How I Configure Firefox

how i configure firefox - firefox fox biting ie I have recently reinstalled Firefox on a number of computers (iMac and two Windows 7 beta machines). Every time I do this, I have to recreate my Firefox configuration from memory. For the benefit of my future Firefox installs, and for anyone else interested in how I configure/optimize Firefox, in this post I describe the various tweaks I make to Firefox and the various add-ons and extensions I routinely use.

Note: The discussion below assumes you are using Firefox 3.0 and above.

A Word about ‘About:Config’

The tweaks below are made through Firefox’s ‘about:config’ page. It’s easy to use. To access the ‘about:config’ settings page enter ‘about:config’ into Firefox’s address bar (circled in green below).

You can scroll up and down the list to find the key you wish to modify (they are listed alphabetically). Click the key you wish to edit, change the value and click ‘OK’. Alternatively you can type the key (or the first few letters of it) in the Filter box (circled in red below) to narrow the list.

how i configure firefox - about-config - filter

Notice that the bolded items in the ‘about:config’ list are keys that have been changed from their defaults by:

  • you using about:config;
  • Firefox as a result of changes you make to Firefox’s default settings in the ‘Tools/Options’ page; or
  • Firefox extensions/add-ons that you have installed.

Speeding Up Firefox:

Frankly, I don’t know if the following pipelining changes work any more. They did in the early days of Firefox. I suspect most ISPs and websites have blocked the bandwidth hogging that these tweaks engender. But, hey, I’ll keep using them until its proven they are ineffective. In the early days they dramatically increased the speed of Firefox – especially if you open multiple tabs simultaneously as I always do:


Network pipelining allows Firefox to open multiple connections to multiple website at once. To turn pipelining on, modify the following keys on the ‘about:config’ page:

  • Set “network.http.pipelining” to “true”
  • Set “network.http.pipelining.maxrequests” to some number like 30 to increase the maximum number of requests for content that Firefox can make simultaneously
  • Set “network.http.proxy.pipelining” to “true”

Setting the Time Out Value:

Ideally Firefox would start to display content as it comes in. However, it often doesn’t. It waits until a certain percentage of a page arrives before displaying it. To change the amount of time Firefox waits before it displays information it receives:

  • Right-click anywhere on the ‘about:config’ page to add a new ‘key’
  • select New-> Integer.
  • Name it “nglayout.initialpaint.delay”
  • set its value to “0”.

Bookmark Synchronization

Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer

foxmarks logo

I run Firefox on a half dozen different PCs. I browse by tabbed groups. Almost daily I adjust my tabbed groups on one PC. I want changes made on any PC to be synchronized across all my PCs. Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer is THE first add-on I install on every new installation. It automatically keeps my bookmarks, passwords and other settings synchronized across all my Firefox browsers. Synchronizing with Internet Explorer is now in beta. It’s a marvellous add-on. It just works. I highly recommend it.

See my prior post: Synchronize Firefox 3 Bookmarks with foxmarks

Tabbed Browsing

Replaceable Tabs Extension 1

Critical to my tabbed-browsing approach to web surfing is the ability to open multiple tabs at once. In doing so I want the new tabs to overwrite any open tabs. This is how Firefox used to work before Firefox 3. Instead of overwriting, Firefox adds the new tabs along side the existing tabs. This quickly results in a real rats nest of tabs if you browse as I do.

For several months after Firefox 3 was released I used various work-arounds to make Firefox work that way again. Ultimately Martin Warger wrote ‘ReplaceTabs Extension 1’ to solve this problem.

  • Click here to download/install Martin’s “ReplaceTabs Extension 1“ extension.
  • Open the downloaded .xpi file with Firefox to install the extension (drag and drop the file onto Firefox or right click on the downloaded file and use the ‘Open with…’ option to open it with  Firefox).
  • Restart Firefox once installed
  • Once restarted, set the following about:config key as follows:

browser.tabs.loadFolderAndReplace = true

If you are interested in this topic I wrote about it extensively in this post:  Fix For Firefox 3’s ‘Open in Tabs’ Overwrite Bug

Key:  browser.tabs.closeButtons

I prefer having the close tab ‘x’ button available on each tab to quickly close unwanted tabs. To set up a close tab ‘x’ button on each tab, modify this key as follows:

  • Modified Value: 1 (display x on every tab)
  • Default: 4 (display only on current tab)
  • Alternate Modified Value: 2 (don’t display any close tab buttons)

Key: browser.tabs.maxOpenBeforeWarn

While I tend to keep my tab groups to around 15 or less, I don’t want to be nagged each time I exceed that number of open tabs. Accordingly I change the key as follows:

