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The Secrets of Firefox about:config 263

Posted by kdawson
from the Mozilla-fu dept.
jcatcw writes "While Firefox is very customizable, many of its settings aren't in the Options. Each setting is named and stored as a string, integer, or Boolean in a file called prefs.js and accessed via about:config from the nav bar. Computerworld provides instructions on 20 tweaks for speeding up page loads, making tabs behave, reducing memory drain, and generally making the interface act the way you want it to. Customization also comes through the must-have FF extensions (but be sure to skip these)."
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The Secrets of Firefox about:config

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  • While it's nice.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by microbee (682094) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @07:50PM (#19316035)
    Do not tune stuff that is hidden unless you know what you are doing.
    • by Zoxed (676559) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @04:08AM (#19318883) Homepage
      > Do not tune stuff that is hidden unless you know what you are doing.

      s/Insightful/Redundant/

      This is Slashdot: we all think we know we are doing :-)
  • by CharAznable (702598) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @07:51PM (#19316043)
    I thought we agreed that ComputerWorld article was mostly crap...
  • I just want (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I just want to make it stop going to Google when it's looking up a URL. If it can't find it in DNS, I want it to return a 404, not ask some fsking company where they think I should go.

    I tried changing every entry that mentions google.com, and sometimes it still queries. WTF!
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      IIRC, Firefox gets ~$50 * 10^6 (US) from Google every year because of stuff like that, and while I'd like there to be an option for that, having a steady supply of money from Google with which to pay developers results in a higher quality app. I'd rather have a high-quality (FLOSS) alternative to the dreaded Internet Exploder than not being able to set a default search provider for the address bar*.

      *NOTE: I don't actually know if you can or not; Google works for me so I've never investigated it.
    • Re:I just want (Score:5, Informative)

      by Fry-kun (619632) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @08:04PM (#19316139)
      try this setting:
      browser.xul.error_pages.enabled

      set it to "true"
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by the_cowgod (133070)
      Set "keyword.enabled" to false.
    • Re:I just want (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jonasj (538692) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @06:48AM (#19319551)

      If it can't find it in DNS, I want it to return a 404


      404 is an HTTP status code. If firefox cannot find the server you want to connect to, where do you want that 404 to come from?
  • Tabs (Score:5, Funny)

    by rustalot42684 (1055008) <(moc.tnuocca) (ta) (ekaf)> on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @07:52PM (#19316049)
    In Soviet Russia, Firefox keeps tabs on YOU!
  • Camino? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by commodoresloat (172735) * on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @08:00PM (#19316095)
    I still use Camino [caminobrowser.org], a Mozilla-based browser for OS X. Is there a similar guide to configuring Camino options or do most of these work as is?
    • Re:Camino? (Score:4, Informative)

      by 644bd346996 (1012333) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @09:38PM (#19316931)
      Did you even bother to try it out? Camino's about:config page is almost identical to FF's page. Any options that are named the same in Camino as in FF will do the same thing. (Camino is just a different front end on Gecko, and about:config options are almost all Gecko options, not browser specific.)
      • Did you even bother to try it out? Camino's about:config page is almost identical to FF's page. Any options that are named the same in Camino as in FF will do the same thing. (Camino is just a different front end on Gecko, and about:config options are almost all Gecko options, not browser specific.)

        Yes I did bother to try, but not before posting ;) Some of the options are actually not the same at all -- there is no integer preference browser.tabs.closeButtons, for example, which is described in the article. I have actually played with config before in Camino but was baffled by what most of them mean, and had a hard time finding docs describing most of the options.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Hooded One (684008)
          about:config options related to the Firefox UI (e.g. tabs, but also other features that necessarily have a different implementation) will generally have no effect in Camino. The reason they show up at all is that purging them would be a lot of work. However, most options dealing with page rendering, javascript, etc. work the same across all Mozilla browsers. As for the missing browser.tabs.closeButtons (and undoubtedly others), the latest Camino release is from a branch made long before the introduction
  • by maj1k (33968) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @08:04PM (#19316133)
    here [computerworld.com]
  • Foons! (Score:5, Informative)

    by SimonTheSoundMan (1012395) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @08:05PM (#19316147) Homepage
    Well, a lot of these "tweaks" will have negative effects.

