20 Essential Tweaks and Tips Every Firefox User Should Know


Firefox may be your default browser, but that doesn’t mean you really use it to its full potential. Mozilla’s browser is a big threat to Microsoft not because it’s fast and full of unique features, but because it’s also extremely customizable. Add-ons, style scripts, and hidden preferences let you personalize your Firefox experience to meet your tastes and needs. Sure, you may know about hidden easter eggs like the about:robots page, but we’re going show you the 20 most essential tips, tricks, and tweaks to this super browser.

Undo Closed Tabs and Windows

This is actually a feature that has been around since before Firefox 3, but we’re often surprised by how many people don’t know about it. Firefox stores a record of every open and closed tab in all windows for each browsing session. So if you accidentally closed a tab, you can bring it back by pressing Ctrl + Shift + T . The restored tab retains its surfing history as well, and you can bring back old tabs even after you’ve opened several new ones since the initial close.

Speed Up Browsing

Firefox 3.5 is fast at loading pages, but its operational speed can get bogged down by overloading extensions. But you can add further optimizations to the browser by making a few tweaks behind the scenes. Load up the about:config page (by typing about:config in the location bar), and make the following changes:

Set network.http.max-connections to 96 – This sets the total number of HTTP connections Firefox can make to a web server. The default value is 30 (raised for the previous default of 24), but if you have ample bandwidth, increase the number speed up the loading of multiple-tab bookmarks.

Set network.http.max-connections-per-server to 32 – The default is 15, but you can raise it to increase the number of connections made to a single server. This is useful if you’re planning on browsing a site while downloading many files from it at the same time.

Set network.http.max-persistent-connections-per-server to 8 – Raising this setting from 6 to 8 improve performance when working through multiple pages of a site. We don’t recommend setting this value to anything higher than 8.

Set network.http.pipelining to true – Pipelining is an application of the HTTP 1.1 protocol where multiple requests can be sent to a web server before any responses are received. Not all servers support it, but this will improve your browsing speed if you’re on a high-latency (slow) connection.

Set network.http.proxy.pipelining to true – Same as the setting above, but only applies if you’re using a proxy connection.

Set network.http.pipelining.ssl to true – If you’re encountering problems with pipelining enabled, the root of the problem may be a broken proxy server sitting between you and the target server. SSL (secure) sites don’t have this problem, so this setting will let you turn on pipelining for those sites only, regardless of the other pipelining settings.

Set network.http.pipelining.maxrequests to 8 – With pipelining enabled, this preference specifies the maximum number of requests to make to a server at once. Raising the default value from 4 to 8 will speed up your requests to a server, but will cause a small delay if one of the requests fail.

Use Gmail as Your Default Mail Application

When Firefox 3 was first released, one of the new features was the option to associate html protocols with web applications, such as launching a webmail service when clicking a “mailto:” link. Unfortunately, at the time of launch, only Yahoo’s mail client was officially supported, and users had to either use extensions or manipulate some javascript code to enable Gmail as the primary mail handler. The current iteration of Firefox has included Gmail in the web app client list, and here’s how you turn it on.

Go to Tools-> Options, and select the Applications tab. This is a list of protocol and content associations, with their respective plug-ins for each type of content (ie. Mp4 video). In the search field, type “mailto”. Then, in the Actions drop down menu, select Gmail as your default client. That’s it! The next time you click on an email link, Firefox will open up Gmail in a new tab to send an email. Bonus tip: download and install the Better Gmail 2 add-on to add extra UI features if you’re planning on using Gmail as your primary mail client.

Disable the Awesome Bar

We think that the Awesome Bar lives up to its name – its auto-complete feature lets us get to our favorite websites even if we don’t remember the exact URL. But not everyone wants Firefox to auto-complete location bar text, especially if you visit sketchy or embarrassing sites that share common URL characters (ebay and piratebay, for example). You can disable the Awesome bar by turning off the XUL richlistbox widget that powers it.

First, open up the about:config page. Type browser.urlbar.matchBehavior in the Filter field, and right click the sole resulting entry. Click Modify, and change the value of the setting from 1 to 2. Now, whenever you start typing a URL in the location bar, you only get suggestions from websites that start with that text, not just any with those string of characters.

Now, if you want to make the Awesome Bar to not show any suggestions for pages that you have visited or bookmarked, and only show suggestions for URLS that you have manually typed, go to the browser.urlbar.default.behavior preference in about:config and change its value from 0 to 49.

3 Quick Location Bar Style Fixes

Always show the GO button

By default, the GO button the far right of the location bar only shows up if the bar is empty or if you’ve typed in something new. To make the button stay visible, go to your user Profile directory ( C:\Documents and Settings\ USERNAME \Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\ in Windows XP ), navigate to the Chrome subdirectory, and create a new blank file called userChrome.css. This file lets you make stylesheet changes to Firefox. Open up the file with Notepad and type the following at the end of the file:

#go-button { visibility: visible !important; }

Restart Firefox to put this change into effect.