  • Modified Value: 25
  • Default: 15

Key: browser.tabs.tabMinWidth

As you open multiple tabs, and fill the tab bar, by default tabs start scrolling off the edge to the right. You then must scroll left and right to see your open tabs. You can set the minimum width in pixels for your tabs before this starts happening. I cut the minimum pixel width to 1/4 of the default:

  • Modified Value: 25 (effectively shut this function off)
  • Default: 100
  • Alternate: 50 (will give you twice the default number of tabs before scrolling)

Key: browser.tabs.warnOnClose

I do not need to be babysat when I close tabs. So I change this key:

  • Modified Value: false
  • Default: true

Extensions For Gmail

Better Gmail 2

how i configure firefox - folders4gmail function within better gmail 2The Better Gmail 2 extension provides a number of enhancements (like hierarchical labels, row highlights, macros, file attachment icons) when viewing Gmail in Firefox. I use it for one reason – its ‘Folders4Gmail’ function.

My primary criticism of Gmail remains that users cannot organize emails into folders. I have 10’s of thousands of emails sent/received over a dozen years organized in more than 1,000 hierarchical folders, sub-folders etc. When I used iMap to sync my email between Outlook 2007 and Google Apps Gmail, all those folders are displayed as an enormously long list of Labels within Gmail – which is not only useless to me, but results in Gmail’s left margin being ridiculously long.

The ‘Folders4Gmail’ function of Better Gmail 2 organizes those Labels back into hierarchal folders and subfolders within Gmail – exactly how they appear in Outlook 2007.  Click the image on the left for a larger view of how this looks inside of Gmail.

Gmail Notifier

The Gmail Notifier extension does one thing that I care about. It beeps when a new email comes in. That’s it. Since Outlook 2007 already beeps when new emails come in, I only install this extension on computers where Outlook is not installed.

There are a couple  things I don’t like about Gmail Notifier:

  • It beeps every time I start Firefox whether or not there are new emails there; and
  • It keeps a running tally in the bottom right corner of Firefox of the total number of unopened Gmail emails. This is useless. I want to know how many new emails have come in since the last time I checked – not the total number of unopened emails – which will always be a high number.

Modify Default Search Engines

how i configure firefox - modify default search enginesI use Google, Wikipedia, IMDb and Live Search more than any other search engines. Consequently, I modify both the contents and the order of the search engines listed in the search engine pull-down menu on the top right of the Firefox browser to place these search engines on the top of the list.

I delete those that I don’t use (obviously not depicted here) and add others that I want.

Click on the ‘Manage Search Engines’ option at the bottom of the list (circled in red on the right) to open the ‘Manage Search Engine List’ page – depicted below.

how i configure firefox - manage search engine listTo reorganize the list, select the  search engine you want to move (IMDb is selected in the image). Then click on the ‘Move Up’ or ‘Move Down’ button as necessary to move the engine up or down the list. Click on the ‘Remove’ button to remove any you don’t use. You can also click on the ‘Get more search engines’ link (circled in red) to add more. There is a large and growing number of search engines available for use with Firefox.

Miscellaneous Extensions


how i configure firefox - colorfultabs extension icon What can I say … this one is frivolous eye-candy. But I like the ColorfulTabs extension. All it does for me is change the color of my many open tabs.

TinyURL Creator

I’m an active Twitterer. I use the TinyURL Creator extension to automatically turn the URL of a web page I’m reading into a tiny URL suitable for inclusion in a tweet. Activating the extension both generates the the tiny URL and places it on your clipboard. All you need to do is write the tweet, paste the URL and your set.


As you can see I only use a few judiciously chosen Firefox add-ons. I find that beyond a half dozen or so, Firefox can slows down and/or becomes unstable. But, I’m always interested in hearing about add-ons that speed up or enhance tabbed browsing or make working with Gmail via Firefox a better experience.

If you have any suggestions, please, do tell in the comment section below?



15 Replies to “How I Configure Firefox”

  1. I use more extensions as many of them are related to web development which I still do, so I find some of them to be useful developer tools.

    BugMeNot 2.1 – Provides logins to those 'free but must register' sites. If it is a site I repeatedly use then I'll register myself, but I'll use this if it is some random site linked to in a blog, etc.

    ColorZilla 2.0 – Color selector, useful for development.

    FirefoxView 1.0 – More an extension for IE. As a developer I need to check things in IE as well as FF, this adds an item in IE's right-click menu that will open the page currently in IE in FF.

    Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer 2.6.0 – syncs your bookmarks and/or passwords with a server. This provides a backup in case something wipes them on your system, as well as allowing you to keep multiple machines in sync. You can also access your bookmarks via the web from any browser.

    FoxyTunes 3.0.4 – Lets you control media players from within the Firefox chrome, and some other things.

