See the revision history at the end (if you make it that far).
Before embarking on this journey into the bowels of Firefox, you may want to first read, Tor verses a VPN – Which is right for you?. If you choose to use the Tor Browser, you need not digest this guide.
You're aware that companies like Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube and even your ISP are spying on you, even if you may not be aware of how they're doing it or what they're doing with your data. You're concerned about this invasion of privacy, but what can you do you about it?
Welcome to the 'for dummies' edition of the Firefox Configuration Guide for Privacy Freaks and Performance Buffs!!!
The goal here is to provide a simple guide (to the extent that's possible) which will yield a privacy enhanced configuration of the Firefox web browser whilst breaking as few websites as possible. That said, be prepared to put a little more effort into your surfing activities, at least until the dust settles. The pay-off will be a much faster, cleaner, less annoying web that is less able to track and profile you. Note that i said "less", not "not".
WARNING: This guide is not intended for use with the Tor browser (which is also Firefox). Configuring the Tor browser as outlined here will result in imminent doom.
Catching the Fox
This guide isn't going to work spectacularly for any web browser other than Firefox and it's the standard release version you want (no Pale Moon, no Waterfox, no… whatever), so if you don't have it, get it. If you run a Linux-based operating system, look in your package manager. Since it's privacy we're interested in, we're way too smart to be goofing around with Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge, though if you have an
inferior alternative browser installed you could, i suppose, retain it as a backup (just remember to hang yourself before using it).
Profiling the Fox
Start Firefox and enter
about:profiles in the address bar — you can call it the "location" bar or the "awesome" bar, i call it the "address bar" — then press your 'Enter' key to load that address. This is where Firefox keeps a list of all your profiles. Profiles are where most of your settings, bookmarks and lots more junk gets stored.
You can have as many profiles as you want, but by default there will be just one named 'default'. We need another one, so click the 'Create a New Profile' button and name the new one 'privacy'. You can change the name later, but leave it be for now. Once you're done, exit Firefox.
Firefox will now annoy you (and let it keep annoying you for the duration of our month together) by asking which profile you want to load every time you start it and you should typically choose your 'privacy' profile.Pro Tip
There are many '
about:' pages in Firefox, but not all are accessible from the various menus. To see some of those that aren't, enter
about:about in the address bar, but be careful what you mess with in there!
Training the Fox
Restart Firefox and this time you should see the Choose User Profile window. Load your privacy profile but don't visit any web pages just yet, other than this one if you want. Firefox may load some default pages when is starts and that's something we'll fix later.Profile Pro Tip
If you don't want Firefox whining about which profile to load every time it starts, you can select your preferred profile and check the 'Don't ask at startup' option, but don't do that yet! Another way is to create a shortcut to load any profile you want.
For more about profiles, see Use the Profile Manager to create and remove Firefox profiles and Multiple Firefox profiles.
For more about penguins being tickled, go here.
If you're running Windows you will need to un-hide file extensions, and i suggest you keep them un-hidden.
With Firefox up and running, load
about:preferences in the address bar or click the Hamburg icon on the toolbar, then 'Preferences'. Click the 'Search' menu item on the left and under where it says 'Search Bar', click 'Add search bar in toolbar'.
Next, go to the ghacks-user.js GitHub repository. We need their prefsCleaner.bat (Windows) or prefsCleaner.sh (Linux) file and the updater.bat (Windows) or updater.sh (Linux) file. Now before you mess up, hear me out: One by one, click on the file names, then click the 'Raw' button, then press Ctrl+S to save the files to your desktop. Failing to heed my advice can cause the file formatting to be messed up which, in turn, will provoke Russia to launch its nukes… apparently. If you want to avoid those steps, use these direct links to the raw files: updater.sh (Linux), updater.bat (Windows), prefsCleaner.sh (Linux), prefsCleaner.bat (Windows). Now if you're one of those smart people, you may know we're going to need that user.js file too but we'll grab that later using the updater script.
Next, go to the 12bytes.org/Firefox-user.js-supplement page at Codeberg.org and download my user-overrides.js file to your desktop. Again, click the 'Raw' button, then press Ctrl+S to save it (here's the direct link to the raw file).
Next you'll need a decent code editor (not Notepad!) with syntax highlighting. If you're running Wintendo (that's one of my several derogatory names for "Windows"), PSPad is nice, simple and free. If you're running Linux you've probably got something installed already, so poke around.
What you need to do now is open that user-overrides.js file in your code editor and follow the directions Very Carefully. Every single little thing you could ever possibly need to know is in there (except whatever i forgot to put in there).
