Go “Cold Turkey” to break your addiction to certain websites

Just in time for finals (if you’re attending school), you might find yourself pretty easily distracted from doing your necessary work or studying.

If you really want to shift your habits so you’ll be more focused and productive, it’s time to go Cold Turkey.

Cold Turkey is a free/open-source application that makes it easy to block your own access to certain websites.

It comes automated to block popular, time-consuming sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Ebay, games, and others at the check of a box. You can also make a custom list of other sites to block (but don’t block Freewaregenius. You can then set how long you want the block to be in place.

For example, if you need to block yourself until after your exam tomorrow, just change the date and time to match that and you’re all set. If you need to block your access all week, go for it. Cold Turkey also makes it easy to update your Facebook status to tell your friends that you’re going “off the grid” for a little while so they know to contact you via other means.

Cold Turkey affects all users and you must be administrator to use it. After Cold Turkey is set, you may have to restart your browsers if they were already open for the block to take effect. Once your time period is up a little window will pop up to inform you of your new found freedom. Before the time is up, if you try to go to the site you’ll just get a “site could not be found” page.

If you don’t have the discipline to study on your own and have to resort to software to control yourself, what’s to stop you from just turning Cold Turkey off? The software doesn’t work that way. Cold Turkey will end at the time you designate and revert its blocks. If you get desperate and try altering Cold Turkey’s files, it will punish you and add another week to the block.

As you might have guessed from the description and the requirements, Cold Turkey edits your HOSTS file to prevent your access. If you don’t know what that means and are truly trying to break your addictions to certain websites, I’m not going to ruin it and explain it further.

Sure, there are other ways to block your access (OpenDNS for one) but Cold Turkey makes it very easy to comprehensively block sites and the ability to set a timer is a great feature.

Version tested: 0.51

Requirements: WinAll with at least version 2.0 of .NET Framework. Mac version in the works.

You can download Cold Turkey here (approx .7MB download; install size 1.7MB). Looking for a Mac version in the mean time? Check out SelfControl.


 
 
 
Jason
Jason Hamilton writes the occasional post for FreewareGenius when he finds software worth recommending and the time. He is a full-time system administrator and writes more frequently at 404 Tech Support and AssumeAwesome.
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  • http://www.greggdeselms.com Gregg DesElms

    As usual for this site, COLD TURKEY is a nice tip. Thank you.

    However — and I humbly ask that anyone thinking about downloading and using it first understand this — it is nothing more than a tool for managing one’s HOSTS file. And, as the part of this article which mentions the HOSTS file points out, those who aren’t technical and don’t want to know about what the HOSTS file actually is, or what to do with it, or how to manage it sans something like COLD TURKEY, then, yes, COLD TURKEY’s a pretty darned nice choice.

    But the HOSTS file can be so much more; and my point in posting, then, is to simply make sure that anyone considering using COLD TURKEY has his/her eyes wide open about the far better (and still free) way that they could accomplish much the same thing.

    The HOSTS file, for neophytes, is a file built right into Windows, which is used to block said copy of Windows from being able to access, by any means, certain things on the Internet. Any domain name, URL or IP address entered into the HOSTS file is summarily blocked whenever any software on the Windows machine tries to access it. The HOSTS file can actually be accessed and edited using the “Notepad” utility that comes with Windows, but managing one’s HOSTS file that way can be complex and unweildy even for techies, and so especially for the non-technical.

    COLD TURKEY automates and makes easier that process, however, it leaves on the table many other ways in which the HOSTS file can be useful… ways which can still incorporate a means of adding the very same sites as can be added using COLD TURKEY… and all of it still for free.

