“Here be dragons,” reads the ominous disclaimer when you type
about:config into Firefox’s URL bar, warning you that tweaking things in this area is largely experimental and can cause instability to your browser.
Sounds exciting, right? And even though it sounds a little scary, the fact is you will almost certainly be okay when you start playing around in this area and can actually use the features here to improve and speed up your browser. These are Make Tech Easier’s favorite Firefox about:config tricks, freshly updated for Firefox Quantum.
How to Access “about:config”
about:config into Firefox’s address bar.
You will be shown that dragon-themed warning page. Click the “I accept the risk!” button, and you’ll arrive on the about:config homepage.
You’ll see a long list of configuration entries. If you’re looking for a specific one, type its name into the “Search” bar above the list.
To toggle different features on and off, simply double-click their entries under the “Value” column to switch between “true” and “false.” In some cases the value field will have a number instead. In this case, change the number to the one that corresponds to what you want. (Don’t mess around with these numbers until you know what you’re doing!)
Now, let’s get tweaking.
Note: to undo specific changes you make in about:config, just right-click the entry you want to revert and click “Reset.”
1. Opening Links from External Windows
You’ll have plenty of programs and apps on your PC that link to your browser – whether linking to your email provider, an online manual for a program, whatever. By default, Firefox will open links from other apps as a new tab, but you can change this to instead be a new window or to force itself into an existing open tab.
To change this, go to
browser.link.open_newwindow in Firefox, then next to
browser.link.open_newwindow.override.external, change the number to one of the following:
- 1: Force new window into existing open tab
- 2: Open a new window
- 3: Open link in a new tab
2. Change Number of Content Processes
Do you like to work with a lot of tabs open at any one time, or do you rarely have more than, say, five tabs open? The more content processes you have, the more CPU resources will be assigned to each tab (which will also use more RAM).
If you have a powerful PC, then you can set this at a reasonably high number, which should improve the stability and performance of each open tab in Firefox. The name of this setting in about:config is
Default value: 8
Modified value: 7-12 (depending on number of tabs you usually have open)
3. Disable Unnecessary Animations
Animations in Firefox Quantum are not a bad thing, but if you have an old PC where every MB of RAM counts or simply don’t need these animated flourishes, you can disable them by going to
toolkit.cosmeticAnimations.enabled and setting the value to “false.”
Default value: true
Modified value: false
4. Change Minimum Tab Width
It will take a more sharp-eyed Firefox user to notice this adjustment Mozilla made to Firefox Quantum. The default tab width is now just 76 pixels, whereas before it was 100. To adjust this, go to
Default value: 76
Modified value: 100 if you want the same tab width as in older versions of Firefox, but really you can make this whatever you like. Just don’t go overboard!
5. Reduce Session History Cache, Save RAM
If you’re using an older machine, then even the typically speedy Firefox may slow down your PC with the default settings. This could be in part because of how it stores Web pages in its short-term memory (or RAM), which you can access using the Back and Forward buttons.
browser.sessionhistory.max_total_viewers affects how many pages Firefox stores in such a way that they load super fast.
Default value: – 1 (adaptable)
Modified value: any number, reflecting the number of pages you want to store. (We recommend less than 4 if your PC is struggling for speed, while those with 4GB plus can go for 8 or more.)
browser.sessionhistory.max_entries affects how many pages each tab stores in its Back/Forward history altogether.
Default value: 50
Modified value: If your PC is struggling, lower this to 25, check if it helps, then adjust accordingly.
6. Disable Extension Compatibility Checks
Compatibility checks. Who needs ’em, right? Actually, they’re pretty handy as a general reference of which extensions will work with your version of Firefox and which won’t, but Firefox doesn’t always get it right. If you want to see whether an extension that Firefox claims is incompatible may actually work, do the following:
- Right-click anywhere on the about:config page, then click “New -> Boolean.”
extensions.checkCompatibilityinto the box, click OK, then select “false” and click OK again.
- This preference will now exist in your list, and you can disable it at any time by right-clicking it and clicking “Reset.”
7. Change Firefox Download Location
By default, Firefox downloads go to the Windows “Downloads” folder, but you can change this by tweaking
Default value: 1
- 0 – Saves all downloads to the desktop
- 2 – Saves to the same location as the previous download
8. Get Asked Where You Want Each Download Saved
If you want to have more direct control over your downloads and decide which directory you want each one to be saved in, change the preference
browser.download.useDownloadDir to “false.”
Default value: true
Modified value: false – prompts you where to save each download
Note: this option is also available in its Preferences section. Go to “Preferences -> General -> Downloads” and select “Always ask you where to save files.”
9. Open New Tab for Search Box Results
By default, the things you search for in the Firefox search box open in the current tab. To open in a new tab instead, you’ll need to modify
Default value: false – opens search results in current tab
Modified value: true – opens search results in new tab
10. Adjust the Smart Location Bar’s Number of Suggestions
In Firefox, when you start typing in the location (or URL) bar, a drop-down list of suggested sites will be shown. If you want it to show more (or less) than ten suggestions, you can adjust the
browser.urlbar.maxRichResults keys and get it to show the number you want.
Default value: 10
Modified value: Set to your desired number of suggestions. If you want to disable it altogether, set it to -1.