Now that you've sifted through that convoluted mess (go you!), open Firefox's
about:profiles page again. Note that user profiles and web cache are stored in separate folders, thus why you may see more than one directory path for each profile. In the row labeled 'Root Directory' under your 'privacy' profile, click the 'Open Directory' button and then kill Firefox.
In your file manager you may have noticed that the folder containing your 'privacy' profile actually has a longer name with a bunch of gobbledygook in front of 'profile'. Ignore that like you ignore your goofy neighbor with the tinfoil wallpaper. If you see a prefs.js file in there, you're probably in the right place. Next, grab those files from your desktop you pirated earlier and stick 'em in your 'privacy' profile folder where the prefs.js file is.
This looks fun…
Now we need to run that updater script. How to do that depends on whether…...you're running Linux
You will need to make those .sh files executable. You could try meditation or sacrificing a goat, but it'd probably be quicker to just right-click on each of them to open the file properties dialog window and click the 'Is executable' checkbox on the 'Permissions' tab (or similar). If your file browser doesn't have such an option, see How do I run .sh files?.
We need to run that updater.sh script from a terminal, so open one and change the directory to your 'privacy' profile directory where the updater.sh file is. In the example below you'll need to change 'gobbledygook' to match the correct name of your profile folder:
Now run the updater.sh script by preceding the file name with a dot and a slash:
To run that updater.bat script, navigate to your Firefox profile directory, hold down the Shift key and right-click in an empty space where the file is, then select "Open Command Window Here". Enter
updater.bat and hit Enter. If you have trouble, see How to Run a BAT File on Windows: 13 Steps (with Pictures).
The updater script will spit out some introductory stuff and then prompt you to continue. If by chance everything in the universe is aligned just so, and you've followed the directions, the script will download a fresh copy of the 'ghacks' user.js file to your profile directory and append the contents of your user-overrides.js to it just like it says on the tin.
The 'ghacks' user.js is updated fairly frequently and so, with Firefox closed, you should re-run the updater script occasionally in order to check for a new version, maybe bi-monthly or so. Each time you run the updater script, be sure to follow it up by running the prefsCleaner script using the same method as described earlier for your operating system. The prefsCleaner script will reset any depreciated, removed, or inactive preferences and it is important that you do this.updater script Pro Tip
If you use Linux you can run the script with the
-c switch (
./updater.sh -c) which will create a 'diff' file that will list all the differences between the old user.js and the newer one.
To see all the options for running the 'ghacks' user.js updater script for both Linux and Windows, see the Updater Scripts article on the 'ghacks' wiki.
Fattening the Fox
Now we're going to go to the Firefox Add-ons website (AMO – addons.mozilla.org) because we need some add-ons. Start (or restart) Firefox and select your 'privacy' profile (yes, it's OK now, i promise), then come back here.Why does he say 'WE' and 'WE'RE' when 'I' am the one doing all the f'n work?!
Plausible deniability. If i screw something up that causes your computer to explode, it's your fault.
One at a time, middle click each of the links below to open their pages in a new tab, then Read What Their Pages Say and install them. If any of the links are dead, let me know and don't install something you think is equivalent.
- Clear URLs by Kevin R.
- CSS Exfil Protection by Mike Gualtieri
- Decentrwantaleyes by Thomas Rientjes
- Don't touch my tabs! (rel=noopener) by Jeroen Swen
- First Party Isolation by freddyb
- HTTPZ by claustromaniac
- Privacy-Oriented Origin Policy (POOP) by claustromaniac
- Site Bleacher by wooque
- uBlock Origin by Raymond Hill
Once you have all those installed, find the 'Customize' option in one of the Firefox menus or by right-clicking on an empty space on a toolbar somewhere. With the exception of First Party Isolation, Site Bleacher and uBlock Origin, you can drag all of the add-on icons to the overflow menu since you will rarely be interacting with them. Next we'll configure each add-on.A note regarding add-ons
More add-ons = more bad (generally speaking).
It's pretty important, and especially so if you're new to the game, to NOT install add-ons willy-nilly. The more you install, the more likely it is that things will break and that your privacy will be compromised.
The selection of recommended add-ons in this guide accounts for not only how they interact with each other, but also how well they mesh with a Firefox that has been extensively modified by the 'ghacks' user.js. If you install certain additional add-ons that address privacy (or others), you can very well end up compromising your privacy.
Firefox has built-in mechanisms that help to guard your privacy and protect against browser fingerprinting. Alone they are not enough, which is why we're here, but they do cover several very important bases that were previously covered only by add-ons. The problem is that some add-on developers ignore the recent changes in Firefox and continue to publish add-ons that can actually compromise privacy when combined with certain Firefox preferences.