    There are pre-populated HOSTS files out there in the universe which are managed by non-profit groups of volunteers who make it their mission in life to keep their pre-populated HOSTS files up-to-date with bad web sites, as they find them. By “bad” web sites, I mean everything from ad-server sites, to porn sites, to — and this is perhaps the most valuable part — sites which are infected with malware which tries to secretly load itself onto the computers of site visitors. When, for example, a web site is visited which site displays advertising from an ad server which happens to be in the HOSTS file, suddenly said web site looks less cluttered because all the ads are gone. It can really make ad-heavy sites a joy to visit.

    The three big sources for such freely-downloadable HOSTS files are…

    hpHosts, MVPS Hosts, and Peter Lowe’s Ad Server list. Just Google them… they’ll be right at the top of the search results. But wait… don’t do anything with that knowledge yet. Keep reading. There’s more.

    One can go to those web sites and download the pre-populated/configured HOSTS files onto one’s computer, and then, voila!, any sites in them will become inaccessible to the computer onto which it’s downloaded (and properly installed). But, wait… don’t to it yet. There’s more.

    The problem is that one must know where on one’s computer to put such files, how to make them work, etc. And that part is technical. It’s not brain surgery, mind you, but it’s certainly not for anyone who, as the article suggests, doesn’t even care or want to know what is a HOSTS file.

    To make life easier for those who love to use HOSTS files, there are three major freeware utilities out there which can help. Rather than list them all, and then make you figure out which one’s best, please allow me to help you benefit from my having already figured that out (using my 35 years of experience in IT as my guide). The hands-down best freeware tool for managing HOSTS files is Abelha Digital’s “HostsMan.” Look no further. It’s the one. Trust me.

    HostsMan, once installed, and properly configured, will automatically download all the best HOSTS files out there, combine them into one big HOSTS file on your machine, and then remove all duplicates (to that it’s not unnecessarily large). Thereafter, it will check every now and then to see if any of the HOSTS files have been updated, and, if so, it will download said updated HOSTS file and merge it into your computer’s existing HOSTS file, again remove duplicates, and away you then go! It’s very slick. But it doesn’t end there.

    Whever a HOSTS file blocks a browser’s access to a web site, the browser’s built-in (and ugly) error page, which explains that the site can’t be found, is displayed. So, if you have a HOSTS file on your machine which blocks its acess to a certain ad-server site, and then you visit a web site which normally displays ads from said ad-server site, it’s true that all of said ads will be blocked, but, in their place will be the browser’s aforementioned ugly error page. Ick!

    So, here’s what HostsMan does to fix that problem: It runs a little mini web server right in your computer’s System Tray (or what Microsoft, since Vista and Win7, wants us to now refer to as the “Notification Area”). HostsMan calls it its “HostsServer;” and what it does, simply, is this. Every time the HOSTS file blocks your computer from visiting or “seeing” a certain site, the HOSTS server serves-up a tiny little one-pixel-tall-and-wide transparent .GIF image which appears in your browser instead of the browser’s internal (and ugly) error page. So, then, if the HostsMan and its HostsServer is running on your machine, then any web sites you visit which contain ads served from an ad server listed in the HOSTS file will appear as they always do, but without any ads… or even error pages. In fact, in place of the ads will be just big blank white spaces; or, even better yet, if the site was built properly, to proper W3C standards, then the now-empty ad spaces will all close-in around the little one-pixel-sized transparent .GIF file, and then all text wrapped around the ads will close-in around the now-collapsed ad spaces, and the page will look as if it never had ads in the first place! Is that cool, or what!?!

    But wait… there’s more! Remember that the downloadablel HOSTS files also contain web sites containing malware. Hacker and cracker sites. Phishing sites. A good pre-populated HOSTS file, then, can augment your anti-malware software to help keep you protected!

    So, if you’re going to use a HOSTS file, then why not do it RIGHT and get the pro-populated ones, and manage them with HostsMan (and its slick little HostsServer) instead of a much less fully-featured (but nevertheless nice… don’t get me wrong) utility like Cold Turkey!

