Extreme tab browsing

I have a pathological use of browser tabs: I use a lot of them. A lot is probably an understatement. We could say I use them as bookmarks of things I need to track. A couple weeks ago, I was saying I had around two hundred tabs opened. I now actually have much more.

It affected startup until I discovered that setting the browser.sessionstore.max_concurrent_tabs pref to 0 was making things much better by only loading tabs when they are selected. This preference has/will become browser.sessionstore.restore_on_demand. However, since I only start my main browser once a day, while other applications start and while I begin to read email, I hadn't noticed that this was still heavily affecting startup time: about:startup tells me reaching the sessionRestored state takes seven seconds, even on a warm startup.

It also affects memory usage, because even when tabs are only loaded on demand, there is a quite big overhead for each tab.

And more importantly, it gets worse with time. And I think the user interface is actively making it worse.

So, to get an idea how bad things were in my session, I wrote a little restartless extension. After installing it, you can go to the about:tabs url to see the damage on your session. Please note that the number of groups is currently wrong until you open the tab grouping interface.

This is what the extension has to say about my session 2 days ago, right after a startup:

  • 556 tabs across 4 groups in 1 window
  • 1 tab has been loaded
  • 444 unique addresses
  • 105 unique hosts
  • 9 empty tabs
  • 210 http:
  • 319 https:
  • 14 ftp:
  • 2 about:
  • 2 file:
  • 55 addresses in more than 1 tab
  • 39 hosts in more than 1 tab

The first thing to note is that when I filed the memory bug 4 days earlier, I had a bit more than 470 tabs in that session. You can see 4 days later, I now have 555 tabs (if excluding the about:tabs tab).

The second thing to note is something I suspected because it's so easy to get there: a lot of the tabs are opened on the same address. Since Firefox 4.0, if I'm not mistaken, there is a great feature in the awesomebar, that allows to jump to an existing tab matching what you type in the urlbar. That is very useful, and I use it a lot. However, there are a lot of cases where it's not as useful as it could be.

One of the addresses I visit a lot is http://buildd.debian.org/iceweasel. It gives me the build status of the latest iceweasel package I uploaded to Debian unstable. That url is particularly known in my browsing history, and is the first hit when I type "buildd" in the urlbar (actually, even typing "b" brings it first). Unfortunately, that url redirects to https://buildd.debian.org/status/package.php?p=iceweasel through an HTTP redirection. I say unfortunately because when I type "buildd" in the urlbar, I get 6 suggestions for urls in the form http://buildd.debian.org/package (I also watch other packages build status), and the suggestion to switch to the existing tab for what the first hit would get me to is 7th. Guess what? The suggestion list only shows 6 items ; you have to scroll to see the 7th.

The result is that I effectively have fifteen tabs open on that url.

I also keep a lot of bugzilla.mozilla.org bugs open in different tabs. The extension tells me there are 255 of them... for 166 unique bugs. Largely, the duplicate bug tabs are due to having these bugs open in some tab, but accessing the same bugs from somewhere else, usually a dependent bug or TBPL. I also have 5 tabs opened on my request queue. I usually get there by going to the bugzilla home page and clicking on the "My Requests" link. And I have several tabs opened on the same bug lists. For the same reason.

When I started using tab groups, I splitted in very distinct groups. Basically, one for Mozilla, one for Debian, one for stuff I want to follow (usually blog posts I want to follow comments from), and one for the rest. While I was keeping up with grouping at the beginning, I don't anymore, and the result is that each group is now a real mess.

Firefox has hundreds of millions users. It's impossible to create a user experience that works for everyone. One thing is sure, it doesn't work for me. My usage is probably very wrong at different levels, but I don't feel my browser is encouraging me to use it better, except by making my number of opened tabs explode to an unmanageable level (I already have 30 tabs more than when I started writing this post 2 days ago).

There are a few other things I would like to know about my usage that my extension hasn't told me yet, either because it doesn't tell, or because I haven't looked:

  • How many tabs end up loaded at the end of a typical day?
  • How many tabs do I close?
  • How many duplicate tabs do I open and close?
  • How long has it been since I looked at a given tab?
  • How do the number of tabs and duplicates evolve with time?