    Google Gears – Extension that allows local storage for sites you approve to speed things up. MySpace uses it, WordPress admin pages use it, some Google tools use it, etc.

    Google Toolbar for Firefox 5.0.20080919Wb1 – Self-explanatory, adds a Google toolbar. I prefer it to the built-in search bar in FF, like the PageRank display, etc.

    Html Validator – Developers tool, adds HTML validation to FF.

    IE View Lite 1.3.3 – Opposite of FirefoxView, opens the page currently in FF in IE. (Some people prefer IE Tab extensions, which open the page in a FF tab using IE's engine, but to test I like to see how it works natively.)

    Image Zoom 0.3.1 – Let's you zoom in on images.

    InfoLister 0.10 – Lists info about the browser in convenient formats, like your exgtensions – which is how I got this list.

    Java Console 6.0.11 – Developer tool.

    JavaScript Debugger – Developer tool.

    Linkification 1.3.5 – Converts plain-text URLs in pages into clickable URLs. Very handy, especially on web forums that don't auto-link URLs in posts.

    Linky 2.7.1 – Adds some power user link tools to the right-click menu. I'm actually on the fence about keeping this one.

    Live HTTP headers 0.14 – Developer tool, lets you see the HTTP headers.

    MR Tech Link Wrapper 2.2.1 – Ever have a web forum messed up because someone posted a HUGE unbroken string that didn't wrap? This can force line breaks and wrapping. I leave it off and turn it on as needed.

    Plain Text to Link 1.5.20080618 – Overlaps a but with Linkification, but I think Linkification does a nicer job of while it does, while PTTL adds some other tools, like saving bits of a page to a text file. I'm on the fence about keeping this one as well as I don't use it that often.

    Tab Mix Plus – An AWESOME extension for FF that adds a TON of tweaks for controlling tabbed browsing.

    Tweak Network 1.3 – Power-user tool, lets you easily tweak network settings to speed things up. (Increase max connections, turn on pipelining, etc.)

    User Agent Switcher 0.6.11 – Debugging tool, let's you use other user agents within FF to see how sites respond.

    View Cookies 1.8 – Developer tool for examining cookies from a page.

    Web Developer 1.1.6 – A whole suite of web developer tools, absolutely great if you do web development.

    As for about:config: true

    Fairly self-explanatory, it opens search results from the search box in a new tab instead of replacing your current tab/window.

    browser.tabs.closeButtons 3

    Puts a single close button at the end of the tab bar, like it was in Firefox 1.x. Options:
    0: Display a close button on the active tab only
    1: (default) Display a close button on each tab
    2: Don't display any close buttons
    3: Display a single close button at the end of the tab bar

    I actually use this in conjunction with Tab-Mix Plus and I now have close buttons on *all* tables *AND* one at the end of the tab row. I find both to be useful. If I open a bunch of tabs to look for something I'll work through them just clicking the one at the end of the row, never having to move the cursor, But if I'm working specifically in a tab I'll close it with its own button now.

    browser.tabs.loadDivertedInBackground true

    When a page that would normally open a new window is diverted into a tab it loads in the background instead of yanking your focus.

    browser.tabs.selectOwnerOnClose false

    Firefox 2.0 changed this so that when you close a tab the 'owner' tab, the tab that had the link the now closed tab was opened from, would be selected. If often open a number of links from one window to go through, this is really annoying. You keep jumping back top the
    'owner' tab each time you close one, when you really want to just work through the open tabs like it used to work in 1.x. This reverts to that behavior.

    browser.tabs.tabClipWidth 0
    browser.tabs.tabMinWidth 0

    Setting both of these to 0 allows the tabs to be as narrow as possible, maximizing the number of tabs that will fit in the tab bar without scrolling.

    browser.urlbar.autoFill true

    This enables inline autocomplete in the URL bar as you type.

    browser.urlbar.matchOnlyTyped true

    This makes the URL bar (or 'awesome bar') match only URLs you've actually typed in the past, and not every URL in your history. I've found I'm rarely looking for some random page I've visited, but I'm constantly revisiting pages.

    network.http.max-connections 40
    network.http.max-connections-per-server 16
    network.http.max-persistent-connections-per-proxy 16
    network.http.max-persistent-connections-per-server 16
    network.http.pipelining true
    network.http.pipelining.maxrequests 8
    network.http.proxy.pipelining true

    I actually set these through the 'Tweak Network Settings' extension, but you can set these manually through about:config. Firefox's default network settings are very conservative, raising the number of connections and enabling pipelining can really boost performance.

  2. Wow … that's one detailed comment Mega!

    Doesn't your use of ALL those extensions bog down Firefox? Do you use all of these in ONE Firefox instance or you use these in various combinations across different PCs.

    I used to use the BugMeNot extension but its now so rare for me to wind up on a site asking for a login that I use BugMeNot in manual mode.

