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.

A Fresher Fox: Performing A Clean Install
Sooner or later, the combined effect of small, often invisible errors in your Firefox configuration files may begin to cause trouble, and taking the time to do a "clean" install -- removing all traces of your existing copy of Firefox before installing a new copy -- can be the best way to fix the problem.

Troubleshooting Firefox

•  Introduction

•  Using Firefox Safe Mode

•  Using The Standard Diagnostic

•  Performing A Clean Install

•  Extensions From Hell

•  Getting Help, Avoiding Trouble

•  Image Gallery

When will a clean install come in handy? Here are the most likely examples:

  • When the Firefox auto-update freezes, crashes the browser, shows an error message, or exhibits any other strange behavior that prevents the update from completing.
  • When you need to reinstall the same version of Firefox, due to a serious problem with an unknown cause, as in the screenshot below.

  • This strange-looking Firefox Options dialog box is a sign of corrupt settings in a key configuration file -- a good reason to undertake a clean install. Click image to enlarge and to see image gallery.

  • When performing a major update, such as Firefox 1.0.7 to 1.5, or Firefox 1.5 to 2.0, as a type of preventive maintenance.
  • Here's how to do a clean install:

    Fetch Your Fox. When you download a copy of Firefox, be sure to click the Save button in IE or the Save To Disk option in Firefox, and store the file on your desktop. Do not choose Run (in IE), Open With (in Firefox), or any similar option that will run the Firefox installer as soon as it finishes downloading.

    Shut It Down. When you're finished downloading, shut down Firefox -- and make sure it isn't playing possum (see the instructions earlier in this article).

    Go Hunting. The key to performing a clean Firefox installation is to uninstall and/or delete every piece of your current Firefox setup. Don't assume that the Firefox uninstaller will take care of this for you. While an uninstaller will do most of the job, it will also leave behind bits and pieces of your old Firefox setup -- some of them trivial, others capable of messing up your clean installation if you don't root them out and delete them.

    Before you delete anything, make sure that your Firefox profile is backed up and safely stored in a non-Firefox folder. Remember: If you have not backed up your profile, you will lose it during this process.

    If you use Windows, you're ready to run the Firefox uninstaller, which you'll find under the Add or Remove Programs option in the Control Panel. (Linux and OS X users: You don't need an uninstaller, since your Firefox installations are much less spread out and easier to delete manually.)

    The Firefox uninstaller will remove most Firefox files for Windows users, but you still need to track down a few stragglers. Click image to enlarge and to see image gallery.

    After you run the uninstaller, check the following locations on your system for files or folders that you will need to delete before proceeding:

    1. Delete your Firefox folder, typically located at C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\
    2. Go to C:\Documents and Settings\<Windows user name>\Application Data\Mozilla\ and delete the Mozilla folder and all its contents.

    Mac OS X:
    1. Drag Firefox to the Trash from your Applications folder.
    2. Go to <username>/home/library/application support/ and drag the Firefox folder to the Trash.

    1. Go to /usr/lib/firefox-<version> and delete the entire folder.
    2. Go to ~/.mozilla/ and delete the .mozilla folder and all its contents.

    One file in particular that you may find hanging around, even after running the uninstaller, is called profiles.ini, a configuration file that tells Firefox how to handle the contents of your Profiles folder. Your new version of Firefox will create this file automatically when you run it for the first time, with the proper settings -- but only if you delete the old version first.

    Install, Restore, Run! Now that you have "sterilized" your PC, it's time to start fresh: Find your new Firefox installer and run it.

    Here's a question you may have asked yourself: Standard or Custom installation? My advice is to choose the custom install option, but make only one change from the default options: Click the box to install the Mozilla Quality Feedback Agent. This software will start only if your Firefox browser crashes; after asking you for (optional) details about the crash, it will send Mozilla a snapshot of your system at the time.

    By default, the feedback agent does not report any personal data to Mozilla -- period! -- but rather sends technical data about running processes, memory addresses in use at the time, and so on. It asks you each time it runs whether it may send the data; if you're in a hurry or don't want to send anything, simply tell it to bug off until the next crash. The data you send just might help developers fix a bug or two, which means you're also helping yourself when you help Mozilla in this way.

    Before you run your new copy of Firefox, you will need to restore your profile folder, following the instructions from our Firefox Essentials article on profiles. (You did back up your profile, right?)

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