The Power User’s Guide To Firefox

3
The Power User’s Guide To Firefox


Now that Firefox is on a rapid release cycle, we’re getting a new version of Firefox every three months — and each time, it becomes more tricked out than ever with new customisation options, shortcuts, and convenient features hidden away in its menus. Today, we’re covering it all — from longtime shortcuts to hidden features from the latest version of Firefox. Even if you’re already a Firefox fanboy, there’s bound to be something in here you haven’t noticed before.

Title image remixed from an original by Lok Yek Mang (Shutterstock).

The problem with such frequent, incremental updates (which, by default, happen automatically without you realising it), is that it’s hard to keep up with all the new features that pop up in Firefox every few months. So we’ve created this power user’s guide to Firefox, featuring all of our favourite advanced features, and which we’ll update every time a new version of Firefox comes out.

Interface Tips And Tricks

Whether or not you think Firefox is the prettiest browser on the block, it’s without a doubt the most configurable. Here are some great tricks for customising and navigating Firefox’s UI.


Customizs the Toolbar

Those are just basic tweaks, however. For more advanced customisation, right-click anywhere on the toolbar and click customise. From there you can move around the back, forward and reload buttons, move the bookmarks toolbar, add and remove add-on buttons, or even add buttons for other functions like full screen or history. Note that you can also move these buttons to the add-on bar at the bottom of the window, if you’d like quick access to them but don’t want them wasting space in your toolbar. You can also choose to use smaller icons if you’re starved for screen real estate.


Separate Tabs Into Groups


Pin Tabs You Always Keep Open


Decorate Your Browser with Themesextensive Personas library

Tweak Every Pixel of Firefox’s Window with CSS: Whether you want to save a bit of vertical space or give Firefox a more transparent look, you can do so with a bit of advanced CSS editing. You can add code to Firefox’s userChrome.css file or, if you want something easier, use an extension like Stylish to install any UI tweaks you want (see the add-ons section for more information about Stylish).

The Most Time-Saving Shortcuts


stackfull list

Note: If you’re a Mac user, just substitute the “Control” key for the “Command” key (and know that the “Alt” and “Option” keys are the same) when performing these shortcuts, unless a specific alternative is noted.

Navigate Back and Forward: Unless you have specialised back and forward buttons on your mouse, you probably click on the back and forward buttons in Firefox’s window to navigate between pages. If you’re more of a keyboard maestro, though, you can press Alt+Left Arrow or Alt+Right Arrow to move back and forward, respectively. Alternatively, you can hit Backspace to move back and Shift+Backspace to move forward.

Reload and Stop a Page: Whether you’re trying to access a web site that’s down or meticulously following a live blog, you can quickly refresh the page by pressing either Ctrl+R or F5 on your keyboard. If you’re having trouble with a specific page and reloading doesn’t help, you can try pressing Ctrl+Shift+R or Ctrl+F5 to do a “hard” refresh, where your browser ignores the cache when it reloads the entire page — handy when you need to fix formatting or other problems often caused by bum files in your cache.

Jump to the Top and Bottom of a Page: If you finish reading a page and want to jump back up to the top without scrolling your wheel endlessly, just hit the Home button on your keyboard. Similarly, you can hit End to jump to the bottom of a page as well. If you don’t want to jump all the way to the top or bottom, you can also use Spacebar and Shift+Spacebar to page down and up, respectively.


Find Text on a Page

Open a New Tab or Window: To quickly open a new tab, just hit Ctrl+T on your keyboard. It’ll open a new blank tab and you can just start typing the URL you want to visit and hit enter. Alternatively, to open an entire new window, just hit Ctrl+N instead.

Close a Tab or Window: To close the current tab, press Ctrl+W or Ctrl+F4. To close an entire window (all tabs in tow), press Ctrl+Shift+W or Ctrl+Shift+F4.


Undo Closing a Tab or Window


Open a Link in a New Tab

Open the Tab Groups Window: If you like the new Tab Groups feature described above, you can jump straight to the Tab Groups window by pressing Ctrl+Shift+E.

Bookmark the Current Page: Instead of clicking the Star icon in the navigation bar to bookmark a page, you can just press Ctrl+D to bookmark the current page. This will bring up the bookmark dropdown where you give it a name and assign it a folder. If you want to bookmark all your currently open tabs, you can hti Ctrl+Shift+D instead.


Complete a URL with .com, .net or .org.com.com.net.org


Jump to the Address Bar or Search Box

These are our favourite mouse and keyboard shortcuts, but if you want to see the full list, check out Mozilla’s Keyboard and Mouse Shortcut pages.

Customise Firefox’s Settings

Firefox is the most customisable browser out there. Most of this customisation takes place in its preferences, so head on over to Tools > Options (or Firefox > Preferences on a Mac) to get at the really good stuff. Here are some of our favourite must-tweak options.

Session and Tab Management

Under the General and Tabs panes, you’ll find some handy settings for managing what Firefox loads when it starts, and how it manages multiple tabs. Settings to check out include:


Load Tabs when Firefox Starts

Don’t Load Tabs Until Selected: Under the Startup section of the general tab, you’ll see a checkbox with this label. This is useful if you choose the “Show My Windows and Tabs from Last Time” option, as described above. It essentially helps Firefox avoid crashes and slowdowns by loading tabs one at a time, as you select them — not all at once when you first start up the browser. That means you’ll have to wait for each individual tab to load when you click on it, but you won’t have to wait for them all to load when you first start the browser up (nor will it be as slow as molasses when you first start it up).