    Example: nglayout.initialpaint.delay as 0. This will slow rendering of the page as it causes reflows. Fools.
    • by daeg (828071)
      Dicking around with the pipelining and max connections will also get you blocked from some web servers and routers/firewalls. Not worth it IMO.
    • Re:Foons! (Score:4, Informative)

      by MedicinalMan (1061338) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @09:14PM (#19316723)
      Damn right. Here's what mozilla says about nglayout.initialpaint.delay [mozillazine.org]

      Lower values will make a page initially display more quickly, but will make the page take longer to finish rendering. Higher values will have the opposite effect.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Example: nglayout.initialpaint.delay as 0. This will slow rendering of the page as it causes reflows. Fools.

      From the article, just below the section on nglayout.initialpaint.delay:

      Reduce the number of reflows
      When Firefox is actively loading a page, it periodically reformats or "reflows" the page as it loads, based on what data has been received. Create a content.notify.interval integer preference to control the minimum number of microseconds (millionths of a second) that elapse between reflows. If it's not explicitly set, it defaults to 120000 (.12 of a second).

      Too many reflows may make the browser feel sluggish, so you can increase the interval between reflows by raising this to 500000 (500,000, or 1/2 second) or even to 1000000 (1 million, or 1 second). If you set this value, be sure to also create a Boolean value called content.notify.ontimer and set it to true.

      Seems like setting nglayout.initialpaint.delay to 0 and bumping up the reflow interval can get you the page quicker and avoid too many reflows.

  • A bigger question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @08:08PM (#19316193)
    Is why useful tweaks are hidden behind and obscure and risky-to-use interface like about:config. If the tweaks are worth doing, shouldn't they have first-class support in the main configuration GUI?
    • Re:A bigger question (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jj110888 (791178) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @08:25PM (#19316327) Homepage
      Perhaps these tweaks are hidden because they are *not* worth doing?
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I disagree with the fact that they aren't worth doing. Ever since I upgraded to the newest version of FF, I've disliked how the tab-closing buttons are now on each tab, rather than having one at the end of all of the tabs like in previous versions. Being too stubborn to downgrade, I suffered through it. TFA showed how to set it back to the old way, plus a couple different ways. Definately worth doing and not in the options GUI.
      • I did a few of these tweaks described in a lifehack article, and it DID provide an improvement in page load speed. But, I also coupled that with an increase in the windows TCP maximum connections. Either way, it seems to have helped.

        The article I found didn't really hype the changes as hacks, more just taking advantage of broadband connections - as firefox is (apparently) by default configured for dialup.
    • by leathered (780018) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @08:52PM (#19316525)
      Listen sonny, as a network admin I perform 'miracles' every day with a CLI and hidden options in config files. It impresses the PHBs, earns respect and keeps my salary up. And now you want to further trivialise my job with more GUI options. Oh for the good old days when all we had were ones and zeroes.
    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @08:57PM (#19316549)

      Is why useful tweaks are hidden behind and obscure and risky-to-use interface like about:config. If the tweaks are worth doing, shouldn't they have first-class support in the main configuration GUI?
      One philosophy is to nanny the unwashed masses away from "advanced" options. A second is that there's not a lot of reasons to support every possible option in a UI, especially if some of them are rarely used.

      FWIW, I used to change some stuff and it would be back to the default next time I started the broweser. Ditto if I changed it in the config file. It finally took when I changed it in the GNOME configuration manager; I guess it was masking the application-specific configs.
  • by Sigma 7 (266129) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @08:12PM (#19316221)
    Some of these tweaks cut down on memory usage. Given that there are still plenty of computers with 512MB of ram (e.g. notebook computers), you don't want applications pinning 100% CPU or memory as it slows down the rest of the system. This is more important with notebook computers, since a second lost through CPU usage or hard drive thrashing is a second lost from battery charge.

