Firefox and the Back Button

Yes, I know… this is hardly worth dedicating an entire post to, but has anyone figured out how to use the backspace button as a way to move backward through browser history in Mac Firefox? This shortcut exists in IE, Safari, and I believe possibly even PC Firefox, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how to make it work on a Mac. There doesn’t seem to be a preference item for it, and I haven’t heard of any extensions to enable it either.

The backspace key is by far my most used web browsing shortcut, and I simply cannot switch to Firefox without it. I will say that I am thoroughly impressed with the 1.0 release and at least for me, it is much much faster than both RC1 and the latest version of Safari (which was already quite fast). I am simply amazed at how quickly all sites load now, but without this crucial bit of seemingly trivial functionality, I just cannot make the switch.

Ideas anyone? I’m hoping there is something very simple that I have overlooked.

UPDATE: Big ups to Patrick H. Lauke for bringing up the KeyConfig Extension. It seems to work perfectly for remapping the Back button. It even correctly ignores the shortcut when a text field is in focus!

33 comments on “Firefox and the Back Button”. Leave your own?
  1. Greg Hinch says:

    I used to be all about the backspace as well, but my love of Firefox won out and now I use Apple+Left Arrow to go back, and the habit has stuck. I find it nice for a couple reasons. For one, Apple+Right Arrow goes forward, which I do fairly often as well. Also at work I use a PC, and Alt+LA/RA works the same way, so the keys are in the same place. Now what I want is a way to keyboard cycle through tabs the way Ctrl+Tab does on a PC for Mac. Anyone know this shortcut?? Safari does it with Shift+LA/RA, but not Firefox :/

  2. harry Jones says:

    I agree, by far the worst part of Firefox is its support for keyboard shortcuts.

    Another one I miss from Safari is Apple + Up and Apple + Down to go to the top and bottom of a long page instantly.

  3. Randy says:

    I just wanted to let you know that Firefox on the PC does in fact support backspace for “Back.”

  4. Krzysztof says:

    Does it have to the keyboard? I use clickable scroll wheel in my mouse (cheap MS blue optical mouse) for back action in all browsers and Windows Explorer. Should be programmable under Mac too.

  5. Ryan Rahn says:

    I agree. As a long time PC user who just bought a powerbook, I love Firefox for PC, but I have found the lack of the backspace shortcut on Mac Firefox quite annoying. And Safari fails to display RSS exactly the same as Firefox; I don’t know which one would be considered “the right way.” Even so, Safari is more asthetically pleasing as well as having the backspace shortcut, so Safari remains my Mac browser.

  6. Ryan Rahn says:

    Correction: CSS not RSS. Sorry.

  7. not sure if it works on Mac, but had a play with the keyconfig extension a while ago and it seemed to do the job on my PC

  8. Dustin Diaz says:

    Kind of a lame thing to come up with…but I wonder if you could implement the backspace as an accesskey which triggers Back

    Now if only everyone would do that…
    or maybe if you can just add that javascript to the mozilla .js file. Kind of like how they implemented nicetitles….

    it’s definitely worth a try.

  9. Ste Grainer says:

    Greg: As far as I know, Ctrl-Tab and Ctrl-Shift-Tab work just fine in Firefox for cycling through tabs. I’ve been using these shortcuts since at least version 0.8.

    Mike D: Well, drat, I just played around with the keyboard shortcut preferences in the OS X System Preferences. Unfortunately, it looks like you can’t assign Backspace (the big Delete key) or any key combination including it. Have you looked into one of the keyboard programs like uControl or DoubleCommand? I’m not positive that they’d be able to handle what you need, but they might be worth checking out.

    Personally, I agree with Greg about Cmd-LeftArrow/RightArrow to move back and forward. I’ve been using those since Netscape 4 because I go forward almost as much as I go back. Particularly when comparing different versions of a design (though that’s changed lately with tabs.)

  10. mag says:

    This is bug 220590 and this has been an open issue for a while. Basically the debate is should a “delete” key be used for navigation instead of deleting something and more stuff about broswer focus, what does what when, etc. Here’s a link:

    It seems kind of pedantic to me, but I guess the Mac hard-liners want their own arrangements. I expect that this will become an option once some basic keyboard command support is introduced soon. I haven’t seen any extension for this per se, but I image that if it bugs you it must bug somebody else also, look around on places like and maybe you’ll come up lucky.

