Friday, July 14, 2006

Disabling PDF Display in Firefox

Firefox Dialog

As a web application developer (or just as a regular human being), you have probably wondered at some point: why do online PDF documents open in my HTML browser window?

This situation goes back many years, probably since the first browser plugin APIs were devised. It probably just sounded like a good idea to browser developers to integrate different types of documents in the browser window. With PDF though, this has many drawbacks:

  • The Adobe Acrobat Reader plugin, like any Adobe application, takes ages to start. While it is starting, your browser is frozen and you can't do anything else.

  • When it doesn't work, it crashes your entire browser, or just freezes it (the case with Adobe Acrobat 6.0 and Firefox).

  • When it works, usual browser shortcuts don't work, including those to close your window or tab, navigate between tabs, go back and forward, etc.

  • To make things worse, there is really no reliable warning when you follow a hyperlink that you are going to open a PDF file. So you hang, crash or freeze without any courtesy notice.

When you combine the above with the fact that there is really no useful purpose in opening PDF documents in your web browser, you understand why yesterday I figured that enough was enough and that I would not suffer this anymore.

The good news is that there is a "very easy way" (it's just four levels of dialogs down, come on!) to change this behavior with Firefox on Windows:

  1. Go to the "Tools -> Options" menu

  2. Select the "Downloads" tab

  3. Open "View and Edit Actions..."

  4. Enter "pdf" in the "Search" box

  5. Select "Change Action..."

  6. Change the selection from "Use this Plugin" to "Open them with the default application", which should point to Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Acrobat Reader, or your favorite PDF viewer

Phew, that was it. While you are at it, you can change all the other entries that use the Adobe plugin to use an external application, make sure mp3 files don't open with Apple QuickTime, etc.


  1. oculd just uninstall Adobe Acrobat Reader (bloated piece of crap) and use Foxit reader instead:

  2. I don't even use Acrobat Reader any more. I use Foxit Reader - - which as faster, cleaner and free. I have yet to find anything that it can't do that Acrobat Reader can.

    I use the PDF Download - - extension for FireFox as well. My PDF-viewing experience is a dream.

  3. This drove me nuts for a while too. I fixed it by setting pdf's to download, rather than open. It's so annoying, I was beginning to think I was the only one having trouble, since no one else on the net seemed to be mentioning it.

    One other major annoyance, which I haven't solved yet, is Firefox's habit of popping up in front of all other windows, usually just when I'm trying to click, and or type on something in another app.
    This is probably exacerbated by my habit of clicking on a number of links to open in separate tabs, and then doing something else while I wait for them to open.

    Any suggestions on this one?

  4. Thanks for the link to Foxit, that sounds like something to try!

  5. I haven't noticed Firefox popping up in front of other windows, but I have noticed that kind of irritating behavior with Thunderbird.

  6. I am faced with the opposite problem: whenever I click on a pdf link in firefox, it opens up adobe reader to display the document, instead of opening it.

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  8. . You will find there documentation, forums, and other resources.

  9. Thank you so much! I had installed Foxit, trying to get away from Adobe, but I was still freezing in Firefox when I wanted to see a PDF. Your help solved the problem by enabling the proper reader. :)

  10. I haven't had any problem using Adobe Reader to open my pdf files. The problem is that pdf files that open in my browser look horrible, like a piece of copy paper taped to my screen and they are as difficult to navigate as a copper repipe and that's saying something.