How to Set Up and Use Multiple Profiles (User Accounts) in Firefox

Chrome’s new user account switcher allows you to create multiple “profiles,” which you can use to log into multiple accounts at once on websites, use different groups of add-ons, and more. You can do something similar with Firefox’s Profile Manager.

Mozilla Firefox hides its Profile Manager, not making it a highly visible part of the interface like Chrome does. But, if you’d like to use different browser profiles with their own settings and data, Firefox also makes it possible.

Access the Profile Manager

First, you’ll need to close Firefox completely. Click the menu button in Firefox and select Exit Firefox. Next, you’ll need to open Firefox with the -p switch.

  • On Windows: Press Windows Key + R, type firefox.exe -p into the Run dialog that appears, and press Enter.
  • On Mac: Open a Terminal window — press Command+Space, type Terminal, and press Enter to do it from Spotlight. Type /Applications/ -profilemanager into the Terminal and press Enter.
  • On Linux: Open a terminal and run the firefox -profilemanager command.

You’ll see the Choose User Profile dialog window. By default, you’ll have a single user profile named “default.” You can use this window to create additional profiles, rename existing ones, and delete them.

If you’d like to always see the profile chooser when you start Firefox — this would let you choose a profile each time you click your Firefox shortcut without requiring a special command — you can uncheck the “Use the selected profile without asking at startup” box. This will cause Firefox to ask which profile you want each time you start it — at least until you check the box again.

You need at least one profile to use Firefox. Each profile has its own settings, extensions, bookmarks, history, cookies, and everything else. Bear that in mind — if you delete the “default” profile, you’ll lose all your Firefox browser data (unless you’re using Firefox Sync and can get it back from there.)

When you create a new profile, you can give it any name you want. The wizard shows you where the profile will be stored — under your user account’s Firefox profiles folder, prefixed with eight random letters and numbers.

Choose a profile and click Start Firefox to start Firefox with that selected profile. When you start Firefox with the new profile, you’ll see the welcome experience again — that’s because everything is fresh.

Quit Firefox and launch it again to switch between profiles. Assuming you unchecked the “Use selected profile without asking at startup” box, you’ll be able to select a profile before launching Firefox. You could also leave that box checked and launch Firefox with the -p or -profilemanager switch to access the hidden profile manager when you want it.

For ease of use, you could create a shortcut that opens Firefox with the profile manager, too. For example, on Windows you could create a copy of the Mozilla Firefox shortcut on your desktop, rename it something like “Mozilla Firefox – Profile Manager”, and then add a space and a -p to the end of the Target box. That shortcut would now open Firefox with the profile manager, assuming Firefox is completely closed and not running before you quit it.

Use Multiple Firefox Profiles At Once

Firefox isn’t set up to work quite like Chrome by default. It only wants you to use a single profile at once. However, you can use multiple profiles at once, if you like.

To do this, you’ll just need to launch Firefox with the -no-remote switch. You could do this from the Run dialog or terminal, or just modify an existing Firefox shortcut. For example, if you created the Profile Manager shortcut above, you could just add -no-remote so that it reads -p -no-remote at the end of the Target box.

Launch Firefox with this switch — in other words, double-click the shortcut you just created — and it won’t check to see if Firefox is already running. Instead, it’ll ask which profile you want to use and create a new Firefox process with that profile.

You can use this process to open Firefox with as many different profiles as you want, although each profile can only be in use by one copy of Firefox at a time. If you try to open the same profile a second time while it’s already running, you’ll see a “Profile In Use” error.

(Note that if you see a profile in use error while Firefox appears to be closed, you may need to visit the Task Manager and kill the firefox.exe process from there, forcibly closing it if it’s stuck running in the background).

This should all work like you’d expect it to. One wrench thrown into the mix is that Firefox’s interface won’t display which profile you’re using in a visible way, like Chrome does. For that, you might want to install a different theme for each profile or visually distinguish them in another way. You could look for add-ons from the Firefox add-ons website to make that information more easily visible in Firefox.

If you really need to quickly find out which profile you’re using, this information can be found on the Troubleshooting Information page. Click the menu button in Firefox, click the help icon, and select Troubleshooting Information. Or, just plug about:support into Firefox’s address bar and press Enter. Click the “Show Folder” button to the right of Profile Folder under Application Basics to view your folder in the file manager. The name of the profile appears in the folder’s name.

By the way, you don’t need to use the profile manager to fix problems with your Firefox profile. Instead, you can use the “Refresh Firefox” feature on the Troubleshooting Information page to reset your browser without fiddling with profiles and losing your important stuff.

Image Credit: Areta do Bem on Flickr

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+.