    The aquafication release for Firefox (originally called 1.0Mac) was dropped in favor of doing all of the changes at once in Firefox 1.1 (when aviary-branch will merge back into the Mozilla trunk) and little issues like this and other Mac-only fixes are on the list for then.

  11. Jason Berry says:

    Works perfectly on PC…. =)

    Then i’m sure you already knew that.

  12. Josh Bryant says:

    I have never used the backspace key for back on the browser but I can understand how annoying that might be.

    Here is the one that really gets me though. I ALWAYS have used my scroll wheel push down button to open links in a new tab. That does not work for Firefox Mac… soooooo annoying.

  13. Mike D. says:

    Dustin: Very interesting idea. And you’re right, it’s definitely worth trying out.

    Mag: Thank you for the thorough and informative comment. Good to know it’s on someone’s plate somewhere. I don’t so much mind that it’s not a default for the backspace key to work in this fashion as you could easily argue that command-arrow is a better habit to get in, but damn… it should at least be an option. I’ll probably just use Safari until this glorious “aquafied” version is released.

    Although this seems like a really small interface shortcoming to some, it’s a good lesson in how difficult it is to get people to break browsing habits. Even though I’m already past the tough part of actually wanting to use Firefox, I simply can’t make the switch because the browser is asking too much of me.

    If you want me on board, get rid of all reasons for me not to be.

  14. Mike, I don’t know how it is on a Mac, but on a PC, it doesn’t always work either. The focus has to be on the background of the web page — if a form element or link is in the “active” state, the backspace key won’t operate. In order for it to, you have to click the background of the web page to remove focus from any elements on the page — then you can press the backspace key and it will work. At least, that’s how it is on a PC. Hope this helps ya’ make the switch — Firefox is, indeed, the greatest (though it would help if all of their extensions worked on subsequent versions, not just specific versions).

  15. Ran Aroussi says:

    I fee like everyone else here – this is VERY annoying. However, I do not thing that getting it to work (somehow) via accesskey is the right way to do it – although very(!) interesting. Unless every site will set the accesskey and make this some sort of a standard – I don’t think users will even try pressing the backspace key.

    I use alt+left/right arrow keys to navigate back and forward. Granted, using the backspace key could be much nicer to use.

    Let’s all hope someone will fix this bug or at the very least come up with an extension for this problem…

  16. gb says:

    A bit of an add-on to the post about mouse shortcuts above… if you have a mouse with a tilt-wheel (new M$ mouses and, I think Logitech), if you tilt back or forward, it automatically goes back or forward in the history. I’m so used to it now that when I use Safari, or even the finder, I expect a Back action every time I do it… heh.

  17. Jon Hicks says:

    To be honest, I never knew about backspace being the shortcut. I use cmd-[ which is the same in Safari and Omniweb.

    Great to finally know the shortcuts for switching tabs! Hurrah!

    I’m not sure about the ‘aquified’ version. Something makes me think that the Firefox devs have a very different idea of what ‘aquafied’ is to what we might have. Don’t get your hopes up!

  18. Lauri Jutila says:

    Get All-in-one-Gestures extension from and forget the whole damn keyboard. Mouse gestures are one of the most innovative features in browsers. With a flick of the mouse you can perform all the necessary actions.

    With gestures, you can open and close windows/tabs, bookmark pages, move back/forth between tabs and pages, reload, stop loading, everything. Gestures are customizable and you can create your own, too.

  19. Jeremy Flint says:

    The All-in-one-Gestures are nice, but mouse movements just don’t work as well onlaptops when you are using the track pad.

    I, too, have noticed the absence of the backspace key function. I also didn’t know about using the command and arrow keys.

  20. quis says:

    If you think Firefox 1.0 is fast on mac then I recommend that you check out this G4 optimized build. Runs like an absolute treat on my iBook, and I think there are G5 versions somewhere too.

  21. Stefan says:

    What I really like about the gesture plugins, are the rocker gestures. It is so damn handy. Just press RMB and then LMB to go back, or LMB first and then RMB to go forward. Since your fingers are always on the buttons, navigating is easy, fast and requires minimal effort.

