03:18 PM

Firefox Essentials: Fixing The Fox

Trouble with Firefox? Never fear: We'll show you how to keep Firefox running its best--and how to isolate, identify, and fix problems when they do crop up.

Safety First: Using Firefox Safe Mode
Like most modern software, Firefox is a complex product. In theory, just one small error in a single line of code is enough to stop your browser in its tracks. In practice, however, you can trace almost every Firefox problem to the usual suspects: extensions, themes, and the configuration files in your Firefox profile folder. Firefox includes a sure-fire way to tell whether your problem is coming from one of these sources, simply by restarting the browser in its Safe Mode configuration.

Troubleshooting Firefox

•  Introduction

•  Using Firefox Safe Mode

•  Using The Standard Diagnostic

•  Performing A Clean Install

•  Extensions From Hell

•  Getting Help, Avoiding Trouble

•  Image Gallery

You may already be familiar with the Safe Mode concept: If Windows Safe Mode is invoked during startup (usually by pressing the F8 key), Windows loads with only its basic, default components installed, allowing you to troubleshoot certain types of problems.

Firefox Safe Mode works the same way: Your browser will run without any extensions, plugins, themes (except for the default theme), or any changes you might have made to the configuration files in your profile folder. Even your most basic personal Firefox settings, such as your bookmarks file and cookies, don't appear when the browser is running in Safe Mode.

No matter what type of problem you encounter in Firefox, one of your first moves should always be the same: Restart the browser in Safe Mode, and see what happens.

With Firefox 1.5, Mozilla has actually improved Safe Mode for the first time. The latest version of Safe Mode now includes a set of three startup options, allowing you to permanently reset your toolbars and controls to their original, default locations and settings; to reset your bookmarks.html file; or, if things get really weird, to reset all of your user-adjustable properties to their factory-fresh defaults. But don't reset these options right away -- first, click the Continue in Safe Mode button and see how Firefox behaves.

The new Firefox Safe Mode options: handle with care!
Click image to see image gallery.

Before you restart Firefox in Safe Mode -- especially following a crash -- shut down Firefox and make sure it's shut down completely. Open Windows Task Manager (or the equivalent management utility on your Mac OS X or Linux system), and look for firefox.exe (or firefox.bin) under the Processes tab -- if you see it, select it and then click the End Process button, okaying any last-chance dialog boxes.

Kill any running Firefox processes. Click image to enlarge and to see image gallery.

Now you can restart Firefox in Safe Mode. How you do this will depend on your operating system:

Windows: Plan A is easy: Select Start > Programs > Mozilla Firefox > Mozilla Firefox (Safe Mode).

If, for some reason, that link is missing, then go to Plan B: Click Start > Run, and on the command line enter:

"C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe" -safe-mode

Linux and OS X: Linux and Mac OS X both require you to run Firefox in Safe Mode only from a Terminal window: From the command line, start the Firefox application (wherever it is located on your system), with the -safe-mode command attached. Here's an example, using Mac OS X with Firefox installed in its usual location:

/Applications/ -safe-mode

Now it's time for a little guidance. That's where the Standard Diagnostic comes in.

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