For most of us our web browsers are an essential part of our day-to-day, giving us access to all the wonders that the internet has to offer: News, social media, music and video, emails, and everything else.

So it’s natural that if anything goes wrong with your browser, the glitch will turn into a major problem for you. The good news is that as long as you know what you’re doing, finding out what’s wrong doesn’t have to be all that difficult.

The basic steps for troubleshooting any browser problem are the same, so whatever your issue, you should start by working through these one by one. We’ve focused on desktop browsers here, but you can adapt these tips fairly easily for their mobile app versions as well.

1. Check your internet connection

When troubleshooting any computer problem, you need to identify the exact cause before you do anything else. Otherwise, you might be tampering with something that doesn’t need fixing. In this case, that means making sure it is your browser that’s broken, rather than, say, your internet connection.

The easiest way to test this out is to try a different browser and see if it can connect to the internet. You can also try different devices (like smartphones and tablets) and different apps (like music or movie streaming apps) to see whether or not they’re able to get online.

If everything else can connect to the web, then yes—it would appear that your web browser is broken. If nothing else can access the web then you’re not looking at a browser problem, but an issue with your home network. Fortunately, we’ve got troubleshooting ideas for that, too.

2. Audit your browser extensions

Nothing screws up a browser better than an extension, which means that if something goes awry while you’re surfing the web, there might well be an add-on to blame. Start by heading to your browser’s list of extensions and assess them. They should be easy to find in any browser, but if you’re using Google Chrome, click the three dots (top right), then go to More tools, and Extensions.

First of all, we’d recommend uninstalling any extensions you’re no longer using to reduce browser bloat, and remove any potentially out-of-date code that’s causing problems. You’re going to need to keep restarting your browser—and ideally your computer—every time you remove one or more extensions. This will help you see if the changes you’ve had any effect.

When you’re down to the key extensions that you actually make use of, uninstall them one by one to see if that fixes the problem. If you find an extension is to blame, see if there’s an alternative available, or contact the browser developer for more support.

3. Clear out the cache

Browsers commonly keep certain bits of websites saved on your device—these files are called cache. For example, if a background image on a website hasn’t changed, there’s no point in downloading it every single time you visit. This is how cache helps your browser load sites faster. However, problems can occasionally pop up if the cache database somehow is corrupted.

This can mean you end up seeing older versions of webpages or have issues when using interactive components on a site. The latter happens because your browser can get confused over whether it should load newer code from the web or older code from the disk.

The solution is to empty out your browser’s cache and start again from scratch. (Pro tip: it’s also worth doing this regularly whether you’re having issues or not.) If you’re not sure how to do it in your browser, you should be able to find instructions on the web. In Safari, for example, choose Safari, and then go to Preferences, Privacy, and Manage Website Data. Once you’re there, click on the Remove All button.

4. Open up your browser settings

The settings on your browser can occasionally cause pages to break. This can result in buttons or forms not working, or entire sections going missing. Specifically, this can happen when you set up your browser to be as strict as possible when it comes to blocking tracking cookies and aggressive ads on the web. So if this happens to you, you may have to make a choice between dealing with broken websites from time to time, and having pieces of code tracking you all over the web to sell you stuff later. 

From the main settings page in your browser, you should see a section with a heading that goes something along the lines of “privacy, cookies, and tracking”. In Microsoft Edge, for example, click the three dots (top right), then choose Settings, then Privacy, search, and services. Under the Tracking prevention heading, there are three options—Basic, Balanced, and Strict. You’ll notice the last one has a warning about it potentially causing parts of sites to stop working.

So if you’re using Microsoft Edge, and you’re seeing strange behavior on sites while tracking prevention is set to Strict, try selecting Balanced or Basic instead. You won’t see exactly the same options in other browsers, but there will be something similar, so you should be able to easily dial down ad and tracker blocking. If you find that certain sites only work with tracking turned on, you’ll have to decide if you’d rather give up a slice of your privacy online or give up using the site altogether.

5. Update and reinstall your browser

If you’re still struggling to get your browser working normally, uninstall it from your system, and download and install it again. This will make sure you’re running a clean, up-to-date version of the software, and should get rid of any temporary files or options that might have become corrupted.

In Windows, you can uninstall a browser by opening Settings from the Start menu, then choosing Apps, and then Apps and features—click the three dots next to your browser, then Uninstall. On macOS, drag the browser’s icon from the Applications tab in Finder down to the Trash icon in the dock to remove it from the disk. You can then hop online and download your browser again.

One feature Firefox offers which you don’t get in other browsers is a refresh tool. It’s like doing a factory reset on your phone, and it brings all the settings and add-on information back to their original state, without you having to go through the hassle of uninstalling your browser and intalling it all over again. To access it, click the menu button (three lines, top right), then choose Help, More Troubleshooting Information and Refresh Firefox.