Web Browser Wednesday

Memory leaks seem to follow Firefox with every release but have you ever stopped to think that some of those leaks may be the cause of an extension(s) that you have installed? Many of you probably have thought about that but you haven’t taken the time to disable them one-by-one to find the culprits.

Firefox IE LogoI don’t blame you because it takes some time to do that. First you have to record your memory usage after about an hour of using the browser. Then you have to disable one of the extensions and spend about another hour of browsing to see what your memory usage climbs back upto.

I take the time to do it every now and then but I typically have less than 7 extensions installed and I have found most of them to be leak-free. However, with the release of Firefox 2 I decided to give two extensions another shot after not using them for months: Tab Mix Plus and IE Tab.

I had forgotten how great Tab Mix Plus was and quickly became addicted to it all over again. After a few hours of installing the extension I noticed Firefox starting to run slow so I pulled up my memory usage and it was at 120MB! That isn’t as bad as some of you might experience but that is 40MB over my normal amount. It was hard but I determined that I would rather eliminate this memory leak so I ditched Tab Mix Plus, once again. :(

Firefox using IE Tab Next up was IE Tab. I didn’t install this simultaneously with Tab Mix Plus because I never install more than one “trial” extension at a time. After I have it installed long enough I’ll move the extension from the “trial” category to the “I think it’s a keeper” category. IE Tab was a little better than Tab Mix Plus but after around an hour of typical usage the memory meter was reading a little over 100MB which means IE Tab contributed around 20MB to the memory leaks. Needless to say I don’t use the extension that much so I decided to drop this one as well.

These memory leaks get pretty frustrating but I feel bad for the Mozilla team because so many people criticize their browser for being loaded with the leaks, when in fact the leak is often caused by an extension that the user has installed. Months ago I put together a list of extensions that are known to have leaks and IE Tab was on that list, but ironically enough Tab Mix Plus was one of the solutions to another problematic extension. I’m not sure what caused Tab Mix Plus to start leaking memory but after removing it from Firefox my memory usage returned to the 80-90MB for typical use.

Then there is always this about:config tweak that doesn’t remove the memory leaks but will free Firefox from using your physical memory as soon as you minimize the browser. Opera has this feature enabled by default and I think it is a good idea to use it in Firefox as well.

What’s the best way to start fresh and minimize the amount of memory that Firefox uses? The solution that everyone is saying works 100% is restarting Firefox, although that is just a temporary solution as well. The problem is that no one ever wants to restart Firefox because they don’t want to lose their open tabs or windows. No problem! Firefox 2 has a built-in session restore feature that can be utilized to cure that situation. Just install the Restarter extension (yes, another extension :) ) and it will add an option in the File menu to restart Firefox. It will automatically remember all of the tabs that you have open and even all of the windows. This is definitely a must-have extension for everyone using Firefox 2 and especially those people who are plagued with memory leaks!