Help:Wikipedia: The Missing Manual/Customizing Wikipedia/Customizing with preferences

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Wikipedia: The Missing Manual (Discuss)

What you see in the Wikipedia window in front of you isn't fixed in concrete. Wikipedia has a surprising number of ways that you can modify its appearance when you view it. If you're a registered editor, you have a My Preferences page, where you can change a number of settings that control how Wikipedia's pages look on your screen. The link to My Preferences is in your screen's upper-right corner, when you're logged in.

The My Preferences page has 11 tabs, as shown in Figure 20-1. This chapter walks you through each of them, showing you what each tab can do for you.

Figure 20-1. The preferences page has 11 tabs. When you click the My Preferences page at the upper right of any Wikipedia page, it opens to the first tab, "User profile".

User profile[edit]

At the very top of the user profile tab are three non-changeable fields: your user name, your user ID (if it's 5000000, for example, then you're the five millionth registered user name at the English Wikipedia), and the number of edits you've done.

In various nooks and crannies of Wikipedia, you can find a number of edit counters, programs that sort and count your edits (so many to articles, so many to user talk pages, and so on). These edit counters don't include edits to deleted pages, because they use your User contributions page, which doesn't list such edits. But the edit count in your user profile does list all your edits, regardless, so for editors with lots of edits, it's higher.

The rest of the tab involves things that you can actually change: language, email address, signature, whether you need to log in each time you edit, and your password.


Figure 20-2. This page is the same as in Figure 21-1, but with the French language chosen. You're still at the English Wikipedia, so the titles and content of regular pages are still in English, as are URLs. But all the top and side links are in your chosen language, as are all special pages, and the standard text at the bottom of all pages.

Interestingly, you can change the language through which you read and interact with Wikipedia. If you change to something other than the normal setting (English), your Wikipedia experience is very different (Figure 20-2).

So if English isn't your primary language, you can edit pages in English, while navigating Wikipedia (and seeing the introductory text for special pages) in a language you're more comfortable with.

Email address[edit]

If you didn't set up an email address when you registered, or want to change that address, you can always do so (Figure 20-3). Having email set up has one big advantage—if you forget your password, email's the only way you can get a replacement. (If you forget your password and don't have email turned on, plan on starting a new user account.)

Figure 20-3. To set up or change your email address at Wikipedia, enter the email address (new or changed) at the top of this tab. Unless you want email only in case you forget your password, turn on the "Enable e-mail from other users" box, and then click Save.

If you do turn on email for getting a temporary password, you may someday get an unsolicited email from Wikipedia with a new, temporary password. You get such an email if someone else tries to log in under your user name, fails, and then clicks the "E-mail my password" link (see Figure 20-4). Unfortunately, the software has no way of knowing when someone other than the real user clicks this button. If you do get a temporary password from Wikipedia, don't worry. Your old password doesn't get changed automatically. Your old password will continue to work, and you can safely ignore the email. Also, any would-be hacker can't get into your account, because the temporary password goes to your email address.

Figure 20-4. The "Log in" screen has an "E-mail new password" button. When you click this button, Wikipedia sends you an email with a new, temporary password. You can then change the temporary password to something more memorable.

Signature change[edit]

When you type four tildes at the end of a posting on a talk page (the section about identifying yourself), Wikipedia adds your default signature. Until late 2007, this default signature included only a link to the user page. Many editors changed their default signature, using the options here, to add a second link in their signatures, a link to their user talk page.

If you want to change your signature, follow these steps:

1. On the User Profile tab, turn on the "Raw signature" checkbox.

This option tells Wikipedia to treat what you enter in step 2 as instructions. If you leave this checkbox turned off, the software places the text in the signature box in the second half of a piped wikilink, displaying what Wikipedia thinks is your nickname.

2. In the signature box, type your signature as you want it to appear.

For example, if you want to shorten it so that it has only a link to your user talk page, enter: [[User talk:Your Username|Your Username]].
If the text for your signature is long, you may find it easier to type it elsewhere, then copy and paste it into the raw signature box, since the signature box isn't very large.

3. Click Save.

If you don't see the Save button, scroll down.

4. Test your new signature by going into edit mode on a page other than your user page or user talk page (the sandbox, for example, via WP:SAND), adding four tildes, and clicking the "Show preview" button.

If what you see looks okay, then just exit the page without saving.

