Troubleshooting Internet Explorer – Problems with Add-Ons

Troubleshooting Internet Explorer
Troubleshooting Internet Explorer

If there’s one thing that’s always important to keep in mind when developing Web-based applications, then it’s the settings of the browsers running the applications.

For example, Internet Explorer through its many iterations has come with a large number of quirks and settings options that vary by browser version. The number of configuration options in IE has increased significantly in version 9, which gives more control to users but mostly ends up causing confusion and support calls.

I myself find the options somewhat confusing so I intend to write a series of articles in an effort to clear the basics up.

This article in particular will cover problems and ways of dealing with IE add-ons.

Read this First

Before starting to troubleshoot IE, I suggest skimming the Internet Explorer Microsoft support knowledge-base for relevant information.

More specifically, Microsoft offers a well written debugging article for Internet Explorer that goes in detail through steps for users to take in solving problems with IE. I found this article useful since sometimes when browsing to a Web application, users can’t even see the main page and just see an error saying “Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage”.

Although the article is specific to a single problem, the troubleshooting steps are almost universally applicable with some interesting hints as well.

Running IE Without Installed Add-Ons

Almost inevitably various add-ons and browser helper objects (BHOs) will cause problems with Web applications. When first debugging the application for a user’s machine this isn’t immediately obvious and must be guessed at, which can end up becoming a long and tedious process.

Add-on and BHO problems are especially problematic if the Web applications use third party software and/or ActiveX objects. Various conflicts between the components can easily arise and cause IE to act in an unstable or unusable manner.

IE’s No Add-Ons Mode

In the past I have had to go through the list of add-ons with each user to try to guess which might be causing problems for the application. Almost always the problems would be caused by something seemingly commonplace such as the Google toolbar add-on.

However there is a simple way to tell if the problem is caused by an add-on using an options called IE’s No Add-ons mode. When I found out about this possibility it helped me save a lot of time when diagnosing IE problems. One can start up IE in the no add-ons mode in two ways:

The First Way

  1. Select the start menu and type Internet Explorer in the Search box. Do not click enter yet.
  2. In the list of options that shows above the search box, click the option labeled Internet Explorer (No Add-Ons)

The Second Way

  1. Click on the start menu and then select All Programs
  2. Select Accessories
  3. Select System Tools
  4. In the list of tools you will be able to see and start the option to  run Internet Explorer (No Add-Ons)

What to do if the Add-Ons are a Problem

If you have run IE in the Internet Explorer (No Add-Ons) mode and it solves your problem, then that’s a great start. Now that you know an add-on is causing your problems you can deal with it in one of two ways.

  1. You can track down the particular add-on that is causing problems and disable just it.
  2. You can disable all currently running add-ons

Disabling a Single Add-On

If you choose to track down the particular add-on causing the problem, you can view the list of currently loaded add-ons in IE8 and IE9 by clicking Tools -> Manage Add-Ons.

In your Add-on Types left hand menu bar make sure that Toolbars and Extensions is selected.

Also, when checking your add-ons, make sure you use the drop down list labeled Show to view both Currently loaded add-ons and Downloaded controls. Both of these sections are possible sources of problems.

Once you have the list of add-ons in front of you, then you can review the list of enabled add-ons and use the disable button to disable it. Later if you decide to re-activate the add-on, you can enable it by selecting it and clicking the enable button.

I have found that often sources of problems are caused by the Google Toolbar. In general I prefer to keep my list of add-ons to a minimum because each takes up system resources when it runs. IE even shows the extra load time and navigation time that each add-on adds. Although most display as 0.00 seconds, they will slow down your browser cumulatively, especially if your system resources are limited.

I was able to find an interesting in-depth MSDN blog article about the performance impact of various types of IE add-ons. It’s definitely worth a read if you are interested in how add-ons are affecting your browsing experince.

It just seems counter-intuitive to me to have a host of add-ons slowing down my browsing experience when I barely ever use them, so I am usually quite happy to remove all non-essential add-ons from the list.

Mass-Disabling Add-Ons and Resetting IE

Often the process of tracking down which add-on is causing problems is not worth the effort and one wants to simply disable all non-essential add-ons and reset IE to a default state. How is this done?

  1. In IE, click Tools then Internet Options
  2. Click the Advanced tab in Internet Options
  3. At the bottom of the Advanced tab, click the Reset button
  4. You will see a pop up confirmation box that explains what the reset involves
  5. You will also see a checkbox to Delete personal settings in the pop up. By default this checkbox is not selected, so I manually check it to make sure IE is properly cleared of everything including accelerators.
  6. Then click the Reset button to finish resetting IE

Note that if you followed these steps and want to re-enable a browser add-on, you will need to do so manually under IE’s Tools -> Manage Add-ons section.

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