11. Adjust the Session Restore Saving Frequency
Firefox saves your session every 15 seconds by default, but you can change the value of
browser.sessionstore.interval so that Firefox will save the session at a longer interval.
Default: 15000 (in msecs, equivalent to fifteen seconds)
Modified value: Set it to your desired value. 1000 means one second, and 60000 means one minute.
12. Extend Scripts’ Execution Time
In Firefox, a script is only given ten seconds to respond, after which it will issue an unresponsive script warning. If you are stuck on a slow network connection, you may want to increase the script execution time via
dom.max_script_run_time to cut down on the frequency of the no-script warning.
Default value: 10 (in secs)
Modified value: 20, or any value greater than 10
- 0 – open all links the way you have Firefox handle new windows
- 1 – do not open any new windows
14. Enable Spell-Checking in All Text Fields
The default spell-checking function only checks for multi-line text boxes. You can change the option in
layout.spellcheckDefault to get it to spell-check for single line text boxes as well.
Default value: 1 (spellcheck for multi-line text boxes only)
- 0 – disable spellcheck
- 2 – enable spell-check for all text boxes
15. Lower Memory Usage When Minimized
This tweak is mainly for Windows users. When you minimize Firefox, it will send Firefox to your virtual memory and free up your physical memory for other programs to use. Firefox will reduce its physical memory usage, when minimized, to approximately 10MB (give or take some), and when you maximize Firefox, it will take back the memory that it needs.
The preference name does not exist and needs to be created.
Right-click on the background and select “New -> Boolean.”
Enter the name when prompted:
Enter the value: True.
16. Increase/Decrease the Amount of Disk Cache
When a page is loaded, Firefox will cache it into the hard disk so that it doesn’t need to be downloaded again the next time it is loaded. The bigger the storage size you cater for Firefox, the more pages it can cache.
Before you increase the disk cache size, make sure that
browser.cache.disk.enable is set to “True.”
Default value: 256000 (in KB)
- 0 – disable disk caching
- Any value lower than 50000 reduces the disk cache
- Any value higher than 50000 increases the disk cache
17. Select All Text When You Click on the URL Bar
In Windows and Mac, Firefox highlights all text when you click on the URL bar. In Linux, it does not select all the text. Instead, it places the cursor at the insertion point. Regardless of which platform you are using, you can tweak
browser.urlbar.clickSelectsAll to either select all or place the cursor at the insertion point.
- False – place cursor at the insertion point
- True – select all text when you click
18. Same Zoom Level for Every Site
Firefox remembers your zoom preference for each site and sets it to your preferences whenever you load the page. If you want the zoom level to be consistent from site to site, you can toggle the value of
browser.zoom.siteSpecific from “True” to “False.”
Default value: True
Modified value: False (enable same zoom preferences for every site)
19. Setting Your Zoom Limit
If you find that the max/min zoom level is still not sufficient for your viewing, you can change the zoom limit to suit your viewing habits.
Default value: 500 (percent)
Modified value: any value higher than 300
Default value: 30 (percent)
Modified value: any value
20. Configure Your Backspace Button
In Firefox, you can set your backspace by getting it to either go back to the previous page or scroll up a page if it’s a scrolling site. Holding Shift as a modifier will go forward a page if the value is set to 0 and scroll down if the value is set to 1.
Default value: 0 – goes back a page
Modified value: 1 – scrolls up a page
21. Increase Offline Cache
If you do not have access to the Internet most of the time, you may want to increase the offline cache so that you can continue to work offline. By default, Firefox caches 500MB of data from supported offline web apps. You can change that value to any amount you like.
Default value: 512000 (in KB)
Modified value: any value higher than 512000 will increase the cache value
22. Disable Delay Time When Installing Add-ons
Every time you install a Firefox add-on, you will have to wait for several seconds before the actual installation starts. To cut down on this waiting time, you can turn the preference
security.dialog_enable_delay off so that the installation will begin immediately.
Default value: 1000 (in msec)
- 0 – starts installation immediately
- any other value (in msec)
23. View Source in Your Favorite Editor
This is very useful for developers who are always using the “view source” function. This tweak allows you to view the source code of a given website in an external editor.
There are two configurations that need to be made:
Default value: False
Modified value: True (enable view source using external text editor)
Default value: blank
Modified value: insert the file path to your editor here
24. Increasing “Save Link As” Timeout Value
When you right-click and select “Save Link As … ” the browser will request the content disposition header from the URL to determine the filename. If the URL does not deliver the header within one second, Firefox will issue a timeout value. This could happen very frequently in a slow network connection environment. To prevent this issue from happening frequently, you can increase the timeout value to reduce the possibility of a timeout by editing
Default value: 4000 (4 seconds)
Modified value: any value higher than 1000 (value is in msec)
25. Autohide Toolbar in Fullscreen Mode
In fullscreen mode the toolbar is set to autohide and appear only when you hover over it with your mouse. If you want, you can choose to have it visible all the time instead by toggling the value of
browser.fullscreen.autohide to “False” to always show the toolbar.
Default value: True (always autohide)
Modified value: False (always show the toolbar)
26. Increase Add-on Search Result
If you go to “Tools -> Add-ons -> Get Add-ons” and perform a search, Firefox will display 15 matching results. If you want more or less results here, you can adjust
Default value: 15
Modified value: more or less than 15