There’s a lot going on behind the scenes as you surf the web. You might have heard about things like “cookies,” but do you know what they do or what else your browser is storing?
Whenever you use your browser, the sites you visit and actions you perform result in information being saved. This data is typically used to make navigating the web easier for you in the future.
Many different pieces of information are being stored while you’re online. Cookies are just one part of the equation. There’s also your browser’s cache, history, autofill information, saved passwords, and even more little bits of data.
Why does it matter?
You might be asking why you need to know about your browser data. Depending on the situation, you might want to change certain browser settings or learn how to clear your data. Understanding your browser data can do the following:
- Avoid privacy or security issues
- Help you make the right decisions with your settings
- Underline the importance of clearing your data
- Help you decide what data to clear
- Show you how some websites work
- Make it easier to troubleshoot problems
Also, many people use a browser on their computer, phone, or tablet every day. That’s a lot of data. It’s important to stay informed and know what’s being saved.
What data is being stored?
A lot of different kinds of information get stored while you’re using the web. In this article, let’s talk about some of the biggest types of data being saved, including how they work and what to watch out for.
What’s typically being communicated is information about what you’re doing on the site. Cookies help keep track of visits to a certain website, certain pieces of information, and things like what’s in your cart at an online shop. For instance, when you go back to a website and see your login information has been saved, it’s likely that cookies were used to do this.
There are two main types of cookies you should know—session cookies and persistent cookies. Session cookies are stored temporarily. Once a “session” is over, the session cookie is gone. This means you simply need to close out of your browser to lose the cookie. Persistent cookies, though, stick around. These are the kinds of cookies that help do things like save login information or preferences you’ve indicated on a website.
Though cookies are very helpful, it is possible for unwanted cookies to collect data about your visits and then be used in ways that aren’t helpful to you. For instance, some cookies can be used to keep track of your interests and show you ads based on those interests. This practice is concerning to some people. One way to try to combat this is to see if your browser allows you to block third-party cookies. These cookies are sent to your browser from a source other than the website you’re on—often from an ad on the page.
However, for the most part, it’s typically recommended to allow your browser to accept cookies. If you’re visiting safe websites, you’re probably not encountering unwanted cookies. They make visiting sites a much easier and enjoyable experience, as well.
Your browser history is pretty straightforward: it displays the sites you’ve visited in the past. Your history is a recording of the sites you’ve gone to, including the name of the page and when you visited. Depending on your browser, your history might go back to pages you visited months ago. This can be really helpful to you, because if you forget to bookmark a site, you can always go back and find it in your history.
If you’ve ever been told to “clear the cache,” you might have done so while wondering what you were even deleting. The browser cache is a way to save certain things on websites in order to load things more quickly and efficiently in the future. Pages or pictures on a website might be saved to the cache. This means that if you visit a site and certain images are saved to the cache, then the next time you try to load another page on the site with those images on it, they won’t have to be accessed from the website all over again—they’ll just be displayed from the browser cache.
This can be really helpful if you’re clicking through multiple pages on a website and there’s, say, an image at the top of each page being used as a banner. You won’t have to load it from the website every single time you click on a new page. Not only does this mean that things load more quickly for you, it also means it takes a bit of stress off the website’s server.
Autofill data is typically form information that’s saved for later. Think about all the times you’ve entered your address in a form. Storing autofill data means that next time you need to enter your address, you might not have to type it all back in again. This works with all kinds of information. Different areas (or “fields”) of a form often have names assigned to them. Autofill can use these names to identify which field to enter each piece of information into, so it won’t accidentally put your city in the field asking for your phone number.
Some browsers can also save your passwords for you. If you’re using different passwords for each different account you have (which you should—take a look at my article about managing your passwords!), then those passwords can be difficult to keep track of. You often have the option to let your browser remember the password for you. This password data is typically saved to just that certain browser on that specific computer.
Though it’s likely tempting to take this option, be careful! If you’re using a shared computer, others will have access to your accounts. Keep this in mind, and make sure you never save your password to the browser if strangers will have access to it.
