Today's keyboard awesomeness - Switch tabs by name

· by Raghu Rajagopalan · Read in about 3 min · (625 words) ·

Usually when researching a topic, I end up with a lot of tabs open in firefox - usually grouped by topic in 3 to 4 windows with 7 to 15 tabs in each - so we’re talking rougly 30 - 40 tabs at a time. With that many tabs, it’s just too slow to switch tabs with the mouse. First you have to Alt-Tab to the right window, then eyeball the right tab within the window (which is problematic if you have more than a handful of tabs that window titles don’t provide enough info)

Tabs all seem the same
Figure 1. Too many tabs and you can’t see the title

Coping mechanisms had been:

  1. Use a vertical tab bar on the side: This works on big screens where you have enough real-estate but it’s a pain when I’m at home using the laptop’s 14in screen.

  2. I’ve set browser.ctrlTab.previews to true - lets you toggle between two tabs ala Alt-Tab with Ctrl-Tab

    1. Where this fails is that you can only switch between tabs in the same window - so if your two tabs are in different windows, you are out of luck.

What I wanted is something like CtrlP for vim (or quick switch in VS Code or Sublime etc) that will show a list of tabs titles that you can type in by name. Now, firefox’s location bar will let you switch to matching tab when you type in it - but it’s mixed with a bunch of other entries from history, bookmarks and search suggestions.

tabs mixed with a bunch of other entries
Figure 2. Tabs are mixed with other suggstions

I was looking for an extension but landed on Awesome bar page and at the bottom you have this small nugget - Turns out that you can filter the results shown in the awesome bar with different characters.

filtering results
Figure 3. Didn’t know about this till yesterday!

And voila! - switching tabs is super easy - type in a few chars, a space and % and you get a list of matching tabs across all open windows.

Filtered tabs with %
Figure 4. Nirvana? almost there!

Now this still has a few niggles - I’d like to be presented with just a list of tabs - something like focusing on the awesomebar and then hitting %. That’s not how it is since you can enter multiple words with different search meta characters and the filtering works. Nice - but not what I want.

The second gripe I have with this is that if you want to bail (or you don’t find a matching tab), then Escape works but keyboard focus remains on the awesome bar and not on back to the page. I find that I have to click on the page which I find a little irritating.

However, there’s a way around both of these - as I found out. I’m a heavy vim user, I had VimFX on firefox for mouseless Vim style keyboard navigation. However with Firefox moving to WebExtensions for addons, this plugin is unsupported on Firefox 57+. Vimium-FF is the recommended alternative. Vimium-FF has the T shortcut that brings up a searchable list of tabs:

Vimium tab switch UI
Figure 5. This is really tab switching Nirvana!

Vimium on FF isn’t as polished yet - and there’s still a few quirks that trip me up - but this gets me 90% of the way and a definite improvement.

Not on FF57 yet? You should give it a try

If you’re not on Firefox 57 yet (or generally not a FF user), then I’d recommend giving it a shot. FF’s good for the web :) and you have better privacy. with FF57 (Firefox nightly), FF has gotten a serious speed upgrade in almost all departments. Also, it’s been super stable - and you’d be helping Mozilla out with telemetry data!