Reflecting on my usage patterns, I think a few improvements, either in the stock browser, or through extensions, could make my browsing easier:

  • Auto-grouping tabs: When I click on a link to an url under mozilla.org, I most likely want it in the Mozilla group. An url under debian.org would most likely go in the Debian group.
  • Switch to an existing tab when following a link to an already opened url: That might not be very useful as a general rule, but at least for some domains, it would seem useful for me that the browser switches to an existing tab not only through the urlbar, but also when following links in a page. If I'm reading a bug, click on a bug it depends on, and that bug is already opened in another tab, get me there. There would be a history problem to solve, though. (e.g. where do back and forward bring?)

Maybe these exist as extensions, I don't know. It's hard to find very specific things like that through an add-on search (though I haven't searched very hard). [Looks like there is an experiment for the auto tab grouping part]

I think it would also be interesting to have something like Test Pilot, but for users that want to know the answer to "How do I use my browser?". As I understand it, Test Pilot can show individual user data, but it only can do so if there is such data, and you can't get data for past studies you didn't take.

In my case, I'm not entirely sure that, apart from the pinned tabs, I use the tab bar a lot. And even for pinned tabs, most of the time I use keyboard shortcuts. I'm not using the menu button that much either. I already removed the url and search bar (most of the time) with LessChrome HD. Maybe I could go further and use the full window for web browsing.

2011-08-29 09:27:55+0900

firefox, p.m.o

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47 Responses to “Extreme tab browsing”

  1. Ed Says:

    I was going to say i had more tabs then you when i read 200, well, 300 is going over the top, not to mention 500.

    The thing is i have so many because i have nearly 30 Apps Tabs. That is Tabs will be opened no matter what, from Football scores, Social Media, Stocks, Email etc.. Then the rest are researching notes, News then some times take days to follow and clean up and hopefully eventually get back to 40 – 50 “normal” levels.

    I personally suggest you use vertical tabs as i have done right now. Although there are many improvement could be done, but at least It is much better then horizontal tabs.

    I think you need something like Apple’s Saferi Reading list. Which is just a list of things you are going to jump back later by % chance. Otherwise i dont think you seriously need those 500 tabs. At least the Time X Tabs usage maths doesn’t work well in your equation.

    Just my 2 cents


  2. Willy Says:

    Honestly, why use so many tabs? The bookmarks system exists for a reason and secondly there’s no way you’re using them all actively on a daily basis. You could just set up a bunch of bookmark keywords and open and close tabs as needed.

  3. glandium Says:

    > Honestly, why use so many tabs? The bookmarks system exists for a reason

    I have stopped using bookmarks when I started having too many of them. And since I don’t use the bookmarks toolbar because it takes screen real estate, and I use the menu button because of the same reason for the menu bar, accessing bookmarks is actually not practical.

    > secondly there’s no way you’re using them all actively on a daily basis

    That’s actually what I want to know. And since I seem to open a lot of duplicates, I should actually check my browsing history vs. the remaining opened tabs.

  4. Caspy7 Says:

    Bless you!
    Thanks for opening bug 681201.
    I’ve been seeing the overhead from unloaded tabs for some time now, but wasn’t sure how to convincingly report it.
    In a perfect world an unloaded tab would take up almost no memory though I suppose addons or even the browser could have some expectations on the tab. I’ve not seen it break anything, though it would be good to know (hope it doesn’t create leaks).
    We may also need to keep e10s in mind in fixing this. Hate for something to break when attempting to interact with an unloaded tab.

  5. manhack Says:

    Do you know BarTab (Lite) ?

