You can move Firefox between Windows and Linux any time you like. You can set up roaming profiles and all sorts of tricks. This article is about transferring all your information in Firefox from Windows to Linux when your Windows computer bursts into flames, as happened today, and your other computer uses Linux. The information sets the background for just about any combination of move you want.
One of the big attractions of Firefox is the ability to run Firefox anywhere on any operating system. You can copy or transfer your user profile information, bookmarks, passwords, saved forms settings, anything, from computer to computer. You can place your user profile on a USB memory stick and use the profile anywhere. There are only a few tricks to ensure success and they are highlighted here.
Computers do not normally burst into flames. My Windows computer emitted just a puff of burnt electrical component smell. Not enough to set off a smoke detector. The result is the same. The computer does not work. The hard disks survived and I can unplug the hard disks then plug them into another computer. In 90 percent or more of computer failures, the disks survive. If you use RAID 1 for disk redundancy, a disk will survive in 99 percent of failures.
There are some other Windows based computers in my house and I do not own them. I do have some spare computers where I could install Windows but it is a pain compared to Ubuntu Linux and I already have some Ubuntu Linux based computers sitting there ready to use. There is only one Windows program left that I use on a regular basis and I use that program perhaps only once every few weeks. I can borrow one of the Windows based notebooks for an hour or two a month for that one program.
This information applies to Firefox 3 and Firefox 4. Earlier versions of Firefox had slightly different files. You could move Firefox 1 from computer to computer almost exactly the same as described here. You could move Firefox 2 from computer to computer almost exactly the same as described here. You had to have both versions of Firefox matching at version 1 or version 2. Firefox version 3 introduced a major change by replacing text files with SQLite databases. Upgrade all your copies of Firefox to at least Firefox 3 before trying a transfer from computer to computer.
Firefox 3 and Firefox 4 use similar files. You can safely transfer Firefox 3 to 3, 3 to 4, and 4 to 4. Firefox 4 will automatically make any minor adjustments needed to Firefox 3 files. I have not tried transferring Firefox 4 files to Firefox 3 and do not recommend it without first backing up your data.
The text files read the same on every computer and operating system. The SQLite databases work the same on every computer. There are 35 files and 9 directories in your user profile. You could copy the lot but do not need them all.
For instance, there are some directories full of cached files that do not need to be copied because they will be rebuilt as you visit sites. you can skip the copy of
There is an
extensions directory containing what you install on a specific machine. You might not want the same extensions on every machine. You might install Firebug and a million other add-ons in a Web development machine and have none of that installed on your netbook.
TestPilotErrorLog.log is another file you do not need copied. The only files I copy from one machine to another are as follows.
Mozilla list the important Firefox profile files in support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/Recovering%20important%20data%20from%20an%20old%20profile.
Mozilla have a general outline of managing Firefox profiles at support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/profile-manager-create-and-remove-firefox-profiles?redirectlocale=en-US&redirectslug=Managing-profiles.
The Firefox user profile is the directory containing the critical files. There are ways of placing the profile directory on common storage or a USB stick for use on different computers. The USB stick approach gives you superb control over the profile and is a risk if you lose the stick. I am looking at using this approach for a project where I need to carry many other files from computer to computer and I will use a USB 3.0 attached SSD, Solid State Disk, because memory sticks are too small and too slow.
The profile can be uploaded to a Web site and automatically downloaded when you login to a Firefox connected to the Internet. The download removes the problem of a lost USB stick and introduces the problem of using Firefox when the Internet is not available. Uploading and downloading my project directories with the Firefox profile is not practical because some projects are over 100 MegaBytes. I need an external SSD.
Some other Web browsers work on multiple operating systems. I do not know of any that are so easy to copy from operating system to operating system. I do know of cases where people using other browsers have lost all or part of their settings with something as simple as copying between identical computers. Firefox appears to be the easiest and most reliable. The others might work if you know in advance and take special precautions. Firefox is so easy that it works in the emergency where your computer bursts into flames and all you save is the hard disk (as happened twice this year).
The profile has a funny name with part of it random. My current profile is named qplhhhvr.default. You can create multiple profiles and switch between them although I have never found the need. The profile will be in a directory named firefox within a directory named Mozilla or .mozilla. The easiest way to find the directory on a recovered disk is a global search on cert8.db or one of the other profile files. There will be one profile per use of the computer and the user name will be in the path to the file.
There is not much else to remember. If you use Firefox to browse the Web, you probably use Thunderbird for email and Thunderbird has a similar user profile. You follow a similar approach to transferring Thunderbird. In the Thunderbird case, there may be GigaBytes of email to transfer. My personal mail is simple plain text and is over 5 GB. If your mail includes endless family pictures and video of baby Samantha applying lipstick to the pet dog and baby Joe demolishing the barn with household cleaning products and baby Samantha dragging her pet dog out of the demolished barn, you might be talking about TeraBytes.
Step by step
Make your old information available
Insert your old information into the Linux file system by adding the old disk to the current computer or insert a backup CD or copy the old information to a USB memory stick then insert the stick into your new computer or share the old information to the new computer through the network.
When recovering data from an old computer, you need either the whole disk or the part containing your user profile. If the old disk works, you can connect the old disk to a new computer and copy other things at the same time.
When copying from a current working computer to a new working computer, perhaps from a desktop to a netbook, use a network share.
Locate your old profile in Windows
You should be able to select Applications, Accessories, Search for files, and search for cert8.db. Ubuntu Linux will find the file in a disk from a Windows system because the search will look at every file in the windows file system.
The file finder will find a cert8.db in your Firefox profile and another in your Thunderbird profile. My Firefox profile is set up as Peter/Firefox because I moved the profile in the old system. Yours might be under c:\Documents and Settings\Peter\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\. The capital letters do not matter in Windows but they do matter in Linux because the Linux/Unix file systems do not understand semantics or case. Linux will present \ as \.
Locate your current profile
You should be able to select Applications, Accessories, Search for files, and search for cert8.db. No, Ubuntu Linux does one of those Microsoft Windows style stupid things and refuses to find the file.
Open Firefox. Select Help then Troubleshooting Information. Under Application Basics, find Profile Directory. Select the link named
Open Containing Folder.
Copy the files
Copy the following files. Copy them in the right direction. Linux will ask you if you want to replace the new file with the old file. Make sure you are copying the big old file, full of data, over the small new default file in the new Firefox profile.
Start Firefox and test bookmarks plus automated logins and everything else in your profile.
Backup the new Firefox profile
Backup your computer or the directory containing the new Firefox profile.