How Firefox’s Command Key Bug Kills Usability on the Mac

An incredibly annoying bug plagues Firefox users on the Mac. Despite having been reported to Mozilla.org in June of 2006 — almost 4 years ago as of this writing — no one has attempted a fix. There has been no developer response or any indication of a timeframe in which it will be addressed.

Allow me to introduce my personal Firefox nemesis, bug #342564.

On the Mac platform, remember that pressing cmd+left (the command key plus the left arrow) performs the same function as the Home key on Windows and Linux, both of which send the cursor to the beginning of the line (BOL). Similarly, pressing cmd+right (the command key plus the right arrow) performs the same function as the End key on Windows and Linux, both of which send the cursor to the end of the line.

The problem is that Firefox assigns cmd+left as page back and cmd+right as page forward when the keyboard focus is not in a form element (although I do not know if this is by design or is just a result of porting Firefox to Mac OS X). For example, if you are writing a comment here and you press cmd+left, Firefox will send the cursor to the beginning of the line. If your keyboard focus is on the page itself — and not in a text area form element — and you press cmd+left, then Firefox will take you back a page (or do nothing if there is no page to go back to).

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work this way. On some forms, Firefox fails to perform a BOL or EOL and, instead, performs a page back or a forward. If you are composing an e-mail in Gmail and you press cmd+left expecting to go the beginning of the line, you will either be sent back a page or, if there is no page to go back to, nothing will happen at all.

At best, this bug makes it difficult to jump to the beginning or end of a line. At worst, this bug forces page switches on an unsuspecting user while completing a form.

Firefox Bug

A compilation of screenshots describing the bug's most obvious effect

This same problem appears in Google Docs and on sites that use either TinyMCE or CKEditor, and in a number of additional applications around the web. In other words, it is a major bug. Note that both Safari and Chrome properly handle these common Mac keyboard shortcuts.

Fixes That Do Not Work

I have seen recommended a number of fixes that do not work. Here are a few of them:

The Keyconfig or Keyfixer plugins

In many places on the web, users may be encouraged to try Firefox plug-ins to fix this problem. The problem is that, while installing a plug-in can force Firefox to no longer respond to cmd+left or cmd+right, it does not restore these shortcuts’ standard behavior. Disabling them may help to prevent unwanted page changes, but if you use BOL and EOL a lot — like I do — then the problem remains unsolved.

I have yet to find any plug-in that fixes this bug.

Modifying the Behavior of Home and End Keys

The Home key works differently than on Windows or Linux. On the Mac, Home sends the cursor to document’s “home” or top left corner, while the End key sends the cursor to the document’s “end” or bottom right corner. Many Mac users however, myself included, modify these to match their respective behavior on Windows and Linux. Doing this will not affect this outcome of this bug. Remapping Home and End to BOL and EOL respectively is effectively the same as pressing cmd+left or cmd+right, so Firefox still fails to handle some forms.

Known Workarounds

The only workaround I have found is to use the emacs shortcuts: ctrl+a for beginning of line and ctrl+e for end of line. I believe that these shortcuts are designed into OS X itself, so these will work under most circumstances. Another option is to use the option key plus an arrow to jump from word to word in the desired direction.

In many cases the only thing you can do to get around this bug is to use a different browser. Whenever I plan to do any serious editing in Google Docs, I skip Firefox and go straight to Safari.

Links to Mentions of this Bug Around the Web

Updates

  • As of December 23, 2010, it appears that a patch has been released and will be incorporated into Firefox 4. Hallelujah!
  • March 23, 2011: Alas, Firefox 4 has been released, yet the bug remains.
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29 Responses to How Firefox’s Command Key Bug Kills Usability on the Mac

  1. DG says:

    I completely share your frustrations with this issue. For me, this is a deal breaker.

    As for the update, I’ve downloaded the latest Firefox 4 version (4.0b10) and the problem still persists.

  2. gracelives says:

    I’m such an avid Firefox user that this bugs me more than it should.
    I really love Firefox and all that it offers, but I keep forgetting that the browser has this bug. I keep thinking my Command or arrow keys are broken!

    Anyway. I agree.

  3. Max says:

    If only it were incorporated into version 4. Just downloaded the new version with high hopes today. No love. Back to Chrome I go. ARGH.

  4. Alexandre de Oliveira says:

    No patch. Firefox 4 continues with this bug. However, in Gmail, it just doesn’t work at all.

