How To Create a Guest Profile In Firefox (And Why You Should)

If you have an internet connection at home, you've probably had a guest ask if they could borrow it to log onto a site or two to check their email or look something up. Setting up a guest profile in Firefox is a good way to let them do it without exposing them to your browsing history or being logged out of sites you both use. Here's how to do it.
Published: Feb 7, 2008
Author: Jordan Running
Related OS: Windows

It's fairly often that a visiting friend asks to use my computer to get online and check his email or Facebook messages or look something up on the web. I used to hesitate, because it was usually more inconvenient than it should have been. If a friend wants to check her Gmail, that means logging me out of Gmail, and likewise for Facebook and any other site we both use. And with Firefox's auto-completing address bar, if you have any sites in your history that you'd rather keep private, a guest's typing in an unrelated address could make entries appear that will make both of you blush.

The solution is to create a Firefox profile just for guests that's uncluttered by your bookmarks, history, and stored information, and that they can use without fear of causing you inconvenience or inadvertently stumbling on embarrassing personal artifacts. Here's how to do it.

Part 1: Creating a Guest profile

You may or may not be aware that Firefox allows you to create distinct profiles for an unlimited number of users. This is great for computers with more than one user, and that's what we'll do for our guest users. In order to manage your Firefox profiles you have to start the Profile Manager.. Here's how:

  1. If you're reading this article in Firefox, you'll want to open it in Internet Explorer, or copy the text to Word or Notepad, so you still have access to it when you...

  2. Quit Firefox

  3. Click on the Start menu, then Run..., and then type in firefox.exe -ProfileManager and click OK.

The profile manager looks like this:

Firefox Profile Manager

Yours might show other entries, but usually "default" will be the profile that's automatically used when you start Firefox. To create our Guest profile, click on the Create Profile... button, which will launch the mercifully short Create Profile Wizard. Click on the Next button on the first screen, and on the second screen in the "Enter new profile name" box enter "Guest" (you can really enter anything you want, but you'll need to remember the name for later steps) and click on Finish. You'll see the new profile appear in the Profile Manager.

Part 2: Making a batch file to start the Guest profile

You could actually be finished at this step, if you wanted. All you'd have to do is uncheck the "Don't ask at startup" box, and thereafter every time you started Firefox the Profile Manager would pop up and you could choose between the default and the Guest profile. But this is inconvenient in two ways: First, it adds an extra step to starting Firefox--I find clicking on that box every time to be a pain. And second, you can't start one profile if you're currently using another, i.e. if you're using your profile, you'll have to quit Firefox in order to start the Guest profile, and vice versa, and that's really inconvenient. There's a reason Firefox behaves in this way, presumably, but it's a mystery to me. Fortunately, we can override it with a batch file.

A batch file is a kind of script that gives Windows a series of instructions to execute in order. Here's how to create the one we need:

  1. Start Notepad (you can find it on the Start menu under Programs > Accessories)

  2. Enter the following lines (if the profile you created is named anything other than Guest, make sure you replace Guest with it in the second line):

    set MOZ_NO_REMOTE=1
    start "Firefox" "firefox.exe" -P "Guest"
    set MOZ_NO_REMOTE=0

  3. Go to File > Save As... and choose a folder to save it to, and give the file a name like firefox_guest.bat. The filename must end in .bat. Click on "Save as type" drop-down box and make sure "All Files (*.*)" is selected (otherwise Notepad will automatically save it as a text file, adding .txt to the end and rendering it non-working).

  4. Creating a batch file
  5. Click on Save, but make sure you remember what folder you saved it to.

In case you're wondering, here's how the batch file works: The first line sets the value of the environment variable (i.e. a setting stored by Windows) to 1, which prevents Firefox from detecting when another copy of the program is already running. The second line starts Firefox--the -P switch says "use the profile with the following name," i.e. "Guest." The third line returns the MOZ_NO_REMOTE variable to the status quo.

Once you've created the batch file, navigate to the folder where you saved it and double-click on it. Firefox should start with your Guest profile.

Part 3: Making an icon for Firefox Guests

Once again, you could just leave it at that and have guests launch Firefox by double-clicking on the batch file. You can even just move the batch file to your Desktop and have them click on it there. However, I prefer to make a shortcut on the desktop with a user-friendly name and icon. This is strictly optional, but here's how you do it:

  1. Navigate to the folder where you saved your batch file.

  2. Right-click on the batch file and choose Send To > Desktop (create shortcut). This will create a shortcut to the batch file on your desktop.

  3. The shortcut will have a name like "firefox_guest.bat - Shortcut" to give it a friendlier name, right-click on it and choose Rename, and then enter any name you want--I chose "Firefox Guest." Press enter to save the new name.

  4. The shortcut will have a funky script icon. I'm sure you'd rather it have a Firefox icon instead. To give it one, right-click on the icon and choose Properties. Now click on Change Icon... and in this box click on Browse...

  5. Here you'll need to find the main Firefox executable, firefox.exe. It will usually be found in C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\.

    Changing the shortcut icon

    Double-click on firefox.exe and its icons will be displayed. Select one of them (I picked the first) and click OK, then OK again in the Properties dialog.

Now the Firefox Guest icon on your desktop will have the icon you chose. Go ahead and double-click on it to make sure it launches Firefox with the Guest profile.

Part 4: Configuring the Guest profile

For the third time, your work could be done here. But if you want to be really nice to your guests, there are a few more steps you can do to make their experience simpler and more secure:

  1. Set the home page. I left the default Firefox-branded Google search page as the home page for when the Guest profile is launched, but there might be another site that would be most useful to your guests. If there is, navigate to it and then go to Tools > Options and on the Main tab click on "Use Current Pages" under Startup.

  2. Create links on the Bookmarks Toolbar to sites they're likely to use. Most of my guests use Gmail and Facebook, so I put links to those on the Bookmarks Toolbar by navigating to each, right-clicking and choosing Bookmark This Page..., and creating the bookmark in the Bookmarks Toolbar folder.

  3. Turn off password management. Chances are your guests won't want their passwords remembered by Firefox, so turn off the box that asks them to. It's under Tools > Options... on the Security tab--uncheck "Remember passwords for sites."

  4. Make Firefox automatically delete personal data when a guest quits. Go to Tools > Options... and on the Privacy tab under Private Data check "Always clear my private data when I close Firefox" and, if you don't want a prompt to appear when that happens, uncheck "Ask me before clearing private data." Clicking on Settings... will give you more options for what will be cleared--for maximum guest privacy, I recommend checking all of them.

That's (finally) all there is to it. Even if you didn't follow all the extra steps, your guests now have an excellent environment for using the web without getting into your stuff, accidentally or otherwise. And your Guest profile is also handy to have in the event your own profile gets messed up by a rogue extension or icky Firefox bug.

About Jordan Running

Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.

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