Firefox Tweak Guide

[Page 6] Features, Tips & Tricks

This section covers a range of tips and tricks you can use to take better advantage of the various features in Firefox, along with clear descriptions of all the important features. Beginner users should definitely not skip this section, but even Advanced users who may already be aware of many of these might find some new information they haven't yet seen, particularly those tips which are new for Firefox 4.0 as indicated in bold.

Customize the Interface

New to Firefox 4.0, already sporting a streamlined and noticeably improved interface over previous versions, Firefox allows a range of basic customization options for altering the interface without too much trouble. There are several key areas in which you can customize Firefox's user interface quickly and easily as covered below.

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Rearranging Buttons and Toolbars: If you're not satisfied with the location, size and type of buttons or toolbars shown on the Firefox interface, you can alter them to a significant degree. Click the Firefox button and under the Options menu select 'Toolbar layout', or alternatively, right-click on an empty area next to the Tab Bar and select Customize. The 'Customize Toolbar' window will open, giving you a range of buttons to choose from - these can be dragged and dropped onto various parts of the toolbars to provide easy access to their functionality in the Firefox interface. Similarly, you can drag existing buttons off the toolbars and drop them into the Customize Toolbar window to remove them from the interface. You can also shift around new or existing buttons to see if you can find a better location for them. The 'Customize Toolbar' window also has options allowing you to add blank new toolbars to the interface, giving you more room for placing buttons, and to determine whether you want Icons, Icons and text, or only text shown for the buttons. Finally, clicking the 'Use small icons' box will reduce all buttons slightly in size, which can help if you're running at a lower resolution and/or a high DPI. Experiment with the layout and click Done to see your changes at any time, then repeat the process until you're satisfied.

Firefox Button: Firefox has consolidated all of the major settings and options into a single large orange Firefox button, shown at the top left of the browser window. Normally this button cannot be moved or altered, however you can replace it with the traditional Menu bar if you wish by clicking the Firefox button and under the Options menu selecting 'Menu Bar', or by right-clicking on an empty area next to the Tab Bar and selecting 'Menu Bar'. Doing so will also add the title of the currently view page to the top of the Firefox window. To alter the color of the Firefox button, as well as adjust its transparency, you can edit the UserChrome.css file - see the Advanced Tweaking section for details of editing UserChrome, and see the 'Change Firefox Button Color & Transparency' tweak on page 12 for the actual instructions. To make the Firefox button smaller and also movable, install this Movable Firefox Button add-on, then right-click on an empty area to the right of the Tab Bar, select Customize, and drag and drop the Firefox button to its new location - the far left of the Navigation Bar, either immediately to the left or right of the back and forward buttons, is recommended.

Separate Refresh & Stop Buttons: If you want to move the unified Refresh/Stop button out of the Address Bar, follow the 'Rearranging Buttons and Toolbars' instructions further above to open the 'Customize Toolbar' window. Then either drag the separate Refresh button which appears and move it to the right side of the Stop button to have separate Stop and Refresh buttons on the Navigation Bar, or place a Space icon between the Address Bar and the Refresh Button to have a single Refresh/Stop button outside the Address Bar. Keep in mind that if the Refresh button is located directly next to the Address Bar, it will automatically be incorporated into the Address Bar.

Menu Bar: While almost every common feature or option can be accessed by clicking the Firefox button, some are only available via the Menu bar, which is hidden by default. You can permanently enable the Menu bar in place of the Firefox button by right-clicking on the Firefox button, and under the Options menu selecting 'Menu bar'. However this takes up additional space, so instead you can press the ALT key to bring up the Menu bar temporarily whenever you wish to use it.

Tab Bar: To display tabs on a separate dedicated Tab Bar below the Address Bar, instead of at the top of the Firefox window, click the Firefox button and under the Options menu select 'Tabs on top' - this separates the Address Bar and Tab Bar, returning to a more familiar look, but taking up additional viewing space.

