Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Why does Firefox sometimes say it's already running when it's not?

I installed Firefox because IE7 just freezes up and runs really slow. So far
I like it. It runs really fast, but every now and then I try to start it and
get a message saying Firefox is already running and that I need to stop the
program or restart my computer. I was wondering what you think I should or
could do, plus I was just wondering what you think of Firefox.

I’m a big fan of Firefox, and I use it every day. I still occasionally run
into websites that don’t work properly in Firefox, but for the most part I
rarely have to open Internet Explorer for my normal surfing.

But yes, I have run into the scenario that you’ve described. I’m always not sure
what causes it, but I can show you what I do.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

What I’ve seen when Firefox complains that it’s already running is simply
that it is already running, but it doesn’t actually have any windows
open. (One way to force this on purpose is to set a scheduled task that runs
Firefox, and then log out of your computer and stay logged out while that task
runs. At least that’s how it happens to me.)

If you run task manager, or my favorite: process explorer, after getting
this message you’ll probably find that firefox.exe is indeed running:

Process Explorer fragment showing Firefox running

(In Task Manager you may need to make sure that “Show process from all
users” is selected.)

If you find a Firefox.exe in the process list but don’t see one running on
your desktop, then you can right click on it and click on “End Process” (task
manager) or “Kill Process” (process explorer). That should halt the unexpected
Firefox and allow you to start a new copy that’s visible.

An alternative for the command-line fans out there is the SysInternals
utility called “pskill” which can be
downloaded for free from Microsoft.

“… it is already running, but it doesn’t actually have
any windows open.”

One you have the tool, then in a command shell you can enter the following
command:

pskill
firefox

That should result in something like this:

PsKill
v1.10 – Terminates processes on local or remote systems
Copyright (C) 1999-2004 Mark Russinovich
Sysinternals – www.sysinternals.com

Process firefox killed.

If more than one copy of firefox was running, that would be terminated as
well. In fact, any program with “firefox” in it’s name would be killed. And of
course if no such process exists it does nothing.

So rather than looking for and terminating firefox.exe in the task list, you
can just use the command line tool to “kill ’em if you got ’em”.

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips & a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

NOW: name your own price! You decide how much to pay -- and yes, that means you can get this report completely free if you so choose. Get your copy now!

18 comments on “Why does Firefox sometimes say it's already running when it's not?”

  1. All you have to do is hit”control-alt-delete’, when box comes up ,you’ll see firefox in the box, just highlight and hit end process, the firefox browser will be shut down, now click on icon for firefox and it will load…..

    Reply
  2. I use FF all the time, and only run into this when I try to install a back-up copy of a profile into the “Profiles” folder. You cannot copy the entire folder – only the contents inside it (by pasting it). 🙂

    Reply
  3. My problem is that after I’ve put my computer into Stand By mode (where it actually shuts off and comes back to the same spot once you restart your computer), my firefox won’t restart properly no matter how many times I follow this procedure. I need to ensure that I don’t close my firefox when I put the computer into Stand By mode.

    Reply
  4. I’ve had this problem on and off,where programs would not open up, yet in the task manager, it indicated they where open in the background.

    Not just with Firefox. I do have it on my system but my browser choice is Opera, and I’ve had it happen with it. There was no error message, it just wouldn’t open, except in the background, according to task manager.

    My sister called recently and had a similar problem with Windows Live Messenger. And then another guy called me with the same problem. I first opened task manager by right clicking on the task bar and chosing it from the menue. Closed all instances of Messenger (there would be about a half a dozen or so where they tried to get it to run). Then to the ‘control panel’, double-clicked on ‘Add/Remove programs’, clicked on the list item for ‘Windows Live Messenger’, there where two options, ‘change or uninstall’, clicking on the change button will give you two options, to ‘repair’ or ‘uninstall’, I choose ‘repair’. It seemed to work temperarily. I eventually uninstalled and reinstalled. So far so good.

    And to top it all off, I still cannot run the newest versions of Adaware 2007 or Spybot 1.5, I still have to use the old versions. I just keep checking and downloading the newest version occassionally, maybe one of them will work one day.

    Terry Hollett

    Reply
  5. i use a school mac and i always get “firefox is already running” error im new to macs and the school admins are baffled any ideas on how to view processes on a mac running osx

    Reply
  6. There’s no reason to use IE even on sites that arent supported by Firefox. Just download IE tab extension. It emulates IE in Firefox. You can download it from here: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1419

    SFC doesn’t run “on a drive”, it runs on your system. That means it checks the Windows installation in use wherevere it might have been installed.

    -Leo

    Reply
  7. I use FF all the time, and only run into this when I try to install a back-up copy of a profile into the “Profiles” folder. You cannot copy the entire folder – only the contents inside it (by pasting it). 🙂

    Posted by: Carl R. Goodwin at December 21, 2007 06:27 PM

    You sir, saved me about 30 minutes of headache. Old post, new info. Thanks.

