RAM) than graphical browsers. You should know about the importance of RAM conservation.
4. Personal Preference
You may prefer the text only reading experience offered through the terminal without the fancy images, videos, and web styling most Internet users love. Despite what online marketing professionals may declare, every person has their own preferrences when it comes to the user experience.
5. Search Advantages for Designers and Marketers
Text-based browsers provide insight for SEO and design professionals into how search engine robots crawl a website. See the speed a search engine crawls the site with remote access options such as telnet and ssh. What does the robot read first? How does it interpret the Header and Title tags, the main navigation, view the text, image, or video content?
Compare Browsers: lynx, links, elinks, and w3m
Lynx was developed in 1992 at the University of Kansas. It is the oldest web browser still in development. This makes it a valid option for older hardware unable to support newer graphical browsers.
Here are the a few benefits of Lynx:
- Supports Gopher, HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, NNTP, and WAIS protocols
- Support SSL and HTML features
- Eliminates privacy concerns since it does not support graphics and associated web bugs connected to track user info
- Ability to disable cookie support
- Keeps browser history and page caching
- Compatible with numerous operating systems, including UNIX, Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X
Supporters of Links developed forks called Hacked Links and ELinks.
ELinks is originally referred to as “Experimental”, but now it is called “Extended” or “Enhanced”. Petr Baudis developed a “patch-set on top of the orginal Links, known…as the -pb patches” that traces back to the start of ELinks development. According to the official ELinks web page, the web browser forked from the “original Links browser written by Mikulas Patocka” and is not “associated with Twibright Labs and their Links version”.
The browser is compatible with Linux, Mac OS X, OpenBSD, Solaris, NetBSD, CygWin, FreeBSD, GNU Hurd, and other operating systems. ELinks supports:
- Tabbed browsing
- Background downloads and queuing
- HTTP and Proxy authentication
- Various protocols for finger, HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, SMB, IPv4, IPv6, local files
- Experimental support for Gopher, NNTP, and BitTorrent
- Browser scripting for Perl, Ruby, Lua, and GNU Guile
- Text editing, mouse work, and colored text
- HTTP cookies
If you read through the hyperlinked Reddit thread above, you’ll see that a number of commentors choose and stick with ELinks.
W3m early development and initial release occurred in 1995. This browser is compatible with Linux, Windows (with Cygwin), and other operating systems. W3m supports SSL, colors, inline images on specific terminal emulators, certain CGI scripts, and works within the Emacs text editor.
The Emacs interface (emacs-w3m package) is an advantage for those users who find it convenient to browser directly in their text editor. The setup process for this interface is documented by Josh Braun’s Blog’s post on “Installing the w3m Web Browser in Emacs” and you will find additional documentation on the EmacsWiki page.
W3m’s main benefits are speed and a smaller package size to download and install.