Safari Content Blockers for Mac and iOS

This is a small follow-up to my content blocker comparison from September 2015.

Quite some things have changed since then. Many of the first blockers haven’t seen updates in the last months: Blockr hasn’t been updated since September 2015, Purify since December, Silentium since October.

These have been my favorites from September, but now I think it’s quite safe to say that they are dead.

Content Blockers for Mobile Safari (iOS 9)

Some of the first blockers are still alive: For example 1Blocker and Ka-Block!.

And these are the ones I’m currently using. (Not at the same time, of course, but they are working fine and I like to experiment with different software, that’s why I’m switching from time to time.)

Ka-Block! and 1Blocker are very different:

Ka-Block!

…is a minimalist blocker. It uses its 68K-light JSON filter list and that’s it. No other features, JavaScripts, no Safari extension for whitelisting sites, nothing. And that’s fine, anything other wouldn’t go well with the concept of this blocker.

Some lines from the ReadMe (for the Mac version):

This extension’s goals are modest.

  • Block most ads and trackers.
  • Never contact a server.
  • Never slow down a page.

Some ads will get through this filter, and that’s ok.

The non-existent whitelisting can be an inconvenience. But remember, you can always reload any site without blocker by simply long-tapping the reload icon in Safari’s address bar. And Ka-Block! is not that aggressive that you’d have to whitelist every other site.

Ka-Block! is open source, free, and blazingly fast. The filter list is seeing regular updates until present.

1Blocker

…is one of the most feature-loaded blockers. You can enable/disable a plethora of sub blocking lists, you can add your own rules, you can even create whole custom filter packages via a sophisticated web rules editor. And of course you can quickly whitelist sites through a Safari extension.

Pretty amazing. And I’ve already taken the resolution to try the rule editor once 😉

1Blocker is closed source, $2.99. It feels almost as fast as Ka-Block! and is regularly updated as well.

So, two quite different blockers to play around with. Both very good. Recently I started to lean towards the minimalist concept of Ka-Block!.

There’s another blocker that should be mentioned:

AdGuard

…was not one of the first blockers, but recently it has gained a considerably good reputation.

It’s a heavy weight like 1Blocker, with quite some customization options: whitelisting, selection of different lists and so on. It’s fast too, maybe a tad slower than the other two.

Check it out if you are not content with one of the two above. It works well, but personally I don’t like it too much; it somehow gives me the impression of an unfinished and unstreamlined app.

Content Blockers for Mac Safari

After the first wave of iOS 9 content blockers for Mobile Safari in September 2015 it took a while for the first content blockers for Mac Safari to arrive. This was certainly because there were already enough old-style, JavaScript-based blockers for the Mac available (uBlock, AdBlock, Ghostery etc.)

But now the situation is quite good.

The old-style blockers are still around, uBlock still works but it hasn’t seen updates for almost one year. I guess it’s dead. The main developer, who is also the developer of Purify (see above), promised a Mac version of Purify, but this didn’t happen.

In the other old-style blockers, Ghostery, AdBlock, etc. I’ve lost confidence. It seems to me that they are sending more data to their servers than necessary.

Concerning the new-style content blockers we have a couple of choices:

Ka-Block! and Other Minimalist Blockers

Ka-Block! exists also for the Mac and there are some more lightweight content blockers that are just bringing in a JSON filter list and do nothing more. No complicated JavaScripts to run on every page load.

The main difference between these blockers is the content and the length of the filter list:

What I said above for iOS Ka-Block! is also true for the others here: the lightweight and speed comes at the expense of a whitelisting option for individual sites.

But also on Mac Safari you can circumvent the blocker by clicking and holding the reload icon in the address bar and then selecting “Reload Without Content Blockers”. (Figure, I discovered only recently that this also works on the Mac!)

Adamant also belongs to this category but it isn’t worth to be mentioned, because it uses Ka-Block!’s filter list. That is, Adamant is just Ka-Block! with a different icon.

AdGuard

AdGuard has also a Mac version. In two incarnations: There is the paid app and there is a free Safari extension.

The paid version is a bit pricey for my taste: $20 per year or $50 for lifetime (of the app). It comes as a “system wide” app and as such it works for every browser. I installed a trial and it works very well. But I didn’t like it. It’s too invasive for my taste: it works with kernel extensions, and to get rid of it I had to delete the app, delete two different folders, one of them in the system library, and restart the preferences demon. Overkill for a modern content blocker.

The beauty of Safari’s new content blocking API is the simplicity, which makes extensions possible that are very lightweight and effective (see above). With this monster blocker you are completely missing out on this.

The free AdGuard Safari extension seems to be a teaser for the full app. It works, but with glitches: for example the whitelisting switch only works sometimes and/or not for every site; when you set it on pause it continues blocking sometimes. It has many different filter lists which you can choose to activate but only a few actually make sense and are recommended.

Nope

Nope is an interesting blocker. Like Ka-Block! it’s open source, it’s still relatively lightweight but has the option to whitelist individual sites! More precisely, you can even choose between complete whitelisting (Yep), gray listing (Nope) and blacklisting (Mega Nope). Graylisting is the default and blacklisting is even more aggressive.

Nope uses a 100KB open source filter list from disconnect.me, which is also used in the commercial Disconnect extensions and products.

Nope’s filtering is quite more aggressive than Ka-Block!’s and with its whitelisting capability for individual sites it is a very nice blocker. The only thing that worries me is that it hasn’t seen an update for two months. Let’s hope that it will stay alive.

Of course there are a couple more blockers that are in-between the lightweight and the heavy weight category, for example AdBlock(er) Ultimate.

Summing It Up

I think the fine art of writing a good content blocker for the new API does not consist in making it as aggressive as possible and with as many features as possible. It’s rather the right balance of a long enough filter list to catch most ads and trackers while still being lightweight and thus not slowing down your browsing at all.

For me Ka-Block! hits the right balance pretty good, on iOS and Mac. In addition it’s free, open source, regularly updated and it doesn’t send any data to any server.

If that’s too simplistic for you and you wish more customization options, try 1Blocker on iOS and Nope on OS X.

Update 2016-09-08: 1Blocker is now also available for macOS.

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