Speed up your web browser with 5 simple tips | Popular Science
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Speed up your web browser with 5 simple tips

Whether you use Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Safari, or Opera

Browser booster

Don't settle for a sluggish browser

David Nield/Popular Science

The days when the internet was a series of simple text pages have long gone. Today's sites might contain video, audio, interactive elements, and stacks of images. Over time, under the weight of all that content, your browser can slow down.

But it doesn't have to be like this. With a bit of timely maintenance and tidying up, you can ensure your browsing stays speedier for longer. This advice applies across all the major desktop browsers, including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer, Apple's Safari, and Opera.

1. Remove unused extensions

Just as too many unneeded apps will slow down your computer, too many plug-ins and extensions can do the same to your browser. They take up system resources and can even cause bugs and crashes. Extensions aren't inherently bad—they can add genuinely useful features to your browser—but it's a good idea to run an extension audit every once in a while and remove the ones you no longer rely on.

The process is straightforward enough in most browsers, which have an easy-to-find display for the extension menu. In Chrome, the Extensions option is under the More tools heading on the main app menu; in Firefox, choose Add-ons from the main app menu; and in Opera, select Extensions from the main app menu. Extensions are less common in the default browsers from Apple and Microsoft but in Safari, open up Preferences from the Safari menu and click Extensions; in Edge, click Extensions from the main app menu to see what's installed.

Firefox add-ons

Firefox add-ons

Trim down the number of extensions you've got installed.

David Nield/Popular Science

You don't need to uninstall all the browser extensions on the menu. These apps can't be classified as purely "good" or "bad," but pay attention to the ones you don't recognize, or don't really need, and get rid of those first. You might be surprised at how many of these add-ons you can live without. If you're ready for a really drastic cleanup, try removing all of them at once and only reinstall the ones you find invaluable.

For the extensions you do keep, make sure they're regularly updated. Your browser should automatically handle this, but it might be worth double-checking. Just like keeping the browser itself updated (of which more in a moment), ensuring you're running the latest versions of your add-ons keeps them bug-free and running smoothly.

2. Clear out the cache and cookies

As you travel the web, your browser keeps a certain number of files on disk, known as the cache, to speed up your browsing experience. The next time you visit a site, the cached files are already present, so your browser only needs to download the new bits from the web. This means less time waiting, and in general, it's going to speed up rather than slow down your browsing.

However, we'd recommend occasionally clearing out your cache and starting again. Your browser should automatically manage this cache, but it can get unwieldy and cause the occasional bug or glitch. If you want to keep your browsing speed as good as new, then wipe the slate clean every few months or so. Afterwards, you will notice a slight slowdown to begin with, as your browser rebuilds the cache, but it should quickly go back to normal.

Chrome settings

Chrome settings

Clean out the clutter that's built up in your browser.

David Nield/Popular Science

At the same time you clear your cache, most browsers let you clear cookies as well. Cookies are bits of data that websites log on your machine to identify who you are, where you're from, your website preferences, and so on. Usually these cookies are harmless and useful, but a regular purge will quickly get rid of any corrupt or unnecessary ones.

In Chrome, head to Settings, then pick Show advanced settings, and then Clear browsing data. In Firefox, you can find the setting under Options, then Advanced and Network. For Opera, choose Settings then Privacy & security, and click Clear browsing data. In Microsoft Edge, open Settings, then click the Choose what to clear button under Clear browsing data. The process is a little bit more involved in Safari: You need to open Preferences from the Safari menu, then click Advanced and tick the box marked Show Develop menu in menu bar. Finally, open up the Develop menu and choose Empty Caches.

3. Uninstall and reinstall your browser

We've talked about cleaning up extensions and wiping the cache to get your browser back to its original state, which is the best approach for stopping browser slowdowns. It's sort of like returning your car to its original state by erasing all those little issues and problems that have built up. Well, uninstalling and reinstalling your browser is a quick shortcut to do the same job.