    The notebook I'm using right now has this amount of memory, and was easily available in stores 1 year ago. Last time I checked, a web browser should never require the absolute latest system for day-to-day operations (which include having another application in the background, such as a word processor or even MSVC 2005.)
    • by Associate (317603)
      Try a PIII 667MHz with 256MB of PC-133 RAM running Windows XP Pro, Outlook, Symantec AV, various corporate spyware, SAP and FF.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by telso (924323)
      If you don't want to lose CPU cycles (and therefore battery power) from using your browser, why are you on Slashdot?
      • by Sigma 7 (266129)

        If you don't want to lose CPU cycles (and therefore battery power) from using your browser, why are you on Slashdot?
        I could ask you the same question. In addition, I do experience the same symptoms when attempting to do actual work.
        • Want to see something funny? Read /. in Opera with the new discussion system turned on.

          (Opera slows down so much that it becomes nearly unusable.)

          • Oh, Firefox just stops the JavaScript. The new discussion system is a farce. Some good ideas, but very badly implemented.
    • The notebook I'm using right now has this amount of memory, and was easily available in stores 1 year ago. Last time I checked, a web browser should never require the absolute latest system for day-to-day operations (which include having another application in the background, such as a word processor or even MSVC 2005.)

      My system has 3GB memory. Within a few hours of my typical usage of Firefox, the process has balooned to over 512MB in size. If it remains unchecked (i.e., it sits idle overnight), it beco

    • by bunratty (545641)

      Last time I checked, a web browser should never require the absolute latest system for day-to-day operations
      Given that Firefox already seems to use fewer resources than other browsers [mozillazine.org], what's your point? Do you know about some memory issue or CPU usage issue in Firefox? If so, report the details so it can be fixed.
  • by 3seas (184403) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @08:15PM (#19316243) Journal
    ...works really well if you first watch the video you want to download, putting it in your cache. Then going to video downloader, and regardless of the file size, takes just a few seconds and you are done. Apparently it can grab it from your cache and make it a file on you system (very little for it to really do - very low bandwidth to convert).

    In fact, it seems to me that when it doesn't work, "service not available" only happens when I don't watch it first, not in my cache.
  • Set general.config.obscure_value to 42 for a special treat :D
    • What does it do? It doesn't seem to be the answer to anything.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by SeanMon (929653)
      Haha, nice try, but general.config.obscure_value simply is

      "An integer to use when obscuring the AutoConfig file saved to and read from disk. Default value is 13 (effectively, ROT-13 the content)."
  • A long time ago, when computers remembered using little donuts made of rust, I worked on on a mainframe computer system (CP/V) that supported batch, timesharing, realtime, the works. It had performance monitoring tools, and a large basketload of parameters for sys admins to twiddle.

    One of our favorite parameters was SL:BB, documented as batch bias, an input to the process scheduler. When someone called or wrote to us saying they were having problems with performance tuning, we usually suggested they redo their tests varying the setting of SL:BB and let us know what happened. Try different values, 0, 1, 5, 20, 50, 100, things like that. Try it and get back to us.

    And lo, they would go off and redo performance runs, and report back.

    And we would collect their results and go and muse over them, usually over beer.

    SL:BB told us a lot about the user, because SL:BB was a knob that wasn't connected to anything. Oh, the value was range-checked by the parameter setting tool, and dutifully stored in memory, and displayed on performance displays, but it didn't change system performance in any way at all.

    That's not what the documentation said, but who believes documentation? We had plans for SL:BB, we just hadn't gotten around to writing the code yet.

    So if the user reported that setting SL:BB to 25, but not 24 or 26 gave them incredibly better (or worse) results, we definitely factored that into our analysis.

    Those that reported back that the setting of SL:BB didn't make a damn bit of difference, and there were some, we honored as brothers, took into our confidences, and shared beer with at the soonest opportunity. Their bug reports and feature requests received far more attention, for they had passed an important test.

    And how many of these Firefox parameters are like SL:BB?

    • The general.config.obscure_value seems to be one of those.
      • by MulluskO (305219) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @09:10PM (#19316683) Journal

        "The general.config.obscure_value preference specifies how the configuration file is obscured. Firefox expects that each byte in the file will be rotated by the specified value. The default value is 13. If this value is left unchanged, then the configuration file must be encoded as ROT13. Autoconfig will fail if the cfg file is not encoded as specified by this preference. A value of 0 indicates that the file is unencoded-- i.e. it is unobscured plain text. It is recommended that you set this value to 0. (This will allow you to skip the encoding step in part 3.)"

