Firefox: switching between tabs in most recently used order

Recently I stumbled upon a statement that new Opera 18 does not remember most recently used tabs when switching between them with Ctrl+Tab. In classic Opera, the last version 12.16, pressing Ctrl+Tab switched to the previously used tab: this way it’s easy to switch between the two tabs just like between two applications with Alt+Tab in Windows.

I still use the classic version of Opera, and I didn’t see the change. In Firefox, pressing Ctrl+Tab switches between the tabs in the order they were opened: from the first to the last tab as they appear on the tab panel. But you can change the behavior.

  1. Open a new tab in Firefox (Ctrl+T).
  2. Type about:config into the address bar and press Enter.
  3. Click I'll be careful, I promise!.
  4. Type ctrl into the Search field above the list of settings.
  5. Double-click the line with setting browser.ctrlTab.previews.
    The value in the Value column would change to true, and Status — to user set.
  6. Close the tab (Ctrl+W).

Now when you press Ctrl+Tab, Firefox would switch you to the most recently used tab. If you hold Ctrl for a while, you’ll see a window with tab previews; if you press the keys fast enough, the preview window won’t appear and the browser will switch to another tab.

I used this answer (by Jonathan Williams) to the question Changing Firefox Tab Cycle Order (by Mark Roddy).
сс-wiki aka cc-by-sa


12 Responses to “Firefox: switching between tabs in most recently used order”

  1. Mike H Says:

    THANK YOU! This actually works, unlike the few MRU tab addons I’ve found.

  2. Jens S Says:

    Wow, this really works! Thank you so much, i’ve been looking for a way to enable MRU tab ordering again for so long.

  3. Intosh Says:

    NICE!!! I’ll never understand why that is not by default or how people can live without this. Cycling through tabs in the order that they appear in the tab bar is so useless to me.

  4. Alexandre Oberlin Says:

    Chronological tab switching order is one of many recurrent problems making me lose hours of tweaking at almost any browser upgrade.

    I hate setting browser.ctrlTab.previews to true because it clutters the screen with small confusing thumbnails which are of no help to me. All I want is to cycle directly backward with CTRL-TAB (typing it once or more) and directly forward with SHIFT-CTRL-TAB (typing it once or more). As usual, this did work in the previous version I used (42 IIRC, maybe through some extension which has been obsoleted since), but does not work any more after the upgrade to Firefox 48 (Linux).

    Now I will probably need to take the risk of installing a new extension, but which one ?

    • Alexey Ivanov Says:

      Unfortunately, I do not know what extension you can use to change the order of tab switching. I agree the feature is pretty easy to implement. On the other hand, most modern browsers switch between tab in the order they were opened. Firefox just follows common trend.

      If you press Ctrl+Tab quickly, the preview window will not appear. I think it’s better than nothing.

      I notice that I nearly never use keyboard to switch between tabs. However, in many times Ctrl+Tab would be faster than grabbing mouse.

      If you find an extension, please share.

      • Alexandre Oberlin Says:

        Quickly typing


        is indeed helpful, at least to switch to the most recent tab. Thanks for the tip.



        does not go forward but displays a menu with icons, which anyway is more helpful to me than the thumbnails.

        I use several browsers on several machines and the general lack of standardization and consistence makes it difficult to remember all these tricks.

        • Alexey Ivanov Says:

          I understand your concern… Unfortunately I cannot help further. Having one solution, although not ideal, is better than having no solution at all, don’t you agree?

          As for standardization and consistence between the browsers, all the browsers switch to the tab on the right of the current one when you press Ctrl+Tab and to the tab on the left when you press Shift+Ctrl+Tab — that’s consistency even though it works differently from our expectations (MRU order).

          Shortcuts such as Ctrl+1, Ctrl+2… are also processed consistently: you switch the 1st, 2nd… tab in browser window. Yet Ctrl+9 activates the last tab in the window rather than 9th tab. Pressing Ctrl+0 resets page zoom to the standard 100%.