What you can do with your browser data
Now that you know about some of the data your browser is storing, you can make some informed decisions. Data takes up some space on your devices, and some of the stored data may be totally useless to you (or even completely unwanted), depending on how you typically use your browser. The good news is, you do have some choices when it comes to your browser data.
Change your settings
Most browsers allow you to change your settings to fit your needs. For instance, you can choose to block third-party cookies, or, if you want, even block all internet cookies. You might also want to turn autofill on or off. Depending on your browser, you can likely edit your autofill information, as well. If you have a new address, you can update your old autofill information. If you saved some information on accident, you can delete it. You can also turn saved passwords off and on, as well as delete passwords. Most of this data can be managed in some way.
In Chrome, you can find these kinds of options in your Settings under the Advanced section. In Firefox, these options can be found in the Options under Privacy & Security. Similar settings can be found in most popular browsers.
Clear some or all of your data
You can clear your browser data as often as suits you. Unless you’re having issues with your browser, you probably don’t really need to clear your data. On the typical PC, browser data doesn’t usually take up that much space. Of course, phones and tablets can be a completely different story. If you don’t have much space left on your phone, clearing your browser history actually can make a notable difference.
Also, you can clear data if you have any privacy concerns. If you share your device, you might want to clear your history. (You can also bypass this altogether by using something like Chrome’s incognito mode, which prevents browser data from being saved while in use.)
You can typically choose which data to delete and how far back you’d like to go. For instance, you might only want to delete your history so you keep your cache and cookies for easier browsing. You could delete just some of your recent history, or you could delete it all. Take a look in your browser’s settings to see which options you can choose from!
There may be more ways to customize your browser than you think. If you’ve never really looked into what your browser can do, you might not even know what options you have. Fortunately, most popular browsers can have really cool capabilities once you personalize them. If you find some aspect of your browser inconvenient, it’s possible there’s a way to get rid of those irritations. Even if you think your browser is fine the way it is, you could be missing out on some cool little tricks that change the browsing experience.
In this week’s Internet 101, let’s talk about how customization works and what you might want to add to your browser!
Why you might customize your browser
You might feel like your browser does everything you need it to do—and of course, that’s possible. But browsers are able to be customized for a reason, and one size doesn’t always fit all with browsers.
Your browser’s default settings can really just be a starting point. Depending on what you like, what annoys you, or what you really need, you can likely tweak your browser to make things simpler and more fun.
Here are just a few reasons you might customize your browser:
- Accessibility needs
- Privacy concerns
- Website annoyances
How do you customize your browser?
Customization works differently depending on which browser you’re using. Since we’re keeping it simple, I’ll just mention that some more experienced tech-minded people might customize their browser by hacking it or by essentially building their own. But for the purposes of this article, let’s stick to the much easier options.
Options, preferences, or settings
Every browser will have preferences or settings of some kind. These options are built-in to the browser. You don’t have to download anything new or go searching for specific tools that you need to add.
Depending on which browser you have, these options might be fairly basic or surprisingly complex. If there are a lot of options, don’t get overwhelmed—just scan through for words or terms you recognize, and try to avoid changing any options that you don’t really understand. Otherwise it could be a hassle to go back and figure out what has been changed!
Extensions or add-ons
Extensions or add-ons are a different way to customize your browser. If your browser has these available (and it very likely does), you can install them to open up even more options. They’re not pre-installed, so you will typically have to search or browse through all the offerings to find what you want.
What can you customize?
There are many different ways to customize most browsers. Of course, some browsers are much more able to be customized than others. And don’t forget, this is just a brief overview of some popular or particularly interesting things to consider. You can do many more things than listed here—browse through your browser’s settings to see if there’s more that interests you! Also, if you use Opera Browser, don’t forget you can use Install Chrome Extensions, and if you use Vivaldi, you can install Chrome extensions by following Vivaldi’s instructions.
(Note: As of writing this article, Safari’s extensions gallery was not accessible. Once it’s able to be viewed, this article may be edited to include Safari options.)