    Looks like 'we are in sync' with Foxmarks!

    I do hope to test Google Gears in the near future … just need the time. I didn't know the WordPress admin pages use it – interesting.

    Used to use Google Toolbar too. Have removed it and added it back several times. I do miss the site-search and fill in forms feature.

    I had used Tab Mix Plus at one point but then changed to Tab Browser Preferences. But it got borked with Firefox 3 and I never bothered to try to go back. I wish TMP solved the open-tabs-in-groups bug in Firefox 3.0 but last time I checked it doesn't.

    I'm going to look into your Development extensions next time I make revisions to my site. Anything that can help me out with RSS and PHP will be helpful.

    Looks like we both use the browser.tabs.closeButtons key.

    The browser.tabs.loadDivertedInBackground = true is now the FF 3 default – no need to set it any more.

    I don't understand what browser.tabs.tabClipWidth 0 gets you that browser.tabs.tabMinWidth 0 doesn't do. But, out of caution I just set the first to match the 25 I set the second.

    I added a few more of your network… key tweaks to see if they make a difference above and beyond those I had already set.

    Thanks for the tips.

  3. I wonder if the config files can be copied, saving some time. Hm. Instead of TinyURL, I'd go with The URLs are shorter, the service seems more reliable, and I like the tracking/stats it gives you on click-thrus and what not. I use a bookmark in my bookmark toolbar to create them. I, too, use Foxmarks but I sync manually. And it looks like the Safari and IE versions are now out of beta. I use to have some PDF one for the Mac that would embed PDFs in the browser instead of launching Preview. But it's gone missing. I've used Gears in the past, but really have no need now since NetNewsWire has replaced Google Reader and I use Yahoo Mail.

  4. I have heard of plugins that will/can sync Firefox config files across PCs. But I also read horror stories about them so never investigated further.

    Why manual mode for Foxmarks? I'd forget. As I use it now, my stuff is always synchronized and it's never given me a problem. Frankly I'm astonished at how good it is and how useful it is. A day doesn't go by where I haven't added/changed a bookmark on my desktop that I didn't use on the laptop later in the day or vice versa.

    I like that idea Dave. I just tried it. I tried dragging the bookmarklet to my toolbar and it didn't take – meaning I didnt' get an icon on the toolbar I got a mess of javascript. But when I clicked on it to create a bookmark it worked really nicely. I like how it is integrated with Twitter. I'm definitely going to give it a whirl. I like the fewer steps to getting a twitter out. The stats are a nice extra.

    I really have to experiment with Gears. I don't want it for a news reader – I don't use/and never have used news readers. I want it for the offline access to email and calendar and other cloud-based apps. I expect over time with Gears I won't need Outlook. But I don't fully understand the scope of all its functions yet.

    If the Safari and IE versions are out of beta I'll be using them them too shortly. Too many things to do – not enough time!

    I've got a huge how-to post almost ready for posting. I really want to tackle Windows Live Mesh soon. That's been in the hopper for months.


  5. That's all in one FF instance. I used to have even more but trimmed it down since it was kind of bloated. I don't notice any trouble with these, most of them don't do anything unless you call on them so it doesn't slow things down during normal use.

    Yeah, Gears shows up in a few places. In WordPress admin pages the 'Turbo' mode uses Gears to speed things up. Google Reader and Gmail's offline mode uses it. MySpace's messaging pages uses it to speed things up, though I don't use that very much.

    I used to use Tab Browser Preferences as well, and loved it. But, as you say, FF3 borked it up. I tried a number of other extensions looking for something that would replace it and Tab Mix Plus is the best thing I could find.

    I forget why I started setting browser.tabs.tabClipWidth -I know I had a reason, but I've been doing it for so long now I don't really recall just what it did. I think it has to do with clipping the text on the tab so labels didn't force the tabs to remain wider than the minWidth.

    Good to know browser.tabs.loadDivertedInBackground is a default now.

  6. For the java programmers: the one plug-in I always install: GreaseMonkey with the “Java Doc Incremental Search” script.

  7. I never fully understood GreaseMonkey Glen. Always thought it odd to add a plugin that does nothing itself other than support other plugins. I always thought it would drag down system performance – but never tried it.

  8. FYi, thanks to Dave and Megazone’s comments, I don’t use the TinyUrl creator add-on any more and I’ve used all of Megazone’s pipelining suggestoins. I’ll update the post above at some point to reflect that.rnrnSuffice it to say that I have dragged both the and bookmarklets onto my toolbar and use them directly now. The one is the easiest to you … one click and the tinyrul is created and put in the clipboard. is better if you want the tiniest tiny URL and you want a means of tracking how many click-through’s it got.rnrn…Dale

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