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Dealing with Browser Problems

Question: I haven’t seen you mention Firefox problems. I’ve been using it for internet but it goes into “not responding” mode, particularly when I click on a link in a news email.

Actually, I talk about browser problems all the time. Particularly since people encounter browser problems all the time. :-)

The problem, though, is that it’s never as simple as telling you “Well, here’s what you do to stop ‘not responding’ problems”. There are so many possible causes, there’s no way to know which one might applies to your situation.

What I use instead is a more general approach to dealing with internet web browser problems that applies to all popular browsers — not only FireFox, but Chrome, Internet Explorer, and more.

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Scan for malware

Browser problems can be a sign of malware, though it’s certainly not the most common cause of them.

Start by making sure your security software and anti-malware tools are up to date, and then run full scans. If malware is found, make sure it’s cleaned off.

If that makes your browser problems go away, then of course you’re done.

Clear the cache

This is such a common answer that until recently1, I actually had a “stock answer” configured in the question-answering system used by my assistants and myself. A couple of keystrokes on our part provided this answer:

I’ll suggest that you begin by clearing your browser cache as described in this article: What’s a Browser Cache, How Do I “Clear” It, and Why Would I Want To? Sometimes a browser’s cache can become corrupt, or just somewhat confused, and can cause a variety of issues.

That answer is so common, and so applicable in so many situations, that we just got tired of typing it over and over and over again as questions came in.

Needless to say, next to scanning for malware, clearing the cache is the first thing I recommend when dealing with just about any browser-related problem. It clears up a surprising number of issues. Visit What’s a Browser Cache, How Do I “Clear” It, and Why Would I Want To? for instructions.

Disable add-ons

The next recommendation when dealing with browser problems is to disable add-ons or extensions.

Add-ons are software added to your web browser to provide additional functionality. Adobe Flash is one example, and the LastPass password manager is another. The issue is that add-ons integrate tightly with the browser, and problems caused by a misbehaving add-on can manifest as a browser problem.

In Internet Explorer, manage add-ons directly from the “gear” menu.

Manage add-ons on the IE gear menu

In the resulting “Manage add-ons” dialog, you can control which add-ons are enabled.

Manage Toolbars and Extensions

Click on Toolbars and Extensions. For each extension listed in the right-hand pane, either right-click on the extension and click on Disable, or click on the extension and then on the Disable button in the lower right.

Manage Accelerators

Repeat this same process after clicking on Accelerators on the left-hand panel: disable each of the accelerators listed on the right. (You can also disable or change Search Providers and/or Tracking Protection, but this rarely impacts browser stability.)

Return to using your browser in whatever scenario was causing issues. If the problems go away, then you know that one of the disabled items was the cause. You can then re-enable the add-ons one at a time, returning to using your browser each time, to see which one is responsible for your browser problems.

Firefox’s interface is similar, and is accessed from the hamburger menu.

Firefox Add-ons

Similarly, in Google chrome, click on the hamburger menu, then Settings, and left-click on Extensions.

Extensions in Chrome

Disable security software

One source of problems many people don’t think of is their security software.

In order to provide protection against malicious links, content, and downloads, some security packages insert themselves into the activity of your web browser. Many do so in the form of add-ons, which you’ll have seen above. Others, however, use different techniques that might not be so readily apparent.

I do not recommend uninstalling your security software to diagnose this type of problem.

Instead, I suggest examining your security software for options relating to its interaction with your browser. Unfortunately, different software packages have different terms in different places, but these are the types of options and common phrases you should look for:

  • real-time scanning
  • browser protection or integration
  • download scanning
  • web or URL filtering

There may be others, but the options all focus on what’s being displayed or downloaded by your web browser, typically in “real time” (as it happens).

Turn all those options off — not permanently, but as a test. If the problems you’re experiencing go away, you’ll know your security software is to blame, or at least heavily involved. If there are multiple options, turn them on one at a time to see if you can identify which of them is the culprit.

