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How to set up multiple user profiles in Mozilla Firefox 4

How to set up multiple user profiles in Mozilla Firefox 4

I have been a long-time user of Mozilla Firefox. I first read about it in Maximum PC when it was still in its infancy and, while reluctant to adopt due to incompatibility issues, I always kept it installed and up-to-date, and eventually switched over when compatibility was no longer an issue. Firefox quickly became the browser of choice for many, and by all measurable statistics, is the most popular browser used by web developers today.

Of course, Google had to come in with another game-changer, putting their sleek, simple and quick browser, Chrome, into the mix. Chrome is the ultimate browser for the end-user. On top of that, it has built-in development tools that are only available in plug-in form with Firefox. However, I find that it has many compatibility issues with backend web apps (For example, I can’t use it with my router’s configuration pages) and there are still a lot of plug-ins that I use that don’t have an equivalent feature or plug-in available in Chrome.

Two developments in web browsing technology have further complicated the choice between Chrome and Firefox. Google introduced the Chrome App Store, which allows users to purchase and download apps for their browser, receive updates, and save information on the cloud like they would with their smartphone apps. This is especially useful with Chrome OS, an operating system for PCs, netbooks and tablets that consists entirely of the Chrome browsing platform.

Mozilla, on the other hand, has released a new feature that is sure to keep web developers and content managers on board with Firefox. The hidden, but powerful feature allows Firefox users to create multiple instances of Firefox running at the same time. Each instance of Firefox can be customized in any way. Bookmarks, plug-ins, themes, browsing data, cookies, sessions, stored passwords, caches and settings can be customized with each instance, and the only limitations are your available system resources.

What this means for the Firefox vs. Chrome battle is that end users are likely to continue adopting Chrome, while more advanced users are going to be attracted to the new features in Firefox 4. Yes, I know there are other browsers out there, some of them very popular, but I don’t believe any of them have the potential to attract new users like these two platforms have. Unless another game-changing browser makes it into the mainstream, these two browsers will continue to compete for the future of the web browsing experience.

With that being said, here is a step-by-step guide on how to customize your Firefox experience to suit your every need:

Step 1—Profile Backup

For this tutorial, I have upgraded to the latest version of Firefox, (currently 4.0.1) and backed up my profile. If you are not sure how to backup your Mozilla Firefox profile, I highly recommend using a free tool called MozBackup. For demonstration purposes, I am going to use MozBackup in this tutorial.

MozBackup - Backup your default profile

Backup the 'default' Profile

Step 2—Decide your profile structure

At this point, you need to make some decisions. You need to determine your directory structure and profile locations on your hard drive. I decided to create a folder on my primary (C:) drive because it is my SSD drive, and I prefer the fast load times. (This will also shorten the lifespan of my SSD, but that doesn’t concern me) My Users folder is on my secondary (D:) HDD drive, so by default my profile was created there. This is not going to be the case for most people, who are only using one hard drive.

Regardless of your setup, you are going to want to determine a good place to store your profile folders. I am recommending to have a main profile that you use for your everyday needs, and secondary profiles to use for the various alternative environments you want to setup. This means that you don’t have to move your default profile, unless you’re in a unique situation like I am. However, you may want to store all your profiles in one place to make them easy to find and backup.

For my setup, I created a folder on my primary (C:) drive called “Firefox” and three folders underneath called PROFILE01, PROFILE02 and PROFILE03. The folders have to be created manually in order to use them with Firefox, so go ahead and setup your profile structure before you get started.

Profile Folder Structure

Type this command in the Run Dialog to open the Firefox Profile Manager

Step 3—Create profiles

Next you are going to setup and locate your new profiles in Firefox. To do this, make sure all of your Firefox windows are closed, open the Run dialog, (Windows Key + R) and type in the following command:

firefox.exe -P

Firefox Profile Manager

Firefox Profile Manager

In the profile manager, click the Create Profile… button, and click Next > on the welcome message. Then, choose a name for your profile. I am going to call my first profile DJ Meph [default]. If you are going to use the default profile folder for your main profile, you can start by creating your second profile. After you choose a name, click Choose Folder… and select the folder you want to use. (In my case, it’s C:\Firefox\PROFILE01) Then, click Finish and your profile will be created.