Wikipedia software doesn't enforce any relationship between the displayed link for your signature and your actual username. For example, in step 2 you could have entered [[User talk:Your Username|Totally different name]]. But according to Wikipedia:Signatures (shortcut: WP:SIG), your signature should accurately reflect your username. If you create a signature that's totally different from your username, another editor will probably drop you a polite note about changing it. If you ignore the first note, a less polite note may follow. If you persist in your position, you'll eventually get warning from an administrator that you're being disruptive. In short, if you don't like your user name, don't change your signature, change your username (Wikipedia:Changing username, shortcut WP:CHU). (For more detail on what's appropriate in a signature, see the box on the section about identifying yourself.)

Fancy signatures

You can customize your signature using any of Wikipedia's text formatting tools. You can mix and match fonts, font sizes, font and background colors, and so on. But before you pursue such changes, remember that Wikipedia's purpose is to build an encyclopedia, not to provide a creative playground.

If you're interested in exploring signature changes, start at Wikipedia:Signature tutorial.

From there, take a look at User:Athaenara/Gallery (although signatures that include images, like flags, are no longer permitted). You can look at the underlying code by going into edit mode. Unfortunately, some of the sections contain tables (the section about editing tables) and are a bit difficult to read. Finally, at User:NikoSilver/Signature shop, you'll find more examples (again, in edit mode you can see the underlying code), and a link where you can ask for further customization.

If you break something, see Wikipedia:How to fix your signature (shortcut: WP:SIGHELP).


The usual password advice applies at Wikipedia: Don't use your user name or a variant of it as your password. Don't use something obvious like "password," "password 1," "letmein," or "123456." Don't use an obscenity (that may seem original and unique, but it's not). Don't use "qwerty," "monkey," or "myspace 1" (these are numbers 3, 6, and 7 respectively in a 2007 survey of the most commonly used passwords).

The good news is that your Wikipedia password probably isn't that important to others. Unless you're an admin, you don't need an industrial strength password, nor do you need to change it every month. Just avoid the obvious. Wikipedia suggests you read the article Password strength. (Just remember that that article, like every other article on Wikipedia, can be edited by anyone.)


If you don't want to have to log in each time you visit or edit Wikipedia, you can turn on "Remember my login on this computer". Once you've done so and saved this change, the software places a cookie in your browser's cache, so Wikipedia recognizes you each time you visit the page. This checkbox is also available each time you manually log in, so you can turn it on any time you want.

If you forgot your password and had a temporary, software-generated one emailed to you, you have to change your password in order for the "Remember my login on this computer" feature to work. It's a security measure.

As convenient as this feature is, don't use it if you think anyone else in your household—or anyone with access to your computer—might edit using your account. If you've set up Windows so multiple people share a single user account, or if you have no password on your account, then leave the box unchecked. (And don't tell your browser to remember your password, either.)

Even if you're not worried about anyone using your account, Wikipedia is. Wikipedia doesn't allow sharing of user account, not even by spouses, for legal (accountability) reasons. You don't want to have your account blocked because your teenage son vandalized Wikipedia repeatedly using your login, or because someone with whom you used to have a special relationship decided to ruin your reputation at Wikipedia by doing some "special" editing. You won't get much sympathy from Wikipedia's administrators.

If you log out of Wikipedia, you have to enter your password the next time, and—if you want continue to use this feature—to recheck the "Remember me" box when logging in. Wikipedia figures that if you log out, you really don't want Wikipedia to automatically sign you in again.


Figure 20-5. Here's the top of the Main Page in the Nostalgia skin rather than Monobook. The Wikipedia logo appears on the right side of the page rather than the left, and the six standard links (username, "my talk", My Preferences, and so on), normally in the upper-right corner, aren't visible at all. You find them, along with a multitude of other links, in a drop-down menu.

Think of skins as putting on colored sunglasses—red, yellow, blue, or whatever. The world looks very different, but only to you. You can choose from one of seven separate skins, each of which creates a distinct look using different fonts, colors, and even positioning of links and images.

You have a choice of four different skins, including the standard Vector. Most of the figures in this book were taken with the Monobook skin. Figure 20-5 shows a different skin, Nostalgia, to give you get a sense of how dramatic a change of skin can make.

Figure 20-6 shows the four different skins that you can choose from.

Figure 20-6. In the Skin tab of your My Preferences page, you'll see Vector plus your three other choices: Cologne Blue, Modern, and Monobook. You can click on a link to see a preview.