Add-on Bar: Firefox 4.0 did away with a dedicated Status Bar at the bottom of the window; URLs for hovered links are now shown in a small floating text box at the bottom of the screen, and viewing the progress of file downloads requires the Downloads window, covered on the next page. In place of the Status Bar, you can enable the Add-on Bar - click the Firefox button and under the Options menu select 'Add-on Bar'. The Add-on Bar is designed only to show icons for installed Add-ons, making access to them easier. Fortunately though you can customize the Add-on Bar just like any other toolbar: see the 'Rearranging Buttons and Toolbars' instructions further above for details of how to drag and drop any buttons you wish onto the Add-on bar, which can make it much more useful. You can close the Add-on bar at any time by clicking the small 'x' to the far left of the bar, or toggle it on and off by pressing CTRL+/.

Activity Indicator: It's worth noting that the Activity Indicator, or 'throbber', has been removed from the Navigation Bar, and now only appears in each tab while a page is actively loading. You can add it back to the Navigation Bar by using the 'Rearranging Buttons and Toolbars' instructions further above - drag and drop the 'Activity Indicator' button to the right of the Address Bar or the far right of the Navigation Bar.

Open a New Tab (+) Button: At the and of the Tab Bar resides a small '+' button - clicking this button opens a blank new tab. However it is just as easy to open a new tab by middle-clicking on an empty area to the right of the Tab Bar. If you want to remove this 'Open a New Tab' (+) button, you can simply follow the steps under 'Rearranging Buttons and Toolbars' above, and note that when the 'Customize Toolbar' window is open, the + button might appear to vanish - it's actually moved to the far right of the Tab Bar, next to the Panorama button. Drag this button off the toolbar and into the 'Customize Toolbar' window to remove it.

Bookmarks Toolbar Folder: Under the Bookmarks menu is one folder which cannot be deleted - it's the 'Bookmarks Toolbar' folder. It's required for displaying the Bookmarks Toolbar, but even when that toolbar is hidden, this item cannot be removed from the Bookmarks menu. One way of removing it is by using the 'Rearranging Buttons and Toolbars' instructions further above, and dragging the 'Bookmarks Toolbar Items' button from the bottom of the Firefox toolbars and placing it to the right of your Home Page button. When you click Done on the 'Customize Toolbar' window, it will disappear from view, but will now also be removed from the Bookmarks menu whenever you click the Bookmarks button.

The above methods are the simplest customizations you can undertake in Firefox. There are many more ways to alter Firefox's appearance and functionality as covered in detail in the Add-ons and Advanced Tweaking sections.

Tabbed Browsing

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The most famous feature of Firefox is Tabbed Browsing, something which other browsers have eventually adopted. This feature allows users to open up a link as a new tab within their current Firefox window, rather than opening up an entirely new Firefox window. The benefits of this are faster loadup times for pages opened as tabs, less overall system memory usage, less buttons for open instances of Firefox on the Windows Taskbar, the ability to load pages in the background while reading the current page, and the convenience of being able to switch back and forth between pages just by clicking their tab. Below are a range of tips on how to make better use of this feature:

  • To open any link or launchable icon as a new tab click your center mouse button on that link/icon. If you don't have a center mouse button, hold down the CTRL key then left-click to get the same result.
  • To force a link to open as a new tab in the foreground, hold down the SHIFT key and use one of the methods above.
  • You can rearrange the order of open tabs by dragging and dropping them on the Tab Bar.
  • You can drag any tab to the Windows Desktop and it will open in a new instance of Firefox.
  • You can drag any tab from one instance of Firefox to another instance of Firefox, and the tab and its contents will move accordingly.
  • To close a tab quickly, click the center mouse button on the tab, or press CTRL+W or CTRL+F4 while viewing the tab.
  • To reopen the last closed tab(s), right-click on the tab bar and select 'Undo close tab' or press CTRL+SHIFT+T.
  • To switch quickly between open tabs, press CTRL+TAB to go to the next open tab, or SHIFT+CTRL+TAB to go to the previous open tab.
  • To jump to a specific open tab, press CTRL and a numerical key corresponding to that tab's position from the left. E.g. CTRL+2 jumps to the second open tab.

  • New to Firefox 4.0:

  • To access the history of a tab, select the tab then right-click on the back or forward buttons.
  • If you copy a web address (or any piece of text), right-click in the Address Bar and select 'Paste & Go' to immediately launch it in the current tab.

