Cambridge University Design / UX group

Running Firefox 2 and 3 simultaneously

If we are developing websites and applications, we test them in different browsers, and on different platforms, right? So you might have a couple of machines in another room where you work, and you’ve agreed with your IT guys that you want to leave Internet Explorer 6 and Firefox 1.5 or 2 running on them, so that you can test your creations.

Just for example.

But then, someone helpful upgrades to the latest versions, and your ad hoc testing envrionment is no more. Yes, there are better ways to set things up  –  I could run Parallels on my Mac, install Windows, and then have whatever dodgy old web browsers I want on there. But for various reasons, I don’t.

Anyway, it came to pass that I wanted to run Firefox 2 and 3 simultaneously on my Mac. I was already running  Firefox 3, and I knew that if I simply downloaded the installer for v.2, I would overwrite what is there already. Hmmm. So now what?

Answer 1: create a new Firefox profile, install both versions of Firefox, and use the command line (from Terminal [Mac] or Run… [Windows]) to control which version of Firefox you open

Answer 2: create a new Profile, and install the MultiFirefox app [Mac OS X only] to control it all.

Setting things up by hand

In this case, you will need to a) install your second version of Firefox in a different place, and b) create a new Firefox profile for yourself, to allow you to choose which version you want to use.

The Profile is where Firefox stores things like your bookmarks, any cookies you have stored, your Preference settings, etc. By default, you will use the… er… “default” profile, but you can create others if you wish. Generally, this is only useful for developers and testers, and it’s what we want to do here. You can find out more about managing profiles on the Mozilla website.

Below are some step-by-step instructions for Mac users. (If you’re on a Windows machine, this walkthrough from Troy Rutter should do the trick.)

  1. Download the version of Firefox you want. in my case, I was after v.2.
  2. In your Applications directory, create a new folder called “Firefox2”
  3. Run the .dmg (installer) file you just downloaded, and when you are prompted to drag and drop the Firefox icon in the Applications directory, drag it over your newly-created folder instead. It will install here.
  4. OK, so now you have both Firefox 2 and 3 on your Mac, but no way to decide which one you want to load
  5. To create another profile, we’ll need to run the Firefox Profile Manager
  6. Open up the Terminal application (if it isn’t in your taskbar already, you can find it in Applications > Utilities
  7. Type path/to/firefox -profilemanage
    On my machine, this whole string was:
    /Applications/ -profilemanager
  8. A little Profile Manager window should pop up
  9. Create a new Profile, and call it something sensible. I have called mine “Firefox2”, as you can see in the screen grab below

    Screen grab of the Firefox Profile Manager

    Screen grab of the Firefox Profile Manager

  10. When you want to run Firefox 2, you need to open Terminal again, and type the following: /Applications/Firefox2/  -profilemanager
    You will notice that the file is the one in my new Firefox2 folder…
  11. In the Profile Manager pop up, select “Firefox2” (or whatever you have called your new Profile), and click “Start Firefox”
  12. Firefox 2 will run, even if you are already running Firefox 3 under your default profile. Neat.

Using the MultiFirefox app [Mac OS X only]

Multi Firefox iconDavid Martorana’s MultiFirefox app takes the pain out of this process. Well, OK, it isn’t actually that painful, but as you saw above, you would otherwise need to use Terminal, and open the Firefox Profile Manager from the command line, so that you can create the second profile that you will need.

That isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so this app makes it all easier.

Screen grab of the Multi Firefox interface

Screen grab of the Multi Firefox interface

Below is the step-by-step process that I would suggest:

  1. If you already have Firefox installed, find it in Applications, and rename it to reflect the version you have (i.e. it will be called Firefox by default, so rename it Firefox 2 or Firefox 3 as appropriate. If you don’t know what version of Firefox you have, run it, click on “Firefox” in the top menu, and then on “About Mozilla Firefox”, and it will display the version number.
  2. That done, install the other version you want to run. I already had version 3, as I mentioned, and just downloaded the version 2 installer.
  3. Install it in your Applications folder, and again, rename it to reflect the version, e.g. Firefox 2
  4. Now download MultiFirefox, if you haven’t already
  5. Install it in your Applications folder
  6. Run it, and it will automatically find the versions of Firefox you have available (and it expects them to be named in the way just described)
  7. You need to create a new Profile, to manage the use of the different versions, so click on the “Show Profile Manager” button, create a new profile (as described before), and away you go
  8. I have the MultiFirefox icon in my taskbar now, instead of the Firefox one, so that I can select which version of Firefox I want to open, and using which profile. Of course, using the different profiles, I can open both at the same time. Very nice.

I hope that helps some of you. It is nothing new, but I hadn’t found out how to do it before because I never had a need. Presumably, you could create another profile, and use it to run Firefox 1.5… a quick Google for older versions, and I found this place to download v 1.5.

I tried both methods, and the first one works fine for me, but using an app to save me some faffing about is much better, so I stick to MultiFirefox.


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