Web Browser Wednesday

firefox 3 tips tricks.pngFirefox 3 (review) has been out for just barely over a week now and it has been downloaded over 19 million times according to Spread Firefox. Many of you requested that we assemble a tweaks guide just like we did with Firefox 2, and so that’s exactly what we’ve got in store for you today.

Before we get started with our guide we would like to mention is that we also have a Firefox 3 extension in the works that will be ready for all of you eager testers next week. We’re not going to say too much about it right now other than it’s something that can greatly enhance your productivity. So keep your eyes peeled for more information early next week!

–Table of Contents–

To make the guide a little easier for you to navigate we’ve created a table of contents that highlights all of the tips and tricks covered in this article:

  1. How to use About:Config
  2. Session Restore Saving Frequency
  3. Don’t Search Bookmarks or History in the Address Bar
  4. Increase the Number of Results in the Address Bar
  5. Use Bookmark Tags for Better Address Bar Placement
  6. Get a Firefox 2 Style Address Bar
  7. Manage Search Keywords
  8. Enable Advanced Color Profile Support
  9. Get the Firefox 3 Theme used on a Different OS
  10. Smaller Back Button (Remove the “Keyhole” design)
  11. Supercharge the Smart Bookmarks
  12. Change Default Applications
  13. Change Page Zoom to Text Zoom
  14. Get Notified when a Website Redirects You
  15. Disable Antivirus Scanning
  16. Some Oldies, but Goodies
  17. Overview

–How to use About:Config–

If you’ve been following our site you’re probably already familiar with how the about:config works in Firefox, but since several of these tips utilize the about:config screen I figured it wouldn’t hurt to provide a crash course. So before we dive into the tweaks glance through to make sure you know how to make the adjustments, or just reference this section when you need it.

  1. Start Firefox.
  2. Type about:config into the address bar and press Enter. When you’re presented with the warning screen click the I’ll be careful, I promise button:
    firefox about config warning-1.png
  3. You should see a long list of hidden settings that look meaningless and confusingly complicated:
    firefox about_config.png
  4. Now comes the fun part of actually modifying and/or creating new values:
    • If I tell you that the key already exists then you can type the name of the preference in the Filter box, and it will instantly show only the matching results. Once you find the preference you’re looking for just double-click on it to change the value.
    • If I tell you that the key does not exist you will need to create a new value manually. Don’t be intimidated… it’s not as difficult as it sounds. Just right-click on any entry on the about:config screen, go to the New menu, and choose either string, integer, or boolean depending on what I tell you.
      firefox about config values.png
  5. You may need to restart your browser for some of the options to take effect.
  6. Wanna go back to the way something was before you tweaked it? Any of the preferences can be reset to their default values in the event that something doesn’t work the way you expected it to. This can be done by right-clicking on the particular option in about:config, and selecting Reset. Values that have been changed at one point or another will appear in bold text, and once they have been reset they should no longer be bold.

–Session Restore Saving Frequency–

firefox restore session-1.pngWhenever Firefox crashes it will try to restore all of your open tabs to the way they were. This has come in handy several times for me before, but sometimes I notice that it isn’t able to restore all of my tabs for me.

That’s because Firefox, by default, only saves the session restore data every 10 seconds, but you can configure that time interval to whatever you would like.

  • Name: browser.sessionstore.interval
  • Preference Needs to be Created: No
  • Preference Type: Integer
  • Default Value: 10000
  • Possible values:
    • The number of milliseconds between session restore saving. For example, entering in 1000 would cause the session restore data to be saved every 1 second, whereas a value of 20000 would make it happen every 20 seconds.

–Don’t Search Bookmarks or History in the Address Bar–

One of the big complaints that I’ve heard with the new address bar is that it includes results from your bookmarks and browsing history, instead of just the website addresses you’ve typed into it. While I’m glad to see that the address bar includes bookmarks and history, I know that this can add some unwanted “noise” to the results for some people.

  • Name: browser.urlbar.matchOnlyTyped
  • Preference Needs to be Created: No
  • Preference Type: Boolean
  • Default Value: False
  • Possible values:
    • True – Will only search addresses you’ve entered into the address bar, and will not search your bookmarks or history.
    • False – Will search addresses you’ve typed in, bookmarks, and history

–Increase the Number of Results in the Address Bar–

By default the address bar will always show 12 results in the drop-down menu, which is probably more than enough for most people. If you prefer to see more (or fewer) results you can alter how many items can be displayed with the following setting:

  • Name: browser.urlbar.maxRichResults
  • Preference Needs to be Created: No
  • Preference Type: Integer
  • Default Value: 12
  • Possible values:
    • The number of results you would like to appear in the address bar drop-down menu.

–Use Bookmark Tags for Better Address Bar Placement–

Tagging bookmarks is one of those things that I wasn’t sure I’d use when I first played around with it in early versions of Firefox 3, but since the address bar also includes results from your bookmarks it can come in handy. To demonstrate what I mean I created a fresh profile in Firefox 3. Then I visited our homepage, bookmarked and tagged it with “cybernet,” and then went to and tagged that with “cybernet” as well.

I visited Yahoo a few more times to make sure that I had visited it more than “,” and then when you search from the address bar you’ll notice that it also searches your tags:

firefox bookmark tags-1.png

Since I had visited more than the Yahoo result showed up as first, and the point of this experiment is to show that you can use the tag system to help manipulate what results show up for certain keywords. If I hadn’t added the “cybernet” tag to the bookmark it would have never shown up here.