    This just keeps your tabs from loading (via the now built-in hook in Firefox) and, thus, saves the CPU of my computer when I’ve got dozens of opened tabs…

  6. Niraj Says:

    one solution is to use full screen mode with AutoHide addon to customize the things u want to hide. reverting to bookmarks is not a bad idea.

    i use full screen mode all the time. i use a multiple desktops (via virtuawin) so that i can leave firefox open in one of the desktops and use the other desktops for other things …

    if u see my browser, it occupies the screen space totally with only the tab bar visible on top. the URL bar comes alive by touching the upper edge of the browser via the mouse. it is hidden as soon as the pointer is back to the body of the browser. if u desire scrren space, this is the best u can have.

    u can see how my browser looks like here — https://sites.google.com/site/niraxar/pdarkcomp

    but i still suffer from memory problem. at least once in about 10 hours i have to restart the browser. some sites are too bad … can’t help accessing them coz it included the new twitter too.

  7. Dorus Says:

    There used to be a extension called aging tabs that gave insight in long unused tabs, making it easier to select and close those you never use. Old tabs would slowly change colour based on visit time.

    However it’s not compatible with FF6, and I haven’t found a replacement just yet.

  8. Salman Abbas Says:

    OMG thats insane! I never have more than 40-50 tabs opened.

  9. Rick Says:

    I suggest opening a new window for each tab and use the OS’ window manager…

    But seriously, use bookmarks folders. And close your non-productive tabs when you’re done procrastinating.

  10. kanzure Says:

    thanks … i wish developers would remember that some people really do use more tabs than average:


    – Bryan
    1 512 203 0507

  11. mkl Says:

    Loading tabs as needed is nice, but they should unload automatically too. I would happily dedicate 10-200GB of hard drive space to browser cache if it meant my hundreds of tabs used a fraction of the RAM they currently do.

    Bookmarks take far too much manual maintenance to be a solution – tabs, along with their position and state, are remembered entirely automatically.

  12. mcf Says:

    Tabs, you’re not alone. I thought I had just a few the other day and while closing Firefox it said they were 230. My colleague is even worse.

    So this is getting to be a big problem. To some development related task, one needs to open 5-10 different tabs and to interact with them. Then comes another task, and another. If browser is not closed between those tasks they just keep adding up.

  13. bibo Says:

    Also woth lots a tab, it would be handy to have a shortcut to switch back to previous focused tab.

    1. you go to an already opened tab which is far away in your tab stack (check for twitter as example)
    2. seconds later you want to get back to the tab where you were working

    under MAC, i’ve found cmd+9 is working in some cases but not all.


  14. rabio Says:

    As I often fight with similar problem, so let me show you some addons that may help.

    For dealing with duplicate tabs you may use “Close Repeated Tabs” addon — https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/close-repeated-tabs/ It can also handle urls with different anchors as well.

    Another addon to TabFocus for tab grouping is AutoGroup (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/autogroup/) — it works by matching urls or titles by regexp patterns.

    One more addon interesting for heavy tabs users may be “Find In Tabs” (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/find-in-tabs/). This addon let you search in all tabs at once making life a lot easier. Problem is, that this addon is advertised to be compatible with Firefox to version 3.5.* only (but works in my aurora) and has some minor UI problem. Its so useful that from day I found it I can’t understand why this functionality is not provided by default in Firefox.

  15. glandium Says:

    rabio: Thanks for the links. Note that the latter is more or less supported in stock Firefox, by using “% search string” in the urlbar, as I figured after writing this blog post.

  16. rpetre Says:

    I have the same problem (but it usually stays below 100), so I installed TabCounter, it puts a number of opened tabs in the toolbar so I know when I go overboard. I learned that when I see the number over 80, it means I need to start closing tabs.

    Thanks for the tips and for letting me know I wasn’t crazy (or at least not the only one…) for using the tab session as bookmarks :)

  17. Paul Eccles Says:

    Safari 5.1 on OS X Lion loads and unloads tabs as needed, I believe.

  18. rabio Says:

    glandium: That interesting. But I think it should be “serach string %” not “% search string” (http://support.mozilla.com/en-US/kb/Location%20bar%20autocomplete#w_changing-results-on-the-fly). Unfortunately, it is limited to search only in titles. So You can’t find all tabs where is some mention about addons, for example, and check fast in which context (as You may do with normal Firefox search functionality and with Find In Tabs addon). .

