A quick-and-dirty way to speed up Firefox (a lot)

A quick-and-dirty way to speed up Firefox (a lot)

Summary: Browsing speed will improve from intolerable to moderately tolerable. And that's about all you can ask from Firefox these days.

TOPICS: SMBs, Browser

I can see sjvn chortling over there, reading this post. I can hear him thinking, "I'll show you how to speed up Firefox. It's simple: run Chrome."

See also: Firefox 11 review: Firefox has jumped the shark

See also: Chrome: The people’s Web browser choice

He's probably right, but there are things about Chrome that annoy me, and I haven't taken the time to really get to know Chrome and make it a friend. Firefox is still my daily driver.

The Firefox we had running on our media PC had slowed to an unbearable, unusable crawl. Yes, I can hear some of you out there. That's how Firefox usually is. Funny.

The point is, it was moderately usable last week and completely unbearable this week. The further point is, I found a way to speed it up. Now, you want to settle down over there for a minute and listen? This might actually help you.

Diagnosing the problem

My wife and I share the media PC, which we use when watching the big screen from the couch, so we each have a Firefox profile. When either of us launches Firefox, we get a simple dialog asking us to choose our profile. After a day or so struggling with a completely bogged down Firefox, I realized my wife hadn't been complaining.

I launched her profile (her background is flowers, mine is a more dignified gray), took Firefox to my usual morning reading sites (ZDNet, TechMeme, Drudge, Google News, etc.) and found that using her profile, I didn't experience the bogged-down effect I did when running my profile. Sure, pages slowed whenever anyone ran some big third party ads or other obnoxious detritus of the modern age, but in general, her Firefox ran relatively well.

So I did what I recommend to others to do. I turned off browser extensions in my profile. No difference. My Firefox was still dog slow.

Finally, I decided to try the nuclear option. I created an entirely new profile.

Once I launched into that new profile, everything ran far better. I could visit my morning reading sites and they actually loaded (they were normal-Firefox-slow, but not unbearable-Firefox-slow).

Next, rather than copying my extensions over from the old profile, I downloaded them from the Firefox add-ons page. Firefox performance was still good.

I realized later that while I'd disabled and tested extensions many times, my actual Firefox profile was probably a good three years old. It's been in continuous use since Firefox 3.5 or 3.6. Sure, I'd updated my extensions, deleted some, and otherwise done Firefox maintenance, but I've never completely started fresh, with a completely fresh profile.

And that was the ticket. So if you want a quick-and-dirty way to run Firefox faster, create a blank profile, don't copy anything over from the older profile (I use XMarks for bookmarks, so I just downloaded a fresh set from the server), and download your extensions fresh as well.

Browsing speed will improve from intolerable to moderately tolerable. And that's about all you can ask from Firefox these days.

Topics: SMBs, Browser


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Firefox rot?

    Nope, apparently it's more of an OS issue (and not just Windows):

    "advanced users on non-Windows platforms who are suffering from fragmentation can manually copy *.sqlite files to another directory and back.

    Also from the linked blog article:
    "the fragmentation problem isn???t limited to Firefox. Other browsers suffer from it too.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Reorganizing and cleaning Firefox SQL files may help

    David, have you tried SpeedyFox? It makes a huge difference on Firefox, Thunderbird and Chrome. The SQL databases need cleaning and purging once in a while to make them load faster.


    73 de w8sdz - Keith
    • Thanks, it helped me to make FF run faster

      Crashes will hardly go away, though. It is a different matter.
  • Speed wars irrelevant now?