Choose How Firefox Handles New Tabs: Under the Tabs pane of Firefox’s options, you’ll find a number of checkboxes that configure how you open and close new tabs. For example, you can open all new windows in a new tab, have Firefox warn you when closing multiple tabs, focus all links opened in a new tab, and even show tab previews in the Windows taskbar.

Choose How Firefox Handles Certain File Types


mailto:

If you don’t see a file type in the list, it’s probably because you haven’t encountered a direct link to one on the net yet. You can’t add content types manually, but any content type you want to add should pop up in that list the first time you come upon it in your browsing.

Sync Bookmarks, Passwords And More With Firefox Sync


Note that I only use Firefox Sync to sync my preferences. For passwords, we recommend using the more feature-filled LastPass, and for bookmarks, history, and tabs, we recommend Xmarks. Both are also advantageous because they work with other browsers like Chrome, but if you only ever use Firefox you can do it straight from Firefox Sync.

Advanced Options

Lastly, there are a few miscellaneous features littered around Firefox’s preferences we definitely recommend checking out. They include:

Do Not Track: Many web sites track your behaviour on their site, usually for advertising or other purposes. If you’d rather keep your behaviour hidden, you can head to Options > Privacy and check the “Tell Websites I do Not Want to Be Tracked” box. It won’t stop every site from tracking you — since Firefox can’t require that — but any sites that have given you the option to avoid tracking should honour your request if you check this box.

Automatic Updates: Firefox now updates automatically whenever a new version is out. If you’d rather not do this, head to the Update tab of the Advanced panel and choose one of the other options (“Check for updates, but let me choose” or “Never check for updates”). You can also tell Firefox to warn you if it will disable any of your add-ons, though we recommend checking out the Add-On Compatibility Checker to fix this problem instead (see the “Using Add-Ons” section below for more information).


Smooth Out Firefox’s UI

Enhance Firefox’s Functionality with Add-Ons

One of Firefox’s greatest features has always been its extensibility. Mozilla has a massive add-on library that, with a few clicks of your mouse, can add tons of new features to Firefox. We’ve already shared ten of our must-install extensions, but here are a few more that we think everyone should check out.


Make Old Extensions Compatible with New Versions of Firefox

Download the Add-On Compatibility Reporter


Pin Your favourite Sites to Your New Tab/Window Page

Download Fast Dial


Send Web Pages to Your PhoneFox to PhoneChrome to PhoneFirefox MobileXmarks Premium

Download Fox to Phone and Site to Phone


Save Form Text in Case of Crashes or Accidental Tab Closures

Download Lazarus Form Recovery


Make Pages Easier to Read

Download Readability

In addition to traditional add-ons, you also have the option to install userscripts and userstyles to Firefox. Userscripts and userstyles both change, add, or alter functionality on a given site, though userstyles can also change the UI of Firefox’s window. We’ve talked about them before, so we won’t go into too much detail here — just know that if you want to install userscripts, you’ll need the Greasemonkey extension, and to install userstyles, you’ll want the Stylish extension. You can find good userscripts at userscripts.org and cool userstyles at userstyles.org.

Master Firefox’s Other Features

Firefox has a few other features that are a bit less advertised than others, but can seriously power up your browser. Here are a few of our favourites.


Access Bookmarks and Search Engines with a Keyword

To give a bookmark a keyword, just enter your Bookmarks Library, click on a bookmark, and press the “More” button at the bottom of the window. You should see a box labelled “Keyword”. Type in a letter or two (for example, I use the keyword “l” for Lifehacker), then exit the bookmarks library. By typing in that keyword and hitting Enter in the address bar, you can head to that site quickly, without having to type out the whole URL or wait for autocomplete to get it right.

If you want to perform custom searches with a keyword, just create a new bookmark with the URL of the type of search you want to perform. To get this URL, make a search on your favourite engine — say, Yahoo — and copy the resulting URL in your menu bar. It should look something like this:

http://search.yahoo.com/search?ei=UTF-8&fr=crmas&p=lifehacker

If you look at the URL you can see I searched for the term “lifehacker”. You can replace that word with any modifiers you want and the %s value to symbolise search terms:

http://search.yahoo.com/search?ei=UTF-8&fr=crmas&p=%s

Now, add that link as a new bookmark in Firefox, with the keyword “y” (or whatever you want). Now, when you type something like y lifehacker firefox tweaks in Firefox’s address bar, Firefox will understand you want to search for “lifehacker firefox tweaks” on Yahoo instead of your default engine. You can also use this trick to search specific sites via Google, which can be very helpful.


about:configstop Firefox from greying out text in the address barmake spellcheck more recognizableenable hidden tab management featuresMozillaZine Wiki page


Development Channelsrundown of each channelFirefox’s Future Versions

As long as this guide may be, there’s still plenty more you can do with Firefox. If you’ve got any favourite tips or tricks you’d like to share, post them in the comments below.

Comments

  • Open links in a new tab by clicking the link with your scroll wheel.

    Also – Get a mouse gestures extension. I use All-in-One Gestures, but there are several good ones out there.

  • “Add-on Compatibility Reporter” “This add-on is not compatible with your version of Firefox” IE 57Yeah, don’t bother with this if an addon is broken or out of date, unless the creator fixes it, your shit out of luck.

Log in to comment on this story!