I recently wrote about the wonderful “Reset Firefox” feature, which in one fell swoop can fix all sorts of bad behaviours. What follows is a number of complaints that commenters had, and some ideas about how to address them.
“The name is misleading”
It’s true. It sounds like it will erase all of your data and customizations. The SUMO page says the following.
The Reset Firefox feature can fix many issues by restoring Firefox to its factory default state while saving your essential information.
“Factory default state” and “while saving your essential information” are two phrases that sit together awkwardly. But it may be too late to change the name now.
“But I have lots of configuration tweaks”
And they’ll all be lost. You can look in about:support to see “important modified preferences”. Or you can look at the “user set” entries in about:config. Or you can look at both, and wonder the two lists are different, and what the definition of “important” is.
It would be very helpful if you could see who or what was responsible for each of those changes. Was it the user, via the Preferences dialog? The user via about:config? An add-on? Something auto-updated by core Firefox code? (And why do I always have dozens of “user set” preferences relating to printing, even on my Linux machine that I never print from?)
Would an API tweak help? We could change the “setPref()” function (or whatever it’s called) to take an additional, optional argument that indicates who set it. It wouldn’t fix the problem immediately but would give a path forward.
Update: I found bug 834034, which is about preserving a user’s custom spell-check dictionary.
“But I have hundreds of tabs open”
And they’ll all be lost, too. Apparently the Session Manager extension solves this problem. But that’s not obvious, and still a pain to manage. Maybe we could mention it in the documentation?
Update: Alexander Limi pointed me in the direction of bug 833943, which is about fixing this.
“But I have Dozens of add-ons installed”
And one of them might be causing your problems. You can get the list of installed add-ons from about:addons, so this one isn’t too hard to fix up manually.
“I can’t see the ‘Reset Firefox’ button” / “I want to reset a non-default profile”
The “Reset Firefox” button only shows up in the default profile. (And sometimes not even there — I don’t get it on my default profile on my dev machine, where I have half a dozen profiles present.)
There’s a bug open about this. I could be wrong, but it doesn’t sound that hard to fix.
“How do I undo it if it breaks something?”
The SUMO page addresses this.
After the reset is finished, your old Firefox profile information will be placed on your desktop in a folder named “Old Firefox Data.” If the reset didn’t fix your problem you can restore some of the information not saved by copying files to the new profile that was created. See Copying files between profile folders for instructions.
The instructions on copying files between profile folders are clear, except for the fact that even an expert user will have little idea which files within a profile are important. It’s an intimidating process.
“Why isn’t this automated?”
Well, because it loses some of your configuration. You don’t want Firefox discarding all your extensions every six months.
“Why is this even needed in the first place?”
Ah. An interesting question. What exactly are the sources of the problems that Reset Firefox fixes?
- Problematic extensions. This is probably a common cause of problems, especially for people who have toolbars they don’t want and things like that. And I’ll give a special mention to GreaseMonkey users who have badly written scripts that do horrible things.
- Corrupt(?) state. This one’s vague, but I suspect it’s a factor. Maybe some of the SQLite files? Or perhaps the state isn’t corrupt, but just fragmented in some fashion? For example, in an oldish profile on my Mac my places.sqlite file size is 73 MiB, and urlclassifier3.sqlite is 42 MiB, which seems like a lot.
- Do we know of any other causes?
Update: in bug 754933 Michael Verdi lists the following preferences as “troublesome”:
- home page
- all search engines (location bar, search bar, right-click)
- Application settings
- History settings
- Password settings
- Proxy settings
- Firefox update settings
- SSL settings
- All toolbars and controls
I don’t subscribe to the hardline “Reset Firefox shouldn’t even be necessary” viewpoint — software is hard. But I would like to understand the root causes better, in order to understand if at least some of them could be reduced or prevented.
It’s not all bad
I hope this post doesn’t sound too negative. I understand that Reset Firefox’s goal was to provide something really simple that’ll fix many problems, and it does that admirably.
It’s just a shame that some power users who genuinely want to improve Firefox’s behaviour are unable to try it because it discards too much data. I wonder if having additional options (in an obscure corner of the UI) the way safe mode does — “preserve extensions”, “preserve preferences”, “preserve open tabs” — would help those users. Then those users could use a more incremental approach: discard some data away, see if that helps, discard some more, etc.
Or maybe that’s not worthwhile; the people who comment on my blog aren’t exactly typical Firefox users! And it could complicate things for the SUMO folks — they’d have to ask what options someone used when they initiated a Reset Firefox. I’m not sure. I’d just love to extend the goodness of Reset Firefox as far and wide as possible, and it seems like a few small tweaks might help.