Once you understand which option in your security software might be responsible for your browser problems, you can decide between several options:

  • Live with the problem.
  • Disable the option in the security software permanently.
  • Try different security software.

Trying a different browser is also an option I’ll talk about in a moment.

Reinstall the browser

Sometimes the best solution to start over. By that, I mean:

  1. Completely uninstall the browser.
  2. Download the most recent version of the browser.
  3. Install that download.

Reinstalling software “from scratch” is a way to restore any files, settings, or what-have-you that may have been damaged, or even just confused a little, in the previous setup. It can also eliminate add-ons, or even malware you might not even know you have.

Uninstalling the browser is easy enough, if you’re using something other than Internet Explorer. For IE, however, things are little more complex, since it’s actually deeply embedded in, and used by, Windows itself. See How Do I Reinstall Internet Explorer? for instructions.

Use a different browser

Finally, sometimes the most practical solution is a complete change.

Having problems with FireFox? Try switching to Chrome. Or back to Internet Explorer.

You get the idea. See if using another browser gets you a better experience.

While finding and fixing the problem in the browser you’re used to might be preferable, sometimes the quickest and most pragmatic solution is to try something different.

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Footnotes & references

1: That “stock answer” was updated to point to this article. :-)

27 comments on “Dealing with Browser Problems”

  1. Hi Leo. 1 question. Why is it necessary to scan for virus spy and malware when you have a real time like avast.
    Thanks, Mike

    • Sometimes the real time scanner doesn’t always catch what it’s supposed to catch, and additionally it can catch some contaminated files which haven’t yet installed the malware.

    • Manual scanning is almost completely redundant. If malware wasn’t detected by real-time scanning, it will not be detected by manual scanning either. I say “almost completely redundant” as it’s possible a new strain of malware could have slipped in prior to your antivirus software being updated to detect it. In such circumstances, a manual scan would detect the malware once its definition files had been updated – but then, of course, so would the next scheduled scan.

      • Actually I disagree. Manual scanning often scans more (i.e. a complete scan), and may catch things that have passed by real time scanning. Ultimately manual scanning is also the only option if you want to use an additional, different scanner than the one you have installed.

        • Background scans and manual scans use the exact same definitions – and the exact same heuristics – and so will detect the exact same items. If a malicious process is running, it should be detected by background scanning. However, if it’s not detected by background scanning, it’ll not be detected by manual scanning either. The only exception to this is dormant malware – a zip file containing a malicious executable, say – that your AV can now detect, but couldn’t detect at the time the file was downloaded because the definition files hadn’t been updated at that time. Even if this scenario, the malware will be detected by scheduled scanning or as soon as you open the zip file. The situation is obviously different if you choose to use a secondary/additional AV – then you will want to initiate a manual scan – but, other than that, manual scanning is really quite redundant.

          • You’re making several assumptions about exactly how malware scanners work. Some do, indeed, work exactly as you outline. Some do not. I truly wish it were that simple.

          • “You’re making several assumptions about exactly how malware scanners work.” – Actually, I worked for am antivirus company until about 3 years ago – in fact, I’ve worked with several over the years. They’re not assumptions :)

          • It’s similar when it comes to manually scanning files downloaded from the internet. While plenty of people still do it, it’s actually completely unnecessary (assuming you have real-time protection, of course). If the background scanner doesn’t detect any malicious code in the file, the manual scanner will not either. You’ll get the exact same answer from both, because both use the exact same definitions and heuristics. And this, incidentally, is why Microsoft does not offer any form of right-click/manual scan option in Windows Defender: it’s pointless. The bottom line is: if your computer has malware actively running, it’ll either be detected by the background scanner or not detected at all.

            If somebody is experiencing issues that they think may be attributable to malware that hasn’t been detected by their AV’s background scanner, the best course of action is to install an alternative AV/AM and scan with that. Manually scanning with the currently installed AV will not help.

