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firefox nightlyMozilla has recently been trying to up its game in the browser war, and step up the innovation. They realized they needed to get new features to end users more quickly, so to do this, they set up several new “channels”. If names like Firefox Nightly, Aurora and Beta seem confusing, hopefully this post will help set things right.

In brief, these are the channels:

  • Stable: For users who just need a stable browser that works.
  • Beta: This channel is “close to stable”, but not really stable yet. By using the Beta channel, you’re helping Mozilla test new features.
  • Aurora: The “less than stable” channel; you’re approaching cutting-edge territory here, and taking an active part in the development effort.
  • Nightly: Fresh from the oven, may unexpectedly break at any time. This is as bleeding-edge as it gets.

Now let’s see how you can get each version, and learn a bit about switching channels.

Stable Builds

This is the build you can get right off Get Firefox. Simply press the big green button, and the safest version of Firefox will be downloaded to your computer. At the time of this writing, this is version 4.0.1:

firefox nightly

Beta & Aurora

To start using the Beta and Aurora builds, go to the Firefox Channels homepage and take your pick:


firefox nightly tester tools

Note where it says “Coming Soon!” under the Beta version — we’ll be revisiting this point. At this time, the only “testing” build you can get from this page is the Aurora build. But it turns out that from within Aurora, you can switch between the Stable, Beta and Aurora channels. Just click the menu button, go to Help > About Aurora, and click the Change link shown in the screenshot:

firefox nightly tester tools

You will then be taken to a channel selection screen with a dropdown and an explanation for each of the channels:

firefox nightly tester tools

I was able to join the Beta channel from this screen. I switched to “Beta” and clicked Apply and Update. Firefox then fetched a 17.2MB download and smoothly switched to the Beta channel:

firefox nightly update

This goes to show that even Mozilla might be slightly confused by its own release cycle. How come you can switch to Beta from within Aurora, but can’t download the Beta from the channels page, where it tells you it is “coming soon”?

Nightly Builds

If using Aurora feels a bit tame, you can kick things up a notch and start using the Nightly builds. To download the installer, go here and grab the installer for your platform. Note the decidedly less flashy interface here:

firefox nightly update

Once installed, the Firefox nightly build sets up a shortcut in your Start menu simply called “Nightly“. At the time of this writing, the nightly build was version 6.0a1:

firefox nightly

Note that even though this is a more advanced build than Aurora, it does not have a built-in channel switcher. It installs itself alongside Aurora/Beta and the stable version. This means you can be testing or using three different versions of Firefox at the same time, on the same computer.

Unlike Chrome, where you can have Canary What Google Chrome Canary Is [Technology Explained] What Google Chrome Canary Is [Technology Explained] Read More and “regular” Chrome running at the same time, you can only have a single Firefox build running at any one time on your computer. So if you’ve got an open browsing session in Nightly and click the Aurora shortcut on your Start menu, you’ll simply get a new Firefox Nightly window. Confusing, I know.

A Word of Warning

For some strange reason, both the Nightly and Beta assume you want them to act as the default browser for your computer. That means that during the installation process, you’re going to have to consciously look for the “set as default” step and opt out of making an experimental, unstable browser your default browser. An interesting design choice by Mozilla, no doubt.

In Closing

Trying out new and experimental software builds isn’t always comfortable, and it sure can get confusing. But Mozilla is a true community effort, and if you believe in its core mission, this can be a nice way to participate and contribute towards making Firefox a faster, more stable browser.  Let us know in the comments if you use one of the test versions and how it works out for you.

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  1. Anonymous
    June 25, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Use -P profilename -no-remote parameter to start multiple Firefox simultaneously... :)

  2. Mango Wodzak
    May 28, 2011 at 4:59 am

    Hi.. So is there a post that tells us what innovative new features we can expect to see in these yet to be officially released versions?? Will we see massive performance differences/fster startup and page load times? What kind of new ideas will be there to persuade us to upgrade? (I'm hesitant to jump straight in as I rely heavily on add-ons which no doubt will be incompatible for a while yet!).. Will it be possible to update/disable/add addons without restarting firefox like with chrome? What's going to blow our mind?

    • Anonymous
      May 30, 2011 at 7:56 pm

      Personally, I hope they'll find someone as awesome as Aza Raskin again, and bring some serious UI innovation. It looks like Chrome is heading towards a... "chromeless" experience (the less UI, the better), and Opera is doing some pretty innovative stuff (tab thumbnails). I can only hope Firefox will find a way to innovate. They've been showing some interesting work with their new AwesomeBar HD add-on, but nothing groundbreaking really.

      So, to be honest, I'm not even sure if anything is going to blow our minds. I guess time will tell!

      • Mango Wodzak
        May 30, 2011 at 8:57 pm

        So we can expect no real radical performance improvements? Seems like very little incentive to upgrade.

        • Anonymous
          May 30, 2011 at 9:50 pm

          Well, I'm sure Mozilla would like us to feel otherwise. And Firefox is a very active product with a vibrant community. I'm definitely not saying that there's nothing to look forward to. What I am saying, though, is that FF4 ("stable") crashes and hangs horribly on my system. So as long as Chrome is more stable than FF (comparing stable-vs-stable versions), I would not rush to upgrade. But that's me :)