Please Refresh Your Browser So Websites Actually Work

Illustration for article titled Please Refresh Your Browser So Websites Actually Work

Image: Microsoft

Spring is traditionally the time to purge your life of unwanted and unused junk. But 2020 has been a spectacularly disastrous year, so better to start 2021 off with a clean slate rather than wait until the seasons change. There’s a lot of bad-vibes and general nastiness from 2020 that we can do without, and I bet some of that lives in your internet browser. I’m not just talking about a questionable search history, although you probably want to clear that too. I’m talking about all the stuff that slows your browser down over the year, like cookies, cache, and extensions. Now is a great time to clear all that out and make the websites you browse a little speedier.

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Google Chrome is especially notorious for excess cookies and extensions bogging it down, but the same can happen with any browser—especially if you have too many tabs open. I love the “continue where you left off” feature on Chrome, which saves all your open tabs even after you close the browser, but it can take a long time to re-open or even switch from tab to tab if you have so many open you can’t even see the favicons. Too many open tabs can hog system resources, especially added to any programs running in the background. So, step one: Create some bookmark folders, add those websites to ‘em so you can find them later, then close out all those tabs.

If you can’t stand bookmarks, then you have another option: Tab management extensions, which suspend the tabs you aren’t using in a bookmark-like fashion. There are many good ones out there, like OneTab, Session Buddy, and The Great Suspender. Each will let you organize tabs according to whatever category you specify. (These are Chrome-specific, but many Chrome extensions work on Edge. Firefox and Safari will have their own.) Later on you can restore those tabs when you need them—the same way you can right-click on a bookmark folder and restore all the tabs in there at once.

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But I prefer using bookmarks rather than extensions because too many extensions can also bog down your browser. Extensions often inject code into every page, so if you have an ad blocker, grammar and spell checker, a deal tracker, and anything else that changes something on the website every time you navigate to a new page, that adds to the loading time. If you horde extensions like tabs, it’s probably a good idea to disable or completely uninstall some of them. Tab management extensions don’t operate the same way though, so those are fine to keep if you really, really hate bookmarks.

Clearing out cache and cookies is a little tricky because some of those are useful for loading webpages faster and saving passwords so you don’t have to type it in every time you want to check you bank statement. Those are good to keep around! But some cookies can track your web activity, and some cache data can reload outdated information on a website, breaking it or slowing it down.

The fastest solution is to completely clear all that out, but the better solution is to navigate to the advanced settings of the clear browsing data option. There you’ll have the option to tick and untick several boxes. Leave the passwords and other sign-in data box unticked but clear everything else: browsing history, cached images and files, cookies, depending on how much stored data you want to erase. You can even tell your browser to delete all that stuff once you close it and use a password manager extension like 1Password so you don’t have to rely on the browser itself storing all that data.

One final solution is to make sure you’re running the latest version of your browser. It seems like a no brainer, but using the most recent version of Chrome, Edge, Safari, Firefox, or whatever is going to ensure your browser is running as efficiently as possible; updates usually include new features, security fixes, and performance improvements. Oh, and make sure to check your internet speed and check for malware. Sometimes a slow browser has nothing to do with the browser itself.

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