Once you've gotten rid of the old version of your favorite browser, you can then grab its latest update from the web. As well as clearing up any corrupted data caches and unneeded extensions, this will also make sure that you're running the most up-to-date version of the software, another important factor in keeping your browser running smoothly. Staying up to date is so vital in fixing bugs and blocking security threats that modern browsers typically download updates automatically. But to cover all your bases, it's worth running the occasional update manually.

Firefox refresh

Firefox refresh

A quick browser refresh can clean up a variety of problems.

David Nield/Popular Science

So how do you go about deleting your browser? On Windows, you need to head to the Apps section of Settings to remove programs; on macOS, you can just drag apps from the Applications folder in Finder to the Trash. It's not possible to uninstall Microsoft Edge from Windows or Safari from macOS though, as these applications come embedded in the operating systems. Deleting a browser this way doesn't just eliminate extensions and cookies. It will usually remove your bookmarks and browsing history at the same time. So if you want to keep your bookmarks, make sure you've exported them somewhere else first.

Chrome and Firefox also include handy features for essentially resetting the browsers, which saves you the trouble of uninstalling and reinstalling the entire program. In Chrome, the Reset option you want is at the very bottom of the advanced settings tab; in Firefox, open up the help menu from the main app menu, then choose Troubleshooting Information and Refresh Firefox. This type of reset won't affect your browsing history and bookmarks.

4. Manage your tabs

Clearing out behind-the-scenes clutter isn't the only way to speed up your web experience. Managing your open tabs more efficiently will also help you browse faster. The more tabs you have open, the slower your browser is going to run (though the apps are getting better all the time at managing these demands, another reason why you should always be running the latest, most up-to-date versions).

This can be as simple as keeping the number of open tabs you have down to a minimum. This isn't easy in today's age of web apps and information overload, but try resisting the temptation to keep a dozen tabs open at once. If you need to keep track of several sites to return to later, then you can use a read-it-later service like Pocket or Instapaper. Or just save the site links to your browser's bookmarks list—you can set up a Temporary folder for this very purpose.

Tab Suspender for Chrome

Tab Suspender for Chrome

Some extensions manage your tabs for you.

David Nield/Popular Science

A few well-chosen browser extensions can help with tab management. Although you should install as few browser add-ons as possible, extensions like these are genuinely useful. For example, Auto Unload Tabs for Firefox automatically unloads tabs you're not actively looking at, saving memory for the tabs you actually need. When you switch back to unloaded tabs, it will refresh the content again.

Tab Suspender does a similar job on Opera, while Tab Suspender and Tab Wrangler both handle the task in Chrome. If you're on Safari, The Suspender is relatively basic but does what you need. For Microsoft Edge, which only recently began supporting browser extensions, we haven't seen a similar option thus far. So if you want to manage tabs in Microsoft's latest browser, you'll need to rely on your own willpower.

5. Get extra help

In addition to managing your tabs, other add-ons and apps can help you keep your browser running at top speed. Most of these tools handle the cleaning jobs we covered above, like tidying up cached files that you don't need any more. It's worth testing out one or two of these and seeing if you notice any speed increases.

For instance, take a look at the Speed Tweaks add-on for Firefox, which promises to cut down on browser bloat and edit a few under-the-hood settings for a speedier experience. For Google's browser, Clean Chrome is one to try: it can take care of your browser's history, cache and cookies, as well as some files hidden away deeper in the program's settings.

Speed Tweaks for Firefox

Speed Tweaks for Firefox

Extensions such as Speed Tweaks for Firefox can help.

David Nield/Popular Science

Plenty of desktop programs clean up browser clutter too. These include the reliable (and free) CCleaner for Windows and macOS, CleanMyMac for macOS, and System Mechanic for Windows. The apps let you regularly tidy up after your browser, and they come with a bunch of options for optimizing the other programs you've got installed too.

One final way to speed up your browsing is to reduce the amount of data reaching your computer. Google's Data Saver extension for Chrome does just this, compressing sites on Google's servers before sending them to you. HTTPS sites—for social media, banking, shopping and so on—aren't included, but you can still significantly cut down on the data you use and the time pages take to load.

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