Disable the RSS Feed Button

If you’re not a fan of web feeds, you have no need for the RSS button at the end of the location bar. Disable it by opening up the Chrome.css file you created before in your Profile directory, and add the following line:

#feed-button[feeds] { display: none !important; }

Restart Firefox to put this change into effect.

Use Small Location Bar Icons

The location bar itself isn’t terribly tall, but every pixel counts when you’re using a tiny screen netbook or have stacked additional toolbars like the Booksmarks bar or a StumbleUpon bar. Shrink the Location Bar by right clicking the any toolbar and clicking the “customize” option. At the bottom of this screen, check “Use Small Icons.”

Reasonably Cut Ram Usage

Firefox is generally good about memory management, so we don’t normally recommend memory allocation tweaks because of the performance tradeoff. But there is one setting in Firefox that may be useful if you tend to have many browser windows and tabs open but minimized at the same time.

Open up the about:config page, and right click anywhere in the window. Select New->Boolean to create a new preference setting, and type “ config.trim_on_minimize ” in the pop up box. Next, choose True as the default value. This preference will offload memory using from RAM to virtual memory on your hard drives when windows are minimized. The only caveat is that “waking up” this minimized window will take a little longer than usual, since Firefox will need to transfer its state back to physical memory.

Additionally, we recommend that you try the RAMBack add-on , which gives you notifications when and how much memory can be freed up from RAM.

Browse Privately on a Public Computer

A feature actually first introduced in IE 8, Firefox’s private browsing mode lets you surf the web without retaining any URL history, form and search fields, passwords, cookies, or web cache on the local machine. This is particularly useful for surfing at work or on a friend’s computer, when you don’t want them to snoop around your shameful habits. Turning on private browsing is as simple: just hit Ctrl + Shift + P . Firefox will save your existing windows and open a new session (unfortunately, you can’t have both private and non-private mode windows open at the same time). In the privacy options settings, you can even set Firefox to start in private browsing mode by default.

Customize the New Tab Page

One thing that Chrome and IE 8 do better than Firefox is the new tab page. When you open a new tab in Firefox, it defaults to about:blank, which, appropriately, is a blank page. Mozilla actually acknowledges this shortcoming, and has been experimenting with various new types of new-tab landing pages in their Mozilla Labs department. The latest prototype shows you a page with Frequently Visited Sites, and a “You Might Want to” suggestion based on what’s in your clipboard.
You can download and install it here .

6 Essential about:config Tweaks

About:config is amazingly powerful – it lets you change almost every aspect of how Firefox functions. Going through and explaining what every preference does would not only be an impossible task, but also unnecessary since most people are happy with the default settings. There are, however, a few settings that we think are essential to change. Make these tweaks first when you encounter a fresh install of Firefox.

browser.urlbar.autoFill = True
Enable auto-complete for URLs when typing into the location bar.

browser.sessionstore.max_tabs_undo = 15
Increase the number of closed tabs that firefox has stored in its cache to 15.

browser.tabs.tabMinWidth = 75
Show more tabs in a single window by narrowing the minimum width of a tab.

browser.search.openintab = True
Automatically open new search results in a new tab

middlemouse.paste = True
Use the middle mouse button to paste text from your clipboard.

browser.blink_allowed = False
Disables annoying text with the Blink tag.

Make Smart Bookmarks

A really sweet feature in Firefox 3 is the ability to program your own smart bookmarks. These are dynamic bookmark groups that change depending on your browsing history. For example, you can have it set to show the 10 most popular pages you’ve visited within a certain domain, or the 15 most popular sites you’ve visited that contain a specific keyword in its title.

Open up your Organize Bookmarks window by typing Ctrl + Shift + B. Choose the folder you want to create your new smart bookmark, and create a new bookmark with the Organize menu. In the location bar, enter a string using the following syntax:

place:queryType= A &sort= B &maxResults= C &domain= D &terms= E

Replace A, B, C, D, and E with whatever you choose, based on these rules:

Querytype = 0 to only search your history, 1 to only search your bookmarks, 2 to search both

Sort = 1 for A to Z, 2 for Z to A, 3 to sort by most recently visited, and 8 to soft by most often visited

Domain = the domain you want to show results for, such as “maximumpc.com”

Terms = the word or words you want to show results for.

For more syntax options and explanations, visit Mozilla’s reference page.

Back Up Your Bookmarks

Keep your bookmarks backed up and synchronized across multiple computers using the popular Xmarks add-on. Formerly known as Foxmarks, this extension securely stores your bookmarks (and even passwords) on their servers, and can even analyze your saved links to give website and tagging suggestions. It’ll even sync across multiple browsers, in case you use both Firefox and IE (Chrome support eventually coming).