    I mean seriously - I know Chrome is faster in benchmarks, but I use firefox as a browser on my netbook on Ubuntu, my office desktop in Windows 7, my home desktop on Mint 11. I find them all certainly fast enough, and chrome (when I occasionally run it to see what the fuss is all about) is not _enough_ faster that I would dump my entire shared setup system for the sake of what sometimes feels like snappier redraws.
    • Firefox is not slow

      I have been using Firefox and Chrome for a few years now. Never found any tangible reason to believe chrome is faster. In-fact my machine crashed last month and the first thing I installed on it was Firefox. IE is useful only to go to mozilla.org.
      I use chrome regularly and apart from the minor speed difference, i find Chrome to be quite heavy on resources esp. while rendering Flash. Also the extensions in Firefox justifies the additional second or two while loading a page.
      • the default firefox 14 settings make zdnet scrolling abismally slow

        when i turned off smooth scrolling, even the zoomed in pages worked as normal again.
        otherwise this build is working much better than the previous ones.

  • On Linux

    Delete your $HOME/.mozilla directory
    Next restart of FF will create a directory structure in .mozilla.
    DTS, Your Linux Advocate
    • Before You Delete Anything Copy Your Passwords

      I couldn't find that Directory. But, entering %APPDATA%\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\ into Run got me there. Used Unlocker 1.9.1 as well to do the job.
      But, before Delete, go to Tools/Options/Security/Show Passwords. Maximize and take a ScreenShot of them, if they're stored there. Printing mine out helped. Because recovering all the passwords one by one that I just deleted presented challenges for my old brain. I use Gadwin PrintScreen for this.
  • Speed up Firefox?

    I'm really not sure what you're talking about when you keep saying that Firefox is 'barely tolerable'...

    I run Firefox, IE9, Chrome, and Opera on my systems (have to test our websites on all these to be sure rendering and layouts are OK) and I've never noticed any real slow rendering of sites that I do go to. Now I have seen many a video rendering hang and then run but always due to the servers and internet vagaries.

    If I could complain consistently about any of these browsers, it would be Chrome for it's regular and consistent lockups when attempting to play videos (some vids are worse than others) and Opera for it's odd formatting of many .ASPX pages. Oh, and IE versus FF for different font formatting sizes even when the site specifies an exact font.

    So exactly where do you get any sort of real "barely tolerable" from?
    • What barely tolerable means

      Basically, browsing was impossible. Page loads would take five minutes or more, and while loading, the entire browser was dead weight. Even after the full page loaded, scroll-wheel browsing was impossible, tapping the up-down arrows on the scroll bar didn't move, and the only way I could jerkily read the page was grabbing the scrollbar bar and yanking it with the mouse.

      In other words: pretty much unusable. With this update, it's not still a pain (some pages take FOREVER to load their pile of ads and included Twitter/Facebook widgets, but I can actually get work done. It's still very choppy at times, and compared to page loads on Chrome, a lot slower.

      But I find Chrome crashes on me regularly, and I also haven't yet taken time to figure out how to move things around on the Chrome toolbars to make it look and feel how I want it to. That's not Chrome's fault, I've just been too busy to tinker much.
      David Gewirtz
      • If Firefox takes five minutes or more to load a page

        something is either wrong with your internet or computer.

        I don't even get twenty second page load times with my laptop at a public internet site most of the time. Sometimes, it breaks half a minute and I go do something else.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • run ad-block plus ...

        ... and get rid of those annoying ads that do nothing but bother us, and hang up our page loads if the server serving them up is busy ... which they invariably are ...

      • This a recent build?

        I remember those problems, but that was back before Firefox adopted a Chrome-like versioning system. Have you tried Firefox 11 or the most recent, 12?
      • Five minute page loads?

        Are you sill using AOL dial-up? It never occurred to you that not everyone using Firefox suffered through this problem?

        If your name wasn't at the top of the article, I'd have thought you were just ANOTHER tech site pinhead, making crap up because you're favorite browser is (fill in the blank), and it's obviously the coolest. But since you work here, I have to conclude you have no idea what you're talking about. If you can't make your browser work, what could you possible know about computers? What? Tell us. We will keep in mind that you are the only person on the planet that is unable to use Firefox.

        I would also suggest you check out some extensions for Firefox, like AdBlock Plus but that would obviously be over your head. Get someone to help you with it.