      • I helped a neighbor whose PC was clearly infected. Her antivirus program (unnamed here, but starting with an “A”) never caught it, never prevented it from infecting her computer.

        I ran MalwareBytes, which found over 300 problems. I quarantined them. The computer was fixed. And a week later now, has stayed fixed.

    • I do a manual scan to use a different AV. Microsoft Security Essentials runs in the background. If I want to make sure that malware is not the culprit to a problem I’m having, I will do a manual scan using Malware Bytes. If both MSE in the background and Malware Bytes manual scan both report nothing, I’m fairly confident that malware is likely not the cause.

  2. I like to remove add-ons on a brand new computer as part of it’s setup. Since most IE add-ons need to be removed via Programs and Features anyway, I generally remove them at the same time as most of the other bloatware. Beyond Adobe Flash or, increasingly rarely, Java, I don’t trust third-party add-ons to be of any use let alone secure: getting rid of software you don’t use is considered a good maintenance practice and, especially when it comes to browsers, security practice. Additionally, I’ve actually seen a case where a browser add-on was not an add-on at all: it was a background application that used a way geekier method to tinker with Internet Explorer directly to add a button to it and as such was not listed. Needless to say, it was a confusing piece of software and definitely caused stability issues. Also Note that when doing a clean install of Windows from scratch, it’s possible that this “send to OneNote” add-on is present, which I most certainly don’t use and I disable.

    Thankfully, in Firefox and Chrome, add-ons, extensions, whatever term they want to use, can be easily removed within those respective settings, so you might as well remove things that you know for 100% that is unnecessary. (and by unnecessary, I mean that you know that the browser does not use it even if you don’t, but usually that is not the case with browser add-ons)

    Even if you’re computer is not new, looking through these add-ons is a good opportunity to clean off foistware that you forgot to decline.

    • “Getting rid of software you don’t use is considered a good maintenance practice and, especially when it comes to browsers, security practice.” – Absolutely. The majority of the problematic computers I’ve encountered over the years have had an enormous number of installed programs, many of which are unused. In fact, people very often don’t even remember what those unused programs actually do or why they ever were installed to begin with. And, of course, each of those programs has the potential to impact performance and introduce conflicts and security vulnerabilities.

      It’s also the case that problematic computers frequently have programs installed that are little more than snake oil: registry cleaners, system optimizers, RAM optimizers, internet speed boosters, driver boosters, etc., etc. These types of programs are NOT necessary. Ever. At best, they’ll have absolutely no impact on your computer at all; at worst, they’ll break it.

      Another fairly common trait among problematic computers is, somewhat ironically, that they often have a whole bunch of security programs installed: third-party firewalls, IP maskers, and separate programs to deal with viruses, rootkits, Trojans, keyloggers, spyware, worms, bots, etc., etc., etc. This isn’t particularly surprising: because of their nature, security programs do sometimes cause problems – and the more security programs you have, the more likely it is that you’ll encounter a problem (there’s an example of a obscure problem caused by a security program in the comments to Leo’s recent post “BoxCryptor, TrueCrypt, LastPass … Oh My!”). While others will invariably disagree, IMO, you don’t need to have multiple security programs running. In fact, it could be argued that you don’t need to have ANY third-party security programs running at all: Windows Firewall does a perfectly good job and Windows Defender is better than many people give it credit for – and it’s probably less likely than other AVs to cause problems.

      If you want to your computer to remain problem-free, the best advice is to only install programs from that provide functionality you really need. And you really don’t need many programs as current operating systems have a bunch of functionality built-in and are, to an extent, self-maintaining, self-healing and self-securing.

  3. I have a strong impression that “not responding” often means that MS-Windows is not responding to a request for service from the browser. And sometimes, that an internet server is not responding to a request.

  4. I use Firefox almost exclusively. I have learned to wait until the computer is completely booted before opening Firefox.
    I do this by watching performance in task manager. When the CPU and disk activity is around 10% I open Firefox. If I do it too soon Firefox will likely hang.
    Frank C

    • I’m actually in the process of converting all my video players to HTML5. It’s actually pretty slick, and results in a better experience. No flash required.

