After a brief hiatus, Firefox last year nabbed a PCMag Editors’ Choice award for best browser.
We were impressed inside and out; Mozilla’s under-the-hood upgrades shined through in our lab tests and we were positively smitten with the browser’s stylish new layout (if you’ve been lured away by other browsers in recent years, Firefox is a far sexier beast than the one you may remember).
Your choice of browser is an important one. First, there’s a matter of security—you don’t want all your digital eggs in one basket should that basket be compromised in some way. It’s just a bad idea to be too fully engrained in any one corporation’s ecosystem. (Get what I’m saying, users of Microsoft Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, and Google Chrome?)
And second, browsers have been at the center of our Internet lives for at least 20 years, but now they’re at the center of our actual lives. As technology continues to evaporate into the cloud, the Web has been transformed from a mere repository of websites into a boundless communal OS—and your browser is your key to the kingdom.
Should you choose to do so, you could easily run your entire virtual life through your browser, never opening a native app. Some machines are even being built with this paradigm in mind.
While all browsers share certain functionality and indeed learn from one another, there are certain quirks and functions that are unique to each. And Firefox is no different. You may be familiar with the many third-party extensions and add-ons that can amplify Firefox’s functionality, however there are a lot of little tricks already baked in to the software that you may not be using.
1 Search Better With Keywords
If you find yourself searching through the same sites over and over again, you may want to consider utilizing search keywords. For example, if you’re an avid Wikipedia-er, you can use search keywords to access an intra-Wiki search directly from the main address bar.
To create a search keyword, right-click on the search box within the site you’d like to add. This action will prompt a pull-down menu where you can choose “Add a Keyword for this Search.” This in turn prompts a pop-up bookmark window, which includes a “Keyword” field where you can create a nickname for your search, e.g. IMDb.com would get “IMDb” and PCMag.com would get “HellaAwesomeTechSite” (from experimenting, it appears that you can’t use a multi-word keyword).
Once added, you access that search by typing the keyword followed by the search into the address bar. For example, you would just need to enter Wikipedia Charles Darwin in the search bar to be taken directly to Darwin’s Wiki page. #boom
2 Explore Firefox’s Secret Interface
Firefox has a secret interface which allows users to really get into the coding weeds and tweak how their browser performs (including items not included in the Options menu).
We should note that this function comes with the pop-up warning “This might void your warranty!” and furthermore “You should only continue if you are sure of what you are doing.” Mozilla’s own information comes with similar scary language.
However, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can check it out by entering about:config in the Location bar. You’ll be greeted with the aforementioned pop-up warning. Just click “I’ll be careful, I promise!” to move on. (You can’t break things by just looking.) Here, you’ll find a number of preferences that you can change and tweak.
For most users, this window will look a bunch of impenetrable codespeak nonsense. If you want to try some things out, the website Askvg.com has a handy list of config tweaks (though we should note that they are specifically tailored for Firefox 40, so things may have changed in subsequent versions).
Have fun! (But be careful.)
3 Easily Jump Through Tabs
Have a lot of tabs open? You can easily toggle through them via simple keyboard shortcuts:
Focus on the next tab on the right: Ctrl + Page Down
Move to the left: Ctrl + Page Up (on a Mac, you can toggle between tabs using command + option + [left/right] arrow)
Jump between multiple tabs: Ctrl + [1 through 9] allows you to jump between a long set of tabs where 1 represents the one on the far left and each subsequent number represents the next tab over. (On a Mac use the command key.)But if you really want to step up your tab game, check our next tip…
4 Enable Tab Previews
Firefox has a helpful (but non-default) feature that presents thumbnail previews of all your open tabs, but you have to go into the aforementioned (and thoroughly code-y) about:config interface to do it. As stated earlier, this interface comes with warnings that it might mess with your browser’s performance (and it’s probably also worth noting that this function hasn’t been included in the Options menu).
But THAT all being said, I enacted this feature and can say the following two statements with confidence: 1) it’s pretty handy, and 2) I haven’t noticed any issues on my system (but can’t guarantee that you won’t on yours). If you’re feeling bold, here’s how you do it:
Enter about:config into the Location bar > click “I’ll be careful, I promise!” > enter “browser.ctrlTab.previews” in the Search bar in the new window > double click the entry. This will toggle the value from default “false” to “true.” Now, try holding down the Ctrl + Tab keys and you’ll be presented with thumbnails of all your open tabs, which you can navigate through using the arrow keys or your mouse.
