Daily Tips & Tricks for Web Enthusiasts

Browsing the Web

Understanding Private Browsing

As you browse the web, your web browser saves a lot of information about what you’re doing in order to improve your experience online. Here’s a list of some of the things that your web browser normally remembers:

  • Cookies are stored so websites can recognize you automatically, making it possible to log in once instead of every time you load a new page.
  • Some files from the sites you visit (like stylesheets, scripts, and images) are kept in a local cache so you don’t have to download them every time, making web browsing faster.
  • The information you type into certain form fields is saved and made available the next time you fill out a similar form, saving you time.
  • A list of the websites you visted is kept so you can find that one page you visited last Tuesday.

Most of the time, having your web browser store this stuff is useful and desirable but sometimes you might not want it to. That’s where private browsing comes in. In a private browsing session your web browser doesn’t keep a record of anything.

  • No cookies or local storage entries are kept after your private browsing session ends.
  • The browser cache is disabled.
  • Autofill for forms and searches is turned off.
  • Browsing history is not saved.

Private browsing mode is useful for several reasons. Some sites, like Google, will remember you (even if you don’t log in) and tailor content (like search results) based on your previous activity. If you want to see the raw, unaltered content you can use private browsing to make these sites “forget” about you temporarily.

Another handy use for private browsing is to log in with multiple accounts using the same web browser, or log out without actually logging out. This is possible because the temporary cookies and local storage kept for a private browsing session are totally isolated and separate from your normal cookies and local storage. Changing one has no effect on the other.

A Word of Warning

Now, all of that said, it’s important to understand what private browsing does not do. Just because your web browser isn’t keeping a record of your private browsing session doesn’t mean no information is being revealed or saved elsewhere.

  • Your IP address is not concealed.
  • Your network traffic is not hidden, meaning your ISP, employer, or even people on the same network can still see what you’re doing.
  • The websites you visit can still see that someone is visiting them, and they may even be able to tell it’s specifically you using methods involving your IP address and other browsing data.
  • Your browser may not disable browser extensions when in private browsing mode, and some of those extensions may be recording your browsing history.
  • If your computer is infected with spyware or other malware, or you have monitoring software like a keylogger installed, that software can still keep track of your activity in a private browsing session.
  • Other parts of your computer do keep some records, at a lower level, that can be used to reconstruct part or all of your private browsing history. This includes things like DNS cache entries, examining certain file time stamps, and more. Fairly technical stuff, but not impossible.

Remember, private browsing can be useful in a lot of situations, but it’s not magic. Now that you know how it works you can use it with confidence.

Change the Size of Text on Any Web Page

In almost any web browser you can make text bigger by hitting Command (Mac) or Control (Windows) + = (the key with the plus sign). Want the text smaller? Hit Command/Control + - (the key with the minus sign). It’s also easy to go back to the default text size by hitting Command/Control + 0 (the zero key).

Depending on how the web page you’re viewing was designed, the layout and other elements on the page may scale up and down with the text, the text alone may scale, or the design could break entirely. If you make web pages, it’s important to realize that people can and do scale text up and down. Make sure your site works well when they do!

Quickly Bypass Your Web Browser’s Cache

Web browsers cache resources from web pages, including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, images, and other assets so you don’t have to download everything from scratch every time you load a page. Most of the time this is a good thing because it makes browsing the web a lot faster.

However, sometimes (like when you’re working on a website) the cache can get in your way by showing you an older version of the page from the cache instead of downloading the new stuff you just changed.

If this happens to you there’s a quick way to bypass your web browser’s cache: just hold Shift when you click on the Reload button and your browser will ignore its cache and get a fresh copy of the site from the server.

Quickly Cycle Through Browser Tabs

In any web browser, on both Mac and Windows computers, hitting Control + Tab will take you to the next tab.

Want to go back? Control + Shift + Tab will take you to the previous tab.

Supercharge Your Web Browser’s Built-In Search

You’re really going to love this one.

  1. Open your web browser’s preferences.
  2. Change your default search engine to DuckDuckGo.
  3. Enjoy incredibly versatile search right from your browser’s address/search field by using DuckDuckGo’s bangs.

What the heck is a DuckDuckGo bang, you ask? It’s a bit of text you add to your search that makes magic happen. Let me explain!

If you’ve followed the steps above, and DuckDuckGo is now your default search engine, you can easily search the web for pants by typing the following into your address/search bar:

pants

That would take you to the normal DuckDuckGo search for pants.

But what if you wanted to search Amazon for pants instead? Just type this:

pants !a

That !a at the end is a DuckDuckGo bang, and including it in your search will take you directly to a search for pants on Amazon’s site!

To be clear, this will not show you results from Amazon on DuckDuckGo, or inside a DuckDuckGo wrapper, or any other nonsense. No, this will take you directly to Amazon’s site and search for pants there, directly from your browser’s address/search bar, all in a single step.

Cool, right? There’s more!

Maybe now it’s time to check eBay for pants:

pants !e

Want to learn more about pants in general on Wikipedia?

pants !w

Are the DuckDuckGo search results not sufficient to quench your thirst for pants knowledge? Try Google instead:

pants !g

Or maybe you want to see some images of pants from Google Images?

pants !gi

Wondering what people on Twitter are saying about pants?

pants !tw

The list goes on. There are currently almost 10,000 bangs to choose from, all easily searchable, so finding and memorizing your favorites is a piece of cake.

And, as icing on said cake, DuckDuckGo is a great search engine that respects your privacy and doesn’t track you.

Your web browser’s built in search just got better by an order of magnitude. Enjoy!

Restore Recently Closed Web Pages

We’ve all closed a web page on accident at one point or another. The good news is that they’re easy to get back!

If you’re using a Mac or PC you’ll find various options under the History menu of your web browser for restoring recently closed pages.

On iOS devices (like iPhones and iPads), you can restore recently closed web pages by pressing and holding the + (new page/tab) button in Safari.

In Chrome on Android, tap on the menu button (represented by three stacked dots) and select the Recent tabs option.

Log Out Without Logging Out

I’ll often find myself working on a site that I’m logged in to, but I need to see what things look like when not logged in, or logged in as a different user. It’s a huge pain to log out and log back in every time I need to do this. I could use another web browser entirely, but that’s also a bit annoying and not always practical.

Thankfully there’s a better way! You can use your web browser’s private browsing/incognito mode to open any web page and view it as if you weren’t logged in without actually having to log out. Private browsing using an entirely different session with separate cookies, local storage, and so on, making it a quick and easy way to see what it’s like to be logged out without actually logging out. You can even log in using another account, all without disrupting your normal browsing session.

To open a private browsing window go to the File menu and select the New Private Window (Safari and Firefox) or New Incognito Window (Chrome) option.