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Four Little-Known Safari Tricks

Many of my Mac-using colleagues use Web browsers other than Apple’s Safari, and I would be the last person to tell them they are wrong to do so. But I like to use OS X’s default browser, not only because it familiarizes me with the Web-browsing experiences of many millions of other Mac users, but also because it encourages me to explore the software to see all that it has to offer. And Safari has a lot to offer once you know where to look. Here are some less-than-obvious tricks and techniques I’ve picked up in my explorations that can help solve problems and answer common questions.

What’s the Address? -- When Safari 8.0 debuted alongside OS X 10.10 Yosemite, many reviewers were disappointed, if not aghast, that its integrated “smart” address and search field displayed only the top-level domain name for the current page instead of the full URL. For example, if you go to any page on our Web site, the address field shows only That’s not a huge deal, because a single click in the address field reveals and selects the complete URL, making it easy to copy for later pasting. And for many users, showing only the truncated name is a good thing, since hiding the long and often obscure strings that follow the top-level site address makes it easier to see if you are at the site you intended. But it is disappointing if you’re old school and like to see exactly where you are on the Web.

For such advanced users, the solution is simple: take a quick trip to Safari > Preferences > Advanced and select the very first checkbox — Show Full Website Address — to relieve the pain.

(Quick tip: As long as you’re turning on full addresses, click the checkbox at the bottom of the preference pane to show the Develop menu in the menu bar. This menu, full of commands to delight the hearts of Web developers, comes in handy even if you aren’t a Web developer, as you’ll see shortly.)

Total (Un)Recall -- Safari 8 brought us the Private Window feature (File > New Private Window), which, when you browse in one, enables you to go to various sites without having Safari store the history of those visits. This keeps anyone else using your Mac from easily seeing where you have been. Private windows can come in handy if, say, you are shopping for an anniversary present for your spouse. It’s a fine feature, but it requires you to think ahead; it won’t do you any good if, while using Safari’s normal non-private windows you happen upon, and then impulsively buy, a great gift for your spouse. Also, when private browsing is active, the sites you visit won’t recognize you, meaning that you have to manually log in to make purchases. When shopping, private browsing may be private, but it’s also inconvenient.

Here’s what will do you some good in those cases: after you finish shopping (or whatever else you were doing) choose Safari > Clear History and Website Data. This produces a dialog that lets you clean up your history after the fact, with a useful pop-up menu that lets you decide just how much history you want Safari to forget. The default is to clear the last hour’s worth of browsing, but you can clear the history for the entire day, this day and the previous day, or all history! (Of course that risks running afoul of an updated version of Santayana’s dictum, that those who clear all history are condemned to repeat it.)

Bypass Flash -- Adobe’s Flash, as has been well documented over the years, can present security and performance problems, so much so that many users prefer to run their Macs without installing Flash at all. In fact, Flash isn’t even available for Apple’s iOS devices. On your Mac, it’s often not available even when it is installed, if the version of Flash that you have happens to be a version that has known security issues: Apple, looking out for your best interests, blocks you from using it. Instead, you see a “Flash out-of-date” warning.


However, you can often bypass Flash completely and still have a satisfactory browsing experience, at least when it comes to streaming video in Flash format. That’s because many Web sites provide non-Flash versions of their pages for users of mobile devices like iPhones and iPads. If you have activated the Develop menu (as I recommended above), and encounter a Flashy page, you can choose one of the iOS items on the Develop > User Agent sub-menu (for example, Safari iOS 8.1 — iPad). This command reloads the page, telling the site that you are on iOS. In many cases, you’ll see the streaming content in HTML5 format instead. This doesn’t always work: I’ve found that many local TV stations tend to serve Flash video only on their sites, because doing so enables them to tack ads onto the beginning of their videos. If this trick fails, try the site in Google Chrome, which encapsulates an always-updated version of Flash.

Check Your Cookies -- Finally, if you are concerned about cookies — those bits of information that nearly all Web sites store in your browser whenever you make a visit, and that may contain heaven-knows-what information about you and your visit — the Develop menu has another tasty treat for you: Develop > Show Web Inspector (Command-Option-I).

This command opens a pane at the bottom of the Safari window that shows you all sorts of geeky details about the page you are viewing. To see the ingredients of the cookies, click Resources at the top of the pane, then open up the Cookies item. In nearly all cases, the information stored in cookies is benign, and is simply recorded to make your next visit a little more convenient — for example, TidBITS uses cookies to help your browser remember that you are a logged-in TidBITS member so you don’t have to log in every time you visit.

