Chrome is overtaking Firefox among power users, and for good reason. It’s an incredibly powerful, extensible web browser with tons of excellent features. Today, we’re covering it all — from longtime shortcuts to the latest features in one of our favourite web browsers.
Title image remixed from an original by Lok Yek Mang (Shutterstock).
Google Chrome updates automatically, and those updates come around even faster on the Chromium developers channel. With such frequent updates it can be hard to keep track of all the great new stuff coming your way. So we’ve created this power user’s guide to Chrome. It features our favourite advanced features, and we’ll update it as major new versions appear.
- Interface Tips And Tricks
- The Most Time-Saving Shortcuts
- Customise Chrome’s Settings
- Enhance Chrome’s Functionality with Extensions
- Master Chrome’s Secret Features
Interface Tips And Tricks
Chrome benefits from one of the more attractive, compact, and configurable interfaces you’ll find among modern web browsers. Here are some great ways to customise its interface.
Pin Tabs You Always Keep Open: With much of what we do on our computers migrating to the web, you probably visit a lot of the same web sites frequently, quickly cluttering up the top of your browser window. Pinning tabs saves those often-visited sites so you don’t have to constantly reopen them while making that tab extra compact so it doesn’t take up too much room. To pin a tab, just right-click on it and choose “Pin Tab”. It’ll shuffle over to the left side of the window and stay put until you decide to close it.
Decorate Your Browser Windows with Themes: Google created 15 simple themes to let you add a little personalisation to Chrome, but other artists have created many, many more. I’m partial to the way Chrome looks by default, but if you’re looking for personalisation or just a change of style, visit the Chrome Theme Gallery and pick out something that you love.
The Most Time-Saving Shortcuts
Chrome is full of useful shortcuts to help make your browsing experience better and faster. There are too many to include here, so we’ve whittled down the list to the ones we find most useful.
Note: If you’re a Mac user, just substitute the “Control” key for the “Command” key (and know that the “Alt” and “Option” keys are the same) when performing these shortcuts, unless a specific alternative is noted.
Navigate Back and Forward Through Web Pages: If you want to go back to the previous page, instead of clicking the back button just press Backspace (Delete on a Mac). To go forward in your history, press Shift+Backspace (Shift+Delete on a Mac) instead. Windows users can also use Alt+Left Arrow to go back and Alt+Right Arrow to go forward as well.
Reload a Page: Although many web apps refresh themselves nowadays, some sites (like this one) require the reload button to check for new content. You can reload faster from your keyboard, however, by pressing Control+R. Additionally, if you’re reloading the page for new content but it isn’t showing up, Control+Shift+R will perform a hard refresh. This means Chrome will ignore the cached copy of the page and reload everything from scratch so you know you’re getting the latest version. (Alternatively, Windows users can use Control+F5 and Control+Shift+F5 to perform these same actions, respectively.)
Navigate Through Your Tabs: Navigating through your browser tabs is really easy via the keyboard. Just press Control+Tab to move to the right, and Control+Alt+Tab to move to the left. (On a Mac use Command+Option+Right Arrow and Command+Option+Left Arrow instead.) This will let you cycle through your tabs quickly.
Jump to the Top or Bottom of a Page: Web pages can get pretty long (like this one). If you want to quickly jump to the top of a page, press the Home key on your keyboard. If you want to go straight to the bottom, press the End key.
Find Text on a Page: If you want to search for text within a page, just press Control+F on your keyboard and start typing your search term. Chrome will search as you type, but pressing the Enter key will begin cycling through the results in chronological order. Conversely, pressing Shift+Enter will cycle backwards through the results.
Open a New Tab or Window: To create a new tab in Chrome, just press Control+T on your keyboard. If you want a new Window, press Control+N instead. Either way you’ll be presented with a blank window and can start typing in the URL for any site. Alternatively you can enter a URL in the address bar and press Alt+Enter (Command+Return on the Mac) to create a new tab with that page.
Close a Tab or Window: To close a tab, press Control+W on your keyboard. To close an entire window and all its tabs, press Control+Shift+W. (Windows users can also use Control+F4 and Control+Shift+F4 to perform the same actions, respectively.)
Reopen a Closed Tab or Window: Sometimes you close a window or tab by accident and want it back. This is when you realise that Control+Shift+T is the most useful combination of keys your web browser can provide. In Chrome, this shortcut will reopen the last tab or window you closed and load the page again. (Note: This does not work with private browsing sessions because your history isn’t recorded.)
Start a Private Browsing Session: When you’re, uh, not looking at porn and are using private browsing for another useful purpose (such as logging in to a different account), you can create a new incognito window via the keyboard by pressing Control+Shift+N.
Access the Omnibar: When you need to get to the omnibar (the address + search bar) in Chrome, you can do so easily by just pressing Control+L on your keyboard. In an instant you’ll be magically transported to the omnibar and can start typing your URL or search term.