        Hee.
      • by Compholio (770966)

        The general.config.obscure_value seems to be one of those.
        Just tell users that the value you enter must be 26*n where "n" is an integer, then it fits the bill.
    • by bunratty (545641)

      And how many of these Firefox parameters are like SL:BB?

      There's browser.cache.memory.capacity which many people swear "fixes Firefox's memory leak." If you look at the instructions on sites, you'll see suggested values ranging from 16384 [freerepublic.com] to 65000 [blogspot.com]. For systems with less than 1 GB of RAM, any of those settings will only increase memory use for Firefox 2 [mozillazine.org]. Obviously, anyone who says that setting fixes a memory leak were imagining the problem to being with (or were causing it in the first place with an absurdly

    • CP/V? Hmmm.... Xerox Data Systems (ex Scientific Data Systems)? Sigma 5/7/9? Max Palevsky, first priority interrupts, head-per-track RAD virtual memory? Aviation Blvd in El Segundo?

      Never heard of it, and it's a damn lie that I worked in the mail room for a few years.

      Although It's amazing what you can pick up when you read other people's work-delivered magazines though, or have total access to all areas including watching large computers built from the ground up. Can give a punk kid big ideas, that.

  • I really don't like favicons in the bookmark menu. Added in firefox 2.0, they force the menu linespacing to be bigger, so I fit less items in a screenful, and the site that I used to know was 6 inches down the screen isn't where I'm expecting it to be anymore. I understand why some people like them, but for me they are a distracting rainbow coloured mess.

    Guess which one of the billion or so features in the UI I can't turn off? I can use about:config to remove them from the URL bar, and the tool bar, where t
    • userChrome.css (Score:2, Informative)

      by pile0nades (962661)
      #bookmarks-menu .bookmark-item .menu-iconic-left {
          display: none !important;
      }
      • by Andy_R (114137)
        Getting close! That's getting rid of non-custom favicons, but only when I have no windows open. As soon as I open a window, they reappear :-/
    • by Dracos (107777) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @09:22PM (#19316781)

      In Firefox 2.0.3, I opened up the DOM inspector, chose the main window, and started drilling down in to the element tree: I found the icons which you loathe.

      Open up userChrome.css (in your profile: [profile dir]/chrome/).

      In it, the following CSS rule should work to hide the icons:

      .bookmark-item > .menu-iconic-left > image { display: none; }

      (This selector appears in chrome://browser/skin/browser.css, if you know where that is).

  • kdawson... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TiCL (1063546) *
    KDawson is the new Zonk? Given the quality of the articles he is approving these days, he would soon surpass Zonk in crap-o-meter.
    • by Ant P. (974313)
      I agree, this "article" is utterly retarded drivel written by a windows ricer.

      Funnily enough I saw this [mozillazine.org] just today.
  • Hacking Firefox (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dominare (856385) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @08:49PM (#19316507)
    Gah. Why is it that these people insist on calling anything not found on the main options page "hacking"? As for the above questions - usually the reason things like that are 'hidden' is to stop people fiddling with them. A good example is the old 'coolbits' entry in the registry for nVidia cards - the overclocking functionality was there, but you had to do something non-standard to enable it. That way, the company's ass is covered if you melt your card; you can't pretend you enabled the options accidentally. Since Firefox is free and nobody is paying tech-support, I'm not sure why these things aren't available - but the fact of the matter is, anyone messing around with fundamental parameters should _not_ be the kind of person who lets random articles on the internet tell them what to change.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by maxume (22995)
      Each additional option in the UI makes it harder to find all the other options. There is a straightforward way to access them for people that insist on it. It's a good compromise.
  • Thunderbird also... (Score:4, Informative)

