One of the most powerful features in Firefox is also one too few people know about: the ability to create and use more than one profile at the same time. Here’s how to streamline and reap the benefits of multiple browsing profiles.
Instead of installing every single extension for every task into the same Firefox profile, why not separate them into separate profiles, organized by task? Think of Firefox like an Operating System for the web, and each profile as a separate application—one profile is used for basic web browsing, another for writing, another for web development, and so on.
Most of the writers at Lifehacker HQ use different profiles for writing, researching, and personal browsing on a daily basis. It keeps your Firefox instances running smoother, and each profile is streamlined for accomplishing the kind of things you want to accomplish with that profile.
Setting Up Separate Firefox Profiles
Creating a new profile is a lot easier than you might think, but there’s no default menu item that allows you to open the profile manager easily. If you install the ProfileSwitcher extension in the “Switching Profiles the Easy Way” section below, you can use it to create new profiles via a menu item; if you want to go that route, skip down to that section; either way, here’s how to do it without the extension:
You’ll need to pop open a command prompt, switch to the Firefox directory (
cd %programfiles%\Mozilla Firefox\ should work), and then launch Firefox with a command line switch:
firefox -profilemanager -no-remote
If you don’t like using the command prompt, you can simply create a shortcut to Firefox.exe (or copy your current one), and then add the arguments to the end of the Target line.
The first argument clearly indicates that you want the profile manager, but the second –no-remote argument means that you want to open a separate copy of Firefox at the same time as having the first one open. This is the magic switch that will allow you to run more than one profile at the same time, and it also allows you to open the profile manager without closing your current browser window.
Once you’ve created a new profile, you can make a separate Firefox shortcut, and modify the Target line to include a few extra arguments, making it look something like this:
firefox.exe –P profilename –no-remote
Switching Profiles the Easy Way
If you’d rather not mess with command line arguments and new shortcuts, you can switch between profiles or launch the profile manager the easy way with the previously mentioned ProfileSwitcher extension.
Once you’ve installed the extension, you can simply use the File menu to access the new profile switching options and access the profile manager directly from there. Once you’ve chosen one of the other profiles, you’ll be prompted on whether you want to switch to that profile or keep the current profile open and open the second profile at the same time.
Sync Your Profile Passwords and Bookmarks
The biggest problem with maintaining multiple profiles is utilizing the same passwords, bookmarks, and settings across the various profiles, and previously mentioned Weave can do just that. Once you’ve setup Weave in each profile, you can sync your bookmarks, passwords, history, preferences, and even your open tabs if you felt like it. Weave isn’t the only game in town, though, as you can use Xmarks to sync your bookmarks and passwords across other browsers as well, but it comes with additional “discovery” services that you might want to turn off.
Create Profiles for Specific Tasks
Now that we’ve learned how to create profiles, switch between them, and sync your passwords across them all, it’s time to actually start creating useful profiles to separate out your tasks. Here’s a few suggested ideas for the profiles I use on a regular basis, but you aren’t limited to these ideas—you can more or less come up with a specialized profile for any task.
The Writing Profile
If you’re doing writing on the web, you’ve no doubt realized that it’s far too easy to get distracted by your other tabs, click on your bookmarks, or just type something into the search box. What I’ve done to keep myself focused on writing is create a separate profile specifically for writing, with almost all of the chrome elements removed to maximize the viewing area for writing and prevent myself from being distracted.
The Web Development Profile
The Social Media Profile
Let’s face it, social media can be a massive time suck, especially when you’re browsing around finding random stuff using StumbleUpon-so what I do is create a separate profile for random browsing and social media. This helps keep me from clicking that Stumble button while I’m supposed to be working, but also helps me separate my time. Your social media needs may differ, but the point is to keep them separate from your primary profile to keep yourself focused on a single task.
The Extension Testing Profile
Rather than install every new extension and bloat up your primary Firefox profile, why not create a separate profile specifically for testing new extensions? This way you can make certain that you’ve fully vetted an extension before unleashing it on your main web browsing experience. Here at Lifehacker HQ, we make extensive use of test profiles when we’re checking out extensions to recommend.
Secure Banking Profile