        You column should be titled "I asked my wife and my grandmother how to use my PC, and here's what they said." And it should appear on Cracked.com.
      • Eliminate all those ads and widgets with NoScript -- It's a 'MUST HAVE'

        You complain about "big third party ads or other obnoxious detritus of the modern age," but there is a tried-and-true FF extension that has been around for a good while now called NoScript. I have been using it for several years now, and I'd rather not use a browser of any flavor without it.

        NoScript out-of-the-box basically disallows all scripts from running on a page, prevents cross-site scripting, and enforces application boundaries. If you want a particular element to run on a page, you have to whitelist it, either temporarily or you may set it permanently. It can be a little bit of a hassle at first, but after you have used it for a while, you will really get used to it and appreciate what it is doing for you.

        You would be amazed at how many other page elements are called from other domains from a given web page. Personally, I don't want or need to see all of that crap. I don't need to see a Facebook "like" button or have Google Analytics run on every page I go to. Sorry, SEO's...

        The simple speed boost (not to mention the security enhancement) you will see from using this extension is well worth any minor inconvenience you may experience when first starting out with it.

        Check out http://noscript.net and read about it for yourself. I, for one, can't say enough good things about it.

      • Strange

        and I agree with Michael Goff and others here, if FF takes that long to display web pages then there is some other cause, not FF.

        I'm guessing, since you fixed this with a new FF profile, that the problem was with plugins and extensions.

        I'm on FF12 at the moment but all of my FF versions I have used have never been that slow. I have a 50Mbs connection and the web pages load lightning fast.

        I wonder if you need to increase pipelining and max-requests in about:config?

      • re: What barely tolerable means

        [quote]With this update, it's not still a pain (some pages take FOREVER to load their pile of ads and included Twitter/Facebook widgets, [/quote]

        Then I strongly suggest that you learn about Ad Blocker Plus. I am typing this on an old H^hDell, with only 512 mb of ram, and although I can have 10 or more pages loading, a page loading time of [b]5 minutes[/b] is something I rarely experience.
      • Doesn't really sound like a FF issue

        Sounds like you have something else going on. i have never encountered this on any machine I run firefox on. I have 6 I use daily of my own then FF is the go to work browser so another crop there and I do repairs and clean outs and almost all come in with FF and runs great there. I actually prefer it to chrome greatly as usually it loads faster then chrome. IE is the outcast as it just under performs. No freezes with FF very very rare a crash and millisecond page loads.
    • The problem with browsers

      I use IE all the time and the others when I need to test compliance for our apps and see little difference in speed. Since every site these days seems to download tons of Javascript and content, a quick view of a page is an exception rather than a rule. Most of the time it's net traffic and server load that determine how quickly I can view the page.

      As for different font sizes and word wrapping, it's due to the newer browsers such as IE9 and Safari doing exact positioning using sub pixels. This means if you specify a point size the new browsers will try and match the number of pixels it converts to exactly, while the older ones will just go to the nearest pixel integer. If you would like your text to display the same on multiple browsers stick to point sizes of 9, 12 and 18 as these will translate to an exact pixel height. This problem will disappear when all browsers can do sub pixel positioning.

      The sort of "barely tolerable" David is referring to is likely to be his OS and any other resident software or he might be stuck with a lemon version of FF (easy to do since they seem to churn one out each week).
  • Hating Firefox, but using it

    Even bigger problem than slowdowns is crashing. It occurs to me almost every day since FFv4.

    Lately, crashing became so bad, that FF can not restore latest session normally, so it starts with "session:restore" dialogue, which only about [i]previous[/i] session save, which was like [b]half days[/b] before -- so you loose whatever changes you have made to your opened/closed tabs and such.

    I have sent hundreds of failure reports, but those crashes were never fixed. No one at Mozilla even tries to fix them, because otherwise crashes would stop at FFv6,7,8,9, or 11th version.