Which skin should you use? If you really like one of the skins other than Monobook, consider that JavaScript and CSS-based changes to your Wikipedia page mentioned in the Power Users Clinic boxes in this book, were tested using the Monobook skin. They may still work if you're using another skin, but they may not. (See the chapter about using JavaScript for full instructions on using JavaScript with Wikipedia.)

If you're not using JavaScript, then there's no disadvantage in picking a skin that you really like. Or just stay with Vector, the skin that almost all editors use.

If you change to a skin other than Vector, decide to change back to Vector, and run into a problem trying to do so, you've run into a known bug. The workaround is: Click "my preferences"; add ?useskin=vector to the end of the URL; and then press Enter. Now you're temporarily back to Vector, and can go to the Skins tab and make the change permanent.


If you often read articles with mathematical formulas, you might want to play with settings here, but the standard setting ("HTML if very simple or else PNG") usually works fine. It shows complex formulas as an image, which may make them more readable than the usual text display. But check out the alternative, "Recommended for modern browsers", which you may like better. For text-based browsers like Lynx, there is the "Leave it as TeX (for text browsers)" option. ("TeX" is a typesetting system that works very well for complex mathematical formulas.)


The two options here control how Wikipedia displays separate image files.

  • Limit images on image description pages. This option affects you only if you go to the page that stores an image (a page like File:Picture used in the article.jpg). (As explained on the section about uploading an image, such pages are where you get more details about a picture—copyright, where it came from, upload date, and so on.) If you have a very small screen and want to look at an image page, you may need to adjust this setting down from the initial setting of 800 by 600 pixels. Similarly, you may want to reduce image size if you have a very slow connection.
You don't need to change this setting to see images larger than the setting; it simply controls what you see initially when you arrive at an image page. When you're there, clicking on an image that has a higher resolution shows that image in the higher resolution.
  • Thumbnail size. As mentioned on the section about Thumbnail size, if you've got a particularly big or particularly small screen, you can tell Wikipedia how you want to see thumbnails displayed on your screen: Select from one of the six sizes (120px to 300px). After you click Save, you see all thumbnailed pictures in Wikipedia in that size.

Date and time[edit]

Figure 20-8. On the "Date and time" tab, you can change the time zone that Wikipedia uses when displaying the date and time of a particular edit to your local time, rather than Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

Wikipedia shows the time for each edit on the Special:Contributions page, your Watchlist report, and on every other page that has date and time information for edits, in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which means the same thing as Greenwich Mean Time. Unless you live in the Western European Time zone, UTC is not your local time. Fortunately, you can change the time displayed for edits to your local time.

Changing to your local time for edits on special pages and in page histories saves you from constantly making the mental correction from UTC. But here's the rub: Date and time stamps on talk pages are still in UTC.

Suppose you're trying to figure out whether an editor did a vandalizing edit before or after a final warning. If the vandalism came after the final warning, you'll ask for the editor to be blocked. The date and time of the warning, on the user talk page, will always be UTC. If you've changed the times on the User contributions page to your local time, then you'll need to convert your local time back to UTC to figure out whether the edit truly came after the warning. (Or switch back to UTC, as described in the Tip in this section.)

If you want to switch to local time, here are the steps:

1. On the "Date and time" tab (Figure 20-8), click the "Fill in from the browser" button.

The difference in hours between your local time and UTC appears in the Offset box. It's an hour off if daylight savings time is in effect in your locality; if so, you'll fix it in a later step.

2. Click Save. Then follow the instructions at the bottom of the page for bypassing your browser's cache.

This step ensures that you see the effect of the setting you just changed. (If you're using Firefox, follow the instructions for Mozilla.)

3. On the left side of your screen, in the "interaction" box, click the "Recent changes" link to make sure your local time now shows up on special pages.

If the time shown on the Special:Recent changes page is off by an hour, adjust the time in the Offset field accordingly, and then repeat the previous step.
If you want to go back to UTC everywhere, simply delete the number in the Offset field, and then click Save.


Figure 20-9. These three editing options start out turned on, and most editors leave them that way. For example, it's very handy to be able to click a link to edit an individual article section (the section about editing one section). So are the editing toolbar, and the preview feature.

The Editing tab (Figure 20-9) lets you select from among 11 options that let you tweak how edit mode looks and feels. In general, you'll rack up several dozen hours of editing before you feel the need to play with these settings.

This tab also lets you resize the edit box. Resizing the edit box makes sense if you have an extra-wide or extra-deep screen. On the other hand, if you're constantly having to tab down to enter an edit summary and click "Show preview" and "Save page", you might be willing to live with fewer rows visible and a bit more scrolling to get to the text you want.