Know the Location of Your Profile and Settings

What if you accidentally delete your bookmarks or profile settings before storing them in the cloud? Not to worry – Firefox makes periodic backups of your bookmarks, safely backing them up in a hidden folder. You can find and retrieve them in Windows easily. First, open up Windows explorer, go to folder options, and enable viewing hidden files. If you’re using Windows XP, your Firefox profile backups will be located in the following directory:

C:\Documents and Settings\ USERNAME \Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\

Just replace USERNAME with your Windows user account name, and sort the .json files by date. Copy and save the desired backup file to your Desktop, open up Firefox, and choose the Import and Backup option under the Bookmarks menu. Locate the .json file on your Desktop, and open it to restore your bookmarks.

In Windows Vista and 7, the backups are stored in:

C:\Users\ USERNAME \Application Data\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles

4 Scroll Wheel Secrets

  • Open a link in a new tab by hovering over it and clicking the middle mouse button.
  • Close a tab by hovering over the top of the tab and clicking the middle mouse button.
  • Hold Shift and scroll your mouse wheel to move forward or backward through your history.
  • Enlarge or shrink the size of text on a page by holding Ctrl and scrolling up or down.

Advanced Spell Checking

Firefox’s built-in spell checker is useful for using web content management systems like Wordpress for blog entries or Google docs, but the default setting only spellchecks fields that are bigger than one line. Enable single-line spellcheking (like for Google searches) by changing the following preference in about:config: layout.spellcheckDefault = 2

Additionally, you can add different language dictionaries to the spell-check database by picking and installing the right packages from Mozilla’s language packs page . Right click any multi-line text field and you can choose to alternate between different languages for spell checking.

And in case you’ve ever unintentionally added a word to the Dictionary, you can remove the entry by opening the persdict.dat file stored in your user Profile directory. Using a text editor like notepad, delete the line containing your unwanted word, and save the file.

14 Essential Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Ctrl+T – Open a new tab
  • Ctrl + Tab – Next tab
  • Ctrl + 1-9 – Jump to a specific tab
  • Ctrl+W -- Close the current tab
  • Ctrl+N – Open a new window
  • Alt+Home – Go to your home page
  • Ctrl + R – Refresh the current page. F5 also works
  • Ctrl + Shift + R – Refresh the current page after flushing its current cache
  • Ctrl+F – Find specific text in the current page. You can also use /
  • Ctrl+D – Bookmark the current page
  • Spacebar – Scroll a page down
  • Shift+Spacebar – Scroll a page up
  • Ctrl+K – Put the cursor in the search field
  • Ctrl+L – Put the cursor in the location bar

Make Websites Work and Look the Way You Want

Browse websites the way you want. Use the Greasemonkey add-on with user-created scripts to automate and customize the way the way websites behave and look. You can make MP3 file links play with an in-line MP3 player, or make Google display Twitter search results at the top of all search pages. There are thousands of Greasemonkey scripts that you can use, and they’re all free to download .

Stylish lets you easily employ themes (called Styles) for any website without having to mess with CSS code. Like Greasemonkey, there is a sizeable database of preconfigured styles that users have created for you to try.

Disguise Firefox as Internet Explorer or an iPhone

Even if you don’t want to run Internet Explorer, there are some web services that only work if you use Microsoft’s browser (such as web outlook or Windows Update). IE Tab gives you the option to render pages using Internet Explorer or open new tabs using the IE engine. You can make specific sites always open with IE Tab as well.

User Agent Switcher is an add-on that doesn’t change the rendering engine, but allows you to make Firefox pretend to be a different browser when it retrieves information from a server. For example, you can have Firefox pose as an iPhone to view mobile-specific pages.

Make use of the Favicon

The favicon -- a website’s shortcut icon – is pretty to look at, but for the most part is pretty useless. Firefox lets you click the favicon next to a site’s URL in the location bar to display identity information, but most sites don’t utilize this feature. However, you can use the favicon as a quick way to access and manage stored cookies for specific websites. Just hit the “more information” button after clicking a favicon to open up that site’s page information window. Here, you can view and delete individual cookies for just this site, and even access saved passwords stored for users. It’s a really sneaky way to steal someone’s email password if you’re using their computer.

Manage Auto-Complete Suggestions

Forget to turn on private browsing mode and leave an embarrassing site in your URL history? You can delete individual auto-complete suggestions by hovering your mouse over the suspect URL and pressing the Delete key (not backspace) on your keyboard. The same trick also works for stored search history in your search bar, or any other auto-complete forms like user login.

Download like a Pro

From our power downloading guide : The Alpha and the Omega of downloading extensions, DownThemAll! is as simple to use as its name implies. When you activate this add-on for a page you're surfing, DownThemAll gives you a list of every potential downloadable item on the page--everything from ZIP archives to JPEG images. You can grab the entire page's contents and dump them in a folder, or you can selectively filter for only the file extensions that you're actually interested in. Never before has pilfering the entire contents of a Web site been quite so easy.

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