    by thejuggler (610249) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @08:50PM (#19316513) Homepage Journal
    You can configure many settings in Thunderbird using a similar interface. However, in Thunderbird you can get to the config section from the Options menu Advanced tab. I have reduced the size of the attachment icons this way. set mailnews.attachments.display.largeView to False.
  • This morning at work (don't ask why I was surfing the web at work!) I launched FF and opened six tabs, each with a fairly common site: NOAA, TD Ameritrade, Yahoo Finance, etc. Later in the day, perhaps 6 hours later, I noticed my machine (IBM T42) was swapping and noticeably. The Windows XP Task manager, with tasks ordered by memory usage, showed that FF was using 270MB of RAM, far more than any other application. During the day I had closed and opened a few tabs, and reloaded a few pages, but my god -- 270
    • by bunratty (545641)
      To see if the memory usage is really an issue with Firefox, try opening the same sites in another browser. If the other browser uses about the same amount of memory, it doesn't seem like it's an issue with Firefox specifically. If the other browser uses much less memory, post what the sites are so Mozilla developers can investigate a possible memory issue in Firefox.
  • Opera Version (Score:4, Informative)

    by Deliveranc3 (629997) <`gro.4level' `ta' `ecnareviled'> on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @12:13AM (#19317907) Journal
    opera:config
  • No, thanks. Following the parenthetical link I landed at TFA, which was little more than Computerworld whining about how people using the Adblock and AdblockPlus extensions would deprive it of ad revenue.

    Computerworld actually had the gall to suggest switching to blocking software that's more selective, allowing you to cherrypick ads to block "while continuing to support the sites we love by allowing most ads to appear." Oh, what a cynical dearth of principles: block our competitors' ads, but NIMBY!

    Nope,

  • by noidentity (188756) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @01:08AM (#19318217)
    I've found some secret hidden tweaks you can make to Slashdot articles, just by editing this thing called a URL. For instance, you can set the comment threshold HIGHER than 5 by editing the number after "threshold=", ensuring only the absolute best comments (apparently none in this story meet that standard yet). Why do they hide useful options like this from us?
    • by Dogtanian (588974) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @07:10AM (#19319643) Homepage

      For instance, you can set the comment threshold HIGHER than 5 by editing the number after "threshold="
      It works the other way too; you can set the threshold to -2 or lower via the URL. Most people never get to see such posts, which is the whole point- you'd be shocked if you knew what was there. Things modded down to -2 include:
      • Secrets of the Illuminati
      • The truth behind the JFK assassination
      • Clear evidence that Steve Jobs is not God, Bill Gates is not the devil and Steve Ballmer is not *actually* a chair-throwing ape
      • Anything linking to Zonk's blackmail pics of Taco and Cowboy Neal
  • Correct me if I'm wrong (and I'm sure you will), but I seem to remember that Firefox had an option in its cookie preferences dialog that allowed you to restrict cookies to those set by the originating site. It's a nice option, as it marginally increases privacy, and probably should be on by default. But as of 2.0, that option is gone. It still exists in the about:config, but less-sophisticated users are stuck with the default "allow sites to set just about any cookie they want" setting.

    One must wonder
    • Consider all of the sites you go to in a single day.
      How many do you actually need cookies for? Right. A handful.
      The default behaviour, given how the technology is abused these days, should be to delete all cookies and purge the cache when the browser closes - except for the sites specified by the user.

      It still irks me that IE (yes, we have to use it at work) still doesn't have an option for 'delete all cookies on exit' - but it is perfectly capable of clearing the rest of the cache.

      I agree that the option t
  • Firefox off track (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tonicxt (855404)
    about:config is the worst method of changing preferences that I have ever seen.

    about:config is evidence of feature creep, and hence evidence of Firefox turning into the Mozilla browser.

    Past versions of Firefox have added additional features such as image resizing. And guess, what, users are not given the ability to disable this; they must enter into the cryptic about:config.

    about:config is an HCI catastrophe.
     
  • Is how to turn off that fricking auto typeaheadfind. I'm not typing apostrophes on a blank web page. I'm typing them into a text box. I'm typing them into the GOOGLE TEXTBOX (plain-vanilla homepage era). This is not a feature. A feature is an added capability. This is a BUG. I'm not disabled; I don't need accessiblity assistance. If I want to find text, I'll type ^F. If I'm typing an apostrophe into the Google text box, I don't want to search for text on that empty page, I want to search for my quoted te

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