Also known as a browser add-on, a web browser plugin is a set of software components that can be added to a browser to increase its capabilities. The functionality of a plugin can range from something simple like giving the user the ability to enlarge images or something more complex, such as scanning for viruses or blocking advertisements. A plugin can be created by the company that developed the browser or, more often than not, the users of the browser. Some browser plugins require a one-time or monthly fee, but the vast majority are free for everyone. A browser plugin can quickly become unusable if the browser is regularly updated to newer versions.
For some popular browsers, there are thousands of browser plugins available for free. The most popular plugins are usually those created to block advertisements, help the user download or manage music, or customize a website. Other frequently downloaded browser plugins help the user customize his or her browser theme, translate websites into the user’s desired language, or manage and accelerate downloads. For a popular browser, a top browser plugin might get more than 1 million downloads per week.
A significant portion of browser plugins are user-created. These plugins are usually hosted on the browser’s own website and categorized so that users can search for plugins that are popular, best rated, or recently uploaded. Sometimes, the developer of a user-created plugin asks for a small donation to pay for his or her time creating and keeping the plugin updated. These donations are completely optional, and the user can normally easily skip to the browser plugin installation. If the browser plugin is not popular with the browser’s users, it is usually abandoned by the developer.
Sometimes, a browser plugin is not free, though this is quite rare. In fact, paid plugins usually are not hosted on the browser’s own website and must be featured elsewhere. An example of a paid browser plugin is one that formats articles to read easily, getting rid of all surrounding advertisements or images.
A browser plugin must be maintained by the developer to work with new versions of the browser. Developers often download the beta version of the browser to ensure that their software still works. If it does not, the developer fixes the code and uploads a new version for users to download. Sometimes, the developer abandons a plugin or gives it to a another developer to upkeep.