You may think you know your browser pretty well at this stage, but there’s one very powerful feature that doesn’t get a lot of attention, and that you might have overlooked: User profiles. If you’re on Chrome, Edge or Firefox, they can make a real difference to how you get your web browsing done.
They are exactly what they sound like they are—separate browser profiles for separate users, like how you might have separate user accounts for logging into Windows or macOS. They work at the browser level though, so you don’t need to keep logging in and out of the user accounts set up on your operating system.
Profiles separate all the important stuff you collect as you browse the web—your browsing history, your bookmarks, your saved passwords, your installed extensions, and more. If you share a computer with more than one person, it’s an effective way of keeping your browsing experiences completely separate (though switching profiles is very easy, so don’t rely on this as a secure way of keeping your browsing life private).
Perhaps an even better way of using profiles is to separate out your work life and your personal life—you don’t have to have your evening browsing interrupted by search suggestions, browser extensions and bookmarks that you only ever need access to at the office. Here’s how profiles work, and how to set them up.
Profiles in Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge
In Chrome, click the avatar button in the top right corner of the interface, then choose Add (you’ll notice there’s a Guest option there as well, if you just want to give someone else temporary access to your computer and your browser).
You’re prompted to give the new person a name, and a picture, and then a new Chrome window opens up as if the browser has been installed for the first time. The browser isn’t signed in to any sites, no bookmarks or browsing history is stored, and everything starts with a clean slate again.
It’s not compulsory to associate new Chrome profiles with Google accounts, but you can do if you want to—click on the avatar button again, then choose Turn on sync to sign into a Google account (and to sync browsing data across, if necessary).
Two Chrome profiles can run together simultaneously, so obviously this isn’t the most secure way of keeping one person’s browsing data and information separate from another’s. Switching between accounts is as easy as clicking on the avatar button and choosing from the list.
Click Guest and it’s a lot like opening up an incognito window: No pages are saved to the browsing history, no cookies are stored after the browsing window is shut, and there’s no access to any of the sites and apps you might be signed into in Chrome.
Chrome settings can be configured individually for each profile, so you can, for example, have different new tab settings and different themes for each one. Installed extensions are kept separate too. To manage profiles and to remove any of them if needed, click the avatar button, then the cog icon.
Adding profiles in the new Microsoft Edge is very similar—both it and Chrome are now based on Chromium, of course. The only major difference, besides a few variations in the labels used, is that you can sign in with a different Microsoft account on each profile, rather than a different Google account.
Profiles in Mozilla Firefox
Mozilla Firefox supports profiles too, but the feature is much better hidden than it is in Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge. There’s no icon to click on—you need to load up the “about:profiles” page in a new browser tab, then click Create a New Profile. If you’ve not done this before, you’ll only see the main default profile listed underneath.
Give the new profile a name and you’re pretty much done—it gets added to the list, and you can click Launch profile in new browser to switch to that profile in a new browser window. As on Chrome, the new window acts like a fresh installation of Firefox, with an introduction to the browser’s features and everything.
Switch to this new profile and you won’t be signed in anywhere, you won’t have access to any of your bookmarks, and none of your browsing history will appear (a new history will start to be associated with this new profile).
As with Chrome and Edge, it’s not a particularly secure way of keeping browsing data separate. Two profiles can run alongside each other in separate windows, and switching between profiles is easily done via the “about:profiles” page.
Besides the browsing history and the bookmarks, the settings and the add-ons linked to Firefox are kept separate between each profile too. You can have a range of work-related extensions installed for professional business, but then reduce the clutter for your personal profile, for example.
Go back to the “about:profiles” page if you need to rename or remove a particular profile. You can also choose which profile is the default profile—via the Set as default button—while is the profile that automatically appears when Firefox starts up.
You can also open a Firefox profile manager utility when the browser is closed. On Windows, press Win+R to open the Run box, then type “firefox.exe -P” and press Enter. On macOS, type “/Applications/Firefox.app/Contents/MacOS/firefox-bin -P” into a Terminal window and hit Enter.