  19. F.Baube Says:

    It’s good to know that there’s other taboholics too. Chrome doesn’t cut it so maybe FFox is the only way to go. Can’t someone just write an extension to kill kill KILL JavaScript in every single tab except the one that currently has the focus? Or is this more complicated than it seems?

  20. Shadok Says:

    Consider using different profiles depending on the theme of your tabs.

  21. Tim M Says:

    Very much agree with the issues you describe, and that’s why I’ve been writing what I think is a good way to address just this sort of thing.

    See http://www.mysparebrain.com/about

    It’s still in stealth mode, but if you think the teaser page above matches your experience, drop me a message and I’ll send you an invitation …


  22. Florian Quèze Says:

    I used to have several hundreds of tabs too. I’ve understood that this happens because I almost never close a tab (if something isn’t interesting, I navigate to another page from the same tab, if something may be useful later, I create a new tab for the next thing I want to load). The problem is that “useful later” can only happen if I remember the tab is there. If I don’t remember the tab is there, it’s just cluttering my tab bar and causing me to open duplicate tabs when I need that page again. I’ve solved this problem by writing an add-on that closes old tabs automatically if they haven’t been used for a while: https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/addon/autoclose-tabs/
    Since that, I can’t browse without this add-on, and my total tab count is usually between 20 and 100.

  23. bob Says:

    I just love how Opera handles tabs. You can have a hundred open if you want, but if you group them efficiently it will look like you only have 10 (assuming you can group them logically into groups of 10, which is the case for me for most of my tabs). You have tab stacks. When you hover over the tab stack, you get a small preview of each tab in that tab stack. I can hover over the twitter tab and quickly see who posted new tweets. Or I can choose to expand the tab stack into individual tabs in the tab bar if I don’t want to see the previews. I can unstack the tab stack or destroy it completely.

    It’s really a pleasure once you get to use it.

  24. Skipper Says:

    I also have to open a lot of tabs for development, and then I’ll have a window for each news run, each with 20 tabs or so. Sometimes these stay open for days as things get read.

    I don’t keep track but a couple hundred at a time is probably typical. Basically it stays open until the browser crashes. I know when it is going to crash too. I’ll switch to an old tab and the browser freezes up for about 60 seconds, then goes down.

  25. Eddward Says:

    I used to use tabs far more than I do now. I’ve never had hundred open though. I used to leave pages up so I could monitor them and catch updates. I managed to cut back a lot by using RSS feeds. Now I open the updates in tabs, read them and close them. I don’t know if that will be any use to you.

  26. André Says:

    If i got it right, you are using firefox. I behave alike and know what you mean (if you close all it feels like a new life :P)… but tbh i have no idea how to manage 200 tabs with firefox. Its tab handling compared to opera or chrome is either a scroll, a type or a space wasting orgy (tree style), that is, torture.

  27. pretzer Says:

    there was once an addon by Mozilla called about:me which was an exploration for a built in feature in Firefox that showed information about the browsing behavior of the user. maybe you can push that forward somehow…

  28. Christian Says:

    You may be interested in my bug for auto-grouping and such:


    First thing I thought of when using Tab groups…I don’t like to organize something that is meant to keep me organized ;-)

  29. Cactus Acide » L'observatoire du neuromancien » L’observatoire du neuromancien 08/29/2011 Says:

    […] glandium.org » Blog Archive » Extreme tab browsing […]

  30. therube Says:

    How about adding support for SeaMonkey to your extension.


    + 2.0
    + 2.6a1

    Works :-).

    > One thing is sure, it doesn’t work for me.

    Nor for me.
    I’ll repeat that, nor for me, nor for me, nor for me!
    But don’t change me, I don’t want to change.
    Make Mozilla better.

    764 tabs across 62 groups in 62 windows
    68 tabs have been loaded
    738 unique addresses
    235 unique hosts
    2 empty tabs
    729 http:
    4 about:
    26 https:
    2 ftp:
    1 file:
    21 addresses in more than 1 tab:
    91 hosts in more than 1 tab:

  31. therube Says:

    Well the above SeaMonkey section that I posted wasn’t liked by your board, but you can pull the code from any extension that supports SeaMonkey (like NoScript or Adblock Plus).