Open a Link in a New Tab: If you want to open a link in a new tab, hold down the Control key and click on it. You can also get the same result by click on the link with your middle mouse button (if you’ve got one). Adding the shift key to either of these shortcuts will open the new tab and select it immediately, rather than opening it in the background.
Bookmark the Current Page: When you want to save the current page to your bookmarks, pressing Control+D on your keyboard will do the trick. Chrome will then present you with a little window asking you to name your bookmark and select a location where it can live. In the event you want to bookmark every tab in the current window, just press Control+Shift+D instead.
Autocomplete a URL Ending in .com: If you’re typing in a URL and you want to save yourself some time, don’t bother with the www. or the .com. When you’re finished, press Control+Enter (it’s also Control+Enter on the Mac) and Chrome will add .com to the address.
Customise Chrome’s Settings
Chrome works pretty well by default, but there is so much you can customise if you dig into its settings pages. Windows users can quickly access Chrome’s settings by clicking on the wrench icon in the tool bar and choosing Options. Mac users can do the same by clicking on the wrench icon and choosing Preferences (or pressing Command+, on the keyboard). Either platform can also access the settings pages by simply typing
chrome://settings into the omnibar. However you get there, you’ll be presented with four sections to choose from.
To get started, open the Basic settings panel in Chrome.
Change Chrome’s Startup Behavior: The startup section allows you to define what happens when Chrome starts up. You can have Chrome load your default home page, reopen everything you had open when you last closed Chrome, or open a specific set of pages you want to view every time you start up. This is really handy if you open and close your browser every day and want it to get you started with your favourite sites every time you start up.
Customise Your Search Engines: The Search section is where you set your default search engine. When you launched Chrome for the first time, it probably asked you if you’d like to use Google, Yahoo!, or Bing every time you type in a search term in the omnibar. If you have Google set as your default, this is also where you can check a box to enable Google Instant search.
This is also where you can manage your search engines, which is a very cool feature. By default, Chrome tries to recognise search functionality on sites every time you use it. So, for example, if you searched 123people.com then Chrome would record it as one of your search engines. The benefit of this is when you type in 123people.com in the omnibar and press the tab key on your keyboard, you’ll then be able to type in a search term and press enter to search 123people.com without first visiting the site. Sometimes Chrome won’t pick up on these search engines, however, so you can add new ones manually in this panel. Just go down to the bottom of the page to find a space to enter a new option. First add a name of your choosing, the keyword you need to type to start the search (e.g. yahoo.com for Yahoo), and then a special search string. A sample search string for Yahoo looks like this:
If you look at the URL you can see I searched for the term “lifehacker”, but Chrome’s asking us to replace our query with %s instead. So we need to change lifehacker to %s like this:
Once you do that just press enter to add your new, custom search engine. If you want to access this panel faster, without the need to go into the settings panel, just right click on the omnibar in any window and choose Edit Search Engines.
To get started, open the Personal Stuff settings panel in Chrome.
Save Passwords and Automatically Fill Out Forms: By default, Chrome will offer to save any password you enter when browsing the web. If you don’t want this functionality, you can tell Chrome to “Never save passwords” instead in the Passwords section. This is also where you can manage your saved passwords in case you want to alter or delete any you’ve previously saved.
Chrome is also capable of storing address and credit card data so you can use it to automatically fill out forms. You can set this up in the Autofill section by checking the “Enable Autofill to fill out web forms in a single click” checkbox and then the “Manage Autofill Settings…” button to start filling in your addresses and credit cards.
Import Data from Another Browser: Perhaps you’re new to Chrome and you want to import data from your previous web browser. In the Browsing Data section, just click the “Import Data from Another Browser…” button and you’ll be presented with a Window with a few options. Select the browser you want, then check off the data you want to import and Chrome will do the rest.
Sync All Your Data: Chrome is great at synchronizing the majority of your browser data, including bookmarks, extensions, apps, passwords, autofill information, preferences, and themes. The Sync section is where you set it up. Just click the “Set up sync…” button and log in with your Google Account. That’s all you’ll really have to do to get started with syncing everything, but you can click on “Advanced Settings” if you want to select individual items and change encryption settings.
Under the Hood
To get started, open the Under the Hood settings panel in Chrome.
If you want to take things a bit further and prevent yourself from being tracked, you can install Google’s official Keep My Opt-Outs extension. This will, essentially, block any cookies. Of course, you can also do this manually from Chromes Content and Data Exceptions settings page.
Set Up Google Cloud Print: If you want to use Google Cloud print, the aptly-named Google Cloud Print section at the bottom of the page is where you do it. Just click the “Sign in to Google Cloud Print” button to start the process. This will open a new page and you’ll be asked to log in to your Google account if you aren’t already. Once you’re logged in (or if you already are), you’ll be able to start adding standard or cloud-enabled printers. If you’re not sure how to add your printers, just follow these instructions.