Three of the editing tab options are initially turned on, and it's good to leave them that way: "Enable section editing via [edit] links", "Show edit toolbar (JavaScript)", and "Show preview before edit box".

The eight other options start out turned off. Whether you want to use them is up to you:

  • Enable section editing by right-clicking on section titles (JavaScript). If you're one of those Windows fans who expect everything to be right-clickable, this one's for you.
  • Edit pages on double click (JavaScript). This option is probably not a good idea, since it's better to edit individual sections, not whole pages, as explained on the section about editing one section. Besides, clicking "edit this page" isn't so hard when you want to edit an entire page.
  • Edit box has full width. This item doesn't really make the edit box the full width of the screen, because the boxes and links on the left side remain in place.
  • Show preview on first edit. When you go into edit mode, you see not only the edit box but also a preview of the section or page as it was before you started editing. (In other words, this option is like clicking the "Show preview" button immediately after going into edit mode, before you actually do any editing.) Mostly useful if you do a lot of work with template pages.
  • Mark all edits minor by default. This setting saves you from having to turn on the "This is a minor edit" box every time you edit a page. If you do lots of copyediting work—for example, correcting punctuation errors or fixing disambiguation links—it's good to mark such edits as "minor", so that other editors can screen them out of various lists if they want to.
If you set this option, you must remember to turn off the "This is a minor edit" box if you're making a non-minor edit.
Figure 20-10. If you set up your preferences to use an external editor instead of Wikipedia's edit box, then the first time you start to edit a file, Wikipedia sends the file to your browser. The browser opens a dialog box for you to specify actual editing program. The dialog box varies by browser—this picture shows Internet Explorer 7.
  • Use external editor by default. With this option, when you click "edit this page", or an edit link for a section, Wikipedia doesn't go into editing mode. Instead, it calls up your browser, which offers you the chance to choose a different program in which to do your editing (Figure 20-10).
If you have a text editor that you really like to use (BBEdit, emacs, Kedit or vi for example), read more about this option at Help:External editors and Wikipedia:Text editor support.
  • Use external diff by default. Does the same as the previous option, but for diffs.
  • Prompt me when entering a blank edit summary. Once you set this option, you never have to worry about inadvertently forgetting to fill in the edit summary field. Edit summaries are very helpful to other editors reviewing a page history, as the In Summary box in the section about previewing explains.

Recent changes[edit]

This tab lets you control what appears on the Special:Recentchanges page and its sibling, the Special:Recentchangeslinked page (also known as "Related changes." The first of these two is used in vandal-fighting (the section about reverting vandalism and spam); the second for monitoring pages (the section about real-time monitoring alternatives).

This tab has four things you can change:

  • Days to show in recent changes. Shortens or lengthens the total number of edits that you can see when you go to one of the two report pages. Since just one day's worth of edits at the Recent changes page is more than 100,000, changing the limit here (from the default of "7") affects only what you see when you click the "Related changes" link.
  • Titles in recent changes. Affects how many edits you see on each page, not the total number of edits that a special page shows you (you just change the number of edits to show on the page itself). Think of this option as setting a soft limit on the number of edits displayed per page, while the first setting, "days to show", sets a hard limit on the total report length.
  • Hide minor edits in recent changes. Hiding minor edits screens out inconsequential edits so you can focus on important ones. On the other hand, depending on your paranoia level (and how important you consider the pages you're monitoring), if you hide minor edits and a very sneaky editor improperly classifies a damaging edit as "minor", then you'll probably miss something you'd like to have seen. (On the other hand, there are other editors out there looking for vandalism too.)
In any case, you can change this option on the report itself, whether it's turned on in this tab or not.


Your watchlist lets you monitor changes to pages. The settings in this tab let you customize your watchlist report, which shows recent edits to pages on your watchlist, including changing to an expanded version of the watchlist report. The expanded version shows all changes to all watched pages during a period, not just the most recent. The settings in this tab are discussed extensively in Chapter 6: Monitoring changes, especially the section about permanent changes via your preferences page and the section about expanded and enhanced watchlist reports.


Figure 20-11. The Search tab lets you tailor the results from Wikipedia's internal search engine. The fourth of these settings, not completely shown, is a listing of all namespaces that you want to include in all your searches.
Figure 20-12. On the top is a search on the word "Crosspool," with the "Context per line" set to 50 (which means 50 characters). (Only the first three results are shown.) On the bottom is the same search, with this option set to 200. (Again, only the top three results are shown.)

