How (and Why) to Use Vertical, Tree Style Tabs in Your Web Browser

By Chris Hoffman on January 30th, 2015

There’s a dedicated community of browser users who consider a vertical tab bar, or tree-style tabs, to be an essential feature. If you use a large number of browser tabs, this can be a lifesaver.

More simply, a vertical tab bar works well on modern wide-screen displays. Why put all the tabs at the top of the window when there’s more space on the side of the screen for them?

Tree Style Tabs for Firefox, and Why They’re So Useful

The most popular add-on for doing this is the Tree Style Tab add-on for Firefox, although other add-ons offer different support for vertical tabs. This add-on moves the tab bar to the side of your Firefox window, where it looks more like a sidebar. This allows you to see a much larger list of tabs than on a typical top-of-the-window tab bar, and you can read the full title of each tab so you can see which tab is which.

But one of the most useful features for big browser-tab users is the “tree-style” aspect. When you open a tab from another tab, that tab appears below the tab in the list. In this way, the tabs are automatically grouped given their relation to each other. So, if you’re doing research about something and end up opening a variety of browser tabs from different pages, you can see which browser tab came from which. Rather than a big jumble of browser tabs, the organized groups help you find what you’re looking for and stay organized.

Really, there’s not too much else to say about this browser extension. Install it and it’ll work immediately, replacing the horizontal browser toolbar with a more organized, vertical one. Sure, you can adjust some options, but those aren’t essential.

Firefox Saves the Day

This feature isn’t necessarily restricted to a specific browser or add-on, although it is in practice. No browser has this feature integrated anymore, although old versions of Opera (before it was based on Google’s Chromium browser project) did.

This feature is easy to add to Firefox thanks to Firefox’s powerful extension system, and it has been added by add-ons. Chrome once had a secret browser setting that allowed you to enable this feature, but it was removed long ago. Some Chrome users continue to agitate for this feature, and Google recently said they’d be open to a community-member implementing an add-on interface that would make it possible. Yup, this topic always seems to come back up.

But, if you want this feature, you’ll need Firefox — at least for the foreseeable future. Firefox’s add-on system is its core strength, and it proves it when it comes to this sort of feature.

Options for Other Browsers (These Won’t Work As Well)

So, are we just telling everyone to switch to Firefox? Well yes, if you need this feature, you basically have to. The most similar vertical tab interfaces you can get with other browsers are just not as powerful and integrated, thanks to less-powerful browser extension systems and the fact that no browser has this built-in.

  • Chrome: The closest you can get with Chrome is with an add-on like Tabs Outliner. This provides a vertical sidebar view of your tabs, but it just isn’t as nicely integrated. The tabs list is a separate window because there’s no way for a Chrome add-on to display a list of tabs on the sidebar, and there’s also no way for the add-on to hide the standard tab list.

  • Opera: Opera used to have this feature built-in. It was once the browser packed with power-user features like this one, but the switch to being based on Google’s Chromium means the most you can now do is use something like the Tabs Outliner for Chrome, as Opera supports Chrome add-ons.
  • Internet Explorer: This isn’t possible in Internet Explorer, sorry. As usual, you’ll need a third-party browser to get solid extensions.
  • Safari: With Safari on Mac OS X, this is possible thanks to the SafariStand SIMBL plug-in. As with other non-Firefox web browsers, this just isn’t as nice or integrated a solution. It doesn’t allow you to hide the standard tab bar and doesn’t group tabs, only providing a vertical list of them.


Vertical, tree-style tabs are quite useful if you depend on tabs, although you may find yourself preferring another web browser more than Firefox for another reason.

But, if you regularly use a large number of tabs at once and especially if you already use Firefox, you should give this alternative style of tab management a try. You may find it indispensable and join its cult following!

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/30/15
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