Look through built-in accessibility options
Most browsers will have these options built in to their settings or preferences. You can find change things like font size, use of color, and more.
Make images easier to see
Work with language tools
There are a lot of things you can do with language extensions. There are a few extensions you should definitely consider adding.
Save things for later
Sure, you can bookmark things for later, but some tools are even better than bookmarks. Take a look at some extensions that make it easier to save content for later.
If you want to save things for access from multiple devices, look at Google Keep for Chrome, Save to Google Drive for Chrome, OneNote Web Clipper for Firefox, Evernote Web Clipper for Microsoft Edge, Save to Pocket for Microsoft Edge, or Pocket for Opera.
Cut back on space and time
Some extensions will help use less data, which can save time, or change how your browser works so your browser just moves more quickly. Here are a few ways you can speed your browser up and save space while you’re at it.
To speed your browser up by blocking websites from using trackers, try Ghostery for Microsoft Edge.
Get rid of annoyances
There are many, many things about browsing websites that can be unbelievably irritating. There are two offenders that are perhaps worse than the others.
Change the visuals
Your experience with your browser could completely change just by changing the browser’s appearance. It can be lovely to make a browser look more like your own style, and it’s helpful to set things up in a way that makes sense to you. Here are just a few ways to do that.
To change the colors or images displayed on your browser, look to see if the browser supports themes. You can browse themes or wallpapers for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Vivaldi. If you don’t use these browsers, yours might still have themes available. You can often find out by looking in your browser’s settings or preferences.
Have some fun
There are, of course, quite a few extensions or add-ons you can use to do fun, random, or just very specific things. Below are some popular ways you might use your browser extensions for fun.
Finally (and very importantly), to add emojis (or even Bitmojis!) to your messages and posts, check out Bitmoji for Chrome, Emoji Keyboard for Chrome, Emoji Keyboard for Firefox, or Emoji Keyboard for Opera.
Edge Browser, Microsoft’s replacement for Internet Explorer, is now available on smartphones. You might remember that I recently wrote about how to choose a browser, and Edge was included in the list of options. If you chose Microsoft’s browser offering, you will now be able to use it across your devices! If you didn’t choose it, its new mobile versions might just be enough to finally convince you to give it a try.
According to Mashable, the apps started being tested publicly in October of this year. Now Microsoft is officially releasing the apps. As this article is being written, the app has already been rated a couple hundred times on Google Play and has just over 4 out of 5 stars, while the App Store shows over a hundred ratings and gives the app 3.5 out of 5 stars. Of course, the apps were only just fully released, so time will tell how the ratings will change as more people take the opportunity to give Microsoft Edge a chance.
The release of these apps is just another step forward in pushing Edge and trying to draw in new users. As I mentioned in my previous article, Microsoft Edge simply has not gained a decent following yet. It followed a widely disliked browser (Internet Explorer) and it has had its setbacks since its release.
However, Microsoft Edge certainly has some good features (like tab previews, Cortana, and the fun trick that lets you draw on pages before sending them to people). And according to their Google Play app page, Edge on mobile devices has something called “Continue on PC,” which lets you “seamlessly mov[e] content” back and forth with your mobile version and your browser with an updated version of Windows 10. That means you could be browsing websites on your mobile device, decided to hop on your computer instead, and just switch over what you’re doing without hassle.
If you haven’t tried Microsoft Edge yet (or even if you have), this might be a good opportunity to try it out without going through the trouble of installing it on your PC. Head over to the App Store or Google Play to download Microsoft Edge and see what you think.
You might already know this, but not all browsers are created equal. Many people buy a new computer and simply use whichever browser is already installed, never switching or looking into other options. Others may download and use whichever browser they’ve always used, or whichever one seems to be the most popular. But there’s more than one option.
What should you consider?