          • Alexandre Oberlin Says:

            Hello Alexey,

            Interface standardization has been more and more neglected in most applications since the beginning of desktop computers, with almost every developer or web designer thinking he has got it right how to read in the user’s mind. As you wrote at the top of this page, Opera historically did not switch to the tab on the right of the current one when you pressed Ctrl+Tab (step in space), but to the last used tab (step in time) and AFAIK new versions still allow the user to easily change this behaviour in the settings. In Firefox, CTRL+PAGE UP/PAGE DOWN do step in space, which indeed makes sense, but then why does ALT+TAB do the same rather than stepping in time? Firefox should also give access to a complete list of Firefox tabs, not only the ones inside the current window.

            BTW, I have a similar problem with ALT+TAB in Windows 8.1. I see thumbnails which don’t help me much to differentiate between e.g. different Firefox windows and spot the tab I am looking for. Moreover the order of window thumbnails changes every time, to make it almost impossible to have landmarks. I just would like ALT+TAB to switch directly to the previously selected window, so that I can simply press TAB again until I reach the one I want.

            It looks like the GUI designers prodigally spend resources for nonsense/show-off/think-for-the-user gadgets and begin to spare only when it comes to useful features.


            Ⓐ Alexandre

            • Alexey Ivanov Says:

              Hello Alexandre,

              Actually, I’d say GUI standards or guidelines were completely neglected in the early days, they didn’t exist yet. At the same time, Windows changes its guidelines from version to version. OS X (Mac) has different guidelines too. Even though the guidelines are different they do exist. Yet not every GUI programmer follows the guidelines.

              Just look at Microsoft Office: it has always used its own set of UI controls. Or does Microsoft experiment on Office before integrating UI feature into the OS?

              Yes, in classic Opera Ctrl+Tab switches between the recently used tabs. But the modern version does not. I do not know whether the behavior could be changed in modern versions of Opera. I has never used it.

              Alt+Tab in Windows always switched to the recently used window. Window previews in Alt+Tab switcher were added in Windows Vista. The window list is sorted by the usage order. The leftmost window is the active one, then goes the window you used before it, and so on. It makes sense. I agree sometimes the previews do not help but sometimes they do.

              You can turn off thumbnails in Alt+Tab switcher in Windows 7. I do not know whether it works in Windows 8 or not.

              By the way, if you press Ctrl+Alt+Tab, the switcher will stay open when you release the keys. Then you can use arrows keys or mouse pointer to select the window to switch to. Arrows and mouse also work in the regular Alt+Tab, you just need to hold Alt pressed.

              Alt+Esc cycles through windows in the order they were opened without ever displaying previews.

              Well, I do not like some new changes in the UI… The time changes, and the UI also changes…

              — Alexey

              • Alexandre Oberlin Says:

                Hello Alexey,

                You wrote
                Alt+Esc cycles through windows in the order they were opened without ever displaying previews.
                I suspected that Windows’ thumbnails were in chronological order but I had completely forgotten


                : exactly what I want, thanks! NB: Firefox please follow.

                I personally can’t simultaneously think of the problem at hand and at the system’s ever changing interface subtleties which don’t bring me any benefit. The same mostly stands for toolkits. For example I learned OWL (Borland’s Object Windows) and Qt. Then OWL was dropped and Qt4 was quite a different API than Qt3 (even if I don’t deny it was conceptually better). Then I never even tried to use Qt5. Of course the market forces quick and dirty releases of immature projects, but should Open Source follow?

                In an ideal world every concept would require the same functions whatever the context, and you barely would have to learn guidelines for any new product. Today I think I should just have stuck to Common Lisp and C.


                Ⓐ Alexandre

  5. Miguelangel Fernandez Says:

    Thank you! Why on earth is this not the default behavior?

  6. Alexey Ivanov Says:

    I don’t know.
    In recent versions of Firefox, this option is exposed in Settings.

    Open Options from menu. On General page, search for Tabs, then select Ctrl+Tab cycles through tabs in recently used order.

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