You can do a lot with extensions to modify how Firefox looks and behaves. Of course, with every extension you install, more memory is being used. Sometimes an extension can be poorly written so that it eats memory beyond what it’s intended to, while other times having so many extensions can simply bog down your system. Not to say that using extensions is bad; we quite like them, but sometimes there’s another way.
In this article we’ll be talking about Firefox’s about:config system, which is where all default and user-modified configuration options reside. In fact, there are more than 1000 of them! To access this system, open Firefox and type about:config into the URL bar.
If this is the first time you’ve used this system, you’ll be asked to acknowledge that things could go wrong by changing certain settings. To advance to the configuration interface, click the “I’ll be careful, I promise!” button.
Once there, you’ll see a huge list of all the different configuration options.
Don’t let the interface intimidate you, though. It’s actually easy to use. What we’re going to do for the rest of this article is change a few settings (and create some of our own), to help speed up Firefox in a couple different ways. These options won’t actually speed up your Internet, but they will hopefully make Firefox feel quicker and more responsive.
Stop Firefox From Scanning Downloads For Viruses
The first option we’ll change is to turn off Firefox’s default behavior (only in Windows), of scanning each downloaded file for viruses. There’s nothing bad about this, but many people already have anti-virus software installed, so this duplication may be unnecessary. To access this setting, type browser.download.manager.scanWhenDone into the filter bar.
By default this feature is turned on; we want to turn it off. To do so, simply double-click the entry line and you’ll see the line turn bold (which means it was modified by the user), and the Value change from true (turned on) to false (turned off).
You’ll notice another entry below the one we just changed (services.sync.prefs.sync.browser.download.manager.scanWhenDone). Leave this alone (it should be turned on (true) by default. It simply tells the Firefox Sync system to use your setting when synchronizing your prefs.
Turn Off Firefox’s Countdown When Installing Extensions
Next we’ll turn off the annoying 4-second countdown that appears whenever you try to install a Firefox extension.
When you think about it, there’s really not much of a point to the countdown, since even with it you need to click to confirm installation. Turning off this setting simply means you don’t have to wait 4 seconds to do it! To remove this “feature” type security.dialog_enable_delay into the filter bar, then double-click to modify the value.
By default the value is set at 2000 milliseconds. To turn this off, change the value to 0 (zero), and you’ll never have to wait for the countdown again.
Turn On Pipelining
Pipelining is the behavior (turned off by default) where Firefox will send multiple requests to the web server, without waiting to receive a response. Generally your computer will send a request, wait for a response, then send another request, back and forth. With pipelining turned on, your browser sends multiple requests simultaneously. then deals with the responses in the order they were requested. To turn this feature on, type network.http.pipelining into the filter bar, then double click to change the value from false (turned off) to true (turned on).
If you set the above example to ‘true’ then you will want to modify the number of requests in each pipeline. By default, the network.http.pipelining.maxrequests option has a setting of 4, but since the pipelining preference was turned off, the maxrequests option wasn’t used. If you don’t change this setting, up to 4 requests will be sent at once, but we’ve set it higher, as you can see, which means your computer will send up to 8 requests at a time.
Change Page Rendering Delay
By default, Firefox waits 250 milliseconds (or .25 seconds), to begin drawing a web page, which gives it a little time for data to load (in order for there to actually be something to draw). To change this behavior we’ll actually need to create a new setting. To do this, right click anywhere in the about:config settings list and choose the New option, then click Integer from the submenu.
You’ll see there are options for String, Integer and Boolean settings. String preferences will include something other than numeric characters. So if you were to set your search engine via the about:config interface, the setting would have a string value.
Integer settings are simply numbers, while Boolean settings are like switches: they are on or off, true or false, yes or no. In this instance, our setting will be a number, hence selecting Integer. We now need to give our setting a name, to type or paste nglayout.initialpaint.delay into the dialog that appears. This will be the preference’s new name.
Then give the preference a value. Since this is an Integer setting, we need a number. We’ll use 0 (zero), which will tell Firefox to not wait at all before rendering our page.
Setting it higher, on the other hand, would force Firefox to wait before beginning rendering, but would have the added result of there being more web page to render.
Modify Page Redraw Interval
Our final change is to modify the interval Firefox uses between page redraws as a web page is loading. By default, Firefox redraws a web page every .12 seconds, which is good because you aren’t kept waiting for the full web page to load. However, many redraws can actually slow things down.
This is a setting you’ll need to create, as it doesn’t already exist. It is an integer setting, just like the last one. The name of the setting is content.notify.interval and you’ll want to use 500000 as your value, which will force Firefox to wait 500000 microseconds (not milliseconds like the previous option), which is half a second, before redrawing the page.
It is not recommended to set this any lower than 100000 as it will negatively impact performance with too many reflows.
In order to get Firefox to use this setting, however, we need to create the content.notify.ontimer setting, which is a boolean setting. Set it it ‘true’ to turn it on, which tells Firefox to use the reflow interval setting we just created.
As mentioned, none of the settings mentioned here actually make your computer or Internet any faster. They don’t turn Firefox into some super web browser with power unheard-of by Google, Apple and Microsoft. What they do is tweak Firefox, just slightly, in a few different ways which will hopefully make it feel faster to you.