Firefox page search improvements

Martin Brinkmann
Jun 11, 2016

Mozilla rolled out a new feature in Firefox 50 Nightly today that improves the page search functionality of the web browser.

Firefox users can tap on F3 to run searches for words or phrases on the active page.  The first search results is highlighted by the browser once you start typing, and controls are provided to jump to the next in line or the previous one, or to highlight them all at once.

The highlighted term was sometimes hard to spot on the page, a fact first mentioned in a bug report dating back to the year 2007.

The user who reported the bug suggested to better highlight and/or dim the rest of the page, and that is exactly what is been implemented.

firefox 50 search highlight dim

Page searches in Firefox 50 or newer dim the page slightly, and highlight the search term better so that it is easier to spot.

All search terms are highlighted automatically by search as well on the page which basically means that Mozilla changed the default state to highlight all.

Mozilla increased the number of search results that the find as you type search returns to 1000 from the previous limit of 100. You find the setting by loading about:preferences#advanced in the browser's address bar and checking "search for text when I start typing" on the page that opens.

Classic Opera users may recognize this immediately as this is how Opera 12.x and previous versions of the browser displayed page search results in the browser.

classic opera search

Mozilla added two new preferences to Firefox 50 that allow you to change the behavior somewhat.

  1. Type about:config in the browser's address bar and hit enter.
  2. Confirm you will be careful if the warning prompt appears.
  3. The parameter findbar.highlightAll determines whether highlight all is enabled or not when you search in Firefox. Set this option to false to restore the old behavior (don't highlight all search terms on pages).
  4. The parameter findbar.modalHighlight defines whether the page is dimmed when you run searches. Set this option to false to disable the page dimming.

Mozilla plans to release the improvement in Firefox 50 if nothing major prevents that from happening. A couple of bugs need to be ironed out until the release, but there is plenty of time for that considering that Firefox Stable is currently at version 47. (via Sören Hentzschel)

Now You: What's your take on the change?

Firefox page search improvements
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Firefox page search improvements
Mozilla rolled out a new feature in Firefox 50 Nightly today that improves the page search functionality of the web browser.
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  1. David said on February 1, 2017 at 7:52 pm

    I can’t get the ‘highlight all’ feature working. If I select a word on a web page, then hit Ctrl+F, the find bar opens with that word inserted, and with the “Highlight” button pressed. However, the occurrences of the find term are not highlighted. They only become highlighted after I press the “Highlight” button once (to switch ‘highlight all’ off) and then press the button again (to switch ‘highlight all’ on again).

    This happens both on Firefox 51 and Firefox Nightly.

    What could be wrong here, or does this work as intended with everyone else’s Firefox?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on February 1, 2017 at 8:14 pm

      I’m not sure what is wrong on your end, but this works automatically on mine. I hit Ctrl-F, type, and as soon as I start typing, all occurrences of the characters are highlighted automatically.

      1. David said on February 1, 2017 at 9:31 pm

        OK — IMHO that’s a bug (i.e. the term is transferred but not used for highlighting).

        I wonder which of all those bug numbers would be the right one to post this.

      2. David said on February 1, 2017 at 8:50 pm

        Still doesn’t work with findbar.modalHighlight set to true.

        Again, can you double-click on a word on a web page to highlight that word, hit Ctrl+F and then have all occurrences of that word highlighted instantly?

      3. Martin Brinkmann said on February 1, 2017 at 9:02 pm

        Oh, no that does not work either. I never use it that way. I always start typing, and the phrase is matched automatically.

      4. David said on February 1, 2017 at 8:43 pm

        I did set “findbar.highlightAll” to true and “findbar.modalHighlight” to false.

      5. Martin Brinkmann said on February 1, 2017 at 8:46 pm

        findbar.modalHighlight is set to true on my system.

      6. David said on February 1, 2017 at 8:39 pm

        Yep, same here — but as I described, it does not work when I first *highlight* my search term on the page, and then press Ctrl+F.

      7. Martin Brinkmann said on February 1, 2017 at 8:40 pm

        Did you set the about:config parameter?

  2. Ricardo said on November 5, 2016 at 5:51 am

    Now we have new annoyances.

    – Highlight vanishes when find bar is closed. No older version I remember did that.

    And this:
    1. Enable “Highlight All” and type something to find. Good we have things highlighted.
    2. Close find bar. Highlights vanish.
    3a. F3 will go next word without highlights.
    3b. Ctrl+F to open find bar. No highlight. We need to disable and re-enable “Highlight All”.

    Using “Dim the page” (findbar.modalHighlight) we have new issues:
    – Darker background on black text reduces visibility of context. Usability issue.
    – Zoomed text overlaps texts around. Then, if we search part of a word, the word could be entirely tapped.
    – Possibly much more usability issues.

  3. UX-idiot said on June 16, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    thanks so much. another major annoyance down. long overdue but great to hear it’s finally been tackled after all.

  4. Kin said on June 12, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    *sigh* you had my hopes up there, but it’s another mostly useless change.

    I opened a bug YEARS ago about having a “search for complete word only” option and it’s still not in there. Got lots of “it’s not needed” or “it’s better handled through an extension’ useless reply from devs though. SO tired of searching for something like “AI” and having to scroll through every word containing those letters.

    1. gh said on June 13, 2016 at 8:09 pm

      Kin, it looks like ff soon will, finally, support natively whole word search

      In the meantime, this addon provides enhanced search functionality, including “whole word search”:

  5. Paul said on June 12, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    Don’t think that a greyed out page should be default. Unless I want a mere confirmation that a term exists on a page, I search for a term, so I can read a sentence/paragraph containing that term. Greying out my reading material pisses me off.

    Thanks for the about:config for how to remove the greying out. Yes, the highlighting reminded me of Findbar Tweak (used it in the past, when FF in one more of their glorious UI improvements, stopped giving me the number of found terms in that bottom bar—they have since put that back in).

    1. anon said on June 12, 2016 at 9:15 pm

      I imagine graying out will be a button next to the highlight all button, but it won’t be pressed by default. At least I hope so!

  6. Anonymous said on June 12, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    FindBar Tweak is the best.

  7. anon said on June 12, 2016 at 11:28 am

    >Mozilla changed the default state to highlight all

    Fucking finally.

  8. Gary D said on June 12, 2016 at 1:16 am

    I have not used page search for about 6 months and had forgotten how it high lighted words.

    I use Cyberfox 47. To my surprise, the high lighted words were bright purple ! There was no need for dimming because they stood out so much !
    Don’t remember setting that colour up. :-)

  9. Dave said on June 11, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    Hey, that’s not the gHacks logo…

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on June 12, 2016 at 7:08 am

      New theme, coming soon. (I know running joke, but we try our hardest)

  10. Pants said on June 11, 2016 at 8:10 pm

    I mentioned the other day in the “Why FF will continue to lose market share”, that one of the things they should do is ramp up the core functionality, such as better cookie controls/options, zooming, and other things. I mentioned find/search controls as one area. I use “Findbar Tweak”, its very versatile and powerful, with loads of options and way ahead of this token gesture from Mozilla.

    I was about to check it was e10s complliant (I think it is) and headed to the site to check ( ) and it looks like the site is having a revamp, the SSL is insecure, and the page only shows the top 100 most popular addons (in order of popularity).

  11. Yuliya said on June 11, 2016 at 7:55 pm

    I like this. I always click ‘highlight all’ so having it automatically On is a plus for me, and really miss the dimming page feature from Opera v12.

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