    — SeaMonkey —

  32. kyriakos Says:

    I am in the same boat with you!
    I open too many tabs cause i have many activities to do online each day and always get frustrated between the correct workflow bookmarks versus sessions…
    Panorama view on iceweasel/firefox helped me a lot to kill duplicates and on opera browser there is an extension that deletes the duplicate tabs

  33. Jesse Ruderman Says:

    It sounds like you need a reading list, a check-daily list, and a todo list. I manage the former using Instapaper and the latter two with Things.

    I’d love to see Firefox include a reading list and a “tell me when this page changes” list. To-dos are probably outside its scope.

    I recommend reading Getting Things Done. It will help you figure out what kinds of lists and processes you need.

  34. Steve Fink Says:

    The “Find in Tabs” addon searches through the *contents* of all open tabs, not just the titles/urls of the tabs themselves. I didn’t know about it when I opened https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=679967

    The % trick in the location bar has never worked for me; it always seemed to be some sort of funky wildcard within open tab titles or something. But I just tried it and it worked as expected. Did it change? (“expected” for me is to show suggestions only from open tabs, using substring search on the titles and urls.)

    I’ve often wanted links to open in existing tabs, if present, but I’d probably prefer it if it popped up a full dialog box every time it detected a duplicate, with an option of “do this every time” for a given URL. While normally I’m not fond of dialogs, this seems like after a little usage I would get 90% of the cases right without the dialog, and the remaining 10% are cases where I really do sometimes want one or the other. Then again, I can always middle-click a link or alt-enter in the location bar to force a new tab, so maybe reusing a tab by default really is best.

    I would really like a way to make a reading list, since that’s my main source of tab explosion. (I have a measly 203 tabs open.)

    That, and a way to autoclose duplicates.

    Heck, I’d even use something that made me explicitly mark tabs as reading-list material, which would mean that if I still had it open after a few days, it should be deposited into an RSS-like bucket or a bookmark folder or something like that.

  35. Dominique De Vito Says:

    I suffered recently from the same pb: hundreds of open tabs.

    pb_1: I maintain a lot of open tabs because they may be useful later (and removing tabs is a consuming job).
    In order to overcome this pb, I have created 2 special folders in my bookmarks. The first is named something like “tmp-worthwhile-reading-latter” and the latter is named “tmp-to-evaluate” : the first is for top interest content and the latter for minor content or, content I have little time for evaluation now (but I need to remove immediately the tab for CPU purposes).
    In the end, these folders do not solve definitely my pb, but they enable to calm down my mental about the anxiety of loosing data/pieces of news.

    pb_2 : I agree, while the solution above enables to reduce the number of my tabs (to help FF running at a decent speed), there is still something missing:
    – a better tab management (as you mentioned),
    – a place to store surfing information between tab and bookmarks (for example, old tabs might be passivated/closed while the url being stored into a special zone of the bookmarks),
    – a better automatic bookmarking process in order to let the users classify automatically a bookmark according to, for example, the url or the words into the page content (in the end, that would help to reduce the number of tabs).
    – etc.

    This leads me to think that, while surfing may be seen as a stateless activity, like http protocol, browsers are also all about content management (and content display), which is much more stateful-oriented. There is quite an effort to do for offering a better and a more customizable content management. And also, IMHO, it makes little value to separate teams for Firefox and Thunderbird (the first one is somewhat stateless-oriented, while the latter is more stateful-oriented), because in the end, both have to deal with content management.

  36. Links 30/8/2011: Many New Linux Tablets, Thunderbird 7 Beta | Techrights Says:

    […] Extreme tab browsing I have a pathological use of browser tabs: I use a lot of them. A lot is probably an understatement. We could say I use them as bookmarks of things I need to track. A couple weeks ago, I was saying I had around two hundred tabs opened. I now actually have much more. […]

  37. Micah Says:

    I wish someone would make this Bartab-like functionality for Google Chrome and IE10. It’s an awesome and much needed option for people like us who open a use a ton of tabs.