–Get a Firefox 2 Style Address Bar–

I understand that some of you don’t like the new address bar at all, and there’s an extension available for reverting back to the default Firefox 2 address bar behavior. The layout is more compact, the Go button will always be visible, and only addresses that you type into the address bar are included in the results.

firefox old address bar.png

This extension is still experimental, which means you’ll need to login to the Mozilla site before being able to install it. If you don’t have a login you can use a generic one that I’ve created over at Mozilla:

  • Username:
  • Password: cybernetnews

Note: If someone decides to be funny and change the password just let us know. Since we have full control over the email address we can change the password back at anytime.

Thanks to Jann for the tip!

–Manage Search Keywords–

We’ve shown you how to add keywords for pretty much any website, but Mozilla wanted to make it a little easier to add keywords to the sites in the search box. To do this just click the arrow in the search box that is used to display a listing of all your search engines. Then choose the Manage Search Engines option. From here you can manage all of the keywords that are used for the search engines:

firefox search keyword.png

–Enable Advanced Color Profile Support–

Those of you that are photo enthusiasts might enjoy the fact that Firefox has advanced color profile capabilities. It’s not enabled by default because it can cause a 10-15% performance hit for the browser, but if image quality is that important to you this might be something you want to enable. Here’s a great comparison between Firefox 2 and Firefox 3 (with the color profile turned on):

firefox color profile.jpg

  • Name: gfx.color_management.enabled
  • Preference Needs to be Created: No
  • Preference Type: Boolean
  • Default Value: False
  • Possible values:
    • True – Enables color profile support so that the colors appear richer
    • False – Disables color profile support so that you have better performance

[via dria & Lifehacker]

–Get the Firefox 3 Theme used on a Different OS–

Don’t like the default theme that’s included with Firefox 3? There is an abundance of other themes available, but as you’re probably aware Firefox 3 ships with customized themes based upon the operating system that you’re using. The good news is that you can grab the default Mac or Windows themes no matter which operating system you’re using.

–Smaller Back Button (Remove the “Keyhole” design)–

firefox small back keyhole.pngMozilla wanted to make an aspect of their browser stand out from the crowd, and they did so by super-sizing the back button in the browser with a “keyhole” design. That button single handedly makes the navigation toolbar taller than it needs to be, but luckily there’s a quick fix without having to scrap the theme all together.

To remedy this go to View -> Toolbars -> Customize, and check the Use Small Icons box. You should see the back button shrink down to the size of the forward button, just like in the screenshot above.

–Supercharge the Smart Bookmarks–

firefox smart bookmarks-1.pngFirefox 3 includes advanced bookmarking capabilities known as Smart Bookmarks, and they are similar to the automatic playlists that media players, such as iTunes, can generate for you. These Smart Bookmarks can show you things like your most visited sites, recent bookmarks, and even the most visited pages for a specific domain. Here’s a rather comprehensive set of instructions as to how you can create your own Smart Bookmarks.

–Change Default Applications–

Firefox has a nice configuration tool for selecting the default applications for certain types of URL’s and media. And when I refer to “applications” I don’t just mean the programs you have installed on your computer… it also includes web applications such as Gmail and 30Boxes.

If you pull up the preferences for Firefox you should see an Applications tab, and from there you can configure the default applications. Although it’s not there by default Gmail can be configured for mailto links.

firefox default applications.png

–Change Page Zoom to Text Zoom–

Firefox 3 introduced a new type of zooming that scales everything on the page, including the style, images, and text. That way when you zoom in or out it’s a little more like taking a magnifying glass to the whole site, but some people still prefer the old method where Firefox only adjusted the size of the text when zooming. You can re-enable the text-only zoom by going to View -> Zoom, and selecting the Zoom Text Only option.

–Get Notified when a Website Redirects You–

Some websites redirect users from one address to another, and it often happens so quickly that it can be difficult to catch. This could be a bad thing because the site could try to redirect you to a malicious or inappropriate site, but you can setup Firefox 3 to alert you when things like this happen. To enable this feature open up the Firefox preferences, switch to the Advanced -> General tab, and then check the box labeled Warn me when web sites try to redirect or reload the page. Then whenever a site tries to redirect you from one page to another you should see a warning bar like this one:

firefox redirect.png

–Disable Antivirus Scanning–

Firefox virus scanningFor Windows users when Firefox 3 finishes downloading a file it will initiate a virus scan using any antivirus application that the user has installed on the computer. If you download a lot of files (especially large files) this can become a bottleneck for you as you wait for each file to be scanned, especially when many antivirus applications will automatically scan all incoming files. That means each file you download might get scanned twice.

By jumping into the about:config you can enable or disable this setting at your leisure:

  • Name:
  • Preference Needs to be Created: No
  • Preference Type: Boolean
  • Default Value: True
  • Possible values:
    • True – Scans each download with the installed antivirus application
    • False – Does not scan each download with the installed antivirus application

Thanks to xpgeek for the tip!

–Some Oldies, but Goodies–

Most of the stuff that we’ve covered today we’ve never written about before, but we didn’t want to leave out those tips and tricks from the days of Firefox 2 that still work. So here are some of our favorite tweaks from our Firefox 2 configuration guide:

Thanks for the tips Max!


We’ve included a lot of great Firefox 3 tricks here, but there are a lot more that have yet to be discovered. As we come across other great tips we’ll be posting them to the site just like we have been over the last few years. Plus we’re sure that many of you have plenty of your own tips, and hopefully you’ll take the time to share them with us in the comments!