firefox navigation toolbar disappears

2 April 2006, 2:27 pm

In the hopes that this post might save someone else from wasting as much time as I did this morning and afternoon. . .


  • Firefox navigation toolbar disappeared.

    • Checking un/checking it from View/Toolbars had no effect
    • View/Toolbars/Customize. . ./Restore Default Set had no effect
    • I tried making a new custom toolbar and putting the default elements in it. I couldn’t get my new custom toolbars to show up in the View Toolbars menu (although later I determined that they had been added to localstore.rdf)
  • Tools/Options. . . dialog would not display correctly
    • The text of the tabs (General, Privacy, Content, etc.) appeared at the top left corner of the screen, in a large monospace font. The tab text did not respond to mouse clicks (generated error beep)
    • The text of the command buttons (OK, Cancel, Help) appeared at the bottom right corner of the screen. Cancel functioned when clicked or invoked via Esc key; I didn’t risk any of the other options
    • No other elements of the window displayed.
  • the vertical scrollbar did not display in about:config
  • It’s possible there were other symptoms; I noted those I encountered while trying to troubleshoot/correct the problem, but I did not extensively test browser features.

What I think triggered the problem

  • When I started Firefox this morning I wound up with a small blank window in addition to my home page.
  • I assumed that it was a side effect of clicking the Firefox launch icon twice, which I sometimes do by mistake.
  • I closed the blank child window
  • I hypothesize that somehow the navigation toolbar was moved to the child window
    • Microsoft Office applications allow toolbars to be dragged into child windows
    • Firefox doesn’t normally exhibit this behavior. Perhaps it erroneously responded to a mouse event while the window was being rendered? (Wild guess)
    • Perhaps this was caused by a bug in a 3rd party extension?
  • Once the navigation toolbar child window was closed it would no longer respond to any events initiated from the client
  • Another wild guess: the absence of a critical browser component triggered the other UI bugs I observed

Attempted fixes that didn’t work

  • Spyware sweep. I didn’t expect to find anything untoward, and didn’t.
  • Re-install Firefox to same directory without uninstalling (i.e., repair/upgrade style install)
  • Uninstall and reinstall to same directory
  • Uninstall and reinstall to different directory

At this point I determined that the problem must exist within the profile directory.

  • This location will vary according to your system set up; in my case it was something like:
    \Windows\Profiles\WebUser\Application Settings\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\RandomString.default
  • I exported my bookmarks from the bookmark manager to a backup file. (Unlike the Options dialog, the bookmark manager dialog displayed and functioned normally.)
  • I moved the profile directory to a backup location. This was a very drastic step. At this point I lost my bookmarks, history, user preferences, extension and plugin information, persistent cookies, saved form information, etc.
  • There was still a reference to the old profile directory in
    \Windows\Profiles\WebUser\Application Settings\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles
    This caused a rather confusing “Firefox is already running” message whenever I tried to start the browser.
  • I deleted
    \Windows\Profiles\WebUser\Application Settings\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles
    and re-installed. At this point I had a clean uncustomized installation with a navigation toolbar.
  • I imported my bookmarks and began re-installing extensions, restoring browser settings, etc.

Advanced Troubleshooting

  • At this point I had the old non-functional profile directory and the new functional profile directory. I used differencing tools on the directories and examined some of the differences between files.
  • Wild guess: localstore.rdf was somehow corrupted.

My Environment

I don’t use many extension/plugins. Those I do use include:

  • Web Developer Toolbar
  • View Rendered Source Chart
  • Firebug
  • Adblocker

I had installed but subsequently disabled FlashBlocker, GreaseMonkey, LiveHTTPHeaders and ViewPageRank. I had also used a mininally sized toolbar skin before I upgraded to Firefox 1.5x

One aspect of my approach to maintaining a secure computing environment is to allow only deliberately underpowered machines to connect directly to the Internet. The machine in question is therefore running Windows 98SE.

2 comments on “firefox navigation toolbar disappears”

  1. Ezra

    …maintaining a secure computing environment …
    … The machine in question is therefore running Windows 98SE.

    does not compute!

  2. summervillain

    More secure, not more stable.

    I think you can argue the point either way, but my OS doesn’t even support many of the modern attack vectors.


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