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.

Troubleshooting By The Numbers: Using The Standard Diagnostic
In Safe Mode, you have either a lame, totally non-customized browser that works okay or a lame, totally non-customized browser that's still broken. What now?

Troubleshooting Firefox

•  Introduction

•  Using Firefox Safe Mode

•  Using The Standard Diagnostic

•  Performing A Clean Install

•  Extensions From Hell

•  Getting Help, Avoiding Trouble

•  Image Gallery

I suggest doing the same thing a professional support expert would do to help you (minus the two-hour wait on hold, listening to Air Supply's greatest hits). Work your way through Mozilla's Standard Diagnostic for Firefox, which provides a series of trial-and-error tests designed to track down troublemakers, as well as to ensure that you don't overlook an easy fix before moving on to more radical solutions.

The Standard Diagnostic includes directions on how -- and, just as important, when -- to delete your extensions folder and other key files, such as the configuration files that govern how Firefox renders Web pages and displays its own user interface. Although most of these files are human-readable, in practice it doesn't make sense to spend hours (or days!) poring through them, looking for an error that may only reveal itself after hundreds of minor, trial-and-error changes. Sometimes the best solution is to throw a profile into the trash and get a fresh start.

Even if the best solution involves starting over with a new profile, however, don't despair: Many of your most important profile data files, including your bookmarks.html file, browsing history, cookies, saved usernames and password sets, almost certainly are not the culprits. It's an easy matter to copy these files into your new default profile -- and within minutes, have virtually everything except your extensions back at your fingertips. (See Firefox Essentials: Get To Know Your Profile for details.)

The Extension-Head's Best Friend

What about those extensions? At least initially, it's a relatively simple matter to reinstall them from scratch with a quick visit to Later, however, you may find that it's hard even remembering all of your extensions, much less downloading and reconfiguring them all. Is there a better way?

In fact, there is. The MR Tech Local Install extension, the creation of developer Mel Reynes (a.k.a. "mrtech"), lets you archive XPIs (the Firefox extension installer-file format) in a separate file at the same time you install them. As a result, if you ever have to trash a corrupt extensions folder, you have a complete set of replacements on your PC and ready to reinstall.

Have MR Tech Local Install archive your extension installer files.
Click image to enlarge and to see image gallery.

There are a few good reasons to follow Mozilla's support script, as opposed to following a hunch or simply reinstalling Firefox from scratch. First, the Standard Diagnostic is based on Mozilla's own considerable experience finding and fixing Firefox problems -- as opposed to your much more recent experience causing Firefox problems. This includes knowing which problems are more likely to occur than others and what order steps should be taken in.

Also, the Standard Diagnostic will keep you from stumbling around in circles. This is especially important if you're in a hurry, foaming at the mouth in a blind fit of computer rage, or otherwise distracted.

Actually, I do suggest deviating from Mozilla's official diagnostic procedure in one way: Rather than rebooting your computer first, clear your cache (Step Two) and restart in Safe Mode (Step Three) before you reboot. This is purely a practical matter: These steps combined will still take much less time than rebooting -- an action that could disrupt anything else you have open on your desktop at the moment. If either of these steps fixes the problem, then you can skip rebooting entirely, at least for now.

Finally, note that some of the steps in the Standard Diagnostic refer to something you need to start doing now, if you don't already do it: back up your Firefox profile. Making a backup of your profile is drop-dead easy, takes a matter of seconds, and will protect you from losing all of your profile data, with no hope of retrieving it.

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