Make Firefox Search For Terms With Periods In The Location Bar

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 19, 2008
Updated • Feb 22, 2019

When a user types a search term in the Firefox location bar (address bar, awesome bar) it is determined if the entered term is an actual web address or a search term.

If Firefox determines that the entered string is a search term, a search using the default search engine is performed. If the browser determines that it is a web address, the web address is loaded directly.

There is one additional aspect to this that need further explanation. How does Firefox distinguish between addresses and search terms. When is what you enter seen as a web address, and when is it seen as a search?

Firefox assumes that all phrases that make use of at least one period are web addresses and will try to load them even if that does not make sense at all, for instance if they do not use a valid domain extension.

This can be quite frustrating if you want to look up a file name in a search engine for example, as you will get a not found error when you enter it directly since Firefox attempts to load the string as a web address.

You can test that yourself by entering svchost.exe in the address bar and hit enter afterwards. Firefox will try to load the website svchost.exe even though the .exe domain extension does not exist and you get a not found error (or a provider specific error depending on how that is configured on your end).

There is no Firefox setting or add-on that can restrict strings you enter to known domain extensions and run searches for anything else.

There is another way, however, to directly search for terms with periods (and any other term, e.g. a full web address, that would initiate a search) in Firefox using the location bar.

All that needs to be done is to place a "?" before the search term. While a search for svchost.exe results in a page not found error in Firefox, a search for ?svchost.exe performs the search using the default search engine so that results are displayed right away in the browser. The same is true for the search ? which would search for the URL in the default search engine.

Please note that this works regardless of search engine that you have selected in the browser. Check out our full guide to Firefox's address bar for additional tips and information.

Run searches with periods in Firefox's address bar
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Run searches with periods in Firefox's address bar
Find out how to run searches for search terms with periods or URLs from the Firefox address bar directly to avoid connection issues.
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  1. Aaron said on May 29, 2022 at 10:37 pm

    So helpful. Thanks!

  2. Noitidart said on March 31, 2016 at 8:47 pm
  3. Peter said on September 22, 2008 at 3:01 am

    Won’t putting it in quotes work too?

  4. Gavin said on September 20, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    An excellent alternative to this, actually, is adding a keyword to a search box…like say, google or wikipedia’s. There’s a right-click menu option that pops up when you click in search boxes that does this, named something like “add keyword to this item” or whatnot. I use, for instance, g for google…so if I want to search for something in google, I hit ctrl+L, and type something like “g whatever” and i get my search! Yay! ^^.

  5. Rob said on September 20, 2008 at 4:28 am

    Firefox’s quick keyword search is also a solution to this. I have mine setup so typing “g svchost.exe” in the address bar searches google for svchost.exe, “w svchost.exe” searches wikipedia, etc. See for more.

  6. Martin said on September 19, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    Webmaster that’s because those have authority listings. Whenever you enter a keyword in the location bar with a site having an authority listing for the site is loaded automatically, otherwise the search results are displayed.

    USBMan I agree. A great Firefox add-on.

  7. USBman said on September 19, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Good find!

    Another nice option is to use Cybernetnews‘ wonderful CyberSearch addon (also see here).

    Among other features, it adds the ability to conduct Google searches and show the results directly within the AwesomeBar! In my opinion, this takes the AwesomeBar to the next level – a terrific addon worth taking a look at!

  8. Webmaster of Web Talk said on September 19, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    That’s a real tip! I will give it a try!…done… i just tried it and some words with the ? before it give me wikipedia results…nice!

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