I think Firefox is my favorite browser.
Chrome continues to seek the gold and in some benchmark tests is demonstrably superior to Firefox; however, my allegiance remains with Firefox because of the array of plugins (especially those that make web development easier), general browser responsiveness and native support for websites that are at the cusp of the CSS3 and HTML5 web movement.
Most of the time, Firefox is fast. You really don’t have to worry about it: pages leap onto the screen, plugins load silently without a trace and tabs open and close on command.
But no web browser is perfect and sometimes even the best need a tune-up. Even your gorgeous Nissan GTR (lucky you) will ineluctably need a tune-up. Consequently, in this guide you should think of me as your personal digital mechanic for getting the most “mileage” out of your Firefox experience.
I’m going to show you five speed enhancing tricks:
- Reset Firefox
- Clear Cache
- Safe Mode
- Disable Extensions
- Advanced Configuration
Let’s get started.
1. Nuke the browser
If you’re in a hurry, don’t feel like thinking and just want a safe and sure way of speeding up browser performance you can easily return Firefox to its initial state. Resetting Firefox returns the browser to the beginning. The reset offers much of the benefits you would get from a complete reinstall without the wasted time.
In other words, the Reset saves your bookmarks, browsing history, stored passwords, cookies and web form auto-fill info but expunges your extensions, themes, tab groups and site specific preferences like download history and customizations.
To get started, in Firefox, press Ctrl + L to put the keyboard focus in the address bar – then enter this:
Suddenly the Troubleshooting information page is before you. On the right side you’ll see a gray box with a big ol’ Reset button.
Reset Firefox and you’ll be on your road to browsing bliss.
2. Clear Cache
This is almost as common as the generic “Reboot your computer” solution adored by tech support analysts. But clearing the cache isn’t a perfunctory tip, in many cases it results in a palpable improvement in speed.
The cache is a temporary storage space for images, scripts and web elements. As you browse the web the browser saves frequently accessed content to your local computer so subsequent visits to similar pages don’t have to wait for everything to download again; instead Firefox just pulls the content from the cache and then pops your favorite website on the screen.
Over time, the cache get’s full and data bloat manifests itself as a sluggish browser. To clear the cache press this key combo:
Ctrl + Shift + Del
You can restrict the time range to just today or to everything in the cache regardless of time. For optimal results, I recommend using Everything and checking off all the options in the Detail list. Let me explain what each setting does:
Browsing & Download History
All the file history present in your download window will get purged. It’s important to note this only clears the records of the files you’ve downloaded not the files themselves. In addition, this flushes the websites that autocomplete as you type in the address bar and all the files listed in the History menu (Ctrl + Shift + h)
Form & Search Bar History
Any text typed into any web form or search bar will get erased.
Cookies are little text files that save preferences from sites you’ve visited. For example, if you’ve ever signed into Facebook or Twitter and checked “Remember me” those sites save a small bit of text in a cookie so the next time you visit them you don’t have to login. That’s how the remember me feature works: it relies on cookies. But that’s not all, Cookies are also used by plugins, such as Adobe Flash and sometimes third parties, to store and track your browsing habits. You should definitely clear your cookies both as a general rule for maintenance and security.
Temporary web files like images and media reside in the cache. Flushing the cache is like using drain-o on clogged pipes in your bathroom: it’s essential so data can flow to your computer again.
This closes any persistent authentication sessions that your browser has open. If you’ve logged into a site that required HTTP authentication then clearing Active Logins, logs you out. It’s good to do this because if you leave your computer unlocked then anyone can sit down and start browsing through your active web sessions impersonate you on Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or any site you’re signed into. It’s a good idea to erase this data so you can log you out of all these sites at once.
Offline Website Data
This is like cache on steroids. Offline website data can store entire websites on your local computer so you can browse offline; as you can imagine this can slow your system down; therefore, it’s a good idea to erase it.
Stuff like pop-up blocker exceptions are stored here.
Make Firefox Automatically Clear the Cache
After clearing the cache I suggest configuring Firefox so it automatically clears it for you every time you close the browser. This will keep Firefox running smoothly in the future.
- Click the big orange Firefox button in the upper left corner of the browser window, mouse over to Options then click Options in the menu fly out.
- Click the little mask icon called Privacy then under history set the Firefox will setting in the drop down box to Use custom settings for history.
- Put a check in Clear history when Firefox closes
- Click the Settings button near it so you can choose exactly what Firefox clears on exit.
- Click OK and you’re done.
Now Firefox will automatically clear your cache after you close the browser.
3. Run Firefox in Safe Mode
Holding down Shift while starting Firefox opens it in a special no-frills mode called Safe Mode.
If your browser runs faster in safe mode than normal mode then you know there’s an extension (add-on), theme, or plugin that is slowing it down.
TIP: As you can see, you can also Reset Firefox this way too.
Now it’s time to hunt down those aberrant extensions so you can disable them.
4. Disable useless add-ons and plugins
Click the big orange Firefox button again and choose Add-ons.
Plug-ins and Add-ons are mini applications that consume browser resources and can slow the browser to a crawl. Some are better than others but if you find some you don’t need you should disable them.
If you’re worried that disabling one will break the browser just click the blue More link near the Disable button to get more information about it. In most cases, disabling a plugin won’t render the browser useless so feel free to be dauntless.
You can also use Nils Maier’s excellent Firefox plug-in called about:addons-memory. It actually shows you which plug-ins are consuming the most memory so you know which to disable. You don’t even have to restart your browser after installing it.
5. Advanced Performance Improvements
Firefox gives users the ability to edit internal variables in a special configuration area. You’ll see a warning message when you enter this area because if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can really flub up the browser, read the warning and proceed.
Here are three advanced variables that will squeeze out the last drops of performance from Firefox:
Press Ctrl + L to focus the address bar then type this:
Increase Persistent Connections
When downloading large amounts of data such as streaming audio from Pandora or HD video from Youtube, increasing your persistent connections will allow you to download more data at once.
In the filter box enter this command:
Double click the preference and change the integer value from 6 to 8.
Cranking the pipeline decreases the time it takes to load pages because Firefox has more channels to transport the data.
Change the integer value to 40.
Now we need to actually enable Pipelining, so far all we did was set the maxrequests variable but pipelining is actually off by default.
Enter this in the variable search box:
Then double click the first entry to flip the Boolean value from false to true.
Disable Tab Animations
This is pushing it I know… but I want to be thorough so I need to mention it.
This won’t deliver blazing results but might make tab switching feel more fluid.
I keep mine enabled because it makes the browser feel obedient when I switch or open tabs. It doesn’t hesitate, it doesn’t animate it just opens the tab and displays the page I want.
Firefox has been a favorite for web developers and lovers of the Mozilla brand for years. Maybe it’s the abounding plugin’s or perhaps it’s the fact that the browser is reliable and doesn’t crash often. The engineers at Mozilla know how to build a good product and I hope this continues. But the truth is even good products need maintenance and the five tips I offered in this article are a sure way to keep Americas favorite little fox happy.