There are a number of things to consider when looking at the different browsers being offered. One thing that makes some browsers different from each other is that they might have different rendering engines. A rendering engine is what reads certain information (like HTML, typically used to create websites) and then displays it. All that really means is that different browsers might have different programs that they use to show you content (like websites). Because of this, some browsers might display certain things differently or even be unable to correctly load certain bits of content. When it comes to this aspect of choosing a browser, your best bet is just to try out the browser of your choice and keep an eye out to see if any of your usual websites look odd or won’t let you see certain content. If this happens, try another browser and see whether the problem goes away.
It’s also important to consider safety when choosing a browser. Because the different browsers are made differently, some are typically considered safer than others. One safety concern is whether a browser can easily be hacked. Earlier this year, Digital Trends reported on the Pwn2Own hacking event that tests how safe and secure browsers really are. The hackers found that Google Chrome was the most secure, as it was unable to be hacked over the course of the event, and that Microsoft Edge was the least secure, hacked five times. (Firefox came in second place, while Safari came in third.) Of course, this is only one consideration when it comes to safety, but it is still worth noting that, as the Tom’s Hardware website mentions, Google Chrome is typically the most secure browser among the major browsers being tested.
What many people find most important is that their browser is easy to use and has helpful features. For instance, some browsers may have bookmarks that are really easily organized, access to additional extensions (like extensions that let users block ads or put slideshow articles on one page), and ways to customize what the browser looks like. Some browsers have special features, so it’s important to consider which features are really the most important to you and which you might want to do without in order to have a faster or potentially safer browser.
What are your options?
Despite how it seems, there isn’t really just a handful of browsers out there. Because there’s not enough room in this article, I’ll be talking about five browsers that are among the most well-known, but they’re definitely not all you have to choose from. Other browsers sometimes branch off of these bigger browsers and create something new. Keep in mind that if you choose a lesser-known browser, you should research it first to verify that it’s safe and has the features you need.
For this article, let’s take a look at some of the more well-known browser options. Scroll through the list to learn a bit about each one.
Google Chrome is an extremely popular browser. Chrome was first released less than ten years ago, and since then, it has become many peoples’ default browser. It’s available on several operating systems, including Windows and Android, and it is available on Apple’s mobile iOS, though it isn’t as well-supported on Apple products. As mentioned earlier, Chrome often leads the popular web browsers when it comes to safety. Google Chrome works well whether you have an account or not, but if you do have a Google account, it becomes even more convenient. For instance, if you use Chrome on your computer and on your phone, and you’re logged into your Google account on both, your bookmarks are saved to your account and you can access them wherever you go. Chrome is typically considered one of the more quick-moving browsers. It has typical features most people will want, like easy-to-use bookmarks, themes that can change the browser’s appearance, an optional home button, and plenty of useful extensions to make the browser even better. Many people particularly enjoy Chrome because of the wide variety of extensions available and its incognito mode that prevents the browser from keeping history or cookie information while turned on.
Visit the Google Chrome website
Microsoft Edge is Microsoft’s newest offering meant to replace the much-scorned Internet Explorer (IE). Though Edge has not gained a huge following yet, there are some who might prefer it over other browsers. It was initially released a couple of years ago, but it got its major release earlier this year when it became the default browser on many computers instead of IE. It’s used on Windows 10 and Xbox One. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, in some cases Edge has been found to be less secure than the other major browsers in certain scenarios. Since the browser is still fairly new, there will certainly be more changes and improvements over the coming years. Edge can also be used on Windows 10 Mobile, so it can be used on some Windows phones. It has a pretty cool way of using tabs—like other browsers, you have tabs at the top of your browser for each page, but it also has a display that lets you preview your tabs and easily click on the page you want to navigate back to. It also has Cortana, its “personal assistant,” built in to the browser, which you can use to ask questions with your voice and possibly find information more quickly. And if you want to share personalized content with others, it lets you draw on pages and share them with others. Like Chrome, it does of course have basic features like bookmarks, and though there are fewer available extensions, you can still do things like block ads.