  38. Ben Says:

    “There would be a history problem to solve, though. (e.g. where do back and forward bring?)”

    You could keep the history separate, appending to the last list or creating a new, third history. When you go past the beginning of the new list (by using the back button), then you can separate the tabs again. Otherwise, the history would work the same. This probably isn’t the most elegant solution, though.

  39. Tony Mechelynck Says:

    Add the following in install.rdf and it will work also in SeaMonkey (I’m replacing by «» because I don’t know how your blog software treats “unknown” tags)

    «!– SeaMonkey –»

    In this build:
    Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:9.0a1) Gecko/20110904 Firefox/9.0a1 SeaMonkey/2.6a1 ID:20110904003014
    and with the above addition to install.rdf, I get the following about:tabs

    About Tabs

    173 tabs across 1 group in 1 window
    173 tabs have been loaded
    172 unique addresses
    50 unique hosts
    95 http:
    56 https:
    11 file:
    11 about:
    1 address in more than 1 tab:
    about: (2 tabs)
    22 hosts in more than 1 tab:
    bugzilla.mozilla.org (42 tabs)
    http://ftp.mozilla.org (16 tabs)
    tinderbox.mozilla.org (10 tabs)
    groups.google.com (4 tabs)
    addons.mozilla.org (4 tabs)
    delta2.cesmail.net (4 tabs)
    http://www.couchsurfing.org (4 tabs)
    http://www.techsupportforum.com (4 tabs)
    anyssa.deviantart.com (4 tabs)
    users.skynet.be (3 tabs)
    tonymec.deviantart.com (3 tabs)
    http://www.mozdev.org (3 tabs)
    old-en.opensuse.org (3 tabs)
    pelicanh.deviantart.com (3 tabs)
    releases.mozilla.org (2 tabs)
    lilbittydemon.deviantart.com (2 tabs)
    http://www.youtube.com (2 tabs)
    software.opensuse.org (2 tabs)
    http://www.seamonkey-project.org (2 tabs)
    wiki.mozilla.org (2 tabs)
    bugzilla.kairo.at (2 tabs)
    freenode.net (2 tabs)

    User experience is still more or less OK by me (especially since I increased my RAM by about 50%, from 2 to 3.25 GiB). My usage is probably wrong at many levels (me too), but I still use bookmarks (lots of them, in a 6-level directory tree; I think the most populated level is level 4). Maybe that (and the fact that tab groups don’t exist in SeaMonkey yet) is why I have “only” one-third as many tabs as you. :-)

  40. KHayes Says:

    I came across this post by accident but I must say that my 30 open tabs at a time seems “small” compared to some of the people commenting and the author of the article. I feel better :)

  41. Tobu Says:

    Tab stats / about:tabs seems broken in nightlies. For a while I could get it to run by disabling it and immediately enabling it again, but not anymore. Maybe it needs to be rebuilt with a newer addon sdk.

  42. Tobu Says:

    Oh, you updated it last month (0.0.3 and it works)! Nevermind.

  43. André Pinto Says:

    Right now I have 142 tabs opened, but Firefox runs slow and there are some occasional memory leaks that “erase” tabs or even entire groups… I think I need a new browser created just for extreme tab usage.

  44. André Pinto - Developer Says:

    […] of person that (like me) can easily clutter the browser with lots of extensions and are an adept of extreme tab browsing, then a clean slate profile may as well come in handy and let you savor a long time forgotten fresh […]

  45. Randell Jesup Says:

    I noticed that about:tabs recently broke (just shows the header). Any chance of an update?

  46. glandium Says:

    Randell, I updated the link, the addon is now on addons.mozilla.org, and was updated to work on Firefox 22+.

  47. Darryn Says:

    Did you ever get around to grouping by age of tabs?

    https://github.com/glandium/tabstats/issues/14 I raised a feature request for that feature.

    I’m just a power-user but would love that feature and I’m sure others would as well.

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