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How to customize the Firefox search tool to better fit your needs

If you don't like the way the default Firefox search works, you can easily change it for a more productive experience.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Reviewed by Min Shin
Firefox logo on a laptop
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

When you need to search for something, what do you do? More likely than not, you answered, "I type a search string in the address bar and hit Enter to view Google's results." Although that might be the way most people search, there are others who don't like the idea of an integrated search and URL bar, or those who'd prefer to use a search engine other than Google. 

Back in the days of dinosaurs and 33.6k modems, we had to actually first go to google.com, yahoo.com, altavista.com, dogpile.com, or excite.com, manually chisel our search string into stone tablets, and hope the gods would smile upon us with the results we were looking for. We didn't have integrated search bars or a one-true-search-engine-to-rule-them-all.

Also: Firefox for Android just got an important privacy feature: How it could benefit you 

Now, we have options.

Thankfully, Firefox allows you to search how you want. So instead of an integrated address bar, you can separate the URL and search functions, as well as choose which search engine you want to use by default. 

Why would you want a separate search and address bar?

I have one very handy reason for that.

Type zdnet.com in your address bar and you'll wind up at the ZDNET website. But what if you wanted to do some research on ZDNET.com? You could go to google.com, type zdnet.com in the search field, and be presented with all sorts of information. With the separate search bar, you could simply type zdnet.com into the field and hit Enter to display those same results. 

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You see, no matter what you type in the separate search bar, it will be seen as a search string and nothing else. On top of which, the separate search bar will also offer you suggestions related to the search.

For example, if you type zdnet.com in the search bar and hit Enter, you can then hover over the magnifying glass to reveal a drop-down. Click the drop-down and you'll see related searches. Within the results, you'll also be presented with options that you can use to search the string.

Although it might not be as convenient as an integrated address bar, it does give you more options. When you're serious about your searches, and that's a good thing.

Let me show you how to configure the Firefox search feature to better fit your needs.

How to separate the search bar

What you'll need: The only thing you'll need is the Firefox browser installed. It doesn't matter the platform you're using (I'll demonstrate on Pop!_OS), just so long as the browser is updated and running properly.

That's it. Let's configure your search.

1. Open Firefox Settings

The first thing to do is open the Firefox Settings window. To do that, open Firefox and click the three horizontal line menu button in the upper right corner of the window. 

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From the popup menu, click Settings.

The bottom section of the Firefox menu.

Opening the Firefox Settings window from the drop-down menu.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

2. Navigate to Search

In the Firefox Settings window, click the Search entry in the left navigation.

The Firefox Settings left navigation.

Click Search to locate this section of the Settings window.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

3. Enable the search toolbar

In the resulting window, click to enable Add search bar in toolbar. You don't have to click a Save button, as the change will happen automatically.

The Firefox Search Bar configuration section.

Enabling the separate Search Bar in Firefox.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

4. Look out for the separate address and search bars

At this point, you should now see separate address and search bars in the Firefox toolbar.

A view of the Firefox separated address and search bars.

Separate address and search bars will better suit some people.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

How to change your default search engine

Go back to Settings > Search and you'll see the Default Search Engine section with a drop-down that probably indicates Google as the default. Click that drop-down and you can select from Amazon, Bing, DuckDuckGo, eBay, Google, and Wikipedia. 

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My preferred search engine is DuckDuckGo, because they are more privacy-based than Google (by a long shot). However, you should select the search engine that best fits your needs. 

The Firefox Search Engine selector drop-down.

Selecting your desired search engine for Firefox.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

In that same section (below the search drop-down), you can also customize search suggestions, by enabling or disabling the following:

  • Provide search suggestions.
  • Show search suggestions in address bar results.
  • Show search suggestions ahead of browsing history in address bar results.
  • Show search suggestions in Private Windows.

I leave everything as default (so all but Show search suggestions in Private Windows is enabled).

Once you've taken care of that, close out the Settings tab and you're done. You can now enjoy a Firefox search experience that is better suited to your needs.

Happy searching!

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