Visit the Microsoft Edge website
Mozilla Firefox is another extremely popular browser—it’s typically considered the second most popular (behind Chrome). Its release was in 2004, and during the time since then, it has occasionally found itself at the top of the list in popularity. It’s available on Windows, Mac, Linux, and both Android and iOS, meaning it can be used on a wide variety of devices. Firefox works to keep up to date on current standards; this means that there is an emphasis on making sure content is displayed as well as it can be. As mentioned before, it recently came in second place during one security testing event, though it is worthwhile to note that in the past, Firefox was typically considered less safe. By all accounts it has become much more secure over the years, making it a very reasonable choice. Firefox has some cool features available, like the ability to customize your toolbar, access to your bookmarks and other info from anywhere when you use your Firefox account, themes, and private browsing. They also have a nice collection of add-ons that do really useful things, like block ads or do a reverse image search (search using an image instead of text). And of course, like the other browsers, it has bookmarks and all of the other typical features you would expect in a browser.
Visit the Mozilla Firefox website
Opera is a browser that has been around for a pretty long time. Its original release was in 1996, making it over 20 years old. Opera is sometimes credited as helping lead the way in some popular features that browsers would later pick up and incorporate, which is not much of a surprise considering its longevity. Opera is available on many devices—it’s free for Windows, Mac, and Linux, as well as Android and iOS. There’s even a version you can download onto a flash drive and take with you anywhere. Over the past few years, Opera has undergone some changes that have not always gone over well, but in general it’s seen its share of downloads and has been pretty popular. One of Opera’s biggest selling points is how fast it moves. Opera uses a technique that helps load pages extremely quickly, so if you have a somewhat slow connection, or even one that’s just average, Opera is a great choice. It has some very nice features, including the ability to block ads without adding a special extension, visual bookmarks that give you previews of pages, the ability to access your info anywhere with an Opera account, and, quite different from the other browsers, a built-in VPN feature. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a way to connect to the internet and stay even more secure, and many people use them. Opera was the first browser to have a VPN built in. Opera also has a lot of add-ons available, like reverse image searches and extensions meant to improve social media navigation. It also has what you would expect, like bookmarks and themes.
Visit the Opera website
Safari is the browser you’re probably using if you’re reading this article on an Apple device. Safari is the default browser on Apple products, and it’s been around since the early 2000s. Though the browser had a bit of a short-lived run on Windows, it’s no longer supported on Windows, instead being offered on Mac and iOS. You might remember that Safari came in third place in a recent security test—but of course, this was just one test. Safari is typically considered a secure browser. It offers the ability to browse privately, and it also tries to prevent advertisers from targeting you based on your browsing. A big selling point for Safari is that it’s the pre-installed browser for Apple products and ties into other Apple offerings, like the iCloud. It’s also promoted as being the fastest and most energy-conserving browser on Apple devices. Some of its particularly good features include stopping auto-play videos, a Smart Search that gives intuitive suggestions, and, yes, plenty of add-ons. It also has the basic features you want, like bookmarks and some customization.
Visit the Safari website
Vivaldi may be the browser you’re least likely to have heard of. Vivaldi is not one of the most widely used browsers, but it does have a good following. Vivaldi is very new—it was created after some people were less than impressed with changes made to the Opera browser, and it was just released last year. Vivaldi is meant to bring back some features people missed from Opera and to create what they hope will be a better browser. Since it’s so new, there’s not a lot to note about its security yet, though most view it as a safe choice. Vivaldi is designed to be minimalist—there’s not a lot of distracting stuff going on. However, it can be quite heavily customized, allowing you to reposition where things are, change colors, and much more. It also lets you do some cool and different things with tabs, like group certain tabs together. It has bookmarks, of course, and a browser history. Its history is cool, though; it can display your browsing habits as visual data, giving you an interesting look into your own browsing history. These are just a few of the nice features on Vivaldi. Plus, since it’s based on the same browser engine as Chrome, many Chrome extensions can be installed in Vivaldi. It’s still a pretty new option, but it certainly has a lot of features you might want to give a try.
Visit the Vivaldi website