Using a web browser might seem like a naturally mouse-centric activity, but a handful of keyboard shortcuts can make all the difference to your productivity. Here's the five handiest keyboard shortcuts for Firefox.
Picture by almekinders
I'm always slightly amazed when I watch people surfing the Internet and realise how little they actually use the keyboard. Sure, the mouse is the fastest way to click on links, but if you want to scroll up and down, the arrow and PgUp/Dn keys are a more useful option. This seems to surprise nearly every non-geeky acquaintance of mine, so I guess I shouldn't be shocked that even the existence of more subtle shortcuts like Control-E doesn't occur to them.
I'm often in danger of venturing into keyboard shortcut junkie territory, but I genuinely believe that learning some key (ahem) keyboard shortcuts can make browsing a faster and more pleasant experience. Since Firefox is the most popular browser amongst Lifehacker readers (and my own constant companion) it seems the best browser to cover.
There's a comprehensive list of keyboard shortcuts on the Mozilla site. It's very comprehensive, but a tad overwhelming, and some of them aren't that useful. Below I've listed the Firefox keyboard shortcuts that I find myself constantly using, and that are worth committing to memory. (To a fair extent, these shortcuts will also work in other popular browsers, though their behaviour may be subtly different.)
One caveat with keyboard shortcuts: they won't necessarily work if you're in a text-entry field or on a Flash-based or other multimedia site. Ironically, to get them to work in that scenario, you often need to click on a non-active part of the page.
If you're a veteran browser, all this should be second nature - but as I've said, it seems not too many people fall into that category. If you can think of a vital shortcut I've missed, share it in the comments.
Control-L - go to an address
Saving mouse strokes is reason enough to use this, but Firefox's handy AwesomeBar address history list makes it essential. Between this, the arrow keys and the occasional keyword bookmark, you'll be able to get to all your regular sites with no mouse work involved. F6 performs the same function.
Backspace - go back in your history to the previous screen
Firefox's enlarged back button was controversial when first introduced, but to my mind the bigger scandal is that people don't use the giant backspace key to achieve that goal. Alt and the left arrow key performs the same function.
Control-T - open a new tab
Tabbed browsing is, let's face it, awesome. There are other ways of opening a new tab (like right-clicking), but Control-T is the easiest.
Control-E - move to the search box
Searching via the search box is faster and simpler than visiting a search engine page, and this shortcut makes it a no-mouse affair. Control-K performs the same function (I stick with Control-E as it also serves the same purpose in Outlook).
Alt-Home - return to your home page
Before the AwesomeBar and keyword bookmarks, having a home page of my favourite links was a key part of my surfing strategy. These days, I don't use my home page as much, but it's still a fast means of hunting down common but not daily bookmarks.
Honourable mentions? Control-W to close a tab, and the Tab key for filling in forms.
Lifehacker 101 is a weekly feature covering fundamental techniques that Lifehacker constantly refers to, explaining them step-by-step. Hey, we were all newbies once, right?