Firefox 3: Password management

Firefox, Mozilla, Work 10 Comments

[I use a Mac, so all the images in this post are of the Mac user interface. The UI for other platforms will differ slightly. Click on pictures to view other sizes.]

While Firefox 3 includes lots of new features and big shiny changes, it also includes a pile of more subtle, but no less important, changes and improvements. One area that has been revisited (rather than totally redesigned) is Firefox’s password management facility.

In Firefox 2, password management is a bit of a struggle. When you enter a password on a page you are asked whether you want Firefox to remember that password or not. The problem with this particular dialog is twofold: first, it appears before the login is complete so you have no way of knowing whether you have actually entered the correct password; second, it is modal, blocking any other browser actions, so there is no way to verify that the password works without first dismissing the dialog box. It’s a good feature, it’s just sort of poorly designed.

Fx2-modal-dialog

The actual Firefox 2 password manager is also a bit rough around the edges. You can only view the full list of all sites for which there are stored passwords, sorted alphabetically by URL or login name. There is no way to filter or search the list, so to find an old stored password, you have to either remember the URL and scroll down to the item in the list or scan through the full list manually. I have hundreds of passwords, so as you can imagine it’s all a bit of a pain.

Fx2-password-manager

Firefox 3 fixes all of this, and the new password management features are significantly improved and much, much more thoughtfully designed.

The dialog box asking whether you would like Firefox to save a password has been replaced entirely. Now, instead of popping up a modal dialog before the login has succeeded, Firefox 3 presents the option to store a given password using an information bar that slides down from the top of the screen after you have logged in. This allows you to verify that the password is correct before asking Firefox 3 to store that password.

password-remembering-infobar

The information bar is non-modal as well, so you can continue using the Web as normal without being forced to dismiss it first. In fact, the information bar will continue to hang around so long as you’re on that login’s site or manually dismiss it. When you leave the site, the information bar will automatically disappear. Not to worry, however, because if you return to the site and login again, the information bar will reappear.

Additionally, the password manager has filtering and searching capabilities, making it significantly easier to find and deal with passwords for certain sites. For example, here I’m filtering the list so it displays only those sites that include “mozilla.org” as part of the domain:

saved-passwords-filtered

Other password-related features are more or less the same in Firefox 3, including creating and using a master password (which you should all do, really), displaying stored passwords, and so forth. The changes are relatively subtle, but if you’re like me and have hundreds of stored passwords these small changes can make a huge, huge difference over all.

Other posts I’ve written about Firefox 3

10 Responses to “Firefox 3: Password management”

  1. Ehsan Akhgari Says:
    May 15th, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    Two other things which are of less importance, but still worth being mentioned here are:

    1. The new information bar which appears when prompting the user to change their password.
    2. The fact that the Saved Passwords dialog filtering works for the passwords themselves (try hitting Show Passwords on that dialog, and then entering a search phrase; it will be matched against passwords as well as the site and username fields.)

    Thanks for the great write-ups on the new Firefox 3 features, BTW. :-)

  2. Ehsan Akhgari Says:
    May 15th, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    Two other things which are of less importance, but still worth being mentioned here are:

    1. The new information bar which appears when prompting the user to change their password.
    2. The fact that the Saved Passwords dialog filtering works for the passwords themselves (try hitting Show Passwords on that dialog, and then entering a search phrase; it will be matched against passwords as well as the site and username fields.)

    Thanks for the great write-ups on the new Firefox 3 features, BTW. :-)

  3. Firefox 3 is Awesome at Toolness Says:
    May 17th, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    [...] These pictures, too, were stolen from Deb’s blog, this time from her article on Firefox 3 password management. [...]

  4. Erik Corry Says:
    June 13th, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    I think there should be a middle road between “Having a master password that you have to enter on every session” and “Showing all your passwords to anyone who has your computer long enough to click 3 times with the mouse”. Something like “Require a master password before displaying your passwords on the screen in plain text”. It wouldn’t work against a tech savvy attacker, but it would slow down normal people who might want to see how many passwords they can memorize in the 10s it takes you to refill your coffee cup.

  5. Erik Corry Says:
    June 13th, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    I think there should be a middle road between “Having a master password that you have to enter on every session” and “Showing all your passwords to anyone who has your computer long enough to click 3 times with the mouse”. Something like “Require a master password before displaying your passwords on the screen in plain text”. It wouldn’t work against a tech savvy attacker, but it would slow down normal people who might want to see how many passwords they can memorize in the 10s it takes you to refill your coffee cup.

  6. Erik Says:
    June 17th, 2008 at 1:09 am

    At least on my system (Windows XP), the keyboard shortcuts for this feature from Firefox 2 no longer work in Firefox 3.

    For example, in Firefox 2, after submitting a login, the dialog box would pop up, and just hitting “R” would tell Firefox to remember the password.

    In Firefox 3, the ‘R’ on the “Remember” button is underlined, indicating that hitting the “R” key should work as a keyboard shortcut. But it doesn’t work.

    This actually makes password handling in FF2 a bit easier to use, at least in my view.

  7. Erik Says:
    June 17th, 2008 at 1:09 am

    At least on my system (Windows XP), the keyboard shortcuts for this feature from Firefox 2 no longer work in Firefox 3.

    For example, in Firefox 2, after submitting a login, the dialog box would pop up, and just hitting “R” would tell Firefox to remember the password.

    In Firefox 3, the ‘R’ on the “Remember” button is underlined, indicating that hitting the “R” key should work as a keyboard shortcut. But it doesn’t work.

    This actually makes password handling in FF2 a bit easier to use, at least in my view.

  8. Jim P Says:
    June 25th, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    I’d like to bring my passwords from work to home & and overwrite Firefox’s settings so they are consistent Can anyone advise me of the file and location to copy from my work PC and transfer to my home Firefox set up?

    Thanks.

  9. Jim P Says:
    June 25th, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    I’d like to bring my passwords from work to home & and overwrite Firefox’s settings so they are consistent Can anyone advise me of the file and location to copy from my work PC and transfer to my home Firefox set up?

    Thanks.

  10. ECartman Says:
    August 30th, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    But there remains one HUGE FLAW with stored usernames and passwords … they are no longer in alphabetical order when you go to autocomplete them on a website. There is a flaw in that the “value” field was left out in the index for the stored usernames, so they don't sort on name. There are hundreds of complaints on this on the FF3 forums but no action yet.

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