  5. I often get the following problem. I click to open Chrome. Nothing happens. Same if I click an email link. Completely random, maybe once in 20 times. I look in Task Manager and chrome appears to be running (In “invisible mode” apparently.)

    Resolved only by restarting. Any suggestions (It’s not addons or malware.)

    • I’ve had something similar happen a few times with Firefox. When that happens, I close the offending browser using the Task Manager and restart it, and it works. For those who don’t know, the easiest way to open Task Manager is Ctrl+Shift+Esc.

  6. Strange that you should mention Firefox and have a comment about Avast in your forum at the same time. Due to some screwup on Avast’s part, one cannot pullup the FutureLearn site that has a worldwide subscription of over a million students taking courses from a reputable agency –a consortium of several dozen recognized universities. This is due to some glitch in the Avast software that causes this problem with Firefox (but not Chrome or other browsers). Avast’s response to this complaint is complacent non-remediation.

    • I do not understand your problem with Avast/Firefox/ I have Win 7, Avast (free) Firefox 41.0.2 and have no problem opening FutureLearn. It allows me to register, sign in, view course information etc. etc.
      What reaction do you get?

  7. I often find the “Not responding” message occurs simply because another program is taking up all the computer’s resources. Most often the other program is a maintenance scan that I’ve allowed to run at an inconvenient time. The only thing to do in that case is one of the following:
    – Drop the priority of the scan
    – Pause the scan
    – Stop and reschedule the scan
    – Wait till resources are available to continue browsing (Chrome has an option to Wait or Kill)

  8. I can’t recommend the excellent utility CCleaner enough in helping with browser, and other, problems. If one just takes a few seconds to configure CCleaner to their needs, running it occasionally will (if you allow it to) clear the cache for all your browsers, as well as many more helpful tasks. If you don’t want it to erase your history or cookies, uncheck those boxes. CCleaner will perform a lot of tasks, like cleaning your browser cache, via one interface so you don’t have to remember how to perform those tasks for each app.

    • “If one just takes a few seconds to configure CCleaner to their needs, running it occasionally….” – I see little point in using tools such as CCleaner as part of a periodic/occasional maintenance routine. Your operating system and applications use temporary/cached files to speed things up and, consequently, deleting them will actually negatively impact performance. Sure, there are times when you may need to delete temporary/cached files in order to address a specific problem but, beyond that, they’re really best left alone.

  9. For what it’s worth, people, this problem had me driven silly last year, especially with Firefox freezing and having issues with Flash. I upgraded the RAM memory this summer to 8gb and haven’t had a bother since. As I say, it worked for me.

  10. This topic interests me because I have the impression that some browser hijacks are not detected by antivirus/antimalware.

    In particular, I had a case a year ago where, using Chrome on an iPad, the browser displayed a fullscreen prompt offering a couple hundred dollars of software for a really good price!

    I could not get rid of the prompt. Closed, and reopened Chrome. Shut down the iPad, and restarted it. Finally I uninstalled Chrome from every machine except my Windows 8.1 desktop, and on the Windows computer used AdwCleaner and some other tools to repeatedly find and remove suspicious entries.

    Along the way I ran into the notion of a “corrupt Chrome profile.” I never really figured out how to delete a corrupt Chrome profile and start all over again.

    But eventually the problem went away. I am now back to using Chrome, signed in with the same Google account, on Windows, iPhone, and iPad. I never sign in to my wife’s Chromebook with that profile.

    I’m still puzzled about the way to delete a Chrome profile — from each and every device on which I have been using Chrome under the same Google account — and start all over again.

    Any comments? (BTW, I use Windows because of the power and usefulness of the File Explorer interface, and I use Windows 8.1 because I use some older programs that are out of support (Dreamweaver 8 and The Master Genealogist).


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