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

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

The user profile tab consists of several fields. These include your user name, your user rights, the number of edits you've done, the date you created your account (none of which can be changed), and a bunch of other technical miscellany that is not discussed in this book. The most important things in this tab are your password, language, email address, gender, signature.

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). Unlike the edit count in your user profile, these edit counters often don't include edits to deleted pages, meaning that, for editors with lots of edits, they can produce a lower number.


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.)


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.

The English Wikipedia has customized much of the user interface to be more detailed. Selecting a different language will override these customizations and may result in seeing more generic/less applicable text

Email address

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.


This preference specifies the grammatical gender you would like to be referred to (both by the software and by other users). Note that this setting is publicly visible.


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. Many editors have changed their default signature, using the options here to, for example, display their signature using fancy colors.

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

1. On the User Profile tab, turn on the "Treat the above as wiki markup." 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. Note, however, that wikitext signatures cannot be more than 255 characters long.

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 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. 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).


This section contains a lot of miscellaneous preferences, each affecting the way a Wikipedia page is viewed slightly.


Figure 20-5. Here's an example page in the MinervaNeue skin rather than Monobook or Vector. The Wikipedia globe logo is gone, 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 four 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, MinervaNeue, 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 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.

Date and time

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.

You can change the time displayed for edits to your local time. But here's the rub: Date and time stamps on talk pages will still display 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 using the steps below.)

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

  1. Click on "Preferences" at the top of any page.
  2. Click on "Appearance" in the bar near the top of the Preferences page.
  3. Scroll down to "Time offset."
  4. In the "Time Zone" box click on the drop down arrow and select your time zone.
  5. Click the "Save" button at the bottom of your screen.


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

  • Image size limit on file 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.
  • Enable Media Viewer Enables Media Viewer, an alternate way of displays images in larger size, with useful information about their contents, authors and related metadata and also offers a number of features to enlarge, share, download or embed media files, all without visiting a separate page.


  • 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.

Advanced options

  • 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.


If you often read articles with mathematical formulas, you might want to play with settings here, but the standard setting ("MathML with SVG or PNG fallback (recommended for modern browsers and accessibility tools)") 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 of "PNG images", which you may like better. For text-based browsers like Lynx, there is the "LaTeX source (for text browsers)" option. ("TeX" is a typesetting system that works very well for complex mathematical formulas.)


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 many 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.

Seven of the editing tab options are initially turned on, and it's good to leave them that way: "Enable showing appreciation for other users with the WikiLove tab", "Warn me when I leave an edit page with unsaved changes", "Enable section editing via [edit] links", "Enable the editing toolbar", and "Show preview before edit box", "Enable quick replying", and "Enable editing tools in source mode".

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. 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. 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 area font style This isn't lets you determine what font the edit window appears in. The options are monospaced font (the default), sans-serif font, and serif font.
  • Temporarily disable the Visual Editor while it is in beta and Editing mode determine whether the VisualEditor is used (see the section about VisualEditor).
  • 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.
  • 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.

Recent changes

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 20-14.

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, 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.


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.