Uninstalling and Reinstalling Firefox (including Portable FF)

I was having problems with the Firefox web browser. I decided to uninstall and reinstall it. This post describes the steps I took.

As a starting point, it was important to know that, by default, Firefox would save much of the information about its current installation. In other words, deleting Firefox would not necessarily mean deleting all of the many ways in which a user might have customized Firefox for his/her purposes. It would take a special effort to achieve a complete uninstallation of Firefox and all of its accompanying add-ons and other materials. So it would ordinarily be much easier to reinstall Firefox, after uninstalling it, than to install Firefox for the first time:  much of that material would still be present on the user’s program drive.

I say that reinstallation would “ordinarily” be much easier than a virgin installation. There could be scenarios where, for example, an ordinary uninstallation and reinstallation would fail to resolve a problem. In such cases, a complete reinstall might seem necessary. That conclusion might be a fallback, after first trying the standard uninstall and reinstall.

There had been tools that would back up all of these peripheral Firefox materials, up to the point of including the user’s complete profile. FEBE was possibly the best-known example. I’d had good luck with such tools at some times, and not at others. This post goes through the backup and reinstall process on a more detailed level, in case FEBE or other such tools do not suffice.

The approach taken here is from the perspective of a user who is about to uninstall Firefox before reinstalling. In other words, this post may provide important information for all sorts of Firefox users, but it does not attempt to provide a simple Firefox installation how-to guide.

If the user’s chosen uninstall-and-reinstall route manages to preserve cookies, history, and other materials, that’s great. It makes things simple. In the situation that prompted me to write this post, however, I had just cleared the Firefox cache, cookies, and other bits of browsing history. I was just concerned about preserving and restoring the key parts of the program. I would have to build up a new history from scratch.

The items of particular concern for preservation, here, were as follows:

  • In a separate post, I have detailed the basic Firefox settings (i.e., Tools > Options) that I preferred at this point. After reinstallation, I might have to re-enter some or all of those manually.
  • Another post lists favorite extensions, with details on the configuration of some.
  • To save the set of tabs that I currently had open in Firefox, I could rely on the Session Manager add-on, as long as the uninstall did not wipe out the saved sessions — which it wouldn’t, on my machine, because I stored those sessions on a partition other than drive C. Alternately, I could use the List Open URLs add-on to produce a list that I might put into a Notepad file and might even massage into a batch file that would open those URLs all at once. There was also the option of just dragging the icon from the left edge of the Address bar, in Firefox, to a folder in Windows Explorer, for each tab, so as to create a clickable link file for later viewing.
  • I used Firefox > Bookmarks > Show All Bookmarks > Import and Backup > Backup to keep a restorable backup of my bookmarks. I also had the Xmarks Sync add-on installed, and usually that would take care of restoring the bookmarks after a Firefox reinstall.

An option that was even more conservative than doing the standard Firefox uninstall-and-reinstall was to use Firefox Portable. I had been able to use both programs. I tried not to run them at the same time, in case of program confusion, though as far as I knew they operated independently. The point here is that, instead of immediately uninstalling the installed version of Firefox, there was the option of just letting it sit for a week or two, while I transitioned to the portable version.

For portable programs, unlike installed programs, it was often true — and it had been true of Firefox Portable version 24, which I had been using until recently — that copying the program files from one computer to another would leave the target computer in almost exactly the same condition as the source computer. The two machines would not just be running the same version of Firefox: they would have the same add-ons, the same bookmarks. They would even have the same tabs open. That would also apply across Windows reinstallations on the same machine. For my purposes, those aspects of a portable program were good.

So I decided to begin by leaving Firefox 33 installed, and returning to a portable version. My version 24 portable had become messed up, and anyway it was outdated for some purposes. I had zipped it into a single file, so as to keep it out of the way and avoid complications. There was a slight possibility that I would want to restart it someday, but given its confused state, I felt that I had better start afresh.

I had not been impressed with the installed version 33: it had outpaced a number of add-ons and themes that I liked, and it had lately generated some difficult problems. As I looked at the list of previous versions of Firefox, and also of portable Firefox, I noticed that the latter showed the number of downloads per version per week. There still seemed to be a respectable number of weekly downloads of Firefox Portable 31.2.

Part of the reason for the continued interest in version 31, I assumed, was that it was what Mozilla called an Extended Support Release (ESR). The ESR concept was that, as the name suggests, Mozilla would provide longer-term support for certain Firefox versions. This, I hoped, would give developers a stationary target to shoot at, for purposes of developing add-ons that would work, and would continue to work, with at least some relatively recent version of Firefox. I hoped, too, that security problems with older versions would be reduced in the case of an ESR, which would apparently be updated as appropriate until the next ESR version came out. Anyway, it appeared that version 31 (and every seventh version after 24) would be an ESR. I had noticed that the “ESR” designation appeared onscreen when I fired up version 24, so I expected the same in version 31.

Mozilla offered an ESR download page. The English-language Windows-specific version that it was prepared to give me at that page was indeed Firefox 31.2. So it seemed that I could safely go ahead by downloading and installing the portable version of 31.2.

Now, for the actual installation. Uninstalling an installed version in Windows 7 would have required me to go into Task Manager (Ctrl-Alt-Del) to make sure no Firefox processes were running, and then to  go into Control Panel > Programs and Features > select Mozilla Firefox > Uninstall. For the portable setup, I didn’t do the latter, but I did make sure there were no Firefox sessions running in Task Manager.

Then I ran the downloaded .exe file and, presto, I had Firefox 31.2 ESR running on my machine. I right-clicked on the top bar, so as to turn on the Menu Bar option, and I began poking around. There were virtually no bookmarks, no extensions, no themes. I was prepared to restore the various items listed above, but first it occurred to me to try going to the Netflix webpage, since (as described in a separate post) a problem with Netflix was the straw that had broken the camel’s back, for me, in version 33. But no, sadly, Netflix did not play videos. At first, I thought that might mean I should try some other version of Firefox. But then I recalled that Netflix was also having a problem in my other browsers. That issue, whatever it was, was probably not limited to Firefox.

It seemed I might go ahead and restore the settings and extensions to this new Firefox 31.2 portable installation. Even if I had to restore an earlier image of my Windows installation to defeat that Netflix problem, that would not affect my Firefox installation. Since this was a portable program, I could keep a backup of it on another drive, and just restore it after restoring the earlier Windows drive image. In fact, I was already keeping my portable programs on a separate drive, in my customized Start Menu. I would always reinstall programs to their default locations, so the links in my custom-arranged Start Menu would work as soon as they could find their target programs on the existing or restored drive C, and the portables would just sit there in the Start Menu, indifferent to whatever might be happening on drive C. The Start Menu was portable itself, so I only had to arrange its icons and folders once, and then I could sync those changes over to my other computer(s).

Anyway, I had installed Firefox 31.2 ESR Portable, and now I was going to restore the several sets of components itemized above: options, extensions, bookmarks, and previous session tabs. I applied what I had recorded in those separate posts for the options and the extensions. The XMarks extension took care of the bookmarks, and — a feature I had not previously noticed — it also seemed to have restored my history, which it had apparently been saving on its server. (The main benefit of restoring the history would be not having to type in many URLs; Firefox would recognize that, for instance, “nyt” was the start of “nytimes.com,” and would offer options accordingly. Restoring the history would be counterproductive if I was sure I wanted it erased.) The Session Manager add-on worked to restore the tabs I’d had previously opened.

So at this point, that seemed to pretty much wrap it up. I seemed to have a solid working portable installation that I could keep using or could store in a zip file if I wanted to get it out of the way for a while.

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