    And, regarding that, here’s yet another reason to use HostsMan instead of Cold Turkey: Any web site that you’d like to add to your own computer’s HOSTS file can be added just as easily using HostsMan as it can using Cold Turkey. And because HostsMan updates its HOSTS file by means of merging updated HOSTS files out on the Internet into the existing one on your machine, and then only removing duplicates, anything you manually add to your own HOSTS file using HostsMan always survives updates!

    So, then, you can use HostsMan (instead of Cold Turkey), and enjoy the benefits of the well-known, freely-downloadable, pre-populated HOSTS files out there; yet you can add your own web sites (that you’d like to ween yourself off of, as with Cold Turkey) just as easily as if you were using Cold Turkey. All you have to do is left-double-click on the HostsMan icon in the System Tray (Notifcation Area) to open the little HostsMan control panel, then click on the yellow folder to open the HostsMan Editor, then click on the “Add” button, then add the web site that you’d like to add, then click on “Save” to save it, then close the HostsMan Editor, then close the little HostsMan control panel. It literally takes 10 seconds. That’s it. Granted, it’s not as “friendly” as adding a web site to Cold Turkey, but you’ll realize it’s just as fast and easy once you’ve done it the first time. Sadly, one cannot use both HostsMan and Cold Turkey because HostsMan actually uses its own special HOSTS file, and backs-up the original one (the empty one that came with Windows), and then, if HostsMan is ever uninstalled, it restores the original Windows backed-up old HOSTS file as the system HOSTS file. Therefore, Cold Turkey, if it were used alongside HostsMan, would be writing to the wrong HOSTS file. So it’s either Cold Turkey or HostsMan… take your pick.

    HostsMan does some other cool stuff, too, but I’ve hit the high points. Just remember, if you use it, never to “optimize” the HOSTS file because that places multiple web site URLs onto single lines in the file, and makes it virtually impossible, thereafter, to easily manually edit the HOSTS file in the HostsMan Editor utility… not because it can’t be done, but because your eye will glaze over trying to find the web site you’re looking for on the line of multiple web sites even after the “Find” utility has successfully and accurately taken you to said line. It just makes it too visually complex. Optimizing doesn’t speed things up all that much, so just never do it; and be sure not to configure HostsMan to do it automatically as part of its periodic HOSTS file updates.

    To learn more about HOSTS files in general, look it up in Wikipedia. Also, the MVSP site has a nice page which completely explains it, along with tell you of the other competitors to HostsMan. Just, trust me, don’t bother with any of them. HostsMan is best-of-breed.

    Also, remember that there are versions of the HOSTS files which contain only ad servers, and don’t block any other kind of site. If that’s all you’re interested in blocking, then only download those types; and be sure to specify, in HostsMan, that that’s the only kind of HOSTS files that it should download and manage and keep up-to-date.

    Using HostsMan completely correctly can, I admit, take an extra moment or two during which you must slow down and really learn and understand it; so if you’re one of those people who just wants to install it, and move on, then HostsMan — in fact ANY utility of its type — is probably not for you… nor is using a HOSTS file at all, other than, perhaps, just using Cold Turkey as described in the article to which this is a comment.

    For me, the HOSTS file is an important addition to my overall suite of freeware anti-malware tools. I have freeware anti-virus software, with a firewall and HIPS, anti-rootkit protection, and moderate anti-spyware protection (COMODO); I have freeware anti-spyware (two tools, in fact… SuperAntiSpyware and MalwareBytes) which I let do manual whole system scans a couple times a month; I have a freeware utility which “innoculates” the browser against certain malware (Spyware Blaster) which I run, manually, twice a month; I have a freeware browser plug-in (McAfee Site Advisor) which runs all sites in my search results, and which I try to visit by clicking therein, through its database of known bad sites and warns/stops me if it’s bad; I have yet another freeware plug-in (AdBlocker-Plus) that blocks ads, just generally; I use OpenDNS (as the article mentioned) to protect against phishing sites; and I use a HOSTS file (MVPS, hpHosts and Peter Lowes), managed using HostsMan. And, together, believe me, I have a veritable fortress around my computer that’s every bit as good, by hook or by crook, as any commercial/fee-based anti-malware suite such as those from Norton, McAfee, Kaspersky, AVG, Avira, etc., etc. Every bit as good! NOTHING gets through… er… well… mostly nothing; and what does get thru is quickly noticed and eliminated… all for FREE.