For more on the subject and what to look for when considering add-ons, see Firefox Extensions – My Picks.
Neutering the Wild World Web (and the Fox)
We need to configure some of the add-ons we installed, but first a word to the wise: Unless you know what you're doing (and you probably wouldn't be here if you did), configure these add-ons as suggested, else Russia.
To configure your add-ons, load
about:addons in the address bar or find the 'Add-ons' menu item in one of the Firefox menus.
Clear URLs: On the 'Preferences' tab, make sure the 'Filter' and 'Badges' options are enabled. The rest are optional.
Decentraleyes: On the 'Preferences' tab, click the 'Options' (gear icon) button and select the following options where [X] indicates the option is enabled:[X] Display injection counts on icon
[_] Block requests for missing resources
[X] Disable link prefetching
[X] Strip metadata from allowed requests
Exclude domains from inspection (leave this empty)
Privacy-Oriented Origin Policy: On the 'Preferences' tab, configure it like so:
Set the 'Global mode' to 'relaxed'.
In the 'Exclusions' section, enable 'Exclude root domain matches', then paste the following code in the big text box below that. It'll come in handy if you ever switch POOP to its 'aggressive' mode:
In the 'Other' section, make sure 'Spoof cross-origin Referer' is enabled.
uBlock Origin: This is a huge biggie! I know, supposed to be the 'for dummies' guide and all, but you really MUST to learn how to use uBlock Origin (uBO). The good news: It's got a 'dummy' mode and it's enabled by default!
To set up uBO, read my uBlock Origin Suggested Settings.
Of particular importance, DO NOT select the 'I am an advanced user' option! Don't look at it. Don't think about it. Don't think about looking at it … at least not until you read all that 'required reading' stuff and understand fully what uBO is, does, how to configure it, and how easy it is to break the interwebs if you don't know what you're doing. Did i scare you? Totally intentional.
Now it's really important that you read this and this and, finally, this, but only up to the 'Medium mode' part. Once you complete that you'll be a certified uBlock wizard (or perhaps just certifiable like me).
Training the Foxineer
With that all done and Firefox running, close all tabs and click the Hamburger button again to open the Preferences window and click the Privacy & Security menu item, or load
about:preferences#privacy in the address bar. Scroll down to the Cookies and Site Data section and click the Manage Data button. In the Manage Cookies and Site Data window that opens, click Remove All. This will remove all (almost) of the stored data (cache) that Firefox has accumulated so far. We're just doing this to nuke any data that was stored before we installed our privacy add-ons which would have cleaned up some of this stuff.
If you've used Firefox before, there's going to be some changes. One of them is that you'll be searching from the search bar (or a web page that isn't Google hopefully) instead of the address bar. The reason for this is a little creepy, suffice to say it's a privacy/security thing. Live search suggestions are also disabled (also a creepy privacy/security thing), though the search bar will still suggest stuff from your history, bookmarks and previous searches.
Start Firefox and load up your privacy profile, then middle-click this link to open it in a new tab and click some of the colors on the color swatch and…… well that was boring, but WAIT! THERE'S MORE! Now click the uBlock Origin button on your toolbar and in the lower right corner there's an icon that looks like
Importing stuff from an old profile
If you're are not a first-time Firefox user and you have important bookmarks or other stuff you want to import to your new privacy profile, make a backup copy of your profile and then go ahead and read this.
What to do when the Fox bites
To make a broken website function again, you'll need to use uBlock Origin to enable the functionality you need for those websites you trust. If you cannot get a website to cooperate by making site specific changes in uBlock, you can always spin-up a fresh, empty profile, but understand that you will now be at the mercy of a completely default Firefox configuration with all of our extra privacy protections removed. For websites you don't trust, don't disable any protections ever and, secondly, why are you visiting them? Porn? Warez? If you value your privacy and digital security, forget that stuff. Seriously.
The point here is to not disable any protection globally for all websites when using your daily-driver 'privacy' profile. If you have to adjust something for a particular website which you trust, fine, but use other profiles if you need to make extensive compromises.
Another problem that will probably creep up at some point is a website not saving settings that you wanted to save. This is the fault of the Site Bleacher add-on which deletes most of what websites stored data from your Firefox profile, including 'cookies'. If you want to save site settings or preserve the ability to log-on automatically, then click the little bleach bottle icon on your toolbar and whitelist the website. I would not suggest whitelisting any privacy-hating social media site or mainstream search websites like Google or Yahoo If you want read about my suggestions for alternative search engines, read Alternative Search Engines That Respect Your Privacy.
The Fox hole
Even with everything we've done, you're still vulnerable to being tracked and profiled, however you're in better position now then you started out, except for one little problem: Your Internet Service Provider!