    Reply
  8. I get this error all the time when im in uni. It says it cant open cause its already open, BUT its not listed in the processes. We have to use firefox for all our projects. It never works until you restart (it sometimes takes 2 or 3 restarts)..so almost everytime I log on in uni i restart (and the systems in my uni take at least 30 mins to restart!!!) the computer and log in again. I have reported many times this and they keep saying they’ve fixed it but it still keeps happening..my friend gets it about once or twice a week and i get it almost evey time i log in. Rahhhhh!!! Its extreamly fustrating. I never get this error a home!

    Reply
  9. the following happens when I use the pskill command in order to delete the blocking firefox.exe (Windows Vista business, running with administration rights):
    C:\Users\Rolf>pskill -t firefox

    PsKill v1.12 – Terminates processes on local or remote systems
    Copyright (C) 1999-2005 Mark Russinovich
    Sysinternals – http://www.sysinternals.com

    2 processes named firefox killed.

    Ok, 2 processes? There is only 1 in the task manager list!
    And this process remains in the list, it is not killed.
    Also using pskill with the PID of this process has no success:

    C:\Users\Rolf>pskill -t 5560

    PsKill v1.12 – Terminates processes on local or remote systems
    Copyright (C) 1999-2005 Mark Russinovich
    Sysinternals – http://www.sysinternals.com

    Process 5560 killed.

    But the process 5560 firefox.exe is still there! I have to restart to get rid of it.

    Reply
  10. Yes, I’ve been troubled by the same FireFox (FF) problem on a Vista Home Premium system with SP1. In addition to the other problems I’ve seen mentioned, I’d like to add a little regarding my own situation. In my case, when FF locks up, although I can easily close the FF window, the process does not terminate. Task Manager, Process Explorer, and even “PsKill” are all ineffective in killing the FF process. I hoped that PsKill might work, but I tried referring to the process by its name as well as by the process number, but neither method worked.

    Experience already tells me that whenever FF is left hanging like that, although it’s not consuming any CPU cycles, I will not even be able to perform a normal restart/shutdown. The shutdown sequence gets hung up for an extraordinarily long period of time and I usually have to force it by using my system’s power button, i.e., a hard, ungraceful power off. But quite by accident, I figured out a way to at least get around the shutdown difficulties I have when FF hangs like this. I kill “lsass.exe”, the Local Security Authority Process. I was experimenting once and was trying to eliminate unnecessary processes to improve performance and I thought killing lsass might help. When I killed “lsass.exe” — you can try it yourself — I immediately learned that this is apparently an essential/mandatory Windows process. Killing “lsass.exe” DOES NOT “crash” Windows nor does it cause a Blue Screen of Death, but once the OS senses that lsass is no longer running, after a one minute delay, a graceful restart is forced.

    So, although I regained control of my ability to restart when FF hangs, this hasn’t done anything to remedy the question as to why FF hangs in the first place.

    Good luck to all.

    Reply
  11. I had this FF-problem under Vista business at least 2 times a day (see my post Jan 14, 2009).
    2 weeks ago I replaced the ZoneAlarm (free) firewall by the free COMODO firewall – the problem is gone!

    Reply
  12. I experience exactly the same problems as described in the post by Tony at February 6, 2009 8:42 AM. I am running Vista Home Premium SP1. I can add to what he said that after waiting for something like 15 minutes, Windows finally shuts by itself, without necessity to kill lsass.exe first. At least this is what happened on my machine when I decided once not force ‘power off’.

    I also want to say that the problem with Firefox hanging and being unterminable by Task Manager, taskkill or pskill, started to regularly happen after I installed Zone Alarm firewall a few weeks ago. I will uninstall it and check whether the problem goes away. To Zone Alarm users I want to say that this problem happens even though I turned off Prosess Control in Zone Alarm.

    I want to say that I am bitterly disappointed with Zone Alarm and consider it to be another piece of malware pretending to protect your computer: it sneaks Ask.com toolbars in both Internet Explorer and Firefox, and it is very difficult to get rid of them. I consider this practice to be abominable and thus strongly advise against installing Zone Alarm.

    Reply
  13. It’s unfortunate that you don’t answer the question you posed. I presume you don’t know the answer?

    I get this issue constatntly, running 3.0.8 and, since FireFox is such poor software, I’ll always have to rely on proper browsers.

    It’s a shame… 🙁

    Reply
  14. You, sir, are a genius and scholar. This article provided invaluable help to restoring my Firefox browser. I am indebted to you forever. Thank you!!!

    Reply
  15. I use Vista; everytime I click on Firefox to start, it will tell me Firefox is running but not responding. It tells me to close the existing firefox process or restart the system. I checked in Task Manager but I can not see the process, I used pskill to stop it but it says firefox does not exist and do nothing. Yet I still can not start up firefox!

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.