    It can be done… well-protecting one’s system for free, I mean; and a HOSTS file is an important part of the strategy…

    …not to mention how it can be used to help ween one off of web sites, like Cold Turkey was meant to do!

    Hope that helps!

    ____________________________________-
    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

  • essbee

    I think it’s ridiculous to seek help in this manner. “Cold turkey” has always meant just stopping the activity you want to quit! This is just another bandaid for very undiscplined people and is not something to get excited about. If you need to stop viewing certain websites, just quit. Downloading some software will not do it for you.

  • http://www.portablefreeware.com webfork

    Excellent idea. I was using BlockSite Firefox plugin to do just that. For folks that use more than one browser, this could be a big help to keep on task.

  • emer shaugh

    please please someone tell me how to remove this!!! i cant do it! im more distracted trying to get rid of it

  • Felix K

    Honestly, Cold Turkey isn’t meant to be more than a temporary block for distracting websites. It does what it needs to. It could be put to more uses to that effect, say blocking distracting programs or internet access in general. A firewall could do that too, but Cold Turkey is a manager for temporary blockage and one that’s harder for most to get by. It just keeps things simple and has a lot of potential.

    It’s too bad HostsMan and Cold Turkey can’t coexist at the moment; perhaps they could with some work. It’s not impossible after all and it’s still an early project.

    • Mic

      I can block programs as well as websites.

  • http://ColdTurkeeeeey Ayesha

    I can access my Hosts file, and have administritive powers. However a billion attempts to remove ‘cold turkey’ after someone thought it would be hilarious to ban me from youtube,facebook etc etc for 365 days have proved futile. And as this program does not seem to be particularly popular at the moment im having problems getting the help I need to remove the damn thing short of having to wait an entire year. Or reformatting completely. Any suggestions.

  • http://pixert.com Kate Mag

    I found Cold Turkey useful. However,the application still blocking me for unknown reason even though the time ended. I also cannot uninstall Cold Turkey.

  • Laura

    I have the same problem as above commenter. Sites should be unblocked by now but are still blocked. ColdTurkey gives notification that I should restart it, but that’s kinda impossible with a program that is designed to run invisible. Sent an email to the developer but no answer yet.
    This is only a problem with version 0.6, I used version 0.4 for two years with full satisfaction. However, the 0.4 version can’t handle the year 2012 so I had to update it.
    I really feel this program is now disabling my computer. It feels really bad to have something running which doesn’t do what it is supposed to do and I can’t do anything about it because it’s so well hidden.

  • Loes

    To the commenters above: I had the same problem after my computer crashed, and I found instructions to block ColdTurkey online. :) Over here: http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=1886716&page=2

  • MK

    I’m having the same problem with Cold Turkey, it added on days. I read it will do that if you try to fiddle with it, which I did not. I would not recommend this program to anyone. I can live without what I blocked for 6 days, but hopefully I can remove the program from my computer after these days expire.

  • Laura

    Hey all,
    With the forum thread posted above I was indeed able to rid my computer of ColdTurkey. I also finally got an email from the developer, who has posted removal instructions on his site:
    http://getcoldturkey.com/removal.html

  • Stacie

    Indeed, after using the first time, there was not problem. However using the 2nd and 3rd time could not access Youtube at all no matter what url, tinyurl, or ip address i used. I have uninstalled the application, cleared my cache, history, cookies, used different browsers but it is not working at all. I still wanna see my videos… Help!!