The Extensions settings panel in Chrome, or the standard extensions page, is where you can enable, disable, and uninstall extensions. You can also access their options, check for updates, and enable developer mode. There isn’t anything too special to see here, but if you want to learn more about extensions in Chrome just continue on to the next section.
Enhance Chrome’s Functionality with Extensions
Although Chrome began without support for extensions at all, the quantity and quality available may have surpassed even Firefox. If there isn’t something you like, you can always build your own, too. In this section we’re going to take a look at a few extensions you can use to enhance Chrome’s functionality.
Pin Your Favourite Sites to Your New Tab/Window Page: When you make a new tab or window, you see Chrome’s default page that lets you open recent pages and access any web apps you installed via the Chrome Web Store. What it doesn’t let you do is pin any favourite sites to that page for quick access. Speed Dial is an extension that lets you do just that. It also lets you customise the look of the page, reopen closed tabs, and more.
Easily Access Chrome’s Settings: Chrome’s settings can be access quickly with a variety of chrome:// prefixed URLs, as evidenced in the previous section, but that either requires a bit of typing or digging through menus. Mega Button is a Chrome extension that provides quick links to the most common settings pages directly from the toolbar so you don’t have to spend much time bringing up the exact page that you want.
Send Web Pages to Your Phone: If you’ve got an Android or iPhone and want to easily transfer a page to either, you need one of two extensions. Google’s official Chrome to Phone extension will send any web page to your Android smartphone or tablet. Site to Phone is a third-party equivalent originally developed for Apple mobile devices, but it has since been expanded to support Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, and webOS as well.
Send Web Pages to Other Instances of Chrome: Perhaps you have a separate computer at work, or even multiple computers in your home. If you’re looking at a page on one machine and want to quickly transport it over to another, SendTab is a Chrome extension that can do it in a single click. Just register with SendTab on both computers, click the extension icon, and the page will automatically open on the paired machine.
Make Pages Easier to Read: Most web pages have complex designs and often advertisements that distract from your reading experience. Readability is an extension that attempts to solve that problem. Just click the extension icon on any page you’d like to see in a more readable format and Readability will reformat it for you.
These are just a few extensions that enhance Chrome’s abilities and add some missing functionality. We’ve highlighted several more extensions we love, plus you can always find just about everything on the Chrome Extension Gallery.
Master Chrome’s Secret Features
Chrome has a few features you probably wouldn’t know about unless you dug pretty deep or someone told you they exist. That’s what this section is for — to let you in on a few of Chrome’s handy little secrets.
Perform Simple Mathematical Calculations from the Omnibar: This neat little feature doesn’t require much explanation. Just press Control/Command+L on your keyboard to access the omnibar and type in an equation. Chrome will add, subtract, multiply and divide for you and place the answer at the top of its suggested search results.
Control Your Plug-ins: Sometimes plug-ins can get a little out of hand. Chrome’s good at wrangling them and cutting them off when they’re not behaving so it they don’t bring down the entire browser, but sometimes you need to go in and manually shut them off. To do that, just visit chrome://plugins to see a list of your plug-ins, plenty of “Disable” buttons, and version information.
Find Out Which Tabs Are Eating Up Your Memory: Chrome isolates each tab you create so if one crashes, it doesn’t take down the entire browser with it. This is a good thing, but it doesn’t prevent any particular tab from getting a little out of control. If you want to check which tabs are using the most resources, head on over to chrome://memory-redirect for a look. The resulting page will provide you with a full look at all usage so you can close any offending tabs.
Save Yourself a Few Clicks of the Back Button: If you want to get to a page you accessed further back in your browsing history, you might find yourself clicking the Back button (or pressing Backspace) incessantly until you get there. A better way to solve this problem is to click and hold the Back button. Doing so will provide you with the history for that specific tab so you can select the page you want, load it, and get on with your life.
Add New Functionality with Switches: If you’re running Chromium, the developer channel build of Chrome, you can enable some additional functionality by settings specific switches. They aren’t all terribly exciting, but these switches will allow you to disable functionality you don’t want, test out experimental interfaces, and even some handy features. For example,
--enable-click-to-play allows you to click to temporarily enable embedded content requiring a blocked plug-in, which is great if you prefer to keep Flash disabled but occasionally want to enable it. For more, check out this full list of switches and how to set them up on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
Inspect Any Part of a Web Page’s Code: Curious about a certain element on a web page and want to snoop around in the code? Just right-click on it and choose “Inspect Element” from the result contextual menu. This will bring up Chrome’s built-in Inspector and plenty of information about part of the page you’re interested in. This is a very handy tool for learning to code by example and for debugging your own code, too.
As long as this guide may be, there’s still plenty more you can do with Google Chrome. If you’ve got any favourite tips or tricks you’d like to share, post them in the comments.