5 Refine Your Search
Firefox aids your searches by auto-filling suggested sites based on your bookmarks and browsing history below your search bar. This can be an overwhelming form of assistance—particularly if you have many bookmarks and a voluminous browsing history. Fortunately, you can refine this search using the following modifiers (be sure to add a space between them):
^ for matches in your browsing history
* for matches in your bookmarks
+ for matches in pages you’ve tagged
% for matches in your currently open tabs
~ for matches in pages you’ve typed
# for matches in page titles
@ for matches in web addresses (URLs).
For example, if you wanted to find that online magazine about PCs, which you have saved somewhere in your bookmarks, you would easily find it by typing PCMag * in the address bar—it will then appear in the autofill pull-down section below your search bar sans all the other PCMag articles that may exist in your browsing history. You can even use these search refiners in combination with one another (just remember to include a space between symbols).
6 How Healthy Is Your Browser?
Firefox collects data on your behavior and your browser’s overall performance so as to “provide you with meaningful comparisons and tips,” as well as to “aggregate the data shared by everyone to make Firefox better for you.” This function is turned on by default, but if you don’t like the idea of Mozilla keeping an eye on you, it can be disabled under Options (Mac: Preferences) > Advanced > Data Choices [tab].
Firefox also uses these collected facts and figures to render a personalized data-licious report of your browsing data, such as how long you’ve spent on your browser, how many times it has crashed, and even how long it has taken to open (measured in milliseconds). To access this “health report,” Just go to Help > Firefox Health Report.
7 All About That Master Password
A master password can keep you secure by requiring it to be entered in order for Firefox to access your stored passwords (that particularly comes in handy if you share your computer with anyone). To create a master password, go to the Menu button (AKA the hamburger icon) > Options > Security tab > check the box next to “Use a master password.” Follow the directions in the pop-up window. You can also disable or change your master password through this same window.
If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having lost your master pass, you can re-set it in a roundabout way. NOTE: This action will remove all your saved usernames and passwords. To re-set, enter “chrome://pippki/content/resetpassword.xul” into the location bar > Enter > Reset in the ensuing pop-up page.
You can then go and create a new master password from there using the above directions.
8 Learn Yer Keyboard Shortcuts
Are you still pointing and clicking? Like an old person? You need to learn your keyboard shortcuts. Mozilla provides a comprehensive list of Firefox key commands here, but here are a few good ones that will make browsing easier (Mac users, just replace all the “special keys” with the command key):
Back/Forward: Alt + left/right arrow
Reload Page: F5 or Ctrl + R
Reload Page (override cache): Ctrl + F5 or Ctrl + Shift + R
Zoom In/Out: Ctrl + [plus symbol]/[minus symbol] (Zoom Reset: Ctrl + 0)
New Window: Ctrl + N (New Private Window: Ctrl + Shift + P)
Undo Close Tab/Window: Ctrl + Shift + T/N
9 Design Yer Own Shortcuts
You could take some time to learn all of Firefox’s aforementioned set of shortcuts. But you’re not a mere sheep who just accepts what you’ve been handed, are you? I thought not.
Users can use the Mozilla-blessed Customizable Shortcuts extension (for Mac and Windows) to trick-out their commands. Once downloaded, just go to Options and you’ll find a new Shortcuts tab.
10 Customize Control Panel
You can customize which items you see in the control panel (and even find some new tools you might not have known about). Click the hamburger in the top-right corner and then click Customize at the bottom.
In this new pop-up window you can drag-and-drop (d+d) items from the window on the right into the “Additional Tools and Features” window on the left, and vice-versa. (Don’t worry, you can always hit “Restore Defaults” in the bottom right corner to go back to where you started.) You also have the ability to (d+d) items to/from the bar in the top right.
We’ll revisit this feature later when we investigate some of Firefox’s hidden Easter Eggs.
11 Zooma Zoom Zoom
You can use the aforementioned keyboard shortcuts to zoom in or out on a page (Ctrl + [plus symbol]/[minus symbol]), however you can also do it with your mouse: Just hold down the Ctrl key and move the click wheel in or out (Mac: command key). Alternatively, you can zoom via the View menu or the three-line menu button located in the top-right corner of your browser.
You also have the ability to just increase the size of the text while keeping the images stable. Just go to View > Zoom and check “Zoom Text Only.” Now when you zoom in and out, only the font size increases or decreases.
