Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Firefox Works


Firefox Features
Firefox features "tabbed browsing."
Firefox features "tabbed browsing."

Firefox comes with a few useful features that set it apart from earlier versions of Internet Explorer -- so useful, in fact, that virtually every other browser, including Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari and Google Chrome, has also adopted them. One of the most noticeable is tabbed browsing. If you're browsing in Internet Explorer 6, and you want to visit a new Web site while keeping your current one open, you have to open a completely new browser window. Intensive Web surfing can result in browser windows cluttering up your taskbar and dragging on system resources. Firefox solves that by allowing sites to open in separate tabs within the same browser window. Instead of switching between browser windows, a user can change between two or more different sites by clicking on the tabs that appear just below the toolbar in Firefox.

You can open a new, blank tab from a menu or by clicking on the "New Tab" button that you can add to the toolbar.

Firefox also has a built-in pop-up blocker. This prevents annoying ads from popping up in front of the browser window. You can configure it to let you know when pop-ups are blocked and to allow certain pop-ups from certain sites. This lets you enable pop-ups that are useful windows as opposed to unwanted ads.

One feature of Firefox that's vital to some users is that it is a cross-platform application. That means that Firefox works under several different operating systems, not just Windows. For now, all versions of Windows after Windows 98 are supported, along with recent versions of Mac OS X and Linux.

Firefox 3.5, released in 2009, added some other new features that, again, are becoming standard on multiple browsers. One of these is called Private Browsing. This feature allows you to use the browser without it recording any of your search history or other identifiable information about your session. Or if you prefer, you can use the Forget this Site option instead to eliminate all traces of that one source.

There's another notable Firefox feature that might be the coolest. It's like when someone asks you what you'd wish for if you could only have one wish, and you say, "I'd wish for unlimited wishes." Firefox extensions mean the browser has an almost unlimited number of features, with new ones being created every day. Still, the program remains fairly small, because users only add the extensions they want to use.

Firefox features include tabbed browsing, a built-in pop-up blocker, cross-platform capabilities and security advantages.
Firefox features include tabbed browsing, a built-in pop-up blocker, cross-platform capabilities and security advantages.
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks.com

Junior high school students probably don't need stock market tickers, while people doing serious research don't necessarily need an MP3 player built into their browsers. If there's a feature from another browser that you really like, chances are someone has made an extension so that it can be included in Firefox.

Where do all these extensions come from? They're a product of Firefox's open source nature (see What does "open source" mean?). Not only is the code to Firefox available for examination and use, but Firefox provides developer tools for free to anyone who wants to create an extension.

Up next, we'll check out a sampling of extensions available for Firefox.


More to Explore