Once upon a time, web browsers bloomed like a hundred flowers. But a number of events transpired, many of them not in the best interests of those of us who used those web browsers, and that particular ecosystem contracted. While there are more than a handful of web browsers out there, the world of web browsing seems to be dominated by Google Chrome or its variants.
On the open source side of the fence, the most widely-known and widely-used browser is Firefox. Firefox has its fans but it also has its detractors. So much so that some folks have taken that browser’s source code and have spun up their own variations on the theme of Firefox.
One of those, which I started test driving in September, 2023, is LibreWolf. Let’s take a look at it.
How LibreWolf is Different from Firefox
The two browsers share much of same DNA. However, Librewolf branches off from Firefox in a few ways.
First, there’s LibreWolf’s strong emphasis on user privacy and security. It includes several privacy settings and features enabled out of the box. Those settings and features aim to minimize the collection of your data and websites tracking you. LibreWolf also disables certain Firefox features that can compromise your privacy.
LibreWolf incorporates other security measures to protect you while you’re browsing. It includes built-in ad-blocking and disables potentially vulnerable third-party plugins, and removes any proprietary components.
There’s more to that, which you can learn about at the LibreWolf website.
As with most Linux software these days, there are a few ways to get LibreWolf on to your computer. Some of those are detailed on this page. That page also includes information about how to install LibreWolf on those other two operating systems, in case you’re wondering.
You can also install the browser via:
Using the Browser
For the most part, using LibreWolf is just like using Firefox. You get the same interface, the same controls, and all of the key features. Here’s what it looks like when you first start it:
And here’s what LibreWolf looks browsing this site:
And a slightly more graphically intensive site:
If you’re switching from Firefox (and I discuss some of the mechanics of this in a moment) you should have no problem using LibreWolf. I can’t categorically say that it’s faster than Firefox (I don’t know how to measure that), but LibreWolf does appear to start up and load web pages slightly quicker on my StarLite laptop. But, to be honest, the ordinary user doesn’t care about incremental increases in speed and performance as long as their browser doesn’t run glacially slow or crash when they use it. LibreWolf did neither while I used it.
If, like me, you use a few (or more than a few) Firefox add-ons, you can install them in LibreWolf. I had no problem installing the add-ons that I regularly use, but your mileage may vary.
LibreWolf’s main selling point, as far as people who embrace it are concerned, is its focus on security. As I mentioned several paragraphs back, LibreWolf has a number of privacy and security settings enabled by default — for example, strict Enhanced Tracking Protection and sending websites a do not track signal. It also disables the browser’s built-in password manager, doesn’t include Firefox’s data collection and telemetry options, and has removed integration with the Pocket read-it-later tool.
On top of that, LibreWolf disables search and form history, as well as autofilling forms. It also packs the uBlock Origin add-on by default and deletes cookies and data when you exit, without having to tweak the settings. If you’re interested, you can get a full list of the privacy and security features at the browser’s website.
That said, sometimes LibreWolf’s safeguards are a bit too strict. For example, when I enter or follow a URL with www in it, and am redirected to the URL without it (which is not unknown on the web), I get a warning that the secure version of the site isn’t available when that secure version actually is.
That said, I’d rather be safer than sorrier. It’s easy enough to go into the browser’s settings to change your level of security — not just decreasing that level but also increasing it.
Moving from Firefox
What if you want to replace Firefox with LibreWolf, and still get the Firefox experience that you’re used to? If you use Firefox Sync, then that’s easy. Firefox Sync backs your up bookmarks, information about which add-ons you use, website passwords (if you let Firefox save them), your settings, and the like.
In LibreWolf, click the stacker menu and select Settings > Sync. From there, search for sync. In the results, click Enable Firefox Sync, as shown below.
On the message that displays, click Restart LibreWolf Now. When the browser restarts, click the stacker menu and beside the new menu item Sync and save data, click Sign In as shown below:
Enter your email and password, and after about 30 seconds or so all of your data from Firefox syncs with LibreWolf. If you use add-ons that require a user name and password, you’ll need to enter those credentials to use the add-ons.
If you’re not using Firefox Sync, you can try:
- Backing up and restoring your Firefox profile (I’m not sure how well that works, though), or
- Exporting your bookmarks and making a note of the add-ons that you’re using, then import your bookmarks into LibreWolf. Once you’ve done that, go to the Firefox add-ons site and install your add-ons.
I offer no guarantees that will work. If it doesn’t, please don’t blame me.
If use uBlock Origin in Firefox, don’t need to reinstall it — as I mentioned earlier, a version comes baked into LibreWolf.
When I first decided to try LibreWolf, I didn’t know what to expect. And, more to the point, I didn’t think I needed to use something other than Firefox — I was more than happy with using Firefox as my main browser. But as I used it, my period of test driving LibreWolf kept getting longer and longer. LibreWolf gradually grew on me. So much so that I’m using it as my day-to-day window into the web. Sometimes, I even forget that I have Firefox installed on my laptop.