However, if you don’t like what’s in a cookie, you can easily toss it. Click the cookie in question, Control-click the data you want to expunge, and choose Delete from the contextual menu. Cookie crumbled!

Yes, Safari may not be a perfect Web browser, and other browsers, such as Chrome or Firefox, certainly have much to recommend them. However, beneath Safari’s seemingly simple surface is a lot of advanced functionality that may surprise you. If you have abandoned it for something else, it might be worth a second look.


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Comments about Four Little-Known Safari Tricks
(Comments are closed.)

Andreas Frick  2015-02-11 15:41
Is there again a warning if one tries to quit Safari with open tabs? Safari 5 had this, Safari 6 not. Also cookie management could be better. A program like cookie should be superfluous. In iCab one can also block third party content, which I also would like to see in Safari.
John Robinson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2015-02-11 16:57
I use the Cookie App and never worry w Cookies in my browsing. I choose what I keep and what to trash.
Alan Forkosh  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2015-02-11 16:58
If there is, I' es turned it off. However, as I often do close a window with many tabs, I have found the 'open all windows from the last session' command in the History menu to be quite useful.
Peter N Lewis  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2015-02-11 20:15
History ➤ Reopen Last Closed Window will resolve this. Also, you can Undo closing a tab. And Keyboard Maestro could be configured to capture Command-Q and warn you if there are open Tabs, but I think Apple except you to Quit Safari and then later relaunch it back to the same state, so they wont warn you about such things.
I dispise Apple's thinking on this, because if I close multiple open tabs, *most* are site's I'm logged into. And of course, re-opening windows from the last session opens them in a logged-out state. WHY can't Apple just give us big kids an option to turn on a prompt?
MACMAD  2015-02-12 05:30
I have finally removed flash, but occasionally I am still forced into using it. The easiest way is when I am on a page that requires flash, I open the development menu and the first item is "open page with". There is a list of apps that can handle html. One is Chrome. Select it and your page opens in chrome and you can view with one click.
Norbert E Fuchs  An apple icon for a TidBITS Benefactor 2015-02-12 09:21
Re: ... choose Safari > Clear History and Website Data. This produces a dialog that lets you clean up your history after the fact, with a useful pop-up menu that lets you decide just how much history you want Safari to forget...

I noticed that – even when I choose "all history" – this does not reliably remove all cookies. When I check Preferences/Privacy I often detect that one or two cookies have remained that I need to remove manually.
Charlie Hartley  2015-02-12 19:47
I find Click to Flash very useful in those rare times I must use Flash with Safari.
Can Safari's cookie preference be scripted in any way?

I would resort to simply deleting all cookies every so often, however, there are a few cookies I do want to keep (e.g. TidBITS login information). I tried to see if I could write an AppleScript or Automator app that would simply delete specific cookies that always end up being stored (e.g. Google Maps) while retaining a select few. Unfortunately, I couldn't see how it could be done.

Any suggestions?
To clarify, here's what the script would do.

1. Go to Safari > Preferences > Privacy > Details...
2. Select all (cmd-a)
3. Unselect, (shift-click)
4. Hit 'Remove' button
5. Close Preferences window
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-02-17 10:50
Unfortunately, Safari does not have the appropriate items you need to do this in its AppleScript dictionary.
Bummer. But thanks for letting me know anyway! :)
Ewen Kitto  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-02-18 11:33
I like being able to see the full URL, but I still find it very irritating that I don't get to see the http:// or https:// at the beginning. Is there a way to get this to display?
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-02-18 13:34
No. However, if the site is https:, you will see a small padlock icon beside the address in the field. And if you select and copy the address, the copy on the Clipboard includes the http:// or https://
Ewen Kitto  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-02-21 08:51
Thanks. Pretty much as I expected.
Of course the padlock doesn't display if you have a mixed mode page. And I find many sites that expect you to log in on a page, which itself might be secure, but where there are linked logos or graphics from non-secure servers.
Ewen Kitto  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-02-21 08:56
If I'm using a site that requires me to enter personal information I like to take a look at the SSL certificate details. Many pages link to secondary sites. So for instance links to a site for handling credit card transactions. If I click on the padlock I can see the certificate details for, but I can't find any way to see the certificate for which, as far as I can tell, is the site getting my credit card details. Do you know of a way to see their certificate?