If you wish to set the default to a larger font size, go to Options (Mac: Preferences) > Content [tab] and then click on the “Advanced” button in the “Fonts & Colors” section. There you will find the “Minimum font size” pull-down menu. Make your selection and remember to click save.
(If you were playing with the zoom function and got stuck in some unwieldy aspect, you can always go back to the default by pressing Ctrl + 0; command + 0 on Mac.)
12 Learn Yer Media Shortcuts
Firefox even has keyboard codes to control media playback, and Mozilla has a comprehensive (though in my experience, not always functional) list here.
If you want it to navigate to a particular piece of media you usually have to “focus” on the video or sound file by clicking directly on it. Like I said, these commands didn’t always appear to work—they did work with YouTube clips, but not on SoundCloud tunes, which as far as I know both utilize HTML5 technology. But here are some good ones to know:
Increase/Decrease volume: Up/Down Arrow
Seek Back/Forward: Left/Right Arrow
The last few don’t appear to have a compatible control function on a Mac.
This trick becomes less useful as the number of new Web domainsexplodes: Firefox gives you the ability to autofill a URL without typing its prefix or suffix. For example, if you just type “wordpress” into the address bar and then press Ctrl + Enter (Mac: command + enter), Firefox will fill in the www and .com and bring you to wordpress.com. Presto.
However, if you want to save time on your way to wordpress.org (or any dot-org), you would type “WordPress” followed by Control + Shift + Enter (Mac: command + shift + enter). For any dot-net sites, you would type the URL followed by Shift + Enter.
14 Manage Your History
Back in 2011, an intro video to an episode of America’s Got Talent included a screengrab of a Web browser to illustrate how YouTube was being integrated with the show. Unfortunately, the video editor didn’t realize the screengrab included an auto-filled search history riddled with past YouPorn visits. Don’t get caught with your pull-down menu down.
While it’s probably best to use Firefox’s “Private Mode” for such private endeavors, Firefox users have the ability to prune their search history to avoid such mishaps. When you start typing in the search bar, Firefox autofills your search with recent and common sites you visit. To delete them, just use the arrow keys to navigate down and then hit delete. On a Mac, it appears you have to hit shift + delete.
15 Mouseless Scroll
Mice are for squeaking, not for the serious business of navigating webpages. Fortunately, you don’t need them—at least for the scrolling part. You can scroll down a page just by pressing the space bar, and then scroll back up by pressing Shift and the spacebar.
16Firefox Lays Some Easter Eggs
And like most technology folks, the developers over at Mozilla like to include little bits of hidden whimsy in their product. Here are three:
Type about:Mozilla in the address bar and receive a bit of apocalyptic text from the “Book of Mozilla” (be sure not to include any space between the colon and “Mozilla”)
Type about:robots and receive a message of love from the robot community. Hit the “Try Again” button; mild lunacy ensues.
Alright, this third one takes a bit of work on your end. First, click on the three-line menu in the top right and hit the “Customize” button. Next, remove all the menu icons from the field on the right into the larger “Additional Tools and Features” field on the left. Make sure to include the “Zoom Controls” and “Edit Controls” icons. Then hit the “Exit Customize” button at the bottom. Now, whenever you hit the top right button there will be a roving bouncing black-and-white unicorn that will turn Technicolor whenever your mouse hovers over the field.
He’s like your own personal magical browsing buddy! Or something. When you get bored of that, you can go back into the customize window and put all the tools back or click the “Restore Defaults” button.
17 Firefox Share
You might have noticed in your most recent update of Facebook there’s a little paper plane icon in the top left corner. That’s the new Firefox share button. It allows you to share to a number of social media accounts—no add-on necessary. It’s also super easy to set up.
As long as you are already logged in to the account(s) you’d like to add, you can do it with a single click. Just go to this link in Firefox to find the accounts you’d like to choose. Scroll down and choose which accounts you’d like to include (Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, etc.). You can change/delete these options later by going to your Add-ons manager > services
18 Firefox Hello
Firefox last year introduced its very own chat client (with video chat), Firefox Hello. To access it, just click the little smiley face in the top-right corner. If you’re familiar with Google Hangouts, you’ll be able to find your way around. There’s no need to download any software to use Hello, in fact other people don’t even need to be on Firefox (they just need to be using WebRTC-supported browsers like Firefox, Chrome, or Opera). You can just start a new chat-room with its own link and send it to whoever you’d like to join.