When Windows was my main OS, I was a big fan of Portable Firefox. With Portable Firefox, I could do multiple installations of Firefox on my system that could be customized to run concurrently with other installs of Firefox. This allowed me to have tailored installations with different sets of plugins and features.

Why would I want to run more than one Firefox at a time? For me, the reason is that it eases development. Here are a few ways that I use multiple installs:

  • One install that was just the default install with no additional tweaks or add-ons and would have all cached data, authenticated sessions, and cookies cleared when closed. This was a great browser to use when I would test new code to make sure that it ran well on a stock Firefox. It also gave me a clean cookie and authentication slate so I could test sessions from scrath without clearing my main browser’s history, sessions, etc. If I wiped the slate clean on this browser, nothing was lost.
  • Since having a large variety of add-ons in Firefox has a tendency to slow things down, I had another browser that included all the major development tool add-ons. I would load this browser up when I needed to explore the DOM in detail, debug layout issues, debug Javascript, etc. This allowed me to streamline my main browser down to just the add-ons that I use frequently.
  • Since Portable Firefox isn’t installed and just resides in its own folder, I could load multiple versions of Firefox. This made it easy to test for compatibility problems between different versions.
  • I even played around with the idea of having a browser specifically for media. I would use it for music sources like Pandora and for video sources like Hulu or Red vs. Blue.

Last week, I looked around for a solution like Portable Firefox for Ubuntu. I quickly found a solution that wasn’t nearly as difficult as doing multiple installs: multiple profiles.

What are Profiles?

By creating a new profile, you get another clean slate Firefox. Each profile has its own add-ons, bookmarks, history, cookies, etc. In addition, each profile even has its own layout. So, if you change the layout of toolbars in one profile, the change is limited to that profile.

I know that Firefox has had profiles for a very long time, but until now, I really never messed around with them. I guess the biggest problem with profiles is that they aren’t easily accessed. In order to produce the profile manager, you need to use a command line option (-P). Furthermore, you can only run additional instances of Firefox if you load the additional firefox instances using the “-no-remote” command line option. Since most people don’t know about command line options or how to use them, I think profiles will remain obscure until they get an easy to use menu accessible from inside Firefox itself.

However, with the information I provide here, you can easily get profiles running on your Ubuntu (or really any other) system.

Creating New Profiles

To create a new profile, we first need to load the profile manager. Open the Run Application dialog (Alt+F2) and run the following:

firefox -no-remote -P

Note that the P is capitalized.

A small dialog will appear with options to create a new profile, rename or delete existing profiles, and start Firefox with the selected profile. You also have the option to tell the profile manager whether or not it should ask what profile you want when Firefox is loaded. If you have this box checked, Firefox will automatically load the last profile you used. If it is not checked, you will always be asked which profile you want.

Click the “Create Profile…” button, read the information about profiles, click Next, give the profile a name and click Finish.

Now you have your new profile listed on the Profile Manager. Select it and click “Start Firefox”. When it loads, you’ll be greeted with Firefox as it looked when it was first installed.

Customizing Launchers

Since you’re probably like me and don’t want to have to type in the run command manually each time, we can easily customize the launchers to do exactly what we want. Everyone will want to customize their launchers in different ways, but what I have done with my system should give you enough information to do what you want.

Creating New Launchers on a Panel

I have a couple of icons on my top panel. One launches Firefox and the other launches Thunderbird. I wanted to add additional launchers to the panel in order to have one launcher for each profile.

I simply right-clicked a blank spot on the panel and clicked “Add to Panel…”. I selected “Application Launcher…” in order to duplicate the existing Firefox launcher in the menu and clicked Forward. I found the Firefox launcher under Internet and clicked Add.

I then right-clicked my new Firefox icon and clicked Properties. I wanted to customize this launcher to load my new Clean profile, so I modified the Command text to the following:

firefox -no-remote -P "Clean"

The other options can be customized to set this launcher apart from your other profile launchers. Change the Name and Comment fields to make it clear which profile the launcher refers to. You can even click the icon to select a custom one for that launcher.

When you are done making customizations, click the Close button. Now click your launcher and check to see that everything has worked properly.

Making a Profile Manager Launcher

I wanted to have my main launcher at Applications > Internet > Firefox Web Browser load up the profile manager to make it easy to select a profile. This way I could use it rather than running a command manually in Run Application.

I right-clicked Applications and selected “Edit Menus”. I then selected Internet followed by “Firefox Web Browser” and clicked Properties. I changed the name to “Firefox Profile Manager” and changed the command to:

firefox -no-remote -P

I clicked the Close button in the Properties dialog and then again on the Main Menu dialog.

Updating Original Panel Launcher

The last order of business to take care of is to update my original Firefox launcher on my top panel. If I don’t update the command used for that launcher, I will end up launching the last profile rather than the default profile when I use it.

As with the first panel icon, right-click the icon and select Properties. Update the Command to the following:

firefox -no-remote -P "default"

Note that default is the default name of the first profile that Firefox has. If you’ve modified this orignal profile name to something different or have removed it, you’ll need to update the command with the appropriate profile name.

Closing Thoughts

I hope that I’ve given you enough information to find value in using the profiles feature of Firefox and to get started with using profiles on your system.

If you’d like additional information on profiles or have any questions, please leave a comment below.

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