The best way to block ads: AdBlock Plus vs. a custom hosts file (HostsMan)

The champ is here.

Advertisements

After using AdBlock Plus (ABP) for years, I decided to try a custom hosts file for ad blocking instead for a bit. Searching for “Adblock Plus vs. hosts file” produces nothing but forum posts and very few actual comparisons; this should help fix that. The central issue addressed is here is whether in-browser ad block is better that hosts file ad blocking. For this, I’ve selected the most commonly used/best of breed solution for each and compared them based on my experiences with both.

AdBlock Plus

Pros:

  • High granularity: wild cards allow blocking of specific section(s) of a domain instead of the entire domain.
  • Can be enabled or disabled per site.
  • Easily accessible browser based UI.
  • Intuitive UI.
  • Can interactively block elements onscreen.
  • Very actively developed.
  • Filters updated on a daily basis.
  • Is open source.
  • Changing lists or lists subscriptions or otherwise editing rules does not disrupt internet connection.
  • Subscription change effects are seen in real time.

Cons:

  • Very high RAM penalty (~35% in Win64 Firefox 36.0a1 on Windows 8.1).
  • Works only in the browser; don’t block ads elsewhere.
  • Can seriously break browser functionality.
  • Slows browser and PC down because every element URL request has to be checked against blocking rules first, which holds up everything else while that happens.

HostsMan

Pros:

  • No RAM penalty.
  • No CPU penalty.
  • Blocks ads across the entire OS, not just the browser.
  • Don’t break browser functionality.

Cons:

  • Very low granularity: can block entire domains only.
  • Can’t be enabled or disabled per site.
  • Less accessible UI than ABP.
  • Less intuitive UI than ABP.
  • Cannot interactively block elements onscreen.
  • Less actively developed than ABP.
  • Hosts files updated significantly less frequently than ABP lists.
  • Lots of false positives that break website functionality, e.g. sharing buttons and social logins can disappear.
  • Still lets quite a few ads through.
  • Is closed source.
  • Changing the hosts file can (temporarily) disrupt your internet connection.
  • Delete Entry in the hosts file editor often fails after the first use per session.

Conclusion

HostsMan’s main advantage is its lower resource overhead. Sadly, said lower resource usage doesn’t translate into particularly faster page loads or browser performance from a superficial user perspective, and so isn’t nearly enough to overcome its numerous other shortcomings. Ironically, some pages do seem to load slower with HostsMan than they do with ABP. The latter’s better UI and UX make it the winner.