Fixing a Firefox user profile, and Foxmarks

SNB reader John Volborth wrote to me with a Firefox problem. My solution worked for him, so I thought I would pass it along:


I haven’t used Firefox in a while because of a problem I’ve been having. It won’t let me gather any apps. This is the error message:

Could not initialize the application’s security component. The most likely cause is problems with files in your application’s profile directory. Please check that this directory has no read/write restrictions and your hard disk is not full or close to full. It is recommended that you exit the application and fix the problem. If you continue to use this session, you might see incorrect application behaviour when accessing security features.

Is there any help you can offer me? Thanks.


I’m not clear on what you mean when you say “it won’t let me gather apps,” but more than likely you have a corrupt Firefox user profile. To solve the problem, you’ll need to delete every file in your Mozilla installation and do a clean install of the latest version of the browser. Some of these files hide in places you might not think to look, so it’s important to follow directions on how to fully remove profile.

If you’re concerned about losing your bookmarks, etc., I recommend installing Foxmarks (if Firefox will let you install it). Foxmarks synchronizes bookmarks and Web-related logins and passwords among different browsers on one machine as well as on browsers installed on multiple machines. The product and its server-based service, is currently free. And it supports Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer. By using Firefox to back up your bookmarks and other user info, you should be able to reinstate that information on your cleanly installed Firefox installation.

Here’s a summary of steps you should take to solve your Firefox problem. This solution will work with Windows, Macintosh, and Linux installations of Firefox:

1. Install Foxmarks and synchronize your user data with the Foxmarks server. You might also want to explore synchronizing your bookmarks with other browsers on your machine or other machines you use. Foxmarks is about to undergo a major upgrade. The product and service is in the process of being renamed Xmarks, with new features and functionality.

2. Download the latest version of Firefox (3.0.7 at this writing) and then uninstall Firefox from your computer.

3. Follow these MozillaZine instructions for removing your Firefox user profile and fully uninstalling the browser.

4. Windows users should restart their machines.

5. Install the new version of Firefox.

6. Install Foxmarks in the new Firefox installation, and use it to resynchronize your bookmarks, ensuring that you use the server-based bookmarks to overwrite your local Firefox bookmarks.

This should solve your problem, and may also make Firefox run faster and/or begin performing other functions that may have also stopped working.

To avoid experiencing a corrupt user profile again, I recommend that you cleanly install every major version of Firefox. In other words, when Firefox 4.0 is released, follow these steps again. You can allow upgrade installations of incremental releases, such as the forthcoming Firefox 3.5 — unless, of course, Mozilla recommends otherwise.

What browser is Scot using?

For those of you keeping score, I reviewed Firefox 3.0 from a Macintosh perspective in this Computerworld story: Firefox 3 for Mac: Is it time to switch from Safari? Among other things, the article didn’t reach a hard conclusion about whether I’d be switching from Safari to Firefox on the Mac. (On Windows, I remain a confirmed Firefox user.) I also talked about why bookmark synchronization was important, and I didn’t select Foxmarks at that time, since it didn’t support Safari at that time.

So let me update those two points:

Safari vs. Firefox: These words from the earlier Computerworld story are the salient ones; they sum up the reason why I have remained a Safari user on the Mac:

There is one downside to Firefox 3, however. The first time you launch it after starting up OS X, Firefox 3 takes 5.5 seconds to open a blank page. By contrast, Safari 3.1.1 takes about half a second for the same task. It’s a noticeable difference.

Bookmark synchronization: Foxmarks offers some of the features of Apple’s MobileMe, and it works with IE, Firefox, and Safari on Windows, Mac, and Linux. MobileMe is a Mac-specific synchronization tool that works very well. It’s also able to synchronize a long list of data on Macs, such as the calendar and address book. I’m a MobileMe subscriber, and I will continue to be. But Foxmarks lets me extend bookmark synchronization to all my Windows machines. For that reason, it is installed on at least half a dozen of my computers. I recommend it highly to anyone who works with multiple computers. It may also be a valuable took to those who regularly use multiple browsers on the same computer.

One feature that might make Foxmarks more useful to some users would be the ability to specify specific parts of your bookmarks to synchronize. It is designed to synchronize all bookmarks. Whoops, I stand corrected. The Profiles feature, which works in conjunction with MyFoxmarks — the server-based version of your bookmarks — does allow you to assign specific bookmarks or bookmark folders to different profile names so as to exclude synchronization of personal bookmarks to your work computer for example, or vice versa. The MyFoxmarks instance of your bookmarks will have the superset of all your bookmarks from all profiles. Thanks to reader Evano for pointing this out.

Tags: ,

6 Responses to “Fixing a Firefox user profile, and Foxmarks”

  1. rickogorman Says:

    I stayed with Firefox when I switched to the Mac because of all the plugins. There are a number that I rely on to make web usage tolerable. Safari doesn’t seem to have anything like the same range of plugins. In addition, I notice that its zoom feature is the cludgy text zoom, not the zoom for the whole page (images and all) that Firefox has. I love this feature–it means I can use a high res on my monitor yet make pages very readable. Zooming in Safari breaks the look of the pages much quicker.

    However, Safari 4 beta has page zoom, so that might help. Now I just need a few other things, such as the Xmarks for Safari (I use a PC at work and my Mac at home), good tab control (maybe Safari has that–I use TabMix Plus on FF), download control (I don’t want a separate window to open with the downloads–I like the download bar that Ff has as an add-on), script control (I love the control that NoScript gives me with Firefox) and (you’ll hate me for this) good adblocking software.

  2. Scot Says:

    Foxmarks, the precusor to Xmarks (which is only avail. in beta for FF right now), works fine on Safari. To be honest, I don’t find that I need any other plug-ins at all, under FF or Safari. I used to be a big plug-in guy, but FF has advanced to the point where I just don’t need anything other than Foxmarks.

  3. evano Says:

    Foxmarks/Xmarks does allow you to specify parts of your bookmarks file to synchronize through its Profiles feature. You can create as many profiles as you want — home, work, laptop, kids computer, etc — and then assign each computer or browser a particular profile.

    Most of the tech blogs and webdev news sites I have bookmarked are assigned to both my Home and my Work profile since I refer to them in both places. My banking and bill payment sites are assigned only to my Home profile, so I have no worries that personal information like that will wind up on my company’s network or on my laptop, if it’s lost.

    All of the bookmarks are still available on the password protected MyFoxmarks site, so if you were looking to avoid having certain bookmarks synced at all, rather than just not available, well… then Foxmarks doesn’t have that feature.

  4. michaelhorowitz2 Says:

    For Windows users, the portable version of Firefox, available at, offers many advantages. For one thing, it avoids problems like these. Its a trivial matter to backup a portable version of Firefox and the backup includes everything: bookmarks, extensions, GUI customizations, etc. etc. It does, however startup a bit more slowly, small price to pay though.

  5. Scot Says:

    evano: You’re right, I’m not sure how I missed that feature. I’ll amend the story. I agree, it would be nice if you could exclude some bookmarks entirely from MyFoxmarks. But that wasn’t my main point.

    — Scot

  6. Scot Says:


    I haven’t played with the portable version in quite some time. I like the idea, but the performance thing is a big deal with me. Nothing annoys me more than waiting. It’s the reason why I use Safari instead of Firefox on the Mac. Still, you’re right, some people might find the portable version ideal.

    There are also other fairly easy ways to export your bookmarks (if not the rest of your user data).

    — Scot

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.