Change Firefox 3’s URL bar behavior

Mozilla, makers of Firefox, a popular alternative to Safari on many users’ machines, will very shortly release Firefox 3—the product is currently at release candidate stage, which typically means a final release is imminent. The latest version of Mozilla’s browser includes a number of new features to make browsing faster, easier, and perhaps even more fun. I covered some of those features, along with other changes, in a recent first look at Firefox 3 based on the fourth beta release of the browser.

One of the subtle changes in Firefox 3 is the behavior of the URL bar. If you’ve loaded a page and you click in the URL bar, Firefox 3 will automatically select the entire URL. This makes it easy to copy (or drag-and-drop) the URL to another location, but it’s different than how both Firefox 2 and Safari (and most any other OS X application) work—in those browsers, clicking in the URL bar positions the cursor at the position where you clicked. While I’ve adjusted to this change and actually like it (I more often copy URLs than I edit them, so this saves me a bit of time), Firefox 3 provides a relatively simple way to revert to the old behavior.

Open a new browser window (or blank tab) in Firefox 3, and in the URL bar, type about:config and press Return. You’ll see a warning about not changing advanced settings, and (at least in the current pre-release version) a button that reads “I’ll be careful, I promise.” Click that button, and you’ll see a messy-looking page with four columns.

Firefox 3 config screen1

The items on this page are semi-hidden preferences for Firefox 3 (you can view the same screen in Firefox 2, too). There are a lot of preferences listed here, and changing them without knowing what you’re doing may make your browser behave in odd ways. For the URL bar fix, however, we need to make one simple change. In the Filter box at the top of the list, type (or paste) browser.urlbar.clickSelectsAll. There’s no need to press Return; Firefox 3 will filter the matches as soon as you start typing. You’ll wind up with just one match, and you’ll see that the Value column is set to true. Double-click anywhere on the line containing browser.urlbar.clickSelectsAll, and the Value column will change to false (and the entry for the preference will show in bold text, indicating you’ve modified its value).

As soon as you change this entry to false, Firefox 3’s behavior changes so that a click in the URL bar places the insertion point without selecting the full URL. You can close the configuration window/tab now, and enjoy the more-Safari-like behavior of the URL bar. If you want the default behavior back, repeat these instructions—the next double-click will change the value from false back to true (and remove the bold text), giving you back the “select all on click” behavior.

If you’d like to know more about these semi-hidden preferences in general, many (but not all) of them are documented in the mozillaZine knowledge base.

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