At the very least your ISP can tell what websites you visit and when you're surfing the web and when you're not. They may even inject ads, malware and other junk in your data stream. The solution: Hijack your neighbors unprotected WiFi and… Kidding! Listen, you and i have gotten to know each other throughout this extended and difficult ordeal. We're kinda like buddies now. Kinda. And i can already tell you're ethics are of a higher caliber than
One solution to the problem is a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Ever wanted to be in 30 places at once?
A VPN works by encrypting the traffic between you and another computer run by the VPN service provider which we'll call an 'exit node'. That exit node could be anywhere in the world. From the exit node your traffic flows as normal to whatever website you want to visit and the website then sends the kitty video you clicked on back to the exit node thinking IT is YOU, but alas, IT AIN'T! The video then secretly makes its way back to you through this secret tunnel which was secretly established between you and the exit node. So far as the website is concerned, it doesn't know your real physical locatio. Ever annoyed by that galactically stupid "Sorry, this video is not available in your country" crap? Pfff. And as far as your ISP is concerned, all it sees is gobbledygook that looks like Braille to a blind pet rock.
There are truck loads of different VPN service providers and it seems not a lot take customer privacy all that seriously, however i think both NordVPN and AirVPN are good companies that offer a good service at a good price. I've used both and i like both. Both have servers (think 'exit nodes') all around the globe and neither restrict any protocols (think 'BitTorrent'). Both offer client applications that you can install to make using their service stupid simple. If you'd prefer to pick a VPN provider yourself however, i recommend you visit That One Privacy Site and browse the fantastic spreadsheets the dude puts together. Another good resource is TorrentFreak's annual VPN reviews. Here's the one for 2018.
The downside? Though VPN services are cheap, it's still an additional expense. VPN exit node IP addresses can become blacklisted which could cause problems sending mail and accessing certain services on the web, however in my experience this hasn't often been an issue and, even if is is, it's usually just a couple of mouse clicks to switch exit nodes. Latency (the time between the mother-in-law jumping in front of your car and your realization that you need to slam on the breaks) and bandwidth (how many tweets per second you can send notifying your friends of the "accident") will be affected, but in my experience the difference is usually minimal. In short, i think the pluses outweigh the minuses. That said, you can never trust any VPN service 100%, but any reputable one should be OK for general web surfing and it will prevent your ISP from spying on you.
WHAT THE FOX!
So now you're all smitten thinking you're invincible and ready to hack NASA to see if aliens really built intergalactic brothels on the back of the moon (they did, pretty sure). You're not, but you've taken one, small step for man, and on….. Truth is, there's probably far more vectors for attack than you and i will ever know about, so don't get all uppity. Perfect privacy on the web is a pipe dream and it wasn't the goal here anyway. We've covered a few important bases that will help to prevent websites (and your ISP) from tracking and profiling you, but not all of them. Remember that when you're creating fake profiles on Facebook to stalk your ex.
After you've taken plenty of time to get comfortable with your new Firefox configuration, i suggest reading everything in the uBlock Origin wiki and learning how to use it in its advanced mode. And after that, it's the Firefox Configuration Guide for Privacy Freaks and Performance Buffs.
Be safe. Be ethical. And if you need help (after you've tried to help yourself), leave a comment.
IMPORTANT: If you incorporate suggestions made in this guide, please subscribe to the Firefox category on the subscription page. This article is updated fairly often and it's the best way to stay informed.
RevisionsClick to expand...
- first (pre) release
- added more info about using the user.js updater and prefsCleaner scrips
- many small changes and polishing
- polishing, clarifications
- clarified a lot of stuff that may not have been clarified clearly enough
- eliminated the 'relaxed_user-overrides.js' file – the user-overrides.js is now used for both the advanced and dummy guides
- updated the user-overrides.js file
- lots of minor edits, corrections
- clarified info regarding the downloading of the configuration files
- added better description and screen-caps for how to download user-overrides.js
- minor edit
- minor edit
- added HTTPZ
- added Site Bleacher and associated information
- removed temporary profile info
- lots of minor edits
- added instructions for enabling the search bar in the navigation bar since setting the preference alone in user.js doesn't work for some reason
- minor edits
- added a warning about using this guide with Tor
- added a resources section
- rewrote several bits of the guide in an attempt to clarify things and make it a bit shorter
- edited some content to bring it up to date with the newest version of Firefox
- adjusted settings for uBO
- stuck the uBlock config stuff on its own page
- misc. edits and clarifications, nothing too drastic
- added a more extensive warning about installing add-ons in addition to those recommended herein
- minor edit