  • If you click your middle mouse button on a range of things in Firefox, they will typically open up in a new tab. For example, click the middle button on the back or forward arrows on the Navigation Bar and the previous or next pages you've visited will open in a new tab. Middle-click on an item in your History or your Bookmarks and it will open in a new tab. Middle-click on the Homepage button and your home page will open in a new tab.

    As more and more tabs are opened, each tab starts to shrink in width and at a certain point no more additional tabs can be shown on the current screen, though they will be opened in the background. Arrows will appear at either side of the tab bar, allowing you to scroll through the tab list. There is also a small dropdown button at the far right of the tab bar which can be clicked to show a listing of all open tabs.

    The tab bar is always showing by default, even with only one tab open in Firefox. You can change this behavior by unticking the 'Always show the tab bar' option under the Tabs section of the Firefox settings. There is also a small 'Open a new tab' (+) button to the right of the Tab Bar, but this can be removed as covered under the 'Customize the Interface' section further above. Firefox also has 'tear-off' tabs; tabs can be dragged not only from one location to another on the tab bar within a Firefox window, they can be dragged and effectively moved from one open Firefox window to another, and they can also be dragged onto the Desktop to open a new Firefox window with the tab's contents displayed. If you want to create a shortcut to the site instead, drag the site's favicon from the Address Bar to your Windows Desktop. Another useful feature is the ability to not only undo recently closed tabs, but also undo recently closed windows, or even the recently closed session; these functions can be found by clicking the Firefox button and looking under the History menu item. To alter alter the maxmium number of recently closed tabs or windows which are stored in this menu, see the browser.sessionstore.max_windows_undo and browser.sessionstore.max_tabs_undo preferences in the Advanced Tweaking section.

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    Custom Tab Switching: Disabled by default, you can enable enhanced tab switching by going to your About:Config preferences and setting browser.ctrlTab.previews to True - see the Advanced Tweaking section for details. Once this setting has been changed, and as long as you have three or more open tabs, when you press CTRL+TAB, instead of simply jumping to the next open tab, Firefox will display a custom tab switcher window, similar to the Windows ALT+TAB switcher under the Aero interface. A small thumbnail of each open tab is displayed, and you can either keep pressing the TAB key while holding down CTRL to cycle through and select a tab, or click one with your mouse. To bring up the tab switching window along with a custom search box, press CTRL+SHIFT+TAB instead, and the tab switcher window will remain open until you select a tab or enter a search term to find a particular open tab by name, or click the large X at the top right. If you wish to add a button in Firefox which accesses this feature, in your About:Config preferences find the browser.allTabs.previews preference and set it to True. A 'List all tabs' button will now be shown at the far right end of the Tab Bar to the left of the Panorama button, and clicking it will bring up the enhanced tab switcher window along with the search box.

    Note that if you enable enhanced tab switching and press CTRL+TAB, the tabs will be displayed in the order of the most recently used tab in the tab switcher rather than the same order in which they appear on the Tab Bar. When you use CTRL+SHIFT+TAB, or click the 'List all tabs' button, then the tabs are shown in their normal order as provided on the Tab Bar.

    New to Firefox 4.0, aside from streamlining the display of tabs, several additional tab management features have been introduced:

    Switch to Tab: You can switch to any open tab simply by typing the first few letters of the site open in that tab in the Address Bar. A drop-down box will appear and you can select the relevant site which has 'Switch to tab' written beneath it to immediately switch to that open tab.

    App Tabs: You can pin any open tab permanently within Firefox by right-clicking on an open tab and selecting 'Pin as App tab'. The open tab will convert to a small tab which displays the site's favicon logo and will pin itself to the left of the first tab on the Tab Bar. You can add multiple pinned App Tabs in this manner, and they will remain there until you right-click on each App Tab and select 'Unpin Tab', at which point they will revert back to a normal open tab which is no longer permanently pinned.

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    Panorama: Formerly known as Tab Candy, Firefox Panorama, or Tab Groups, is a new way of organizing tabs. To access Panorama, click the 'Group your tabs' button at the top right of the Firefox window, or press CTRL+SHIFT+E. You can click the same button again, or press ESC, or click the Close button on Firefox, or click on a tab icon at any time to exit Panorama view.