    You should try it. You won’t regret it.

  22. Stephanie says:

    The backspace shortcut does work in Camino. That and the lack of favicons in the bookmark list are the only things that have kept me from switching, although Firefox’s Find interface was almost tempting enough on its own.

  23. I for one always use Alt+Left Arrow, I didn’t even know that the Backspace key would do that (in every browser other than Mac FF no less) until someone complained about this.

    The biggest shortcut I miss when I’m using my Mac is the ability to hit Ctrl+Enter when typying in the address bar and have it add the www and the .com for me. It’s brutal having to type out a full address.

  24. Dustin Diaz says:

    Right right right right.
    The accesskey I posed was a stupid idea. Just a thought that’s all.
    If by any chance we have any mozilla coders in here that know how the browser works (like how it works behind the scenes), I’m almost positive we can hack our FF to have a global accesskey.

    I’ll send a post out to the moz forums and see what folks can come up with.

    I remember when I installed the nicetitles I had to add a js file to get some extra mouse gesters…

    then when I installed my safari theme, there was another one to add which came with extra keyboard shortcuts…so I’m sure we can get this workin’ for ya Mike :)

  25. jake says:

    Actually Jon, I heard they’re looking into it being more of an OS X app. It’s originally based what was built in OS 9.

    “We were most focused on the feature set and user interface,” Goodger said. “Maybe not for the next couple of months, but we plan to move Firefox” to the more modern rendering system. Firefox’s reliance on QuickDraw, he said, is due to the fact that the low-level code of Firefox comes from Mozilla’s Netscape 6 and 7 projects, which was largely coded in the years 1999 to 2001 for the Mac OS 9 operating system.

  26. Jon Hicks says:

    Jake – yeah I read that article, and it does give some some hope. I just wonder how long it will take?!

    Sorry to hijack your topic Mike

  27. jkottke says:

    Does anyone else rarely use the back button (or associated shortcut key) anymore? I hardly ever do…everything gets opened in a new tab.

  28. just out of curiosity…did anybody try the extension i mentioned on a mac? just interested to know if it does work…

  29. I can’t even make a guess at the number of countless hours of posts lost when the focus was lost on a form and I hit backspace and then went forward to see my posts gone! Backspace as a back button falls in the same category as f-lock and jar jar binks; not critical and completely useless. The worst part is I have found no way to disable the backspace key in Firefox as a back button.

    ALT+Left is the proper shortcut. Left hand on left ALT and right hand thumb on the left arrow.

    One thing I will say is that this issue DOES warrant it’s own page. Developers are good at making programs but they typically REALLY at GUI design and function.

    I think for both you (Mike) and I to be happy that backspace should be an option in about:config or at least some small extension (in that case wish I was a programmer). I mean of course in the sense where this can be enabled/disabled. I’ve seen enough about this subject online to justify that while this may be a minor issue it should be addressed (and not grow old and moldy until someone cleans it up in say, Gecko 2.5).

  30. Amanda French says:

    Ditto on the extreme kudos for KeyConfig — it saved my sanity. A blog application I use was somehow interpreting the command-arrow keystrokes as an order to go back and forth in the browser history rather than in the text box. I’d lose everything I’d just written in the text box when this happened, and I _could not_ retrain my fingers.

    Using KeyConfig, I retrained Mozilla instead. I disabled the command-arrow mappings to the Back and Forward buttons (I never use those keystrokes for that anyway), and now I’m perfectly able to edit as usual in that blog.

  31. Jimbob says:

    Nothing, I repeat nothing, pisses me off more than spending half an hour filling in an online form, then using the backspace key to fix a typo, and losing all of my work. Whose hair-brained idea was this anyway? Way to go Firefox. And yes I’m on this board right now because I’m in disbelief that that key is really used for that function. Now I know the insanity is in fact true.

  32. moahiek says:

    You can use cmd-option-LA/RA to cycle through tabs in Firefox on a mac

  33. Uma K says:

    Firefox is faster and thanks to this useful blog I found Backspace takes your browser backwards. Alt + L, Alt+R keys work as well.

    Thank you bloggers Mac Fans and Mozillators

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