    In other richtext editors, the bug continues. I think Google just disabled Cmd+Left somehow.

  5. Thanks for the feedback. I checked Firefox 4 myself last night and was disappointed to find the bug is still there. Frankly, due to this bug, Firefox’s slow performance, and constantly stuttering Flash, I have all but abandoned it. Firefox just isn’t the young, nimble, upstart that it once was. I have switched to Chrome almost exclusively. I just can’t make excuses for Firefox anymore.

    • Alexandre de Oliveira says:

      Yes, I’m with Chrome too. Safari has some minor related bugs.

      I am using Firefox strictly as a development environment. I wonder, doesn’t anyone at Mozilla use a Mac?

  6. Pingback: T=Machine » Firefox4: Still doesn’t work on OS X

  7. GDmac says:

    I found your site by searching for firefox command arrow bug, because i’m recently bitten by this bug. And yes, in Firefox 5 this bug is still present. Even Googles Chrome browser uses cmd-arrow for browsing forward and backward to other pages, but it does manage to keeps focus in these kind of WYSIWYG editors and BOL/EOL do simply work.

  8. Alexandre de Oliveira says:

    Still alive… https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=289384
    Anyone tested against FF6? FF takes so much memory nowadays I don’t even care that much anymore. Safari 5.1 is just great.

  9. Roeland says:

    Even FF7 : nope

  10. Annoyed Firefox user says:

    Just downloaded the new firefox … but still there. How is that possible? Deal-breaker for me. Chrome it is! !~

  11. Firefox 8.0 and the bug is still present.

  12. Alexandre de Oliveira says:

    I’ll put here a | for each version (since 2) that don’t fix this.

    |||||||

  13. Firefox 9.0.1 and the bug persists..

  14. Scott says:

    We’re up to Firefox 13 and it is still driving me to smash items on my desk. I can no longer use WordPress editors on Mac Firefox without contemplating murder.

  15. PCinSF says:

    Bug still there. It’s a dealbreaker for me. Back to Chrome! I really wish they would fix this. I’ve been waiting several years for it. I try it with every major release and get disappointed.

  16. Sam Jacobson says:

    Thanks very much for the summary of the problem. Google lead me here, and I think it’s the most comprehensive description I’ve found. I did some work on the problem, including implementing a GreaseMonkey userscript. Please see: http://www.samjacobson.com/2012/09/Cmd-Right-Cmd-Left-in-Firefox-Gmail
    Feel free to use the script on the linked page, it’s working for me, and hopefully will solve the problem for the other readers here, at least until Google care enough about Firefox+OSX to fix the problem (my personal opinion is that it’s a Gmail bug).

  17. jshell says:

    Firefox 18 — bug’s still there.

  18. Grapestain says:

    Firefox 19 — bug’s still there.

  19. Dan says:

    Firefox 20. Still here.

    I love FF, but when I can use Command Arrow in virtually all other apps and situations it becomes muscle memory so when I get to gmail, it is just frustrating. It may not seem like a big deal, but it is a big productivity crush. I am trying so hard to stick with FF, but I think I will be heading back to Safari and Chromium. So sad.

  20. Dave says:

    Firefox 23 (Aurora build). Bug still here.

  21. Chris says:

    Firefox 24. Still here.

  22. Firefox Nightly 29.0a1 and the bug is still present but I suppose it’s only a matter of time since the ticket (https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=289384) has been recently labeled as “RESOLVED FIXED”. 🙂

  23. badblood says:

    Hyperventilating here… I used KeyConfig to disable the Cmd-key mappings for back/forward page in the latest build of Firefox. I restarted, and now Cmd-Left/Right is Home/End of line again, both in Facebook and Google.

  24. rikkiprince says:

    What’s the latest? I’m still having problems when using the wordpress.com text editor (TinyMCE?), although Google Docs is fine. Anyone else having a problem?

  25. ssiruguri says:

    I find that with Cmd-key mappings disabled using keyconfig, I can get Cmd-left and -right to go back and forward by one word at a time in ordinary HTML textboxes, and other textboxes within the FF interface itself, but I can’t get that behavior within TinyMCE windows. Any ideas why?

  26. For anyone coming here now, this has been fixed in Firefox. If it’s still not working, make sure to refresh firefox: https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/troubleshoot-and-diagnose-firefox-problems#w_6-refresh-firefox

  27. yayyyyy 5 years laterrrrr

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