Create Profile Wizard

Create Profile Wizard

Repeat this process until you’ve created all of the profiles you are going to use. When you are finished, delete the default profile unless you planned to keep the main profile in the default folder. It should look something like this:

Profile Manager Setup Complete

Profile Manager Setup Complete

Finally, make sure Don’t ask at startup is checked, highlight the main profile, and click Start Firefox. This will ensure that Firefox defaults to your main profile, unless you specify otherwise.

Step 4—Bring it all home

Once you have set up your profiles, the next step is to restore the profile you backed up. In this case, I am going to restore the backup to two locations: Once to the main profile, and once to the alternative profile. There are a few reasons for this. On the main profile, and the alternative profile, I want to start them off with the same settings. Firefox Sync will maintain all of my sync information (bookmarks, stored passwords, etc.) between these two accounts automatically, but the session and cookies will be completely separate. I did not restore my backup file to the clean profile, because that profile is going to be setup for privacy and anonymity.

MozBackup Restore Profile

Restore your backup file to the profiles you want to use your data in.

As I mentioned earlier, your main profile should come up by default when you open Firefox. However, you don’t have to use Firefox profile manager to open the other profiles. You can create separate shortcuts for each one. To do this, right-click on your Desktop and select New > Shortcut. Next, locate Firefox.exe on your system. (Typically C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe or C:\Program Files (x86)\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe) Make sure to leave the quotation marks, and add these arguments to the end of the shortcut:

-no-remote -Profile X:\Path\To\Profile (Type in the location of your second profile here. Mine is C:\Firefox\PROFILE02)

Create Shortcut for Alternate Profile

Create a shortcut to open your alternate profile

Firefox Shortcuts

Once you have created the shortcuts, each one will bring up the profile of choice, and you can run multiple instances of Firefox at the same time.

The -no-remote argument tells Firefox to open another instance, even if another one is already opened. This allows you to have separate Firefox environments running at the same time. The -Profile argument is used to tell Firefox which profile you want to open. Repeat these steps to create a shortcut for all of your alternative profiles. Feel free to copy these shortcuts into your Start Menu or Quick Launch.

In Windows 7, you won’t be able to pin multiple Firerox shortcuts to the Taskbar. There is, however, a way to bring up the profile manager by default every time you open Firefox. To do this, pin Firefox to your taskbar if it isn’t already. Next, right-click on the icon, then right-click Mozilla Firefox and click Properties.

Windows 7 Pinned Shortcut Properties

Open the Properties dialog for the pinned Firefox shortcut on the Windows 7 taskbar.

In the properties dialog, add the following arguments to the shortcut:

-no-remote -P

Pinned Shortcut Properties Dialog

Add these arguments to your Firefox shortcut to always bring up the Firefox Profile Manager.

Now, when you click the Firefox shortcut on your taskbar, the profile manager will come up every time. Select the profile you want to open and click Start Firefox. Don’t worry about accidentally opening the same profile twice. If you do, you’ll get an error message that says the profile is in already in use.

Hint: You can add these arguments to shortcuts anywhere, in any version of Windows, if you prefer to have the profile manager come up every time. For me, I like the one click approach. I have Firefox pinned to my taskbar to bring up my main profile, and then I pin my alternative profiles to the recent programs list in the Start menu for easy access. It’s all a matter of preference.

Example of How to use Multiple=

As you can see here, I have three instances of Firefox running. The first is for my personal stuff, the second is for when privacy and anonymity is needed, and the third is for managing my other web site and the social media accounts related to it.

As far as I know there are no limitations to how many different profiles you can create and run at the same time, except the limitations of the resources on your computer. However, keep in mind that each profile is going to take up hard drive space, and if you have caching turned on, those profiles can grow pretty quickly. Also, remember that each instance takes up memory and CPU resources, and if you’re running multiple flash sites at once, that is an easy way to eat up your resources quick. It never hurts to upgrade your memory if you want to push the limits of your PC. With this revolutionary new Firefox feature, the sky is the limit, and your productivity is only limited by your imagination.


  1. d3k0y

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