  • AT

    Cold Turkey is a horrible, buggy piece of software. This site should stop recommending it and you should not install it unless you have high expertise in configuring Windows! I even reported a list of bugs to the author (I’m a software developer myself), and he didn’t bother to respond.

  • watermark0n

    Well, Cold Turkey is possibly the buggiest piece of software I’ve ever used. It has a bug where, once the time limit is up, it still continues to block you, telling you that you have “0 seconds” left. Also, it has on occasion added 80 days to my time for no reason (even though I have the free version, I shouldn’t be able to block for more than a month). The only thing you can do at this point is manually remove it, which kind of defeats the purpose. I’d prefer to have never known how it worked so that I couldn’t circumvent it, but it’s fucked up so many times that the process is ingrained in my memory. The only reason I’ve kept using it is because it is slightly harder to circumvent that other similar blocking tools (such as stayfocusd), taking around a minute rather than 5 seconds, and the extra time is often enough to keep me from disabling it on impulse.

    I think I’m going to give FocalFilter a try, though. It *can’t* be as buggy as ColdTurkey. BTW, I just took a look at the Git for ColdTurkey – it’s programmed in Visual Basic. That explains a lot…

  • watermark0n

    “This is just another bandaid for very undiscplined people and is not something to get excited about. If you need to stop viewing certain websites, just quit. Downloading some software will not do it for you.”

    God you’re self-righteous. People should make no attempt to stay away from things that they are addicted to? It’s as if you spot an alcoholic dumping out all of of the alcohol in his home as the first step to recovery, and you march in and self-righteously chide him for being weak and undisciplined. No, if you do not have the willpower of the bhudda, and thus feel like being within inches of temptation at all times would in all likelihood seriously hamper any chances of quitting, then you are worthless as a human being and deserve to die of liver failure.

  • Glen

    I liked Cold Turkey for a while but it kept banning me for an extra week for no reason so I had to uninstall it.
    I’d be interested to hear if they ever fix that.

  • ML

    2014.Feb.17 (Mon):
    I’ve been using the latest version of this software based on this review and cannot recommend it at all. Very buggy.
    1. My initial tests showed that it didn’t block my chosen websites at the times I set. I did restart my browser as instructed. Same result with all of my 3 browsers.
    2. Further testing showed that it would block SOME websites at a later time than what I had set. It seemed very arbitrary and inconsistent as to which sites it blocked but it NEVER blocked them at the start times I had set.
    3. Once you block a period of time, it’s impossible to add more websites to that time. So, for example, you decide to block Facebook from 9 to 12 every day so you set that up for the next week. Then you decide, “Hey, I’d also like to block Google+ from 9 to 12.” Too bad. You can’t add it to the 9 to 12 times until they have all expired in a week.

    Can’t recommend this at all…

    M

    • http://www.interxect.com/ Sachin Ganpat

      I’ve been using it this past month and haven’t had the same problems you stated. I’m running v0.9. The instructions were a bit vague, but I’ve gotten a hand on it. I can add new sites and applications to block. It does start and stop at the times I’ve stated. And I haven’t encountered any bugs.

      I only wished that there was a way specify blocking certain sites at certain times. Like block linkedin, facebook and twitter between 8am and 4pm, but allow linkedin alone and block the others from 4pm – 8pm.

      And I’d also like a way to stop it if I have to. With freedom and anti-social, at least I could get access again if I needed to by rebooting. No such feature of Cold Turkey.

  • flowertears

    DO NOT PAY FOR COLD TURKEY BECAUSE YOU CANNOT RELY ON IT
    It might be nice to download it for free if you accept that it’s not going to work for long.
    It forgets your whole list of websites and programs in the middle of your scheduled blocking time, so if you accidentally (or incidentally) access them, you’re trapped on procrastination and distractions again.
    In my experience, once you’ve been blocked for a while it’s very hard to have the willpower to block yourself again, so yes, you can restart it as many times as you you want.. but will you? The purpose of the app is lost.