    When Panorama is open, a new blank canvas appears, with one existing group containing all of your currently open tabs. Clicking any open tab thumbnail exits Panorama and switches to that tab. You can create new tab groups by left-clicking in any empty space on the canvas and dragging out a new group box. The box can be any size you wish, and can be moved around, or resized by clicking on the lower right corner of the box. You can also give each group a name by clicking the small pencil icon at the top left corner of the tab group and entering text. A group can be closed at any time by clicking the small x icon at the top right corner, and for a period of time, a prompt will remain asking if you wish to undo the closing of that group. You can also drag and drop individual tabs on their own, outside a group box if you wish. A search function is also available by clicking the magnifying glass icon at the top right.

    While confusing at first, the idea of Panorama is that it allows you to create different tab groups for different topics/ideas/categories of open pages, making certain groups bigger or smaller in size depending on their importance to you, and then dragging and dropping open tabs into the relevant groups to sort them as required. Then whenever you want to access particular sites, you open Panorama and hopefully find it much quicker to access the desired page based on your custom categories. Experiment with Panorama to see if it provides you with any benefit. There are three ways to save your Panorama groups whenever you close Firefox:

  • Set the browser.showQuitWarning preference to True, so that Firefox prompts you each time you close the browser with the option to save your current open tabs. See the Advanced Tweaking section for more details.
  • Enable the Session Restore feature under the General section of the Firefox Options by selecting the 'Show my windows and tabs from last time' item under the 'When Firefox Starts' setting.
  • Each time you open up Firefox click the Firefox button and under the History section select 'Restore Previous Session'.

  • Frequently Visited Sites: New to Firefox 13.0, if you open a blank new tab, the new tab will now display a thumbnail list of your frequently visited sites. This requires that you have the History feature enabled. You can click on the relevant thumbnail to go to that site.

    Finally, to alter the width of each tab, you can use this Custom Tab Width add-on. For other ways of customizing tabs and tabbed browsing see the browser.tabs.-related preferences in the Advanced Tweaking section.

    Full Page Zooming

    You can zoom in and out of all elements of a web page, whether text or images, or both. This functionality can be accessed under the View menu of the Menu Bar, by going to Zoom and selecting 'Zoom In' or 'Zoom Out' to change the zoom level accordingly. If you just want to zoom in or out of the text only (i.e. you only wish to change the text size on a page), then tick the 'Zoom Text Only' item under the View>Zoom option. An easier way to access these functions on any page is to use the Control (CTRL) key in combination with the + (plus), - (minus) and 0 (zero) numerical keys. However the quickest way of all is:

  • To progressively Zoom In on a page, hold down CTRL and scroll up with the mouse scrollwheel.
  • To progressively Zoom Out of a page, hold down CTRL and scroll down with the mouse scrollwheel.
  • To Reset the page to its default zoom level press CTRL+0 (CTRL and Zero key).

  • This feature is particularly useful when viewing images, as it lets you zoom in or out of an image within the browser so you can look at relevant details without having to launch a separate image viewing application. You can further customize Zoom in Firefox using the browser.zoom.siteSpecific, zoom.maxPercent, and zoom.minPercent preferences as covered in the Advanced Tweaking section.

    Faster Searching

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    There are several ways you can speed up searching web pages and searching on the Internet using Firefox:

    Keyboard Shortcuts: To quickly open the search box on any page, press F3 or CTRL+F. You can close the search box by pressing the ESC key at any time.

    Search for text when I start typing: I recommend that you have the 'Search for text when I start typing' setting ticked - see the Advanced area of the previous page. That way you can initiate a word search on the currently viewed web page simply by starting to type the search string without having to first bring up the search box. The first instance of that word will automatically be highlighted in green on the page. To find more instances of the same word, keep pressing the F3 key. The last search string you entered in the current session is kept in memory, and simply pressing F3 on any other page initiates the same search again. For ways of customizing this feature, see the accessibility.typeaheadfind.-related preferences in the Advanced Tweaking section.

    Selection Web Search: Highlight a portion of a web page by holding down the cursor over the start of your selection, then left-click and drag the cursor to the end of your selection and release the mouse button. Now right-click on this highlighted selection, and in the context menu select the 'Search Google for...' item. Firefox will automatically launch a web search using the default search plugin Google and provides the results in a new tab/window.