This tab has four settings, counting that last set of checkboxes as one setting, as seen in Figure 20-11. These settings affect what happens when you use Wikipedia's internal search engine. (For why you may not want to use that engine for searches, see the section about searching Wikipedia.)

  • Hits per page isn't as useful as it sounds. Only the top handful of hits are normally worth looking at anyway.
  • If you fill in Lines per hit with, say, 5 lines, Wikipedia won't show the context of the search term if it occurs after line 5 on the page. But testing shows that this option makes no difference: Whether set to 5 or 5000, the results are the same. (See the Meta page Help:Preferences for more information.)
  • Context per line means the amount of text the search engine shows you when it finds the word you're looking for. Figure 20-12 shows the difference between the initial setting of 50 and a setting of 200, which shows you a lot more of the surrounding text. This context helps you decide whether it's worth visiting the result page.
  • Search in these namespaces by default. You might want, for example, to expand your routine searches to include article talk pages, but it's difficult to think of any circumstances where you'd routinely want search results from the many other namespaces.
For the occasional search of a namespace other than mainspace, where articles are, just do a search, and then, at the bottom of the page of search results, indicate, using the checkboxes there, the other namespaces you're interested in.


Figure 20-13. The Miscellaneous tab has a varied assortment of nine options, three of which are turned on initially.

The next-to-last tab in My Preferences is the miscellaneous tab (Figure 20-13). True to its name, it contains settings that don't quite fit anywhere else.

Here's what each of the settings does:

  • Threshold for stub link formatting (bytes). Changes the color of links to articles that are smaller than the specified size. Such links are shown in dark brown. Intended (in theory) to encourage editors to follow links to stubs and expand them; more useful for spotting erroneous links to disambiguation pages (see the section about disambiguation).
  • Underline links. Normally links are underlined. You can set this so that links are not underlined (Never), although your browser may ignore such a setting.
  • Format broken links like this (alternative: like this?). This setting is initially turned on, making a link red when a page does not exist. You can choose to use a question mark instead of the color change, which can be a boon if you have trouble seeing colors.
  • Justify paragraphs. If you have a huge monitor and use the entire width of the monitor screen for reading Wikipedia articles, and you have an obsession with wanting the ends of text lines in articles to line up cleanly on the right, then turn on this box. (For most editors, turning the box results in disconcerting spacing between words on shorter lines, like when there's an image to one side of the text.)
  • Auto-number headings. Headings in the table of contents are numbered; turning on this setting also puts numbering in front of the actual headings, in the body of the article.
  • Show table of contents (for pages with more than 3 headings). Tables of contents are useful; they let you see what's in an article without reading all the way down. It's not clear why you'd want to uncheck this option.
  • Disable page caching. Prevents you from ever seeing outdated versions of pages, at the cost of longer loading times for all pages.
  • Enable "jump to" accessibility links. According to Help:Preferences, this option "provides or hides the two links (Jump to: navigation and search) at the top of each page, to the navigation bar and the search box." In reality, turning this option on and off seems to make no difference.
  • Don't show page content below diffs. When you look at what a particular editor did in a particular edit (a diff, as described on the section about looking at a single edit), the page has two parts: At the top, you see the before-and-after text for what was changed (and only what was changed). At the bottom, you see the article as it was after the edit. With this box turned on, you see only the top part. You probably want to leave this box turned off, since the article text can provide additional context. Besides, the article text is on the bottom, so you can ignore it when you don't need it.


Figure 20-14.

The Gadgets tab (Figure 20-14) lets you quickly implement JavaScript user scripts developed by other editors to add cool new features to your Wikipedia tool belt.

Chapter 21 (the section about adding a script) describes how to implement JavaScript user scripts by uploading them to a page in your user space. Using the Gadgets tab is much easier; just select a gadget, and then click Save. Then, as the instructions at the bottom of the tab say, bypass your browser cache to see the gadget's effects.

The section about setting up your browser for JavaScript describes how to make sure that you have JavaScript turned on in your browser. If you add a gadget and it doesn't seem to be taking effect, check your browser.

Currently, you can implement user scripts either by choosing them on the Gadgets tab, or by using the more complex process described in Chapter 21. The advantage of the do-it-yourself approach is that it works for any user script, not just the currently limited number available on the Gadgets tab.

The Gadgets tab also works for personal customization using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Wikipedia editors have created far fewer CSS customizations than JavaScript customizations, but there are a few around. The page Help:Cascading style sheets is a good starting place if you're interested.