    Open Link: New to Firefox 4.0, you can highlight any text which corresponds to a website address, right-click on the highlighted text and select 'Open Link' to immediately launch that address in the current tab. If you prefer a separate new tab or window for the link, select 'Open Link in New Tab' or 'Open Link in New Window' as appropriate instead. You can try this out by first highlighting all of the following text and then right-clicking on it: Firefox will check to see if the text has what appears to be a correct URL structure before providing this option in the right-click context menu, but this doesn't guarantee that the address is free from syntax errors such as too many slashes or dots.

    Web Search Box: You can use the dedicated Web Search box in the Navigation Bar to speed up searching for information on the Internet. Click on the small site icon in the left side of the Web Search box, and select the search engine you wish to use for web searches. Google is the default web search engine, but you can use other engines such as Bing, or a site-specific search engine such as or Enter the phrase(s) you wish to search for in this Search box and press Enter - the results will be displayed in the current tab. You can download additional search engine plugins by clicking on the icon in the Web Search box, selecting 'Manage Search Engines' and then clicking the Get more search engines link at the bottom. You can also create your own custom search. Since all the search engine coding is saved in your \Program Files (x86)\Mozilla Firefox\searchplugins\ directory as .xml files, you can create your own custom .xml search engine files. Full instructions are here.

    Address Bar/Keyword Searches: The Web Search box is actually redundant, because one of the fastest ways to search is by using keywords within the Address Bar. The Address Bar, also known as the Location Bar or Awesome Bar, is covered in detail in its own section below.

    The Awesome Bar

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    More than just a location for web addresses, the Address Bar in Firefox is nicknamed the 'Awesome Bar' due to its additional functionality. To start with, you can type in any words or phrases, even partial words, and the Awesome Bar will by default display any possible matches from your open tabs, browsing History and Bookmarks in a drop down box. The matched words/phrases can be in any part of the URL or page description, or any custom tags you've added to your bookmarks. The more letters or words you keep typing into the Awesome Bar, the more refined the search results become.

    When viewing the search results in the Awesome Bar, you will see not only the title of the web page, but also the favicon next to it, which makes site identification easier, and you'll also see the site/page URL beneath the title as well, or 'Switch to tab' if the result relates to a page which is already an open tab in your browsing session. You will also see at a glance whether it is already part of your bookmarks: it will have a yellow star next to it if it is - see the Bookmarks section on the next page for more details.

    The Awesome Bar also allows the ability to use custom search filters to refine search results. You can use the '*' and '#' characters to respectively restrict search results to bookmarks or tags. For example a search on "tweak *" (without quotes) will find any bookmarks you have with the word 'tweak'; a search on "tweak #" (without quotes) will find any items you've specifically tagged with the word 'tweak'.

    You can also simply type a word and press Enter in the Awesome Bar without selecting a search result, and Firefox will usually launch a search using Google and show the results. If you want to add the Search functionality of any web page directly to the Awesome Bar, simply right-click in any search box on a web page and select 'Add a keyword for this search'. If you want to jump quickly to the Address Bar/Awesome Bar at any time, press CTRL+L - this moves the cursor to the Address Bar and highlights all existing text in there.

    To allow you to further customize how the Awesome Bar functionality works, you can adjust whether it searches your History and Bookmarks, just your History, just your Bookmarks, or none of them at all (i.e. switching off this functionality altogether) by selecting the relevant item under the 'Location Bar' section of Firefox's Privacy options - see the previous page for more details. You can further customize the way the Location Bar/Address Bar/Awesome Bar behaves and which search engine it uses by adjusting the keyword.URL, browser.urlbar.maxRichResults, browser.fixup.alternate.enabled and places.frecency.-related preferences all covered in the Advanced Tweaking section.

    New to Firefox 6.0, the Address Bar now highlights the domain name within the URL, to make it clearer as to which domain you are actually visiting.

    New to Firefox 7.0, the http:// portion of a URL is no longer shown in the Address Bar. It will however be included if you highlight and copy the full address from the Address Bar.

    New to Firefox 10.0, The forward button on the Address Bar is now completely hidden until you navigate back. In other words, if there's no page to go forward to, there will be no forward button shown.

    Site Identification Button

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    Part of the Address Bar, though deserving of its own section, is the Site Identification button. Whenever you visit a particular site, that site's favicon will appear in the usual place at the far left of the Address Bar. You can click this button to find out more about the security of the site. There are three possible colors which can be shown in the background of the favicon, as well as in the box which opens when you click it:

    Grey - Indicates that the site has no or insufficient encryption. Most pages on websites will display this color, which is completely normal and fine as long as you're not entering any sensitive information such as credit card details for online purchases for example.

    Blue - Indicates that you are using an encrypted connection to the site, and its identity has been verified as being a legitimate domain name. This should be secure enough for sensitive transactions, but you may need more information (See below).

    Green - Indicates that the site is as secure as it can possibly be, both in terms of verified ownership, and also being fully encrypted.

    More Information: In all cases, if you have any doubts, click the Identification button, and in the box which opens, click the 'More Information' button. The dialog box which opens shows you a range of information which should help you better understand the level of encryption, the ownership details, and even useful facts such as how often you've visited this site in the past. Of additional use is the ability to also set the permissions for things such as popups, cookies, images and location awareness on a site-by-site basis under the Permissions tab. In short it makes it far easier for you to manage particular sites, and actually see how secure a site is compared to a basic padlock icon which simply indicates that a site is using some level of encryption, however inadequate it may be.

    New to Firefox 6.0, the Site Identification Button has been streamlined slightly to make it more visible.

    New to Firefox 14.0, the Site Identification button has been rearranged. The favicon has now been moved to the tab for that page to prevent spoofing by malicious websites. The icon in the Site Identification button now shows as a generic globe or padlock to indicate insecure or secure status respectively. The background color indicator has been removed, with only the text now being in the particular color that indicates security level (i.e. grey text, blue text or green text as appropriate). The image above has been updated to reflect the new look.

    Private Browsing Mode

    Private Browsing Mode is designed to allow you to browse the Internet without leaving any trace of your browsing history on the PC. While some jokingly refer to this as "Porn Mode", in reality there are many other reasons why this feature is useful, especially when browsing on a public PC, or at a friend's place.

    New to Firefox 20.0, Private Browsing mode now launches as a new window, and does not replace all other open instances of Firefox as it previously did. This means that you can start up Private Browsing mode at any time during a normal session, and switch between a regular Firefox window and the Private Mode window at will.

    The main methods for enabling Private Browsing mode are: clicking the Firefox button and selecting 'New Private Window'; right-clicking on the Firefox icon in the Windows Taskbar and selecting 'New Private Window'; or pressing CTRL+SHIFT+P. You can launch Private Browsing mode at any time - a window that is running in Private Browsing mode will display a purple Firefox button and the thumbnail preview for it on the Windows Taskbar will also have 'Private Browsing' shown as the page title. These are just two indications that you're browsing in this mode. A window will continue to be in Private Browsing mode until you close that particular Firefox window.

    When in Private Browsing mode Firefox will not save any aspect of your browsing history, including: visited pages; form and search bar entries; passwords; listings of downloaded files; cookies; or cached files of any kind. This means you essentially leave no trace of the browsing activity which occurred while Private Browsing mode was enabled. However if you save any bookmarks, or download any files, these will not be deleted once you exit Private Browsing mode. Private Browsing mode will also not make you anonymous on the Internet, since you are still broadcasting your IP address, and your actions are also being logged by your ISP.

    If you wish, you can force Firefox to always open in Private Browsing mode whenever it is launched by going to the Privacy section of the Firefox options and either selecting 'Never remember history', or by selecting 'Use custom settings for history' in the drop down box and then ticking the 'Always use Private Browsing mode' box.

    For the times when you don't wish to use Private Browsing mode, but still want to remove traces of your browsing history, you can do so in several ways. To remove the stored history for individual sites rather than your entire browsing session, click the Firefox button and under the History menu select 'Show All History', find the site in your history listing (use the 'Search History' box at the top right if necessary), right-click on it and select 'Forget About This Site'; this will remove all recorded history for that site immediately. Be aware however that Firefox treats subdomains of the same site as separate entities when using this feature: e.g. if you right-click on and select to forget, it won't also remove from your history. You can of course also delete other specific aspects of your history at any time using the 'Clear Recent History' option under the History menu of the Firefox button - this is covered under the Privacy settings section on the previous page.

    The next page continues the Firefox features, tips and tricks.